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Falling from Grace

Posted on May 12, 2021 at 4:50 PM

I want to accept that we are not condemned in Christ and nothing can separate us from God. But doesn’t Paul also say we can fall from grace? Is that true and, if so, at what point can we fall?

 

The answer for your questions starts with our ability to choose. Unless you live by the view that life is predetermined and we have no choice, then the fact you are a Christian means you chose God rather than not God. Does becoming a follower of God take away your ability to choose? No! We can always choose not to follow the Lord at any point in our life. Note, though, the possibility of something happening does not mean necessarily that it will happen often or that it will happen to us.

 

When we are told in Romans 8 nothing can separate us from God, that means no outside forces can overcome God’s being there for us and holding on to us. Paul gave several examples of these possible interferences, all of which are part of the creation. Paul does did not say we are prevented from separating ourselves. God is faithful and does not give up on us. That should give us a great deal of confidence and assurance. For those Christians who believe in the “once saved, always saved” interpretation, their assurance comes from the idea they are among the group that the Almighty has chosen, and that group cannot ever lose salvation. For those of us who believe in free-will or choice, our assurance of a saved position can sometimes be more tenuous. While we believe God will not let go of his end of the rope, we think that we might. In other words, our confidence in God’s promises is sometimes limited by the confidence we have in ourselves. Since we have walked away from the Lord in the past, might we do so again?

 

Any doubts on our part can be accentuated by confusion over the phrase “fall from grace.” That term is a bit misleading and therein lies the rub. We think of a fall in terms of an accident. We want to trust God on his end, but we live in constant fear an accident on our part will leave us behind. That is because we do not fully accept that God has both the desire and the power to save us from all sin and guilt. We say we have no sin or guilt, but we have a hard time giving up the feeling of guilt. But if we are not guilty then why do so many Christians still feel guilty? It is because they fear the accidents and slipups that will cause them to “fall” into the water and drown. They do not doubt God, nor do they doubt their intentions. Instead, they doubt their ability to stick to the plan.

 

In other words, those who continue to live with guilt and the fear of failure are likely still relying on their own efforts to obtain righteousness before the Lord. They are not trusting in the power and the grace of the blood of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are trusting in their perfection and their ability to avoid mistakes. When Paul addressed the people in Galatia and spoke of falling from grace, he was talking to those who had known God but were turning back by trying to keep the whole law (Galatians 4:9). And those same people were putting added law requirements on others as well. Specifically, they were requiring submission to circumcision before salvation could happen. Paul says, “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace” (Galatians 5:4 NLT). We think following the law and the rules is a good thing. It usually is, but it becomes a problem when we use our compliance as a path to God in place of Jesus Christ. That is why Paul said Christians had been set free, but some chose to return to slavery. By requiring circumcision, they were, in fact, saying that Jesus and his death really do not have the power to save us. In the same way, by living in fear that our future sins or mistakes will overcome us, we are not trusting in God’s forgiveness and grace.

 

When Paul said we can fall from grace, he emphasized that such a condition was equivalent to alienation from Christ. We can only be detached from Jesus Christ when we choose to do that. Separation from the Lord does not come through a mistake or a sin on our part. We can only leave God when we choose to leave either through direct confrontation or through our actions. Conversely, God will never leave us. We do not need to fear or agonize over the fact that some people have chosen to leave the Spirit and therefore have rejected grace. That is not, however, our choice nor our destiny.

 

The second question has to do with when someone might fall from grace. It helps perhaps to focus again on the concept of free-will. For me, it does come down to our choice. There are two basic ways I can get out of my relationship with, say, Smith. I can make the choice to terminate the relationship and even declare that decision to Smith. Or, I can simply quit participating socially with Smith, not returning calls, giving excuses, etc. The effect is the same in both cases--a broken relationship. The "point" at which a relationship ceases is the decision by at least one of the parties. When my decision is not well-communicated, Smith may not get the point at first and it may seem like there is no specific point. For me, the other party, the point is the decision. Of course, God does not sit around trying to wonder when someone does not show up for a while. He knows our heart so knows the option we choose and the timing of that choice. The good news is that we should not worry about some possible future choice, unless we plan to make that choice. It is not worth any anxiety for a Christian who cannot even imagine a life apart from the Lord. God will not leave us, and we have no desire or thought of leaving him. Hence the assurance and confidence.

 

If we are not careful, we deny ourselves the freedom of living in today because we fear we might leave God in the future. Our emphasis on the possibility of choosing not God indicates a reliance on ourselves for our own salvation instead of the trust we are saved. We have often been hesitant to say, “I am saved,” precisely because we worry our future actions and choices will disqualify us somehow. We often think our future actions and goodness will save us in the end. The future is not real. It has not happened and never will. It is interesting Paul says, “Neither the present nor the future will separate us from God” (Romans 8:38 NIV). We do not have to worry about the future, because God is not going to let the future separate us. We cannot let the future do that either, by our continued anxiety. We absolutely do not need to worry that the Savior will give up on us. Dwelling on our own rejection of God at some future date is a fool’s errand. Certainly, Christians do sometimes hang on to feelings of guilt from past sins, despite our constant assurance that God has fully forgiven and forgotten them. However, Christians also harbor equally strong feelings of anxiety over unrealized future sins or choices. We need to think in terms of being saved today instead of thinking we will be saved in the future only if we do not mess up.

