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Christians and Sinners

Posted on April 10, 2020 at 11:25 AM

James writes a scathing rebuke to the 'saints' in his letter calling them 'adulterous people' in 4:4 and 'sinners' & 'double-minded' in 4:8.  Doesn't something sinful remain within us, even though we are covered by the blood of Christ and our sins atoned for?


 You are correct that James did refer to some of his readers as sinners. We could extrapolate that all Christians are sinners if we assume James was talking to only Christians. Was he doing that? Who, in fact, was he addressing in chapter 4? Notice the people he called sinners were also named as killers, covetous people, unfaithful people, enemies of God, and people who had not humbled themselves before God. To me, that is strong evidence that James’ message was intended to both Christians and non-Christians. While we might feel comfortable, from habit, to call all Christians sinners, I do not think we are ready to call all Christians enemies of God as well. People now in Christ are not also all killers and unfaithful. In the same way, we can say that Christians are not sinners either. If James’ designations are the basis of an interpretation that all Christians are sinners, we must also conclude Christians are all still enemies of God. We cannot just pull out the word “sinner” and not include the other names such as “adulterous people.” When James pointed out the killers, the enemies of God, and sinners, he was addressing non-Christian readers. “Sinners” is no more a universal description for Christians than are the descriptions “killers” or ‘unfaithful.”


 You brought up the ubiquitous theory that sin remains in Christians. One of our problems is that preachers and translators have continued to advance that idea that sin stays with us, not merely as a possible choice on our part but as some force living within us that we cannot escape until we leave this world. It is true sin was once a part of lives through our choice and, we can say, controlled us or was in us. That time of our lives before Jesus has been characterized as a time of being in the flesh or in the world. Now, however, due to forgiveness we are in the Spirit, and we are not now controlled by the flesh or the world. Interpreters of all sorts just cannot give it up, though. They still want to transform a theology of freedom and confidence into one of continued anxiety and despair.


Stay with me, as I give one small example of how this view is passed on. Paul said to Christians, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). On face, this verse would agree with your suggestion that sin remains in us. Unfortunately, for you and me, the NLT translators have taken a commonly-held interpretation and imposed it on the text. This type of teaching then causes many to be discouraged, even to the point of abandoning their first love. Paul did not say sin lurks within us as many Christians have been led to believe. In fact, neither the word “sin” or “sinful” is even in the verse! Instead, the original text says, “Put to death your members on this earth.” The Greek word for members is one used commonly for limbs, like our arms and legs. Therefore, Paul did not assert a sinful nature lurks within Christians. Rather, he told us to be careful to keep our feet or hands disconnected from our old life. We need to get rid of any possible entanglements. This is reminiscent of Jesus telling us to pluck out our offending eyes. A better translation, and one that gets us nearer the truth and does not leave us with an internal, controlling sin nature, is this: “That means killing off everything connected with that way of death” (Colossians 3:5 MSG). The NLT translators, like many preachers and theologians, often bring a bias that we still have sin living within us, despite the power of God.


 I have argued that God's forgiveness covers all our sins. All our sins have been washed away. Any cancerous tumor of sin has been extracted. No lingering cancer cells are overlooked or stay behind. We find no comfort in believing that something sinful remains in us. If that is true, then the blood of Jesus has not worked. I do not see how we can have a relationship with God if he chooses not to forgive all sins. After all, it is sin that separates us. Are Christians sinners? I have hopefully made the point that we are not. Jesus sure seems to make a distinction between being a righteous person and being a sinner. We were sinners but heeded the call of Jesus to repent and have now become righteous.


 Ask yourself: “Why would God atone for my sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and cover all my sins but still leave something sinful in me?”

Struggles with Sin

Posted on April 10, 2020 at 10:45 AM

Your argument that Paul's present tense language, describing his battle with sin in Romans 7 is actually a past tense literary device speaking of his pre-conversion identity, is a step I have yet to find justification for from other reliable scholars and sources.  Isn't it a reality that we still must wrestle and struggle with sin and a sin nature?


