#7 Saint Vs Sinner – Should Christians Identity as sinners or saints?

As Christians, we are those that are in Christ. We are no longer slaves of sin and darkness, but SONS AND DAUGHTERS of the living God. That’s who we are. So when we sin the gospel calls us to repent and turn away from it. Additionally, it calls us to turn to Jesus in faith, not just for mercy, though it is needed, but also for affirmation of our identity. That we are who he says we are. That we remain God’s child and he loves us and adopted us as his kids. A choice he made long before we ever stuffed up.

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This is the last post in this series. I’m excited. Not because it’s the last post but because the best has been saved till last. In this post, I will seek to explore the concept of Christian identity. This clear sense of identity is fundamental to all human experience and without it, we feel lost. Some would say that our desperate need to ‘find ourselves’ and secure that clear apprehension of who we are as being sinful. That it is the ego looking at itself, trying to define itself and to some degree even worshipping itself. There may be some truth to this. However, could it be possible that our longing for identity is not necessarily sinful; rather it reveals the reality and effect of sin? In other words, the search and the deep longing of the human soul to secure a true sense of identity exists because sin has separated us from God, each other and even to some degree our own self. Maybe we had something, lost it and our souls are seeking for it. Therefore the search and the deep need isn’t what is sinful, it’s a result of sin; how we go about finding it is what could be sinful.

So let’s explore the final question in this series.

 

Should Christians Identity as sinners or saints?

Identity always dictates activity. In the story in Luke 18, the tax collector identified himself as a sinner while the Pharisee a righteous person. Due to the self-identification of both men, it was the tax collector that received God’s mercy.

“… the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13 ESV)

While the tax collector rightly identifies as a sinner in need of God’s mercy, the question follows of whether or not he continued to identify himself as a sinner after he received God’s mercy? Or did it change? For Christians that have received God’s mercy, how are we to identify ourselves – Saints or Sinners?

Let’s kick off by looking at the dangers of over-emphasising one over the other and then see if we can land somewhere that is helpful.

 

  • Over-Emphasised Sainthood

The New Testament time and again describes believing Christians as saints. And oh what a name we have received. This is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic view of a saint that separates Christians into three categories of ordinary believers, priests and saints. Rather it simply suggests any and all persons that are ‘in Christ’. All believing Christians are described as saints, not those super holy, miracle-working believers. Scripture tells us that those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and are faithful to him are saints (Eph. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:2) The Apostle Paul continually addressed his Christian audience describing them as saints (Phil. 1:1; Col 1:2) And scripture calls us to live out our ‘sainthood’ (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 2:1; 1 Pet. 1:15-16) over and over again reminding us of who we once were but are no longer because we are made new (Eph. 2:5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal 6:15). It is within this new identity in Christ, that one finds joy and peace in God’s holiness and desires to be conformed to Christ and live like Christ. It is God who grants us this identity as a saint and by it, we are comforted knowing that in his calling us saints we are in his hands secure because of Christ’s person and work.

Yet when this aspect is overemphasized, we can lose sight of our need for ongoing grace and mercy for the ongoing sins we do commit and hurt others by. We can forget our need for ongoing repentance. That constant turning away from sin and turning to Christ our gracious saviour. We can also forget our need to ask each other for forgiveness acknowledging that our sin is not only against God but also each other. An over-emphasis of the Christian identity as a saint can lead into idolatry which leads us away from reality and away from our deep need for Christ, his Word, his people and his grace and mercy.

 

  • Over-Emphasised Sinfulness

Likewise, our acknowledgment of our sinfulness serves others and us greatly. As we have seen while the power and dominion of sin are broken by Christ’s work, the presence of sin in our lives remains and we battle and fight seeking to kill the deeds of the flesh every day. This is a good thing. A necessary thing. Realising the battle is won but not complete helps us to continually look to Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3) and run to his abounding fountain of grace. We are reminded again and again of our daily need of his mercy and his daily giving of it. It humbles us. It softens us. It changes us in how we relate to God, to others and even ourselves.

Yet in the same way, some Christians idolise their sainthood others idolise their sinfulness. I remember once saying, “hello you great people” to some Christians at an event this past year. The reply I got was somewhat unexpected. They responded, “We’re not great. We’re totally depraved”. To which I sarcastically responded with a cheesy grin and a sneaky wink of the eye, “Well not anymore if you’re in Christ Jesus hey”. They had over-emphasised their sinfulness. We are to acknowledge our sin not be defined by it or live under the dominion of it.

 

So how are we to identify ourselves as Christians?

Martin Luther wrestled with this question and eventually landed on the formula “Simul Justus et Peccator”. What does it mean?

Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously, ‘at the same time.’ Justus is Latin for just or righteous and Peccator means sinner. So Luther in trying to distinguish the Christian identity landed upon the idea that we are ‘simultaneously just and sinner’. R.C Sproul in his teaching on Luther and the Reformation notes that Luther,

“…was saying from one perspective, in one sense, we are just. In another sense, from another perspective, we are sinners; and how he defines this is simple. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.”

(For more go to http://www.ligonier.org/blog/simul-justus-et-peccator/)

Martin Luther sought to hold these two realities in tension, not over-emphasising one at the expense of the other. So this can be helpful. Now for some, this may be sacrilegious, but I tend to push back a little on the identity of a sinner. When I consider the writings of the Apostle Paul he tends to use the language of past tense when referring to sin. (Rom. 6:17; Gal 1:23; Eph. 2:1-3; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:10)

Ephesians 2:1 comes to mind where Paul outlines the absolute depravity of human sinfulness yet he begins by using the past tense of

‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.’ Eph. 2:1

And one of my favourite scriptures in all the New Testament,

11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. 6:11

Paul consistently reminded Christians of their new identity in Christ and called them to live out of it. “That’s not you any more Christian. You are made new”. Paul had no problem calling sin out in the Church. But he also reminded Christians time and again of their new identity and called people to believe and recognise who they now are in Christ as one of the great means of overcoming sin. In fact that most common description of Christians in the New Testament is those that are ‘In Christ’. It is used over 200 times.

While sin may still describe some of our activity, ‘sinner’ does not have to define our identity. Yes, we must acknowledge our sin. Yes, we must repent of it, seek forgiveness and trust the Spirit to transform us. We are not free from sins existence but we are free from its penalty, it’s power, its tyranny and mastery. We are made new and, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13-14)

 

Pastor Rick Warren has a saying I’ve always resonated with

“To know who we are we must know who’s we are”

Like every abandoned child that longs to know their true biological parents in order to know themselves, we too need to know who’s we are in order to know who we are. And as Christians, we are those that are in Christ. We are no longer slaves of sin and darkness, but SONS AND DAUGHTERS of the living God. That’s who we are. So when we sin the gospel calls us to repent and turn away from it. Additionally, it calls us to turn to Jesus in faith, not just for mercy, though it is needed, but also for affirmation of our identity. That we are who he says we are. That we remain God’s child and he loves us and adopted us as his kids. A choice he made long before we ever stuffed up.

he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will Eph. 1:5

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers Rom. 8:29

Longing for a sense of identity is not wrong, nor sinful, it is necessary. But our true identity can only be found in the one who made us. Our true identity can not and does not come from our self. We do not find who we are by looking within. No! We find who we are by looking down. We look down into the scriptures through which God screams ‘MINE’! And we look up to the heavens and thank God for making us his.

Spurgeon recounts a story from Augustine

In his pre-Christian life, St. Augustine was ensnared by sexual lust, but after he surrendered his life to God, he gave himself single-mindedly to the work of Christ’s kingdom. One day an old mistress of his approached him on the street, seductively suggesting he follow her home. Augustine was cordial but turned her down. It occurred to her, “Maybe he forgets who I am,” and she said to him, “Augustine, it is I!” “Yes, I know,” Augustine replied, “but it is not I.”

 

In summary, much of this debate has centred around sin and answering the question ‘Are we saved sinners or sinning saints?’ It is here that I affirm that the ‘Saints by Nature’ movement get many things right. I hope I explained my disagreements clearly, thoroughly and with grace and kindness. Yet I also hope that I highlight where I agree. I agree that we have a new identity in Christ. That we are God’s children, forgiven, loved and secure in him. I agree that we should therefore identify ourselves as such, even when we sin. And probably even more so when we sin because sin brings with it its cousins, shame and guilt, which cause us to hide from God rather than run to God receiving assurance of his love and grace towards us as his kids. We may be sons and daughters that struggle. We may be God’s kids that sin. But we are his kids. That’s who we are and who we will always be for in the words of the Apostle Paul,

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39

God bless.

#6 – Saint Vs Sinner – Should Christians continue to repent of sin?

Repentance brings us out from behind the proverbial tree of shameful hiding and sits us in the Father’s arms that remind us of his unrelenting love and endless fountain of mercy. And thereby our conscious is cleansed; our souls washed clean once again. We feel free.

In this post, I want to explore the second of three questions previously raised from a story in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus told a parable, ‘to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous…’ (Lk. 18:9). Jesus’ purpose in telling the story was to contrast a Pharisee boasting in his self-righteousness and a tax collector confessing his sins and acknowledging his need for God’s mercy.