 

I appreciate your honesty about your wrestling with the grace and forgiveness of God. It is not uncommon for Christians to want to believe in the power of forgiveness and to live in confidence and security, yet to have some feelings of doubt or anxiety. I like to call these the “Yes, but….” moments. We might say, “Yes, of course, I believe in forgiveness, but we are also miserable sinners, right?” Or, “Yes, I know nothing cannot separate us from God, but what if we fall from grace?” Whenever we encounter one of the great promises of God, but then go somewhere else in the Bible to explain them away or soften the power, we need to stop and think about what we are trying to do.

 

Ask yourself: “Do I let the future control me? Am I confident in God’s desire and power to forgive all my sins today, or am I anxious about possibly rejecting God tomorrow?” 

Chief Sinner

Posted on May 1, 2021 at 1:45 PM

Doesn’t Paul say he was the number one sinner and therefore imply we are all sinners?


Paul, told Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIV). Interestingly, Paul never used the word “worst.” The English word “worst”, as used by the NIV twice in this passage, is not in the Greek. The Greek word Paul used was “protos” which means first. From the word “protos” we get words such as “prototype” which is an original or first design. In English as in Greek, first can mean first in time, but it can also mean first in rank.

 

In the New Testament, sometimes “protos” can be used in the sense of “most important” or “most prominent” as we might think of someone who is in first place. For example, when Jesus said, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord’” (Mark 12:29 NLT), he was using “protos.” Note, however, “protos” never means worst as translated by the NIV.  I suppose the NIV translators were thinking “best sinner” would not do justice to what they were thinking! Why would Paul want to make a point that he was the “most important” or “most prominent” sinner? Did he or the readers really think Paul was somehow in worse shape than anyone else? Hardly. As we have repeatedly shown, being a sinner has nothing to do with degrees of sin but rather has to do with the state a person is in. There is nothing here in the 1 Timothy passage that suggests Paul’s degree of sinfulness served as a point to be made. Perhaps people like to think that if God could forgive Paul’s awful sins, he should be able to forgive our less obnoxious ones!

 

Most always, “protos” is used by Paul and other New Testament writers to mean first in time. For example, in chapter 2, Paul said, “For God made Adam first [“protos”], and afterward he made Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13 NLT Brackets mine). Is it possible in chapter 1 Paul also used “protos” as first in time instead of first in rank? Let’s start with his second use of the word (albeit in a different grammar case, namely, “proto”  in our passage. The literal Greek phrase in verse 16 would be rendered “in me first.” “In me first” what? “In me first”, Paul said, “I was shown mercy.” Paul was not so much interested in making a point about sin as he was in making a point about salvation and the transition from sin. He goes on to explain why that was important to the readers. I was first shown mercy to serve as a pattern or example to those of you who are coming to believe in Christ Jesus and who want to receive eternal life. Could we then say Paul is the redemption protype for his readers? I believe so, which makes more sense than trying to translate “in me first” as “in me, the worst of sinners.” The NIV should get kudos for trying to be consistent, but it forces them, in verse 16, to employ a dubious translation.

 

Some other versions, recognizing that it makes more sense for verse 16 to mean first in time rather than first in rank, translate that verse accordingly. However, those same translators inexplicably still want to keep verse 15 as first in rank. They force themselves into a consistency problem. Their attempts look like this: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief [“protos”]. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first [“proto”] Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NKJV Brackets mine). Granted, while Biblical writers did engage in wordplay at times, it seems to me verses 15 and 16 are very interlocked in meaning and that there is no reason to suppose Paul is trying to convey two different thoughts. The most reasonable conclusion then is Paul uses “protos” in both verses in the same way-that of first in time.

 

Thus, a reading that makes the most sense, is consistent in treatment, and happens to square well with our general assertion that Christians are not sinners would be something like: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of acceptation by all, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first [“protos”]. But for this cause I was received unto mercy that in me first [“proto”], Jesus Christ might show forth all clemency, for an example to those who should hereafter believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 JUB Brackets mine). These verses are not mainly about sin and certainly are not discussing at all how bad Paul’s sins were. Rather, they are focused on salvation and mercy. He is not comparing his sin with the readers but, instead, is focused on their common salvation. The example to be followed was Paul’s salvation and was not Paul’s sin. In verse 16 Paul is obviously using “protos” to say he was first shown mercy in order to be a pattern for those who followed.

 

This idea that Paul has changed although he was formerly a sinner becomes a strong incentive for others It also fits well with the greater context. Go up to verse 13 where Paul says, “Even though I was once [Greek “proteron”] a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy” (1Timothy 1:13 NIV Brackets mine). “Proteron” is similar to “protos” as it can refer to first in time or first in rank. Here in verse 13, it is obviously referring to first in time. If verses 13 and 16 use “proteron” and “proto” to refer to his earlier pre-Christian life of sin, it follows then that “protos” in verse 15 also refers to first in time. Why would Paul use “protos” two different ways in the same passage as a few translations try to do?