First of all, the discussion on tenses was not meant to be a pillar argument. It was more of a supporting explanation of how to make sense of a difficult text in light of other verses. The fact of the matter is that Paul did use the present tense in his discussion of a struggle (although I think the case could be made it is more of a struggle to be perfect in following the law and the resulting guilt of such failure, rather than a struggle with sin, as we mostly interpret). If one only reads the immediate verses around the struggle part, then it surely does seem to point to a present struggle.  Here is the problem. Yes, Paul does speak of a struggle in the present tense. But in chapter 8 he uses the present tense to say that now there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He further says he has been set free from the law of sin and death, so therefore not presently in sin. We have three choices. A. Paul is presently struggling with guilt (or sin or trying to be perfect) and is not presently free from the law of sin and death. B. Paul is both presently struggling with guilt (or sin or trying to be perfect) and is presently free from the law of sin and death. C. Paul is not presently struggling with guilt (or sin or trying to be perfect) and is presently free from the law of sin and death. Every choice has a tense problem.

 

All Christians reject A, so that leaves us with B or C. B is the common position, because many believe we “still must wrestle and struggle with sin and a sin nature.” I find that phrase interesting. First, it ties the struggle to a sin nature or flesh, as is sometimes translated. Paul certainly speaks a lot here about the flesh and the Spirit. Second, it says any struggle is a necessity and indicates the struggle is something that never goes away for us and cannot go away. I am not sure Paul says that. He does say “I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” That seems to seal the deal for interpretation B. Or does it?

 

Paul keeps going in chapter 8. I wish sometimes we did not have chapter divisions! In 8:4 Paul says, in the presence tense, we, “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” He explains, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” In verse 9, using present tense, Paul continues, “You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit of God.” Are we presently in the flesh (sinful nature) or are we presently in the Spirit? Or are we both? I would have to say that Chapter 8 makes a very strong case that we are not in the flesh, but are in the Spirit. Paul uses the present tense to say we are not in a sin nature The verb tenses are problematic, because Paul does talk of a present salvation and a future salvation.  However, it seems clear to me that we are not presently living in the flesh and we are not, as Christians, required to struggle with a sin nature. Living in the Spirit must be different from living in the flesh. I agree with Paul that “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Sprit is life and peace.” I choose life and peace. I choose C. I am not in death.

 

To choose B, you have to say that God is not able to overcome our sinful nature here on earth. I just can’t accept that. Paul is emphatic that we have been “set free from the law of sin and death.” How can we be set free, when some say we must struggle continually with sin and a sinful nature? I just don’ t see it. I don’t see how other scholars and sources can reconcile how we can be in the Spirit and free from sin while still being under sin and the power of sin. It doesn’t make sense. I know some don't agree with my take on the present tense of a struggle in Romans 7. On the other hand, how do we interpret the fact that, in chapter 8, Paul uses the present tense to say we are not in the flesh? Choice B says we are still in the flesh and the sin nature.  Only Choice C rightfully acknowledges Jesus Christ has overcome the flesh or sinful nature and that we are not controlled in any way by it.

Perfection

Posted on December 18, 2019 at 11:50 AM

Doesn't Christ demand perfection!  Isn't that our goal, because God is the mark?


If perfection is the goal and perfection is defined as never breaking the law, never committing a sin, or never making a mistake then I would say that God does not demand perfection. I do not believe God ever expected perfection from us. If we were perfect we would be God! We don’t expect perfection from ourselves or from others. God made us and knew we would not be perfect. I actually believe it is crazy to think God expects or demands perfection. I know it says be perfect and I tried to address what that means in the book.  When it talks about being perfect, sin is not even mentioned.  Being perfect entails being complete in following God.  Notice that the rich young ruler was encouraged to be perfect by following Jesus, which he was not willing to do.  It wasn't about not sinning.


Here’s the deal though. Let’s say we can’t agree on whether God demands perfection or not. The argument is moot because of forgiveness!! I gave up trying to be perfect. That does not make me less perfect then others because we are not perfect anyways. It does generally make me feel less guilty and ashamed. One Christian thinks he has to be perfect and one does not. Which is better off? I say the latter.  In both cases, neither person is perfect.  Are we to believe it is better to be the person who thinks God demands perfection?

