|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.
Categories: Erased: God's Complete Forgiveness of Sins
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