 

In verse thirteen Paul is talking about two different states. One is the state of blasphemy, persecution, and violence. The other state is the state of mercy. These two different states were separated in time. One was the former life, and one is the present life. Notice how Paul separates in time by saying "I once was in" the first state when "I acted in ignorance and unbelief." (past tenses).

 

The present life is one of mercy. This present life of mercy is the point of the whole passage. He is making a contrast, as does the rest of the Bible, between the old life and the new life. Notice how well this fits with vss. 15-16, when he continues the present mercy theme. Paul does talk about first being a sinner or, as some prefer, the foremost sinner. Either way, this being a sinner is referencing which state? The state of blasphemy, persecution, and violence, or the state of mercy? We don't have to guess, because in v. 16 Paul clearly said, "I was shown mercy." That demonstrates well that the state of being a sinner was a past state or former state, now changed because he WAS SHOWN mercy. It is not he "will be shown mercy," and not he "was shown mercy but he is still in the state of being a sinner."  Paul moved from being a sinner (blasphemer, persecutor, and violent man) to being in the state of having received mercy, i.e., saved.

 

In some translations it does appear that Paul, a baptized Christian, claimed to be a sinner, and the worse sinner to boot. As we have shown, that does not make sense. What he said was my former sin and present salvation from that sin came before yours (the readers) and is indicative of the same thing that can happen for you. Like Paul, we once were sinners (blasphemers, persecutors, or whatever), but now we have received mercy and have been transformed. We have moved out of our former state of sin and are no longer classed as sinners who remain in that state. 

Sin that Leads to Death

Posted on February 12, 2021 at 2:45 PM

I believe my Bible says there is one sin that leads to death and we should not even bother to pray about it. I worry I may commit that sin and not be able to be forgiven. Is there a sin that leads to death and cannot be forgiven?


Let us remember that the blood of Jesus forgives us of all sin when we accept that truth and enter into relationship with God. We are told that expressly in several places and God does not lie. If we say God is incapable of forgiving every sin, we deny his power and we negate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.


Having said that, we must admit that there are a few places in the Bible which might cause us to question the idea of complete forgiveness. One of them is this: “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5:16-17 NIV)


In more than one place in the letter we call 1 John, John plainly says that those of us in Christ do not sin and cannot sin. In other places, he talks of Christians committing sins or the possibility of Christians committing sins. How can that be?


1 John 5 will help us. Translators have muddied the waters, so we must deal with that first. We will pick on the New International Version, a generally reliable translation. Remember that translations are done by people like you and me and they must make choices of words and phrases. This passage has puzzled us. According to the NIV and many other translations, John is referring to some particularly dangerous sin that Christians need to avoid. If there is such a sin, it is unidentified. We do not know what it might be and can only surmise the readers did. The context gives no clue to this mysterious sin. The idea that Christians can commit this unforgivable sin does not fit well with what John said earlier about Christians not being in sin.


Further examination will show this passage is not that hard to understand and, indeed, fits well with what John has been saying all along. Occasionally we must go to the original languages to find the correct meaning. In the Greek, oddly, there are no indefinite articles like “a” or “an”. That oversight worked for the Greek speakers, but we cannot let it go in English. We need our indefinite articles. If a Greek said, “I saw frog” then the listener would know what he or she meant even though there was no “a” before frog. We cannot be that ambiguous in English. We would have to translate the Greek phrase in English as “I saw a frog.” That adding of an “a” or “an” is done thousands of times in the New Testament and it must be done for English readers. Sometimes, though, problems can arise. For example, what if the Greek said, “I saw sheep”? Now a translator cannot just add the indefinite article in English and say, “I saw a sheep” because the Greek speaker may have meant “I saw several sheep.” Translators must consider the context and other factors, but sometimes they must guess. In our chapter 5 passage, the word “sin” is used several times and in the Greek original, there is no indefinite article. The English word “sin” is like the word “sheep.” Both words can be singular or collective. Translators must make a choice. They cannot leave it untranslated. Many translations such as the NIV have chosen in our 1 John 5 case to add the indefinite article before “sin” in verse 16. Some versions even translate it as “one sin” rather than “a sin.” Adding such indefinite articles or adjectives here assumes John refers to a particular sin, despite the fact he does not identify such a sin. Translating by the use of “a” sin or “one” sin still leaves a lot of questions and does not make much sense. It causes versions like the NIV to switch the meaning in verse 17 by leaving off the indefinite article there, which is a strange way to translate. Is it good translating to put the indefinite article in verse 16 and leave it out in the next verse? No! In fact, it is very inconsistent and problematic because it leaves us scratching our heads. Worse, it leads many Christians to live in a constant fear that they might be committing this unidentified sin that irreversibly leads to death and destruction.


In Bible translation, one of the general rules is that the simpler meaning is preferred. Here, leaving off the indefinite article in both verses makes much more sense and is the simpler translation. Notice this translation: “Suppose you see your fellow believer sinning (sin that does not lead to eternal death). You should pray for them. Then God will give them life. I am talking about people whose sin does not lead to eternal death. There is sin that leads to death. I don’t mean that you should pray about that kind of sin. Doing wrong is always sin. But there is sin that does not lead to eternal death.” (1 John 5:16-17 ERV) This is a perfectly valid translation that is simpler, more consistent, and fits in well with what John has been saying in the whole book. Now, the implication is that there is sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death, which we know to be true. That fits smoothly into John’s thought and does not force the reader into wondering why John has randomly inserted a particular unforgivable but unknown sin into his discussion.