In the previous post we explored the first questions, ‘should Christians struggle with and be convicted of sin? In this post will explore the question,

Should Christians continue to repent of sin?

Short Answer: Yes

Medium: Yes. Yet we need to clarify what is meant by repentance. I suspect much of the pushback to ongoing repentance for the believer is due to a misunderstanding of understanding of what is meant by repentance.

Long Answer: Let’s read some words from Martin Luther, Spurgeon, Jesus, Paul, John and James.

It must be stated at the outset that we should absolutely celebrate and rejoice in the victory Christ has won for us with regard to sin. As Christians, we are forgiven and this is a reality we experience here and now. If you are not a Christian, you can experience this incredible gift of being forgiven by a holy God and living with a completely free conscience. All that is required is for you to repent, like that of the Tax Collector, and ask God for mercy and he will give it.

Martin Luther

While God’s mercy is sufficient to forgive all past, present and future sin, the Bible teaches that Christians are to continue to live with a lifestyle of repentance. Martin Luther put it this way in the first of his 95 theses nailed to the Wittenberg Castle Church door,

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Martin Luther was obviously responding to the sacrament of penance taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Yet his conviction was based on what scripture taught. That is, to be a Christian, one must repent and believe, and to live as a Christian and experience all the benefits of Christ’s work, one must continue to repent of sin and place their faith in Christ. For Luther repentance and faith were two sides of the same coin. When we repent we turn away from sin and we turn to Christ. Repentance and faith go hand in hand. Faith in Jesus is not a one-off moment. It is an ongoing turning to Jesus, trusting and believing in him. And therefore it is a constant turning away from, no longer trusting in or believing in something else. Luther reference made reference to Matt. 4:17

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 4:17

Mark’s account states it slightly different adding, ‘repent and believe’.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:5

God’s kingdom is entered into through repentance and faith and God’s people live a life filled with repentance and faith.

Spurgeon

I have been reading through Charles Spurgeon preaching library again recently. If you’re not familiar with Charles Spurgeon, you need to be. The Spurge, known as the Prince of Preachers, was an incredible gift. In light of this current topic, I thought I’d read what he had to say on repentance. And boy did he have much to say. What is interesting is that Spurgeon was engaged in a somewhat similar conversation with the Wesleyans. Many within the denomination believed it to be possible to be sinless in this life and that ongoing repentance was unnecessary for the forgiven Christian. Spurgeon knew that many who held to these views did so with a genuine desire for holiness and because of the negative view of repentance they had heard taught. Therefore in many of his sermons, he sought to clarify a biblical view of repentance.

In his sermon (sermon 2743) preached on April 20th 1879 title ‘Mistaken Notions About Repentance’ Spurgeon says this,

“Many persons have MISTAKEN IDEAS OF WHAT REPENTANCE IS. Some confuse it with morbid self-accusation… Do not call yourself, “the chief of sinners,” if you are not. And do not suppose that repentance means the exaggeration of your evil life into something more evil than it really was. It is enough for you to go and confess the truth and to be sorrowful that you have once forgotten your God—that your thoughts have been turned away from the true center—that you have lived for yourself and hence have been an enemy of the Most High. Go and confess that to the Lord, but do not bring against yourself a morbid self-accusation which is not true in God’s sight…But a sense of God’s wrath against sin is not repentance! It generally goes with it, it frequently attends it—but repentance is a change of mind with regard to sin—with regard to everything and it is a consciousness that sin is sin—that you have committed it. It is a sorrow to you that you have committed it and a resolve, in God’s strength, that you will escape from it—a holy desire and longing to be rid of sin which has done you so much mischief. In the words of the child’s hymn— “Repentance is to leave The sins we loved before, And show that we in earnest grieve By doing so no more.” And there is very much of real repentance which is not accompanied by a dread of hell at all. It is sweetened by a sense of love rather than embittered by a dread of vengeance.”

 He continued…

“Do not, therefore, confuse things that differ. A very gross mistake is made by some who imagine that unbelief, despondency and despair are repentance. These things are wide as the poles asunder! No doubt there are many who ultimately come to Christ who, for a time, think they are too great sinners to be saved. Do I commend them for thinking so? Far from it! They imagine a lie! And how can it be right for us to believe that which is untrue? No doubt many who come to Christ do, for a while, despair of ever being saved—but is it necessary that you and I should do so? By no means, for to despair of being saved is to give the lie to God’s own truth—and that can never be the right thing for anyone to do! God is true and He has declared that whoever will trust His Son shall be saved. If I turn round and say, “I cannot be saved and I cannot trust Christ,” I do, as far as in me lies, pour indignity upon God! I insult Him, for I doubt His Word and I distrust His Son, who is worthy of all confidence! That sort of thing cannot be repentance—on the contrary, it is something that needs to be repented of! If you have no such doubts and no such despair, be glad you have not, for they are not of God—they are evil! To come like a little child and say, “I know that I have done wrong, and I am very sorry for it, and I wish to be set right. I find that Christ can set me right, and I trust Him to do it”—that is the way to repent of sin and trust the Savior! And he who does so is accepted of the Father.”

Stop and just read that again. No I’m serious. Read it again.

There is so much that is helpful here. Notice that Spurgeon likewise views repentance and faith as two sides of the same coin. Repentance is not battering your self with guilt and shame. It is not dwelling on your sin all day long. God does not want to rub our noses in our mess; he wants to free us from it. Repentance is an acceptance that sin is sin, which we have committed but as Spurgeon said, ‘It is sweetened by a sense of love rather than embittered by a dread of vengeance.’

In other words repentance is simply turning from our sin and turning to our saviour in faith. And this is a good thing

Jesus

 In what is often labelledThe Lord’s Prayer’, Jesus taught his disciples, the first Christians, a model of daily prayer. One important aspect of this model of prayer is seeking forgiveness of sin. To be sure, repentance is more than asking for forgiveness, but it is not less than. Jesus anticipated that believing Christians would at times sin. He modelled to us what to do with that sin – repent and ask for forgiveness – DAILY!

Matthew 6:12 – Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

While it is true that at the point of faith, we receive forgiveness from all our sin, , Jesus tells us to continue to seek forgiveness. Why? Because divine forgiveness has two main aspects. The first is judicial. That is, God is a judge, and as the judge, he grants us a pardon. The penalty for our wrong is dealt with. There no longer remains a threat of eternal punishment, condemnation or penalty. The judge gas declared his verdict – NOT GUILTY. We are free, forever. The second is parental. Jesus taught that God was not only a judge but also a Father. When we sin we grieve him as our Father and we hurt ourselves further through hiding and cowering in shame and guilt like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8-10).

As a dad of four children, I sometimes have to discipline my kids. I don’t enjoy it but its necessary and I do my best to discipline appropriately in love. What I have learnt and continue to learn is that one of the most important elements of correction is affection. My kids need to know they are forgiven and that I love them despite their behaviour. They need to feel it. They need me to hold them and reassure them of my love and affection for them.

Sin stains. It brings shame and guilt to our conscience. It is why the Bible ties being cleansed so closely to confession and forgiveness (Jms. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:8). Repentance, for the believing Christian, is less about ‘being’ forgiven and more about feeling it. Repentance brings us out from behind the proverbial tree of shameful hiding and sits us in the Father’s arms that remind us of his unrelenting love and endless fountain of mercy. And thereby our conscious is cleansed; our souls washed clean once again. We feel free. The judicial aspect of God’s forgiveness deals with sins penalty, whereas the parental deals with the consequences, namely our shame and guilt. Repentance is turning, not only from our sin but also from our hiding in shame and guilt and turning to our great Father in order to be reassured of his love, goodness, grace and mercy towards us, which are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). Jesus calls us to repent (Matt. 6:12; Rev. 2:5) not to heap shame upon us, but in order that we can be free from it. REPENTANCE IS A GIFT.

Paul

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul rejoices over the church at Corinth because they are repenting.

2 Corinthians 7:9 – As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

Paul had previously written strongly to them about sin in their midst and knew that it would strike hard (grieve them 2 Cor 7:8). Yet he desired that they would be convicted of this sin and deal with it (repent). In verse 9 here he is encouraging them that they are on the right track. But again I want you to notice the motivation for repentance.

Chapter 7 is one big fat encouragement to ‘KEEP REPENTING!!! Keep it up this is good for you’. At the beginning of the chapter, he states

2 Corinthians 7:1 – Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

He is encouraging them to continue to pursue holiness but notice he started with, ‘Since we have these promises’. What are God’s promises? You have to go to the end of chapter 6. There you will see that God has promised to “make my dwelling among them and walk with them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people” (6:16) and “I will be a father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to me” (6:18). Paul exhorts the church at Corinth, ‘in light of God’s promises to you, pursue holiness and rid sin from your midst through continual repentance.’ Again we see this connection between our relationship with God our Father and repentance.

John

The Apostle John wrote 1 John to Christians across Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) with the backdrop of gnostic false teachers spreading false doctrine about Jesus and sin.

John addresses numerous aspects related to sin throughout.

  • First of all he addresses professing Christians that make a habit on ongoing unrepentant sin.