Defining Sin

Posted on December 18, 2019 at 11:40 AM

The book claims “Sin is not defined by just breaking the law. Sin’s real danger occurs when it leads to separation.”  Doesn't the Bible clearly define sin: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness?” (1 John 3:4)


In the next verse John says “In him there is no sin.” How can those two things be reconciled? I say that vs. 4 is talking about the life outside Jesus Christ in which we are lawless and apart from God. It is not just talking about breaking a Rule Law. If you interpret vs. 4 as merely breaking a law then you will have a hard time with verse 5. How can you and I not be in sin if sin is defined as simply breaking the law. We don’t discuss verse 5, but talk a lot about verse 4. The problem is that we define sin too narrowly. God is interested in the overall choices and results; he is not making up laws to trap us. Let’s go back to the Garden. The problem wasn’t just eating the fruit. The problem at its root was the choice to live apart from God. That choice was manifested in the act itself, but there was no bad magic in eating fruit. The sin was leaving God.

 

Furthermore, isn't ALL sin except those repented of lead to separation - thus, needing grace?


There is some truth to that, but I might be careful of such a blanket statement. It might be interpreted that every sin for a Christian will separate us from God without and unless we specifically repent of that particular sin. Again, we tend to dwell on each sin and make that the focus. In Christ, we are living in repentance and his blood is continuously washing us. Remember “In him there is no sin.” Does that mean there is no breaking of a rule by Christians? No. It means there is no sin because we are no longer sinners and are not in the state of sin. That state of sin is the state of lawlessness.

God's Rules vs Man's Rules

Posted on December 18, 2019 at 11:05 AM

What are the criteria one must use to ascertain the difference between human made rules and God’s rules?


My opinion is the Bible is not always clear in this area. There is some ambiguity. We must follow every law or we must not? That is not easy to answer. Jesus did not follow every law and yet said not one bit of the law will disappear! How clear is that? In the book I did not give a list (criteria) for when we must do one thing and not the other although we discussed he need to work from the godly principles. I believe that sometimes the solution is fuzzy and is not always consistent from time to time or people to people. Certainly, none of us want to say anything goes, but if we are honest, we must admit that Christians do pick and choose and modify rules and laws. I do not require animal sacrifice and I do not require circumcision. When did God say those requirements went away?


Let me address what I think is one problem. Because there is not always a set answer then we want to come up with a way of determining that elusive set answer. For some of us, we have decided that the solution lies in knowing what are God’s laws and what are man’s. To ask about the criteria related to ascertaining the difference, we may be asking the wrong question. We are assuming, perhaps, that deciding what is God’s law and what is man’s law is the key. The point I was trying to make was that there is precisely not always a list or criteria for that either. Asking such a question reduces what we want to have in relationship down to following the right list. There is, however, no right list of God’s rules. The Bible nowhere gives us a complete list of rules and laws nor does it give us always immutable laws. We must make decisions not just on what God said or didn’t say. Trying to decide everything on the basis of God’s law verses man’s laws works sometimes, but often (or at times) does not do enough. The Jews got in trouble all the time with Jesus over this. We often say that they had the right idea, but just didn’t have it all together. They simply missed the right list. We all think we know what that list is. But we don’t. We sometimes try to say that God had old rules that didn’t work, so he gave us new rules in the NT. Honestly though, the NT does not give a list of rules. It does not tell us always how to decide what are man’s laws and what are God’s laws. So we then create ways like “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent,” "apostolic example equals direct command," or “In matters of faith unity and in matters of opinion liberty.” Those have some value but aren’t from Jesus. They are from Christians trying to get the list right-to be able to have set answers.


However, we keep arguing over what is faith and what is opinion. You and I probably don’t even fully agree on the list. And I know we would have opinions on what are opinions. What I am saying is that we need to work more on the principles and less on laws themselves. It is not about trying all the time to interpret what rules God may or may not have given us. It is not about the difference between human made rules and God’s rules. It is about how we can go beyond all rules to be the kind of person we were created to be. Jesus and Paul are clear that we are not bound by law, but unhappily we want to keep binding ourselves. Rules are primarily for the ignorant and those who don’t want to follow God. That is what Paul said. 

Choice of Hell?

Posted on November 15, 2019 at 8:15 AM

There simply can be no eternal conscious torment, and certainly nobody who would choose it!!  Do you agree?


While the book is not primarily on heaven and hell, I did discuss them.  We always must be careful to avoid too strong of a position on heaven and hell for two reasons.  One, while the Bible does speak of heaven and hell, we must admit that we don't have a lot of details.  I am sure most Christians would like to know more.  Two, because relatively little is said, opinions therefore vary considerably among Christians.  I take three positions about hell.  First, hell is either a synonym for being in the not God state or else closely tied to that.  Anyone who is said to be in hell is one separated from God.  Second, hell is not a physical place and does not have associated attributes like literal fire or gates.  However, the state of hell is very unpleasant and bad indeed because it is the state of being away from God and all of his wonderful qualities.  Third,  all of us have the choice to select God or not God so therefore have the choice to select heaven or hell.