John has spent a great deal of the book talking about the contrasts between light and darkness as well as life and death. He stays with those themes here. He says that Christians do commit sins, but because of the life that comes from the blood, those sins do not lead to death. In that sense, Christians do not sin. There is sin that does not lead to death because we are alive, and those sins are forgiven. Conversely, sin can lead to death if we choose to leave life for death, either through a direct choice or through a refusal to live in the light. Sin is ultimately a choice we make. Christians can commit a sin (break the law) without being in sin (separated from God). Thus, John can follow up his statement that Christians do not commit sin by affirming again: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” (1 John 5:18 NKJV) It is tempting to translate “does not sin” as “does not continue to sin” under the idea that Christians sin but do not do it continuously. That is not really what it says. John uses the phrase “does not sin.” He can say that because Christians who continue to choose God can commit sins that do not lead to separation. Remember that the definition of sin is what leads us from God. When we remain in Jesus Christ we are in the light and in the life and we are not sinners. Sin has no power over us. John often expresses the confidence we have as Christians. Paul can affirm there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. 

Worthiness

Posted on November 19, 2020 at 8:20 AM

Is it true we can never be worthy enough for God?

 

Many Christians certainly believe that and feel they are not worthy of God’s love and forgiveness. You might be surprised the Bible never says we are unworthy. In fact, it seems clear that we are worthy. Paul confirms this in his letters to the Christians in Thessalonica, when he says we can live worthy lives, walk worthy of God, and be counted as worthy by God (see 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 4:12 and 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 11).


Why, then, do we constantly feel unworthy? We know God is holy, perfect, and worthy to be praised. When we compare ourselves to him, it is easy to feel we come up short. That feeling of inadequacy can linger throughout our lives and leave us with a need to prove ourselves more worthy. Any time we commit sin and/or move away from the Lord we can feel alienated and at loss as to how relationship can be restored. All of us have experienced pain, anger, or resentment when someone has mistreated us or rejected us. Often, we have found it difficult to forgive in those situations and, at times, we have been unable or unwilling to reenter into fellowship with the one who has offended us. Because of those experiences in which we think we have wronged or betrayed him, we think God will not forgive and take us back.


We take our cue from the prodigal son in Luke 15 who thought he must return home as a slave perhaps. but certainly not as a full family member. When he first comes face to face with his father, the son adamantly declares, “I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” We tend to think the story stops there. However, the story is not primarily about the son. It is about the father. That is why the story continues with a “But the father….” The son did think himself unworthy to have relationship after his choices, but the father had other ideas. The key is found at the conclusion to the parable when the father says, “Everything I have is yours.” By saying that, the father has deemed the son does have value.


The word worthy is defined as “having value, worth, or merit.” It is a hard concept to learn, but we need to understand value is always determined by the buyer and not by the seller. A few years ago, I decided to sell a used car and listed it for $5,000. No one called. I finally sold it for much less. Was it worth $5,000? No, despite what I thought and what I was asking. A car or anything is only worth what a buyer will pay and nothing more. If no one wanted to buy the car, it would have been worthless. Similarly, it is incorrect to say a certain painting or gemstone is priceless. An item is never priceless because someone will buy it. God is the buyer in our case, and he has decided we do have value. What are we worth to God? What price was he willing to pay? Of course, it was the ultimate price—his coming to die for us. We have value in his sight. When we say we don’t or we continue to see ourselves as unworthy, we are denying the opinion of God and belittling the cost that was paid. 

Becoming Gooder

Posted on September 13, 2020 at 3:25 PM

True Christian self-reflection must always be the discipline of comparing ourselves to God’s desired version of us. Isn’t our goal to become "gooder," if I can use that term?


We commonly tell ourselves, “We can always do better.” That is often intended as a positive phrase, encouraging ourselves to bigger and greater things. The phrase, though, has a negative side that is not always so evident. To tell ourselves, or even others, the next time can be better implies that this time was not quite good enough. We use the phrase most often in failure or when we place second, almost always in the context that this particular attempt can and should be followed by at least one more attempt to get it right. Maybe we were somewhat happy with today’s result, but the feeling is that tomorrow’s result could be better and would bring a fuller happiness if it were. Of course, that could mean greater satisfaction for us or for some observer, or for both.


So it is with Christians. We commonly say we could do better or even be better. Is that possible? Must we be better? Specifically, do we need to be better somehow to please God more? Is it his desire for us to improve our performance from what it is today?


Before we address the “better” portion of the phrase, let’s look at the “good” part. When we say we ought to be better (gooder), we imply we are already good. That is not a given, because we could be saying we are bad or a failure and want to improve upon that condition by becoming good, which would, of course, make us better. So that leaves us with the question: Are Christians good? That answer could depend on how we define good.