1 John 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 1 Jn. 3:9-10

Key Point: a genuine regenerate Christian practices righteousness not sinfulness. If you continue to walk in sin, love sin and live under the dominion of sin then you should check to make sure you are genuinely saved (2 Cor. 13:5; 2Pet. 1:10) because it is possible you may not be.

  • Second he addresses the professing Christians that believe they no longer sin.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Many of the Gnostic false teachers were teaching Christians that redemption is found through affirming the divine light already in the human soul. They taught that through spiritual enlightenment, special revelatory knowledge and pious effort, they had rid themselves of sin. Repentance was unnecessary for the Gnostics because they no longer struggled. People were simply buying into this teaching and were being deceived about having no sin.

Therefore John addressed this belief head on. It’s important to note that that every single verb in this verse is written in the present tense, including to claim to ‘have no sin’. Simply put this is Gnosticism and John calls the person who believes this to be deceived. John states that rather than denying their sin they should ‘confess their sin remembering that God is faithful to forgive to cleanse, (Greek: katharizó), which is also in the present tense, them from all unrighteousness. Notice again the connection between confession, forgiveness and cleansing.

Key Point: As Christians, knowing God’s faithfulness, we confess our sins, Jesus forgives and cleanses us, not to restore salvation, but to restore intimacy and joy (see Psalm 51:10-12).

  • Third he addresses the professing Christians that believe they have never sinned.

10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

‘Have not sinned’ is past tense. Again Gnosticism sought to point people to the divine light within. The false teachers believed that every person was inherently good and righteous. Unlike the previous claim of Verse 8, some even extrapolated that there was no such thing as guilt before God. John calls this person a liar. What I find interesting is that John says that he is challenging these false doctrines in order that the Christian ‘may not sin’. In other words, those who are deceived by these falsities, actually sin even more. The way out of sin, the way to sin less, and to practice truth and walk in the light (1:6-7), is not to downplay sin, not to deny sin, but to freely confess is and repent of it, knowing that Jesus is our advocate with the Father (2:1).

Key Point: Christians are called to live a life of repentance and faith. While sin no longer has dominion over the Christian, sin is still real and present. While the judge has pardoned us, our Father is wanting us to turn away from our sin (repent) and turn to him (faith), knowing his grace is sufficient, his love is secure and his work in us is ongoing.

Or as James put it,

James 5:16 – Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Healing does not come from a denial of sin, but through confession and repentance of sin.

With all this in mind how should a Christian identify? As a sinner? Or a saint? That’s up next.

 

#5 – Saint Vs Sinner – Should Christians Struggle With and be Convicted of Sin?

Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. John Owen

After a few months away from the Saint vs Sinner discussion lets return. Let me restate there are many things I affirm and people I genuinely love and appreciate in the ‘Saints by Nature’ movement. I believe many things taught are helpful, make much of Jesus and should be believed, received and applied. However I maintain that in my view some of the doctrine taught is false and can be dangerous if taken to it’s logical conclusion. One of the key areas I believe this to be so is with regard to the doctrine of sin and how it relates to the Christian.

As discussed in previous posts, both the Old and New Testaments, teach that sin as something that flows from the sinner. Sin cannot and does not exist apart from a human host; to say otherwise is Gnosticism, not biblical or historical Christianity. In this sense sin not only defines activity but also identity. We are not identified as sinners because we sin; rather we participate in the activity of sin because we are identified as sinners. A good example of this can be seen in Jesus’ parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. The tax collector does not ask for mercy because he had sinned rather it says,

“… the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13 ESV)

The Tax Collector identified himself as ‘a sinner’ and in need of God’s mercy. Yet the so-called righteous Pharisee no longer viewed himself in need of God’s mercy. He believed he was already righteousness, already good in his own eyes and therefore did not turn to God in need. The story ends stating that it was the humble sinner that was justified, not the proud supposed saint.

This story raises a few important questions?

  • Should Christians continue to struggle with and be convicted of sin? (It appears the righteous Pharisee is unaware of his sin)
  • Should Christians continue to repent of sin? (Being unaware of his sin he did not repent of his sin)
  • Should Christians identify as sinners or saints? (Should the Pharisee have identified himself as a sinner or simply repented of his sin?).

Over the next 3 posts I will attempt to answer each of these questions through an array of scriptural passages. These will be longer than normal. Therefore I’ll give three answers to each question – short, medium and long. Read what you will. Lets begin with question 1.

 

Should Christian continue to struggle with and be convicted of Sin?

 

Short Answer: Yes

Medium: Yes but not defeated or enslaved by sin. The language of the Bible expects an ongoing wrestle, struggle, fight against sin in the life of a believer, but with an expectation of victory through God’s word, the power of God’s Spirit, strength given through other believers and the new nature, with new desires received at the new birth. While there is a genuine wrestle against sin there should also be a pattern of freedom from sin by God’s grace. The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes two helpful statements

Q 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Q 82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.

 

Long Answer: Hewbrews 12

Hebrews 12 comes after Hebrews 11. I know I’m an intellectual genius and your thanking me for revealing that incredible mystery to you. But in all seriousness it helps. Hebrews 11 is known as the chapter of faith. It’s filled with stories of men and women who placed their faith in the promises and character of God regardless of circumstances. As ‘pilgrims on the way’, to used language of Michael Horton (read ‘The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way” It’s brilliant) this world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven (Eph. 2:19). The Christian life is going somewhere, it is not stagnant, nor a holiday. It is a walk (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 2:10; Eph. 5:2) it is a race (1 Cor. 9:24) with a specific goal namely Christ.

Chapter 12 uses the idea of a ‘race’ and exhorts Christians to persevere and endure in light of those gone before (witnesses of chapter 11). Note verse 1

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The metaphor of ‘weight’ is used to highlight that sin is something that impedes your Christian life, your journey, your experience, or your ‘race’. It slows you down, holds you back. As Christians we are to fight against sin, we are to discard it, remove it, take it off, “lay it aside”. The writer of Hebrews had an expectation that sin would be something Christians continue to deal with.

 

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

 

The writer then moves to Jesus. We are not to not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin”, rather we to look to Jesus trusting that he is the founder of our faith as well as the perfector of it. Also we are to endure like Jesus did. The objection often raised here however is to point to the fact that Jesus is the example yet he did not struggle from sin within. Therefore in light of that, this struggle against sin must be referring to sin from without. Again read my previous posts of how sin is described throughout all scripture, as we are to understand each passage of scripture in light of the whole. My reply would be that while Jesus is the current example and did not struggle from sin within; he is one of many examples given in order to make the greater point – ENDURE. The witnesses prefaced in chapter 11 all suffered from sin within and the key thought of persevering has continued throughout chapter 12. The emphasis is not, ‘be like Jesus’ in every sense, it is be like Jesus in the sense of persevering through struggle. Our struggle, while different from Christ’s, requires the same response – endurance and perseverance.

 

Additionally the Apostle Paul spoke of this struggle and encouraged believers at Rome to wrestle and fight against sin and to put sin to death.

Romans 8:13-14 – For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

To live according to the flesh” indicates that there is a part of the Christian that continues to desire fleshly things and infers that sin remains present but that the believer has the means to kill it ‘by the Holy Spirit’. While not an Apostle, John Owen put it this way.

Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.

 

To the Galatian church Paul sought to prepare the, ‘brothers and sisters’, for when other Christians would fall into sin. As Christians that had received God’s forgiveness for their sin, shown through “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward them in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7), they should do likewise when others sin. He additionally warned them to be careful not fall into the same temptation to sin. Once again outlining a real, genuine wrestle.

Galatians 6:1 – Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

 

Back to Hebrews. Verse 5-11 says,

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

From exhorting Christians to throw off the weight of sin and to endure in the race, the writer proceeds to talk of God’s discipline and our response to it. Namely we “have to endure” (Vs. 7) and not be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Vs. 5-6). We are to persevere knowing that God loves us and, disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Vs. 10) and that it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Vs. 11). Yet there’s even greater encouragement here. Verse 5 & 6, which cite Proverbs 3:11-12, uses the word ‘reproved’. This word is the verb elegchō (ἐλέγχω). It is the exact same word used in John 16:8 when Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit as one who will convict (elegchō) the world of concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment.” It is the same word used in Rev. 3:19 in which Christ says, “those whom I love, I reprove (Greek: elegchō) and discipline, so be zealous and repent”. Conviction of sin is an act of the triune God. God the Father (Heb. 12:5), God the Son (Rev. 3:19) and God the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:8) continue to lovingly convict the believer of sin, calling them to repent of sin in order that they may “share in his holiness” (Heb 12:10) and experience the “peaceful fruit of righteousness”. (Heb. 12:11)

The exhortation continues.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

The writer calls Christians to “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for you feet” (Vs.12) and to, “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble” (Vs. 15). It is a warning to examine our self internally and see what roots there are that needs to be uprooted. The author alludes to Deuteronomy 29:18 which describes a person that turns away from God to false gods. This person is to, “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deut. 29:18). Sin exists, not just somewhere out there, but inside, and we are to be aware of it and fight it.

 

SUMMARY: The Hebrew writer is exhorting Christians – you will struggle with sin, persevere, endure, fight.

HOW?