The criticism noted at the beginning says there cannot be an eternal conscious torment.  The Bible does not actually use the phrase "eternal conscious torment" nor do I in the book.  I will say that although hell may not be a physical torment of a lake of fire it could be described as torment.  The Bible uses the term torment.  What better way to describe what it is like to be out of the presence of God?  So I would have to say there is a torment.  Fire, darkness, gnashing of teeth all suggest torment.  I am not sure what the critic means by conscious torment.  It seems to me that would be the only kind.  Wouldn't unconscious torment be no torment at all?  Now, is there eternal torment?  Without going into verses that might deal with that, I would say that the torment of separation from God will last as long as there are people separated from God.  Does there come a time when all people will be saved regardless of their choice?  I know some Christians do advocate a Universal Salvation.  I did not argue for or against that in the book, but I am not yet convinced that God will override our choice to not be with him.


That brings us to the other point asserted: that nobody would choose this eternal conscious torment.  It does baffle Christians as to why anyone might choose hell over heaven.  But in the same way we are baffled as to why there is a choice of God over not God.  The choice is the same.  So to certify that nobody would choose torment is to say nobody would choose to be separated from God.  However, the Bible seems clear to me that people, and a fair amount of them, do choose to not be with God.  To deny that is to take the position that either God does not allow us a choice at all or that at some point God will override our negative choice.  The alternative view is that while we may have choice and make bad choices on earth, but when we come face to face with God every single person will change their mind and choose God.  I have to say that any of these positions are hard to support biblically.  For example, the parable of Lazarus seems to indicate that God provides everything we need to make sensible choices while we are on earth.  Christians  who say that any choice of opposing God here on earth will be reversed at judgment are basically saying that God does not give us adequate tools on earth to make the right choice.  It is baffling that people prefer the state of sin and hell over the state of God and love.  But it does happen, does it not?

Body Blows

Posted on September 28, 2019 at 2:15 PM

Doesn't 1 Cor. 9:27 sounds a lot like a “struggle” in which Paul is presently and [at least to some degree] engaged?

I may miss your question, but I don’t see this as related that much to what I am addressing. My claim is that God’s forgiveness and salvation are complete and that we longer need to struggle daily with sin as if sin is about to overcome us at any minute.  This passage is not really addressing Paul’s salvation or any battle or struggle with sin. Rather, he is discussing his preaching of the Gospel and what he must do to reach people. He picks up on the idea of slavery to show to what extent he will go to be successful. In verse 19 he says he will become a slave to everyone in order to win them to Christ. What does being a slave involve? It involves in some respect giving up something like control or freedom. Here, Paul gives up his freedom in Christ in order to live under some of the restrictions that the Jews or the Greeks lived under. He is willing to take on some duties of the law when he is around those who follow the law meticulously. Again, he is not talking at all about his salvation or his wanting to avoid sin. In the 19-23 section sin is not even mentioned.


Paul does like to mix metaphors so he throws in about training. But he is still talking about preaching the gospel and does not leave the slavery idea. In vs 27 he says, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:27 NIV).” How is he becoming a slave? He is giving up his time and freedom to train hard. This is still tied to his preaching and he claims again to make himself a slave as he did before. He does not want to miss the prize. What is the prize? We tend to think that is salvation or heaven, but again there is nothing here in this passage about those things. Why did he want to make himself a slave in verse 19? To win as many as possible. Why did he want to make himself a slave in verse 27? So he will not be disqualified for the prize. Logic would say these two goals are the same thing or very related. He did not want to lose the prize of winning as many as possible. The prize is not his personal salvation, his entering heaven, or freedom from sin. Training your body to preach and struggling with sin may seem to sound alike but really are two different things.


Notice in Romans 7 Paul really is not talking about a struggle with sin either. He is discussing a struggle to try to be perfect through keeping the law, a struggle that was behind him.

Confession of Sins

Posted on September 26, 2019 at 10:10 AM

How do you fit I Jn. 1:5-10 into your reasoning?