The Bible seems very clear that there are two kinds of people, those who choose to follow God and those who do not. These two groups of people are given different names. In Matthew 9, Jesus delineates these two groups as the righteous and the sinners. Similarly, in chapter 5 he refers to the righteous and, not unsurprisingly, the unrighteous. He expounds on those classifications by calling the same groupings the good and the evil. Therefore, the righteous or the good are the followers of God, while the unrighteous (sinners) or the evil are those who do not choose God. When we choose God, we are not simply believing in his existence. Rather, we are choosing to honor and worship him by changing our life from sin to living as he created us to live. The point is when we choose God, we move from being evil (in sin) to being good (in the Spirit). Christians are good because we now are in relationship with a good God, the source of all goodness. Our actions follow our choice and work in tandem with it. In Romans 2, Paul can naturally make the distinction between doing good and doing evil. Because we are good, we now do good and do not do evil.


As an aside, notice that being good has to do with our choice to commune with God and is not contingent on the number of “good” deeds we do. Despite the common thought, the world is not made up of those who do good deeds (those who are good) and those who do bad deeds (the bad). It is made up of those who choose to follow God and those who do not.


Given, then, that Christians are indeed good because they are now in relationship with a good God, can they be gooder? The answer is no. We cannot be gooder, because we are already good. If we are good in God’s sight, the only one that counts, how can we be better? We cannot. We are fully saved and fully connected with the Lord. We are fully good. In that respect, God is not desiring for or expecting us to be closer to him. To say that implies we are not close enough to him now. Claiming we can be gooder says we are not good enough today, which is a lie. We need to stop creating guilt by teaching God wants us to be better or do more good deeds. God is happy and satisfied with us right now. I am good and doing good today because I accepted God’s forgiveness and grace. I will continue to be good and do good tomorrow because I am his child. Nothing can change that unless, God forbid, I make the choice to leave him and return to sin and evil. 

Hyper-Grace

Posted on September 2, 2020 at 4:10 PM

Aren't you just teaching hyper-grace?


No, I am not, if "hyper-grace" is defined as a new, extra-biblical heresy.  Yes, I am, if "hyper-grace" is a human attempt to describe the richness and power of God's grace that is beyond what some of us imagine.  We love to create labels for those with whom we disagree. When we create names for others, we feel we do not need to support our views with only facts. "Hyper-grace" is a label applied to any teaching that supposedly places an extreme emphasis on grace. The accusation says proponents of hyper-grace neglect repentance, confession, and holiness, even to the point of saying those things are unnecessary for our salvation and relationship with God. So-called critics of hyper-grace accuse their opponents of saying people or Christians are not responsible for our sins.

 

Without trying to step into the debate over hyper-grace, let me say the book is primarily on forgiveness so there is an admitted focus on grace as intimately connected to God's love and forgiveness. However, I am clear that repentance and confession are huge and necessary parts of our choice of God. Absolutely, people are responsible for their own choices, including the choice of turning from sin and accepting God or staying in sin and choosing Not God.

 

I claim to be neither a defender nor opponent of the so-called hyper-grace teaching. I certainly do not wish to take sides in the labelling and accusations. There are a couple of things that are attributed to "hyper-grace" teachings that I do touch upon in the book and might make me seem to be an advocate, which I am not.

 

One charge made is that hyper-grace teachers erroneously say God forgives one’s future sins the same way he forgives one’s past sins. I believe that the Lord can and does forgive past and future sins. All forgiveness of our sins comes about because of God sending the Son to die for our sins. There are not two kinds of forgiveness from God, because all forgiveness is complete. The Lord Jesus Christ only had to die once and did not need to keep dying over and over. His was a one-time sacrifice that covers all our sins. That must apply to more than just past sins.

 

A second accusation is that hyper-grace theory denies progressive sanctification—that believers, with the help of the Holy Spirit, go through a process that gradually separates them from the evil of the world to be more and more like Christ. Again, I must say that salvation is complete and is not gradual. We are not partially saved upon our faith and repentance, with the hope or expectation of becoming more saved later. One is as saved upon arising from baptism as he or she will be at death. Christians are not in varying degrees of being saved, you more than me or vice versa. 

Satan and His Power

Posted on August 25, 2020 at 7:45 AM

You say, "Sin is not an outside force of evil that causes us to do things against our will."  Sometimes you hear people really focus on how Satan tempts us. Personally, I don't think I need any help with temptation. I provide enough of it on my own. Do you cover anything about the role of Satan in your book?


Erased does not cover Satan in depth, but you bring up some interesting thoughts. When we discuss the role of Satan in our lives, we quickly see that it is connected intimately with sin. There are several things we should note.

 

Satan is not God nor is he equal to God in any respect. He is a created being just as we are and is completely subject to God. He will never defeat God. God has allowed him the freedom to choose in the much the same way we have choice.  It is that choice that helps us define sin, because sin is what can and does separate us from God. You are correct that sin exists because of our decisions which are sometimes influenced by the Devil. However, Satan is not the cause nor originator of sin. He is a promoter of sin and separation. Satan's primary work is to pry us from the desired relationship with God. He does that through persuasion and enticement founded on deceit, because he is the father of lies. Any power he has is centered in his abilities to encourage people to leave God. He has no power over humans beyond that.