1) Take heart from those gone before you. If they can do it, so can you (Heb. 11-12:1). 2) Look to Jesus the founder and perfector of your faith, the one who began a good work in you and will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). Jesus also struggled and endured and therefore is a great example to learn from (Heb 12:2-3). 3) Your Heavenly Father is with you, helping you. Particularly through discipline, and although painful, it’s loving and for you good to keep you on the right path. 4) The Triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) will continually convict you of sin. Not to condemn you, nor to count your sins against you, as they are already forgiven in Christ, but to help you to run your race, conforming you to the image of Christ “that we may share in his holiness” (Vs. 10) and experience the “peaceful fruit of righteousness”. (Heb. 12:11)

 

In our next post we will look question 2 – Should Christians continue to repent of sin? Till then let me know your thoughts.

SSM – What will change? What does it mean? How do we respond?

Our God is the same he never changes. Our mission is the same it never changes. We are to make disciples of Jesus proclaiming the truth of the gospel, courageously yet with gentleness and respect.

Last week, the Australian people’s vote on same-sex marriage was revealed. Of the 12.7 million Australians who took part in the government survey, 61.6% (just under 8 million) voted in in favour of SSM while 38.4% (just under 5 million) voted against. In short, the nation was given an opportunity to make its voice heard and it did so with a rallying cry. So what will change, what does it mean and how should we respond?

 

WHAT WILL CHANGE?

Legislation:

Section 51 of the Constitution stipulates the powers of the federal Parliament. One of those powers is the ability to legislate with respect to marriage:

            Section 51 Legislative Powers of the Parliament

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to: (xxi) marriage;

The Constitution was written in the 1890’s yet a definition of marriage was not included. It was universally assumed at the time that marriage was between one man and one woman. It wasn’t until 1961 in fact, that federal legislation was created. Before 1961 each state had their own regulating laws for marriage.

Now, this may just freak you out a little bit but in 1942 Tasmania raised the minimum age of marriage from 12 to16 for girls and 14 to 18 for boys. Yeah, that’s right under eighty years ago a 14-year-old boy could marry a 12-year-old girl. The differing State legislation led to complications, as recognised marriages from one state were not recognised in another. Therefore the federal Marriage Act of 1961 was instituted. However again at this time, a definition of marriage was not inserted into this act. It was still assumed that marriage was between one man and one woman. It wasn’t until 2004 that an amendment of the Marriage Amendment Act under the Howard government occurred defining marriage as seen below.

As it currently stands, marriage is defined within the constitution as:

1  Subsection 5(1)

Insert:

marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

The Federal Government promised it would introduce legislative changes to allow same-sex couples to marry if the nation voted for it. Therefore we can expect this in the very near future. A simple change will occur by removing “a man and a woman” and replacing them with “two people”.

 

Definitions:

This debate has been framed under the idioms of equality, freedom and love. Yet there is a gradual shift in the definition of these terms. For example, the left has promised that no one else’s freedom would be affected by the legislative changes. However, the current proposed bill put together by Senator Dean Smith (Smith Bill – https://goo.gl/f33foA) only provides religious protections in allowing members of the clergy to refuse to solemnize marriages that conflict with their beliefs. While this is a good start, Lyle Shelton, a Christian lobbyist, has strongly sought to highlight the inadequacy of the bill and his concerns regarding freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Senator James Paterson has proposed an alternate bill that in his view would allow same-sex couples to marry while “preserving the freddoms of all Australians (Paterson Bill – https://goo.gl/9WT8yM).

It raises the question as to how freedom will be defined in our culture and more importantly whether it will be consistent? Will Christian and Muslim schools have the freedom to teach their view of marriage? Will parents have the freedom to remove their children from classes that conflict with their values? Will business owners, such as photographers, bakers and florists have the freedom to refuse service to same-sex couples, without facing legal action as has been seen in the United States?

Additionally, what is determined as discriminatory behaviour? Australia already has anti-discrimination legislation in place and these set out the definition of discriminatory behavior (see https://goo.gl/TCLv5M). Yet there remains a significant tension between protecting the rights of a person to freely practice their religion and have the freedom of speech and that of permitting a person to engage in discriminatory conduct. This is equally as important to protect, particularly for minorities that are far more vulnerable to such conduct.

So how will we define these human rights and protect the equal and inviolable rights of all members of the human family?

 

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

It means we’re not in Kansas anymore. Nor have we been for quite some time. As a nation, we do not have a grand narrative guiding and leading us to the same destination. This is just the reality. The age of consensus is dead and gone. The age of a moral majority for Christians and the church is over. Australia is a post-Christian nation, a secular nation, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly. There is a myriad of worldviews within our culture, Christianity is but one, and it no longer has the monopoly. And biblically and historically this has been the norm. The naivety and ignorance of the Christian West are often astounding. Have we forgotten the history of God’s people in exile? Have we not learnt from Daniel, Acts and 1 Peter where God’s people did more than live in a hostile culture in exile, they shone brighter in it? Are we unaware of God’s people in places like China, Sudan and Syria? Most Christians do not exist in the comfortable west, they live in hostile environments under great persecution and yet God and the Gospel continue to advance. In fact, in my estimation, Christianity excels in the margins.

It means the divide is rapidly increasing. This referendum has demonstrated the deep rifts within our culture. The chasm between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives is growing. And what’s left in the middle is confusion and disorientation. As the divide increases love for the other decreases. Additionally, there is an increasing divide between professing Christians and practicing Christians. While 50% of Australians may have ticked, “Christian” on the latest census, the reality is many of these, if not most, are simply theists, or more accurately, agnostic. In fact, the media are quick to inform us that Christianity is dying a slow death in this country. They will point to this latest vote as evidence of that. But the reality is we are seeing a decline in “nominal Christianity”. More and more people raised Catholic or Anglican, are feeling the freedom to acknowledge that they don’t truly believe or practice. A deeper study of the analytics, with clear specifications with regard to genuine Christian practice, tells us that Christianity is not decreasing, rather nominal Christianity is. And this is a good thing. Not because we don’t want to be associated with non-believers, rather it is the opposite. The Roman world was not turned upside down in the first century by nominal Christians. It was turned upside down by genuine believers and followers of Jesus willing to risk it all for the sake of the gospel and to love their neighbour even at great personal cost.

 

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

With the world around us changing, nothing changes for the Christian. We remain called to love God and neighbour as a response to God’s grace, mercy and love towards us. We have an incredible opportunity to model Christian love to heterosexuals and homosexuals, liberals and conservatives and the like. Our God is the same he never changes. Our mission is the same it never changes. We are to make disciples of Jesus proclaiming the truth of the gospel, courageously yet with gentleness and respect.

We are to follow the words of Micah 6:8

“He had told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”

and Jeremiah 29:7

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

 

How do we respond? By continuing to love God and our neighbour.

Conference Highlights

“You cannot celebrate the Reformation nor call yourself a Protestant if you do not preach, teach, love and follow this Christ… and anyone that stands in the place of Christ is anti-Christ” Joe Thorn

So we’ve just finished up at the latest Acts29 New Zealand Conference in Wellington and man was it a great time. It’s always a great time hanging with what I like to call ‘my tribe’. Like-minded men and women that seek to deepen their understanding of the gospel and widen their hearts towards God and his mission in the world.

This year the conference threw something a little different in the mix. Not only was their keynote sessions by Dr Jim Renihan, Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler, there were also four live Doctrine and Devotion Podcasts with Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler that were super insightful. If you are interested in learning theology but in a very raw, real and conversational way, then I encourage you to head to their website, http://www.doctrineanddevotion.com and download their podcasts. They are super helpful.

The Doctrine and Devotion conference centred around the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. Here are a few take aways from this year’s conference.

Christ is Pre-eminant 

Joe Thorn kicked off the conference with a great session on the Pre-eminence of Christ. Teaching from Colossians 1:15-20 he reminded us that the entire point of the reformation and the church at Colossae was a reforming around Christ. Christ is the priority. He is the supreme one, he is the maker of all things and the holder of all things. 
The church is the church of Christ. It is his church, He is the ruler of the church, the builder of the church, the sustainer of the church. Therefore as his church, we must submit to him through his word and trust him and our worship and practice should be for him, because of him and simply all about him.

“You cannot celebrate the Reformation nor call yourself a Protestant if you do not preach, teach, love and follow this Christ… and anyone that stands in the place of Christ is anti-Christ” Joe Thorn

 

Faith as Knowledge, Assent and Trust 

In one of Jimmy Fowler’s session, he gave a really helpful analogy of understanding levels of faith. The analogy was that of a chair. First, we can see a chair and ‘know’ it’s a chair. We can see the legs and see what it is designed for.  Secondly, there is assent. We not only know it’s a chair based on its design, we actually believe it to be true. While these are both necessary elements of faith. True faith moves us towards trust. We not only know it’s a chair, believe it’s a chair we trust it is a chair knowing that if we sit in that chair it will hold us up.

So too with Christ and the gospel. Faith in the truest sense is resting in Christ knowing that he will hold us up in the palm of his hand and will never let us go. Man, this was such an encouraging reminder.