I am not surprised to have this brought up. Originally, I included a treatment of this passage with the intention of anticipating objections. I tried this treatment in a couple of places in the body of the book and even in an appendix. However, I finally decided to leave it out, thinking my answer to a supposed question was perhaps too much and probably unnecessary for what I wanted to do. We do tend to read the Bible and particularly “hard” verses in light of our interpretations as a whole. In this passage, I think many scholars and Christians see a confirmation of the idea that Christians still are sinners and so interpret accordingly. Once one starts to understand that perhaps Christians are not sinners and, as John says elsewhere, either do not sin or else stop sinning, then I think a fair approach is to see how we might need to reexamine verses that seemed so plain to us before.


My deleted thoughts on this passage:


In 1 John 1, doesn’t John say we all have to admit that sin is in Christians?  John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, 10 NIV)   In the middle of that section he adds “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.“ (1 John 1:9 NIV)  Does John say Christians are in sin? Some say that he implies it by the use of the theoretical “we.” This verse is also used to support the argument that Christians who sin need to confess to each other. Maybe they do need such mutual confession, but John is not making that point at all in this section. He is not talking about Christians who sin and then need to confess. Rather, he refers to the people who are still in sin but deny sin altogether.


In this passage, John contrasts two kinds of people. One group are the ones who say they have no sin and, therefore, do not need Christ. The other is made up of those who admitted that they have sinned, recognized they were separated from God, and now have turned to God. Consider the two groups:


1. Those who claim they have no sins/deny (“if we” Verses 8 and 10.  Deceiving themselves.  Not having truth.  Making God a liar.  Not having God's word in them.


2. Those who admit/confess they have sins (“if we”  Verse 9.  Receiving forgiveness.  Being purified from unrighteousness


Does group 1 refer to Christians who don't confess and group 2 refers to Christians who do confess? No. Group 1 are non-Christians who deny sin and therefore still have a need for a savior. The Group 1 descriptions can in no way apply to Christians. John did not consider himself or other Christians as not having truth, not having God’s word, and making God a liar. Group 2 refers to Christians who have admitted sin and accepted Jesus Christ as savior.


I will point out the light /darkness metaphor (see Chapter 2 of Erased) just as John does in this section. Compare this secondary grouping to the one above:


A. Those who claim fellowship with him but walk in darkness (“if we” Verse 6.  Lying.  Not living in truth.


B. Those who walk in the light (“if we” Verse 7.  Fellowshipping with each other. Being purified from all sin.


In verses 6-7, John uses the “we” not as inclusive of his Christian readers and him, but the “we” is inclusive of everyone in a supposed group. Another way to do that is to use “one.” One might do this or one might do that. Notice John says, “if we walk in the darkness” and then, conversely, “if we walk in the light.” He certainly is not saying that he and his Christian readers are walking in darkness and light at the same time, but rather he is alluding to the supposed “anyone” who does one or the supposed “anyone” who does the other. Those in darkness are liars and not in truth while those in the light are purified from sin. Then in verses 8 and 10 he picks up the same contrast. Those who claim to never have sinned are the ones deceiving themselves and not having the truth. It is plain these are the same as the ones in verse 6, i.e., the ones who are in the darkness. In contrast to the ones in darkness are those who confess their sins and are purified from unrighteousness. Again, these confessors in verse 9 are the same as the ones in verse 7, the ones purified from sins and walking in the light. John is not saying in chapter 1 that Christians are in sin and in chapter 3 they are not in sin. Rather, in both chapters, he is affirming those outside of Jesus Christ are sinners and those in Jesus Christ are not sinners.


People who argue this passage teaches Christians are in sin key in on John saying "we.  John never says we Christians deny sin and walk in darkness. He did say if we do deny sin exists and we do walk in darkness then we are lying, not living in truth, deceiving ourselves, and making God a liar. On the other hand, he says if we do admit sins and walk in the light, we are receiving forgiveness, being purified from sins, and fellowshipping with each other. Which group do you think Christians are in? I am betting on the latter.


In summary, those who claimed to be without sin and therefore to have no need for Jesus Christ were liars and deceivers. John was in no way saying Christians need to confess up and admit they are sinners. Instead, he says that Christians, in contrast to the imposters, had already admitted they were sinners and in need of Christ. They had accepted Christ and forgiveness of those sins. John confirms what we have been saying. We are not sinners because our sins are being forgiven.


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