 

Notice in the garden, Satan used lies and persuasion to encourage Adam and Eve to leave God. He did not and could not cause them to sin against their will. Their sin resulted from their decision. Satan cannot control humans. Adam and Eve could have resisted by making the right choice. There is no evil force or dark side that can take over people. Evil is not a living force that haunts or controls us. Evil and sin result when we choose to forsake God and when we choose not to act in his image. We cannot avoid our responsibilities merely by saying, "The Devil made me do it."

 

When we talk about any potential power of Satan, we are talking about his influence in the world. When we choose God and accept salvation and forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, sin and Satan no longer has any power over us. Satan cannot defeat us because we now live in the Spirit. There is nothing (death, powers, demons, or Satan) that can separate us from God. We are promised that. Because he has no power to separate, Satan has absolutely no authority over those of us in Christ. It is disturbing to see Christians who still continue to live in fear and anxiety about sin and Satan. Those insecurities are largely because they have not accepted fully the expanse of God's love. When we are completely forgiven and taken back into God's house, the door is closed on Satan. He is still there, working in the world but not in us. We are free from sin and Satan and, therefore, are free indeed. To continue to live in fear is to deny the awesome power of God.

Frustration in Trying to Live like Christ

Posted on August 3, 2020 at 3:25 PM

I didn’t stop sinning when I became a Christian. When I think of Christ’s blood, I think of that continual process of saving me from my sin. Martin Luther said, “The process has not yet finished.” Sometimes that is really frustrating for me. There is a gap between my longing and my living. I see our model Christ and I see myself and there is a discrepancy.  Isn't my frustration a normal part of the Christian life?


I appreciate your honesty for two reasons. One, I believe those feelings of frustration are common among Christians.  Two, I lived most of my life with similar feelings. I do not anymore. I can now say I am not frustrated and believe there is no reason for any Christian to experience those feelings. That is not because I have reached some state of enlightenment beyond others that has allowed me to close the gap you spoke of. Rather, I do not think the gap exists for Christians!


Frustration, by definition, implies that we are trying to accomplish something that is either impossible to do, or is not being done successfully by us. Your continued frustration results from the perceived gap between your expectations for yourself and your actual performance. The pattern of thought goes like this: Christ is our perfect example. It is our goal to be like Christ. We sin and are not perfect. We cannot be perfect. We can never be completely Christ-like on this earth. Therefore, we feel frustrated or even guilty a great deal of the time.


Given that the scenario above makes some sense and is widely taught, why do I say there should be no frustration? The answer is because there is no gap between Christ and us. When we are saved, we are brought into Jesus Christ and into relationship with God. We were saved completely then and are saved completely now. Any existing chasm was bridged by the blood when we were washed and saved. There is no longer a gap between deity and us. Jesus Christ has already crossed it (a little play on words). We are as saved now as we ever will be. We will be as saved at death as we were at baptism. No more, no less.


You talked about the continual process of salvation. That might sound reasonable. However, we can and probably should say that salvation happens once and is effective all our lives. It does not come as a process moving towards a completion. Christians are saved and live in the state of salvation. We have no need to be saved in the future, since we are presently saved. We cannot say we are in a process of being saved, because  that indicates salvation is not finished. Salvation, though, is complete in us now. We are not moving towards salvation or towards God, for that matter. Whenever we mention the word “process,” we are assuming the product has not been finished or that the full results have not been realized. You imply we are moving towards something better. To even believe in a gap between Jesus and us is to believe God demands or requests us to be better or more loving than we are right now. You and I do not really want to believe that about God. Yet, we do. We often think we must be better for God to love us, accept us, and save us. When do you or I expect to close the supposed gap? Tomorrow? When we die? No, Jesus Christ has already breached the wall. He is not going to cross some non-existing barrier in the future.


Frustration results from our longing to be perfect, as we claim Christ to be. We do not need to be perfect due to the effects of the blood and forgiveness, although we have a hard time accepting that. Frustration comes when we strive to be perfect but feel we are not accomplishing what God wants us to do. Fortunately, God is completely happy with us today just as we are. He is not requesting you, me, or any Christian to be perfect. We are completely in Christ at this very moment. We cannot be in Christ more tomorrow than we are today. There is no frustration because there is no gap between the perfect Christ and the imperfect us. We are not sinners. We are fully in Jesus Christ now. Salvation means rescue. We were rescued from sin and darkness so now we are out of those traps. We are not being rescued continually. We are in a rescued state and have been since we made the choice to grab the lifebuoy. We do not need to keep reaching for it over and over. 


A big problem for us comes because we are taught that our salvation event is merely a beginning.  That is why Luther and many others have said the process is not finished in us.  However, it is finished in us.  There are no requirements left in the future for us to complete our salvation and to bring us closer to God.  We need to understand the future never comes and is unreal.  The only thing that is important is where we are at this moment.  Thank God, we are in the Spirit!  We are in full relation with him right now.  The bond we have presently with Jesus Christ does not depend at all on what may or may not happen in the future.  That is true because any future actions or choices only affect the "present" moment of that day.  We are not in a state of frustration, because we are fully saved, sanctified, and purified right now.  Certainly, we want to be acting in the image of God today and will want to do the same tomorrow.  And we do.  Any failures or missteps are covered by the blood.  They were today and they will be tomorrow.  Again, what might happen tomorrow does not affect us one bit today.  We do not anticipate being accepted and approved by God tomorrow, because we are already saved and sanctified today.