Katie Luther is a genuine hero and you need to learn about her

Dr Jim Renihan did a very different session on Martin Luther’s wife Katie. Rather than a typical teaching session, it was more of a biographical talk of her life. It was the only session I didn’t take any notes. Rather, I sat and listened to an incredible story about an incredible woman in history. Her amazing faith in a good and gracious God in spite of her continual grim circumstances throughout her life was an incredible encouragement to me. 
Martin Luther’s love and devotion to her was also beautiful to hear. The way he wrote about her and to her calling her the greatest joy treasure of his life was heartening and helped me to take stock of my own affections and affirmations of my wife. I hope they make a good movie about the Luthers as it will lead to tears of joy of what is possible in a godly marriage during harrowing times.


Theology Matters. It really matters

As a pastor of a local church, I genuinely love our people and I want our people to love God. The best way I can see both of these realities is through good theology. Our people need to know the truth of God found in scripture alone. Joe Thorn gave another great analogy of how to understand the importance of good theology. Often theology is spoken of as the foundation of a building or the church, Without a good foundation, there cannot be a good building. While this is true and somewhat helpful, Joe challenged us to think of theology more like the sail of a sailboat.
Our theology is the sail, high and lifted up to harness the wind. It has to catch the power of the wind, which comes from without itself, in order to move forward. It’s possible to have a boat (church) but without the sail, you’re just not going to go anywhere and in fact, you’ll end up dying out in the waters of nowhere.
My job as a pastor is to consider first and foremost my own life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16), then that of my family and then additionally that of our church in order that God may move us by the wind of his spirit towards himself through his word. 


Without good theology, experienced and expressed there will be no true safety, genuine salvation and progressive sanctification of God’s people.


Thank God for his word, his Spirit and his people, past and present, that remind us of the goodness and graciousness of our glorious God that loves us and has given himself for us in Christ.
Looking forward to flying home and loving my wife and kids after another great time with Gracenet Community Church and the team.

Now get on over and start listening to and learning from Doctrine and Devotion at http://www.doctrineanddevotion.com

SSM and The Christian Worldview.

Christians are typically asking the wrong question…there is a more fundamental question that we must ask and how one answers that question will determine their approach.

Recently the Australian Government called for a voluntary postal vote on whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry within Australia. We were given 14 days, and today Thursday August 24th 2017 is the day to register for ballots and to have our say. Some have condemned the government for this move viewing it as cowardice on their part, while others welcome the approach, as they believe it creates opportunity for their voice to be heard. Whichever way you view it, controversy describes the current political and cultural climate within our society. There are those that say ‘yay’ to same-sex marriage, those that say ‘nay’ and those who simply say ‘meh’. Here are some of my thoughts on how a Christian worldview can guide you.

Are We Asking The Right Question?

Over the past two weeks I have been inundated with Christians asking me for my opinion on how they should handle the plebiscite. What I have come to realise is that Christians are typically asking the wrong question. When I converse with people there is a genuine sense that they are seeking guidance in how to vote. They want my opinion on the issue and to know how I will vote. While it’s a legitimate question that must be asked I believe there is a more fundamental question that we must ask and how one answers that question will determine their approach.

So what is the right question?

In Matthew 22 a bunch of religious Pharisees, one being a lawyer, came to Jesus and essentially asked, ‘Hey Jesus what is the most important rule of all the rules. Like if there was only one rule that was to govern all we do and say what would it be?’ Regardless of the motivations behind the question, Jesus’ answer is very insightful. He answered in short by saying, ‘love God and love your neighbour’ (Matt 22:37).

If you are a Christian the question is not ‘should I vote?’ or ‘how should I vote?’ The question we must ask is ‘how do I love God and neighbour?’ This is the foundational question that is to shape how we think, how we act, how we speak, how we live and even how we vote. The response of Jesus is also really helpful.

Here are two ways this instruction is helpful.

 

1. It Makes It Personal.

I often like to say that the Bible is a mirror not a set of binoculars. What is the purpose of a mirror? A mirror is something that you look into to investigate your current state. When you wake up in the morning you at some point go to the mirror and see where you need to make adjustments in order to benefit the rest of the onlooking world. In this sense the mirror benefits you in helping you make the necessary adjustments but it also benefits your neighbour because they reap the benefits also of those adjustments. Well hypothetically anyway!

The purpose of binoculars is the very opposite. Binoculars help you to see everything other than yourself. Its focus is on others out there. The Bible is not meant to be used in this way and in fact when it is, it can be actually be destructive. The binocular approach leads us to moralism rather than the gospel.

Moralism is essentially looking at life through the lens of right and wrong. Do the right things and life is good, God is happy, but do the wrong thing and life goes bad and God is unhappy. This is simply not the gospel. In fact moralism is the greatest false gospel in our culture today. The gospel does not teach that if I behave a certain way that God will accept me. The gospel teaches that despite my behaviour God loves me and has chosen to accept me based on Christ and his finished work. The heart of the gospel is love, not conformity or morality. When I am aware of God’s love for me despite my brokenness and sin, it helps me to likewise love others as I have been loved.

Moralsim is destructive because it leads people to idolise one form of morality while demonising another. This can lead Christians and the church in general to look at culture through the lens of morality and to be the moral police. This is right, this is wrong. Do this, don’t do that. In a Christian worldview there is defintely objective right and wrong. Jesus’ response to ‘love God and neighbour’ is effective however because it helps me to ask the question of myself not others. ‘How am I’ loving God in word and action. ‘How am I’ loving my neighbour by what I say and what I do?

 

2. It Makes It Purposeful

It’s very easy in life to get distracted. There are so many things pulling for our time, our money and our energy. All of a sudden we look up and our life has drifted. We’re off topic. We’re off target. We’re just off. What I love about Jesus’ response is that it has less focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and more on the ‘why’. It drills down to why you do what you do. It gets to the purpose.

A common part of my role as a leader in a church is to meet with people that are seeking wisdom on important decisions in their life. People have options on the table and are genuinely seeking wisdom on which is the right option. I’m often surprised that people seek my wisdom but the title of Pastor must have some persuasiveness to it.

What I have found time and time again is that people often ask the wrong question at this juncture. They ask – what is the right decision to make? The better question to ask is – what is the wise decision to make? (Andy Stanley has some exceptional teaching on this. Go check it out). This is a far more helpful question because most of our decisions are essentially morally neutral. For example, it’s no more moral to choose one job over another. What determines the moral and ethical value of a decision has more to do with why you made the decision rather than what decision you make.

 

Let’s return to Jesus’ response to love God and neighbour. With regard to the same-sex marriage debate the question has less to do with whether you vote or how you vote and more to do with why you choose to do what you choose to do.

In this instance the Bible doesn’t tell you how to vote. Some people will try and tell you that it does, but it doesn’t. You have to think for yourself and consider how you love God and neighbour in and through this matter.

In terms of the voting there are only three real options. You vote ‘Yay’, you vote ‘Nay’ or you choose to not vote, so you vote ‘Meh’. If you are a Christian then consider these two questions as you approach a decision. If you’re not a Christian you may not answer the first question but you likewise can ask the second question.

 

Question – Is it possible to hold/vote ‘Yay/Meh/Nay’ in a way that loves God and my neighbour?

Question – How do I respond to someone that holds a differing view/vote in a way that loves God and them?

 

If you are a Christian please take the time to ask this question throughout your whole life. ‘Am I loving God and neighbour?’

 

Saint Vs Sinner #4 – Missing The Mark

The best way to develop a Biblical doctrine is to consider how a theme is introduced, how it is further developed throughout the biblical narrative and how it is eventually culminated. It is essential that you explore all that the Bible says and to consider how it all fits together.

The purpose of the previous post, ‘Understanding Sin’  (http://wp.me/p1gDan-10X) was not to heap shame upon an already guilty conscience but to call attention to how the Bible actually speaks of sin. While I appreciate the Saints by Nature movement’s focus on identity and holiness, it appears there is a genuine lack of systematic and biblical theology applied to much of their doctrine. Particular texts of scripture are often used as proof texts at the expense of numerous other clear passages; a practice that in my view leads to significant error in their theology that is debatable and at times dangerous.

This post and the few following will seek to explore where I believe the Saints by Nature theology misses the mark. If you are reading this and are a part of this movement, please know it is my desire to represent your view accurately and to speak the truth in love.

 

Let’s begin. 

What the ‘Saints By Nature’ Teach?

The Saints by Nature theology teaches that at conversion a Christian receives a new nature. This new nature is wholly righteous and without darkness or sin from within. The old sinful self has been put to death and Christ has once and for all perfected them in and with righteousness. Two common cited scriptures are…

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

‘14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.’ Hebrews 10:14

If a believer does sin, which they would affirm is possible but should not be the norm; it cannot be due to an inclination from within the person. Rather sin must come from without. It is often stated that sin is an entity outside a person tempting them to believe falsehoods which therefore lead a person to choose to sin.

The biblical illustration often referred to is of Adam and Eve in the garden. The argument made is that Adam and Eve had a perfect nature, unadulterated by sin and therefore their sin did not come from within them. Rather sin came from without through external temptation in the form of a lie from the serpent (Gen. 3). Accordingly at the point of conversion, a Christian receives a new nature, a righteous nature, unadulterated by sin like Adam and Eve. Thus in the same way our first parents sin came from without so too the Christian’s sin comes from without.

 

What the Bible Teaches?

The best way to develop a Biblical doctrine is to consider how a theme is introduced, how it is further developed throughout the biblical narrative and how it is eventually culminated. It is essential that you explore all that the Bible says and to consider how it all fits together. This will help reduce the margin for error. With this in mind let’s explore what the Bible says.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve were tempted to believe a lie. A seed of doubt was placed in their mind through the form of a question, ‘Did God actually say?’ (Gen. 3:1). Rather than combating that doubt with the truth of God’s word, they entertained the lie that God’s word is not true, his motives not trustworthy and his character not all together good. Thus they sin. They disobey God’s good instruction to not eat the fruit of the tree. Jesus on the other hand, modelled in His temptation in wilderness (Matt. 4; Lk. 4) how Adam and Eve should have responded, when unlike Adam and Eve, He resisted the lies and temptation of the devil holding firm to the truth of God’s word. Thus I affirm that a significant component of discipleship is to fight the enemy’s lies with God’s truth, particularly the truth of who He is and what He has done and the truth of who we are in Him.

This is not all that the Genesis narrative reveals however. For the story also connects eve’s sin to her desires. Before they eat of the fruit the text states that Eve,

‘…saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Gen.3:6).

What does this mean? Outside of Jesus, the key proof text used to demonstrate what a righteous nature looks like apart from sin, just doesn’t hold true upon further inspection. The story does not teach that Adam and Eve’s sin came from without; it in fact reveals that it absolutely came from within. Before Eve ever sinned with her hands by eating the fruit from the tree, she was deceived and believed a lie in her mind and coveted within her heart.

Additionally I do not believe that the bible makes such a distinction between the head and the heart as this movement appears to make. From the outset of the biblical narrative, sin is introduced as something relating to the head, the heart and the hands. Our whole being needs to be redeemed and renewed. Our human facets are intertwined, not separate entities that do not relate to the each other. Consequently, this movement appropriates the new nature to the heart only. They appear to believe that while the heart is made fully righteous and therefore unable to be corrupted, the mind can be corrupted with sinful thoughts. But if the new nature were fully realised in every way then why would our mind need renewing at all? Surely a new creation is one of heart and mind? If the new nature comes with a wholly righteous heart with no sin or darkness then so too the mind right? After all Jesus’ command to love God is to love him with, ‘all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt 22:37). Jesus was not trying to make a distinction between the mind and the heart. Rather he used a form of parallelism to make an overwhelming point as the psalmists often do (See Ps. 46:1 as an example). We are to love God at all times, in all ways and with all our being. To love God with your mind and not your heart is to fall short and not to love God.

The Bible just doesn’t make the separation rather it consistently speaks in a way that intrinsically links the human mind and heart, the spirit, soul and body etc

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts Mark 7:21

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matt. 12:34

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel… I will put my law into their minds and write them on their hearts.’ Heb. 8:10

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Matt. 9:4

“…and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ 1 Thess. 5:23

“… let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Cor. 7:1

Therefore I believe this to be an unbiblical and unnecessary distinction

 

Now lets return to the Genesis story.

In the very next chapter of Genesis (Gen. 4) Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Able, are introduced in the form of a family squabble. Cain was jealous and angry with his brother and God warned Cain about sin.

7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it…” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done?’ Genesis 4:7;10

Sin is described more or less as a beast, not outside of Cain but inside. There is a clear wrestle of desire within. And in verse 10 God does not hold some external entity named ‘IT’ responsible for deceiving Cain, rather it is Cain himself that is held responsible (what have you done?) Sin came from within Cain’s heart and mind and led him to sin with his hands in the form of murdering his own brother (Gen. 4:8).

Throughout scripture sin is described as an internal problem of the heart and mind and an external action of the hands and people are held responsible for both. The Bible repeatedly states that God knows the heart and mind and he judges both (1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 44:21; Lk. 16:15; Jn. 2:25; Acts 15:8). You most likely have heard how Jeremiah put it.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind…” Jeremiah 17:9-10

The Saints by Nature promoters will interject here and state that this is true of an unregenerate person. But the regenerate Christian with their new nature does not desire sin from within. Yet a quick sweep of New Testament scripture reveals that this view just does not stack up. Let us consider five texts all of which are directed at believing Christians that are new creations possessing a new nature.

 

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:17

Some of the passions and desires, ‘things…’ Christians ‘…want to do’ are of the flesh. Though Satan and the demonic are very real, sin itself is not an external disembodied entity ‘out there’ trying to trip you up (e.g: the devil made me do it). Passions & desires are internal constructs to humanity, not external.

 

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13

Again, Paul’s audience here is Christians (see Romans 8:1-3). We are no longer under condemnation (8:1) AND we who have received the Spirit are to put to death the deeds of the body. We are to put to death the deeds of the body not in order to get saved, but because we are already saved. The fruit of a genuinely regenerated heart and mind is new affections and new thoughts that overcome the old by the power of the Spirit.

 

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, & sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. James 1:14-16

Not only is sin seen as something flowing from the inside-out, so too temptation.

 

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:12-13

The warning here is given to ‘brothers,’ so again the context is Christians. What is the source of sin’s deceitfulness? Verse 12 (3:12) shows us that it flows from the unbelieving heart. The deceitfulness of sin is not ‘out there’, but rather inside of us (see again James 1:14).

 

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:1, 5).

Notice that Christians, those ‘raised with Christ’ are to put to death that which is ‘earthly in’ them. How can this be possible if there is no darkness or sin at all within the believer? As you can see from just a few passages within the New Testament sin appears to remain some sort of problem that continues to exist inside of the believer, one that the New Testament also says is a ‘new creation…the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

 

In Conclusion, the notion that sin is an entity outside of a believing Christian, or that their is absolutely no sin or darkness within the heart and mind of a Christian possessing a new nature, is simply not consistent with the full sweep of scripture. In the next post we’ll explore why this is incredibly important to the Christian life and experience. 

 

Saint Vs Sinner #3 – Understanding Sin

It was the intention of the heart that led the hands to take the fruit and eat. Eve saw something she deemed good, even though God had said it was not good, she delighted, she desired and then she ate and Adam likewise. Their sin began in their head and their heart well before their hands.

SIN. Sin is at the heart of this debate. Both sides seek holiness, both believe sin exists and is real, and both long to see a world completely free of sin. Yet it is here that there is much disagreement. While I left you hanging a little bit in the previous post I’m going to leave you there just a little while longer. I know I’m mean. In spite of my cruelty I believe it will serve us best to not make blank statements but rather flesh out a thoroughly considered worldview so that I don’t teach people what to think but how to think.

From the outset let me acknowledge that a blog is not a sufficient medium for such a topic. A treatise is required and yet I will attempt to move forward within this limited means. Secondly, if you are not a Christian, please understand God and therefore the Bible speak very candidly about sin not with the intention to humiliate or to shame rather to save. If what the Bible teaches about sin is true, then we all desperately need a saviour. Much like a doctor would inform a patient of a severe illness in his or her body with the intention to help them rather than hurt them. So too the Bible seeks to highlight the problem of sin in order to present the helpful solution of a saviour.

 

UNDERSTANDING SIN!!!

Sin is simple in one sense but complex in another. The Bible gives us different types or means of sin. I believe these can be seen in the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1-4. I’ll attempt to narrate the story and help us see how these play out.

 

1. SIN OF COMMISSION – We Do What We Should Not Do!

The drama is set in a Garden, called Eden, an oasis of beauty and grandeur with four rivers running throughout. God had previously created all that is of the world below and universe above, including the animals of the sky, earth and water and most notably the people, Adam and Eve. While in the garden, Creator God blessed our first parents revealing his goodness and gave instructions revealing their purpose to be, ‘fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it’ (Gen. 1:28-29). From the outset there is a distinction made between humanity and God. God is creator and therefore has authority over the created. Thus as created beings we are to be subservient to the good creator God. When we disobey we sin. In Genesis 2:16 God told Adam that they should not eat of a particular tree, and warned that if they ate of it they would die. Now I sympathise with Adam, as a naked wife can be tremendously persuasive. Nonetheless, when they ate of the fruit of the tree (Gen. 3:6) they committed a sin of Commission. They disobeyed God and did what they should not do.

Example: The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are another example of God giving instructions to his people of what they should not do. (Thou Shall Not…)

 

2. SIN OF OMISSION – We Do Not Do What We Should Do!

Additionally in the story there is another layer to the sin of Adam. Not only did Adam directly disobey God, he indirectly disobeyed God. Consider the scene further. God told them to subdue the earth and have dominion over “the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This therefore begs the question, ‘why does Adam allow the serpent, a living thing that moves, into the garden and to influence the agenda within the garden? The serpent questioned God’s word (“Did God actually say?” Gen. 3:1) and even further, directly refuted God’s word (“You will not surely die”). Thus from the outset the serpent takes the dominion and influence from the man and makes it his own. Thus the serpent sins against God by doing what it should not do and Adam sins by not doing what God has called him to do – have dominion.