If we are completely washed in the blood at this very moment, free of sin and free of guilt, how can we, in any sense, be frustrated?  Do we really believe our imperfection today or the sin committed today creates or widens a gulf between our Lord and us?  I don't think so, because that would be denying the power of the blood.  Do we contend that God is unhappy and disappointed with us today because we failed to live up with some ideal?  Again, unlikely, as that would be limiting the love of God and his friendship.  Frustration comes when we beat up ourselves and do not trust in forgiveness and love.

Obedience and Salvation

Posted on May 29, 2020 at 12:10 AM

Where do you stand on God's grace for those who may believe in Him but try to enter (out of ignorance or incorrect teaching) into Christ in a way other than what the Word describes? In other words, does God's grace (forgiveness) accrue to one's benefit BEFORE obedience to his Word?


We enter or reenter a relationship with God through our making a choice to be with him AND by choosing to live a life as he would have us live. We move out of living in sin and move into living in Jesus Christ. Faith would encompass belief and trust, exemplifying the choice we make. Repentance would memorialize the choice and would be the process of moving from sin to Spirit. Baptism and confession would be public demonstrations of the choice and the life change. We would not teach that baptism, faith, confession, or repentance have any magical properties. They are all part of the process of acceptance of God’s mercy and our change of life.

 

Some of us were taught baptism, faith, confession, and repentance are steps that must be taken. We believed that Jesus brought in a new set of laws or rules that must be followed and obeyed in order for us to be saved and to get to heaven. Are we under a new set of rules? It is interesting that the New Testament never says there is a new set of laws to follow. We have made that interpretation, based mainly on the passage in Jeremiah and Hebrews that references a new covenant. See our blog “New Covenant.”

 

Because we have extrapolated there is a set of laws we must follow, we love to sing “Trust and Obey, there is no other way” and to say it is necessary to “obey the gospel” in order to be saved. By obey, we nearly always mean following a set of laws. Neither of these exact phrases were uttered by our Lord Jesus Christ nor by the apostles. We came up with those phrases to describe our interpretation about rules that must be followed. Let’s talk a bit about “obey.”

 

The New Testament does talk about obedience. We are told to obey what Jesus commanded us, God, the Word of God, Jesus’ word, Jesus’ teaching, and even the law. What does that mean? What does it mean to obey God along with his word, teachings, and law? I would think those are all talking about the same thing. Obedience includes the whole process of choosing and following God. What is his word and teaching for us? It is to love him and love people. Jesus said everything is summed up in those two things.

 

Obedience is about following God. That includes living our life like he wants, a life of love. Yes, we do follow and obey laws, but only as they relate to God and what he wants us to be. The goal is to follow God, not follow rules. To obey the gospel is not about trying to follow rules exactly, but is about choosing and following God. God did not say rules or laws are unimportant. Rules and laws will never go away, because they spell out the specifics of the way we want to act. Jesus said not one tiny bit of the law will pass away. We will always have rules and laws. But following rules and laws does not save us. Following God does. He saves us and forgives us, because we have chosen him and want to be with him. He does not extend grace because we have followed a set of rules perfectly. Perfection does not come before grace. We are not perfect before salvation nor are we perfect afterwards. Perfection through perfect law-keeping never works.

 

But doesn’t obedience mean obeying the law? Certainly, the Bible does talk about obeying the law. Note that obeying the law is equal to obeying God. Obeying God means following him, not just a list of rules. How do we know that? Jesus, in several places, showed we follow the greater principles of love, justice, mercy, etc. and any rules are ways to point to those things. Let’s look at two passages to show obedience is not defined as rule keeping but rather as following God. Paul says, “So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised” (Romans 2:24 NIV)? Interesting verse. Paul says if we follow the law of God, even though we are not circumcised, we are counted as if we kept the entire law. Following the law, according to Paul is NOT about following every law. It is about following God and his principles. Samuel affirms this when he says, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed [is better] than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV). Sacrifices and circumcision were not only God-given laws, but they were core laws. Yet, we are told that obedience is bigger than keeping the laws of sacrifice and circumcision. Is it also possible that obedience to God is bigger than a rule like baptism? Obedience does not mean keeping every single law, even every God-given law. We can be said to obey God and obey his law, even if we don’t keep every law. No one keeps every law perfectly.

 

However, like many Christians, we were taught and maybe still believe that we must be perfect to win the favor of God. We believe perfection means following a list of rules or laws perfectly. But the Bible never says we must be perfect. Jesus was clear, along with Samuel and Paul, that perfection in keeping rules is not the goal.

 

Your question asks whether grace applies before salvation or only after. I would have to say that God loves us and wants us to be with him for our entire lives. His love does not start at conversion. Grace was offered before salvation and is not a condition of salvation. We might believe God does not demand perfection for decades of our Christian lives. Are we prepared to say he does demand perfection as we “enter” the Christian life? I would be hard-pressed to make that claim. Remember that forgiveness covers our entire life of sin and mistakes. It is not limited in coverage only to sins and imperfections committed after our first acceptance of God.