Thus it has led many theologians to state that Adam’s first sin was not in eating the forbidden fruit but in allowing the serpent, a false witness of God and his word, to become a resident of the garden in the first place. Adam’s sin is one of omission. He didn’t do what he should have done, that is shut the serpent up, kick the serpent out or even better kill the serpent altogether.

Example: love your neighbour, give to the poor, care for the orphan and widow. When we don’t do these things we commit sins of omission – we don’t do what we should do.

 

3. SIN OF INTENTION – We Do What We Should Do, But We Do So With The Wrong Intention!

This gets to the heart of sin, which is SIN OF THE HEART. Sin, according to Jesus, goes beyond what we do or don’t do with our hands. It extends to the thoughts of our minds and the intentions of our heart (Matt. 5-7). It is here that we begin to see that the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden was not just related to what they did or did not do. It was deeper. In fact Genesis 3 unequivocally says as much,

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Gen. 3:6

It was the intention of the heart that led the hands to take the fruit and eat. Eve saw something she deemed good, even though God had said it was not good, she delighted, she desired and then she ate and Adam likewise. Their sin began in their head and their heart well before their hands.

What was in their heart and mind? Unbelief and idolatry! (Idolatry = false worship or worship of something or someone other than God). They did not trust God as the good God that created them. Before they ever ate the fruit of that tree their heart and mind were filled with unbelief. God had spoken yet they no longer believed God’s word to be trustworthy, because they no longer believed God to be good or trustworthy. Adam and Eve were given the dominion of the whole earth yet not only were they unable to maintain the dominion of a small portion of the earth in the Garden of Eden, they were unable to have dominion even over their own heart and mind.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his work ‘Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3’

“The decisive point, is that this question suggests to man that he should go behind the Word of God and establish what it is by himself, out of his understanding of the being of God.… Beyond this given Word of God the serpent pretends somehow to know something about the profundity of the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word.” (Pg. 66)

In other words the sin committed by Adam and Eve was to disbelieve God, to make up their own version of god, and to trust in themselves as gods. Their sin is unbelief and idolatry. It is no wonder that both unbelief and idolatry are so prevalently spoken of throughout all of scripture. Tim Keller in his book ‘The Prodigal God puts it this way.

“Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated nothing on the list of moral misbehaviours may be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Saviour, Lord and Judge….”

This begins in our hearts and minds and leads us to take actions with our hands.

Example: Matthew 22:37 Jesus commanded us to Love God with all our ‘heart, soul and mind’. All internal, motivational, intentions! Matthew 5-7 is known as Jesus’ ‘Sermon of the Mount’ through which he consistently goes beyond sins of commission or omission and calls attention to sins of intention. (Adultery Vs Lust; Murder Vs Anger; Prayer to be seen by people rather than to be heard by God)

 

4. SIN OF REFLECTION – We Do Not Reflect God’s Good Design!

Other than life itself there is no greater privilege given to humanity than to be made in the ‘image and likeness of God’ (Gen. 1:26-27). While there is much to be said as to what this means or does not mean, it cannot be understated that this distinction between humanity and rest of creation sets a compelling trajectory for the remaining narrative of scripture.

Michael Horton notes in ‘The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way’

“In his deceptive speech, Lucifer makes himself sound like he is more interested in their welfare than God, but his ultimate aim is to make them his image-bearers rather than God’s.” (Pg. 409)

It is not only that we sin by doing something we are instructed not to do, or that we don’t do something we are instructed to do, or even that we do something for the wrong reasons. It is also that by our doing or not doing we in actuality imitate someone or something other than God, the one we are designed to reflect. Adam and Eve are to be witnesses of God and like the serpent become false witnesses. Horton adds here,

“Evil is not a principle in creation itself, but the wilful distortion of good gifts into an arsenal deployed against God’s reign. This perversity corrupts that which is noble, suppresses that which is righteous, smears that which is beautiful, and smothers the light of truth…Every sign of human oppression, violence, idolatry, and immorality in the world can be seen as the perversion of an original good. The commission to be fruitful and to multiply, to work in, guard, protect, and subdue God’s garden so that its peace and righteousness extend to the ends of the earth is twisted into empires of oppression in order to secure a consummation without God.” (Pg. 411)

Instead of being God’s image-bearers, Adam and Eve represent something completely different altogether. Rather than representing the great interests of the good and perfect creator God throughout the entire world, they now represent another. Their sin is of reflection.

Example: Cain and Abel. The story immediately following Adam and Eve’s sin in chapter 3 tells the story of Cain and Abel. Cain is filled with jealousy and anger and unlike God who brought life into the world; Cain takes a life from the world. He reflects another. The remainder of the scripture is a story of humanity reflecting another.

 

UNDERSTANDING JESUS!!!

When we consider all that we have explored above about sin, it leads us to look upon Jesus’ incredible life, for he did not sin, in any way at any time. All Christ did in word and deed was in perfect obedience to the Father. (Jn. 12:49, 14:31, 15:10; Heb. 10:7). There was nothing that Jesus did that he should not have done; nor anything he should have done that he did not do. He never committed a sin of commission or omission. Likewise the intention and motivation of his heart was blameless. Everything he did, he did trusting and submitting to the Father (Jn. 4:34, 5:30, 6:38, 10:18, 12:49-50, 14:30-31, 15:10), with joy (Heb. 12:2), for our joy (Jn. 15:11, 16:24) and in humility and love towards us (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17-19, 5:1-2). Jesus never committed a sin of intention. Even further Christ was the perfect reflection of the Father. To see him was to see God (Jn. 14:9; Col. 1:15). He never committed a sin of reflection.

At LCC we often like to say that ‘the worse the bad news is, the greater the good news is’. When we consider sin in all its manifestations it is extremely confronting. We know we cannot escape it. However when we consider our saviour Jesus with all the implications, it is extremely liberating. We know we are saved from it. The awareness of our sin is not something we should seek to escape, rather we should embrace the reality of what scripture teaches, because by it we gain an even greater awareness of our saviour Jesus Christ.

This is really important because if we get the problem of sin wrong it may mean we get the solution of Christ wrong. Until next time…

Saint Vs Sinner #2 – 4 Categories of Theology

In the opening post of this series I made the statement that ‘theology matters’. Now I want to explore this in more detail by outlining four categories of theology. With each category I will explain what is meant by the term, the implications of believing such theology, our response to those believing or teaching it and some examples. I acknowledge that this is not a perfect framework and not every doctrine will fit simply into one of the four categories. In saying that I still believe it can be somewhat helpful and further highlight why theology matters.

 

4 CATEGORIES OF THEOLOGY

 

DEFINITE THEOLOGY

Meaning – By definite theology I simply mean clear and truthful theology. The bible speaks clearly to this particular topic or doctrine. For those that take the Bible seriously there is no debate. I have to preface ‘take the Bible seriously’ because there is always someone that will twist the clear teaching of scripture to put forward their unfortunate agenda. Definite theology implies that all Christian’s essentially agree with this particular doctrine.

Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology or doctrine it leads to life and godliness. Their faith is grounded in truth. Their Christian experience will be consistent and their eternity with Christ secure.

Response: Believe and Rejoice. Our response to truth is faith and joy. True theology is to celebrated; people coming to know and believe the truth is to be celebrated. We believe it ourselves and rejoice when others do likewise.

Examples: The basic core elements of the Christian faith. Jesus death, burial and resurrection for example are something we all agree on as clear biblical truth. As Christians we all believe it and rejoice in what is meant by it. When someone from a slightly different church camp from us comes to believe in this same truth, we likewise rejoice with them. Definite theology is what makes it Christian theology.

 

DEBATABLE THEOLOGY

Meaning: By debateable theology I mean that bible is less clear to this particular topic or doctrine and it would be regarded as more of a secondary issues within Christian belief. Those that hold a different view on these doctrines remain as part of the Christian community because they believe in the definite theology. Within ‘Debatable Theology’ there is a great sense of appreciation for someone else’s view while graciously and humbly disagreeing. This theology is held with more of an open hand than a closed hand.

Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine the implications are predominantly intellectual, though at times may alter ones Christian experience to some degree. Whichever side of the debate one lands their eternity with Christ remains secure. They are Christians with whom we disagree with their interpretation of scripture.

Response: Debate and Disagree. Our response to such theology is to disagree graciously. In love for each other and with a godly desire for truth we will debate but we do not arrogantly argue, fight, or slander. Rather we encourage each other to continue to seek truth and to submit to it as we see it. Good godly debate around these topics is helpful rather than hurtful.

Examples: Baptism. There has been much debate in the church over which mode of Baptism is right, Paedo (Latin for child) or Credo (Latin for believe) baptism. If it’s of interest to you check out R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur’s debate (youtu.be/2VzUOiNtgio). Two incredible minds and two great friends completely disagree with how they interpret scripture on this topic. Both seek to be obedient to their interpretation while extending grace to the other. Due to the nature of the doctrine of Baptism, neither side is placing anybody’s eternity at risk through their teaching.