 

We must be careful about using rules and laws, even God’s law, as a barrier to salvation. In Galatians, Paul was dealing with people who wanted a God-given law, circumcision, as a requirement for salvation. Paul said he hoped they mutilate themselves. Pretty tough language! Might we have a problem if we also require a certain rule be followed before a person becomes a Christian? Something to think about. We probably need to be reticent in saying God requires perfect law-keeping in order to become a Christian but does not require perfect law-keeping to remain a Christian.  When we think salvation comes from perfectly keeping every single rule then we kill ourselves with what-ifs and details, like the Pharisees. We start to think we have to act perfectly and believe perfectly. I did not have perfect beliefs when I was saved. That is okay, because God forgives all imperfections and all sins for my entire life. I don’t have perfect beliefs and actions now, but God forgives me. I didn’t have perfect beliefs and actions when I became a Christian either.

 

Are we saying God loves all people and that all people will be saved? No, although he does love all people. We must make the choice to accept his love and to participate in his love. We can refuse to accept his grace and we can refuse to live lives in the Spirit. If we do choose him and desire to live life with him, then we will forgive all our sins, mistakes, and imperfections for our entire lives. He has never required perfection.

New Covenant

Posted on April 25, 2020 at 9:25 AM

According to my Bible, aren't there many scriptures that clearly state the old covenant is obsolete and nailed to the cross?  Doesn't that mean we now live under a new set of laws?


Jeremiah 31 and 32 do talk about a new covenant God will make with the people of Israel.  Headings in both chapters (which were placed there by men) refer to a restoration.  This is clearly evident when God says I will bring my people back from being scattered and they will be my people just as i will their God.  It says that the earlier covenant established when Israel came out of Egypt was broken by the people.  The key part says, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 3:33-14 ESV). 


God says three interesting things concerning the new everlasting covenant.  One, the covenant is made with God’s house. The writer of Hebrews later quotes this passage and makes the point that Moses was a servant in the house, but Jesus was the Son (Hebrews 3:5-6). It was the same house, though. The house of Israel was to be restored.  We are told Jesus "will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:33 NLT).  Neither Jeremiah nor the Hebrews author are referring to a new religion or a new people.  Two,  the new covenant is about forgiveness, which we know is the only way of achieving restoration with Yahweh.  "I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins."  Three, the new covenant is now to be written on the hearts of God's people.  Presumably, this is in contrast to the earlier covenant delivered in writing on stones.  It is notable that there is nothing about the new covenant being a new written set of rules to replace the earlier.  Rather, the new covenant is one where forgiveness and restoration replaces rebellion and sin.  And the new covenant is one where God's law becomes real in the lives of his people (metaphorically, "written on their hearts") instead of simply being words written on parchment or a stone but ignored.   The difference under the new covenant is that now "I will be their God, they shall be my people...and they shall know me."


In quoting Jeremiah, the Hebrews writer shows that Jesus is superior to the earlier law.  In chapter 8, he (perhaps she) says we have a better covenant because we have a High Priest who mediates better promises.  Therefore, the new covenant will improve or replace the old covenant because it will now contain a "better promise" clause.  In chapter 9, the writer continues the discussion and gives examples of some of the rules and regulations under the old covenant.  It is key that nowhere does he speak of the old covenant with its written set of laws being replaced by a set of written laws under a new covenant.  However, that is often believed and taught for some reason.  Likely, it is commonly accepted that man must have a set of laws and rules laid out and we must follow them to be saved.  That certainly was a misconception of many Jews.  Salvation, though, comes from God and does not come from our keeping perfectly a set of rules.  That was true earlier and is still true now.  The Hebrew writer never mentions any supposed new set of rules.  Rather, he explains that the new covenant is better because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ allows for forgiveness for all people. "Once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.  And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people.  He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him."  The new covenant is executed with better promises built around the forgiveness found in the one-time sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  There is nothing about us having to follow a new set of rules rather than an old set of rules.


In Colossians 2, Paul says God has wiped out the "handwriting of requirements" or "legal obligation" and nailed it to the cross.  He doesn't directly say this refers to the Mosaic law, but the context indicates that is likely what he had in mind (although it could include other rules as well).  What then allows this cancellation to take place? Paul identifies that when he says "You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins."   Again, just like the new covenant, it is all about forgiveness in Christ Jesus.  Forgiveness that comes from the death and resurrection are what makes the nailing possible and wipes out any legal obligations of rules and laws.  There is nothing here that talks about a new set of laws. 


We are set free, as Paul explains elsewhere, from the law of sin and death.  That has to mean any law of sin and death.  We are set free not by following a new set of laws but by being in the Spirit.  There is no set of laws, old or new, that can set us free from sin.  Only the sacrifice of the Lamb can do that.  God did not create a better set of laws.  Instead, he offered us a better promise and a better sacrifice.


Ask yourself:  "If God wanted salvation to come from following a new list of rules then where in the New Testament is that clear, complete list?"