Other examples could include the debate of cessationism Vs continuationism and whether the miraculous gifts of tongues, prophesy, miracles etc still exist in the church today. Or the debate around eschatology and the end times. These are secondary issues that do not affect one’s salvation only one’s intellect and Christian experience. Therefore we hold our interpretation of scripture but we do so with humility, grace and openness to learn from the other side.

 

DANGEROUS THEOLOGY

Meaning – By dangerous theology I mean that there will be elements of truth layered within significant error. Due to the mixture of truth and error a trajectory is set that can be harmful and even destructive if arrived at a particular destination. It’s dangerous not because it’s utterly false but because there is falsity within the key premises upon which the overall theology is derived.

Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine they may remain a Christian however it will affect their Christian experience greatly and has the potential to put their eternal security at risk. This theology leads down a dangerous path and therefore needs to be carefully considered.

Response: Reject and Warn. Our response to such theology is to reject it personally and to warn both teacher and learner of the potential danger in holding to such theology. Debate and discussion need to occur however due to the possible ramifications a step further must be taken to warn people in love. It is stronger than basic disagreement; there is genuine concern that this theology is able to lead someone down a very dangerous path.

Furthermore, let’s not throw out the Heretic label here too quick. I do believe scripture allows a distinction between a false teacher and someone that teaches falsely. Well meaning, passionate people can be ill informed, ignorant, naïve and lack adequate hermeneutical education. It’s possible for people to learn, grow and eventually correct previous errors. I sure know this has been true of me. So while it is plausible for someone teaching falsely to be a false teacher, it’s not necessarily always the case. Dangerous theology while false theology may not necessarily mean heretical.

Examples: Liberalism is often a good example because it always begins with slight theological nuances and sometimes ends it utter denial of definite truth. I say sometimes because it depends on how far one goes. But the trajectory is always set by that 1% adjustment in the theology. If followed through to it’s logical conclusion certain aspects of liberalism often lead to despair and complete loss of ‘definite theology’

A good biblical example of warning against dangerous theology is in Titus 3. Speaking of people that are teaching foolish controversies, genealogies and the like Paul tells Titus to warn them. If after a few warnings they don’t heed the warning then reject the person, ‘knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned’ (Tit. 3:10) Titus is to reject the theology and warn them first, before out rightly rejecting them.

 

DAMNING THEOLOGY

Meaning – By damning theology I mean heretical. It is false and will lead people away from Christ.

Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology they will not inherit God’s kingdom. They will not be saved. They will not live with Jesus in glory. Their experience will not be consistent and their eternity will not be secure.

Response: Reject and Rebuke. Our response to such theology is to call it out for what it is – false. While I do not believe we have to call out every individual teacher by name, we must identify the theology and when necessary call out the teacher. We cannot and should not tolerate any such theology because only truth leads to freedom.

Examples: Prosperity theology teaches that God wants everyone to be materially wealthy and if you have enough faith, give enough money God will give you material wealth. Prosperity gospel is a false gospel and needs to be called out for what it is. It is destructive. It misrepresents God and misleads people to worship a completely different god. The message is ‘come to God he’ll make you rich’. Through this false gospel, many people come to God as a means to an end. God in essence becomes their butler or better yet their genie that gives them what their hearts desire. Prosperity preachers have riches as their true god, and they ultimately use God and people to get the false god the truly want. Prosperity theology needs to be rejected and prosperity preachers need to be rebuked and called to repentance.

We are often told in the Christian community that we shouldn’t call out bad theology because it causes disunity. The bible teaches us that we must rebuke false teaching and false teachers where necessary because it would be unloving not to do so.

In fact Paul outlined in Titus 1:9 that a qualification of an Elder is one that must, hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit. 1:9)

A few verse later Paul states that those of the circumcision party ‘must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families’ (Tit. 1:11) by their false teaching and that Titus should, ‘rebuke them sharply’ (Tit. 1:13). Paul himself called certain false teachers ‘dogs’ in Philippians 3:2; he stated that those who distort the gospel should be ‘accursed’ or destroyed and damned to hell (Phil. 1:8).

In the same way that I as a father would not allow someone to come into my families life and speak destructive lies to my children about who they are, or where they came from, I am instructed by God to protect his spiritual family. There we rebuke false teaching and false teachers.

 

Q – So where would I place sinless-perfectionism and the saints by nature theological movement?

Well I guess you’re just going to have to wait to find out…

Saint Vs Sinner – #1 – What I Affirm!

Theology matters. Truth matters. Get truth wrong and you end up doing two egregious things – you misrepresent God and you mislead people…Therefore my aim with this series is to represent God well, both in what I say and how I say it. As well as to better equip people…

Let me begin by saying this will be a very in house blog series. By that I mean I’ll be focusing on a debate that is between people within the Christian community. So if you’re reading this and are not a Christian, there may be some big theological words, a fair bit of “Christianese” going on and maybe not a lot of interest from your end. For this I apologise. In saying that I’d still encourage you to consider reading this series as it may help you understand more of the Christian worldview. If you are a Christian I really encourage you to read the entire series, as I believe that whichever side of the debate you land there are significant implications.

In this first post I’d like to 1) give a quick summary of the debate, 2) establish my purpose in entering into the debate and 3) affirm what I appreciate about the ‘Saints by Nature’ movement. This will then be followed by a series of blog posts that will outline my theological, pastoral and practical concerns with the theology behind this movement and what I believe scripture actually teaches in regards to sin, righteousness, our nature as Christians, sanctification and so forth.

 

THE DEBATE

In short the debate can be summarised with a simple question, ‘Are we saved sinners or sinning saints?’. It has to do with whether a converted Christian continues to possess a sinful nature. The common held belief within Christianity is that before conversion all people possess a sinful nature. This is to say that sin is not just something we choose to do, although it’s definitely chosen but also something we are predisposed to do. It’s in our nature to sin and every human being will sin because ultimately our activity (what we do) is determined by our identity (who we are). However scripture also tells us that when we become a Christian we receive a new nature, a new identity in Christ. A nature that is righteous and not sinful.

Consequently, the debate has a number of nuisances to it and includes many different questions. What is sin? Where does it come from? Can a person simultaneously have two natures, both sinner and saint? Is there a difference between the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ? (Don’t worry I’ll explain these words in a future post) Are either immediate or progressive? What’s the difference between justification and sanctification? If sin came from within the sinner (person with sinful nature) where does sin come from for the saint (righteous nature)? Note that while some in this movement are close to claiming sinless perfection, it’s my understanding that most would admit they continue to sin. How they define sin and what they attribute it to, is what I’d like to discuss.

As you can tell this is significant discussion. Therefore it’s going to take a number of blogs to discuss it. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

 

THE PURPOSE

I’m a pastor not a theological scholar. My reason for entering this conversation is pastoral. I love discussing theology and truth, even a good debate is fun, but I don’t enjoy debate for debate’s sake. I genuinely care about God and about people’s lives, particularly those of whom God has placed under my care. Theology matters. Truth matters. Get truth wrong and you end up doing two egregious things – you misrepresent God and you mislead people. Theology has significant implications for people’s lives. Therefore my aim with this series is to represent God well, both in what I say and how I say it. As well as to better equip people directly under my care and to encourage those outside my direct care to thoroughly consider what they believe and the implications of their beliefs.

 

THE APPRECIATION

Often when camps disagree with each other, we lose sight of where we agree and what we affirm. As a Christian Pastor I do believe it’s important to draw lines of disagreement. We need to know who we are and what we believe. We also need to know who we’re not and what we don’t believe. However I also believe we should draw circles of agreement. With this in mind I’d like to affirm a number of things I see and hear regarding those that adhere to the ‘Saints by Nature’ theology.

 

  • Desire for Holiness – I see a great desire for holiness within this movement. Many of the discussions I’ve had with people adhering to this doctrine have included a real concern for sin, and do not wish to take it lightly. There is a desire to live a godly lifestyle because that is what God has called us to. They see people abusing God’s grace, exploiting it as a means to dismiss sin, and seek to counter this by putting sin to death and living in righteousness.

 

  • Love for People – Everyone I’ve spoken to directly, much of what I have read and teachings I’ve listened to online reveal a genuine love for people. Many who promote this theology have a heart to see people live a life free from sin. They seek to fight for God’s people and desire to see people live in genuine freedom.

 

  • Focus on Identity – A big reason I believe this theology has gained traction is the focus on living out of one’s new identity found in Christ. I really appreciate this movements determination to focus on our new identity in Christ and to call people to live out of that identity. Our new identity in Christ is fundamental to living out our faith and being a disciple.

 

  • Lifestyle of Mission – I love seeing Christians be bold in their faith. If we truly believe what we say we believe then it should be followed up with action. This movement could never be accused of lacking passion or being on mission. They truly believe what they say they believe and it’s evident in how they seek to live on mission.

 

I’m sure there are more elements that I affirm within the movement, for now these four are what comes to mind. I wish to encourage anyone that disagree with the theology of this group to take a step back and first consider what you can learn from them. It’s one thing to have theological disagreements with people, it’s another to dismiss everything altogether. While this series is my attempt to teach the truth, as I believe revealed in scripture, my desire is to also be gracious, humble and teachable towards those I disagree with. I pray that my aim to represent God well and lead people towards truth is achieved throughout this series.

I hope you stick with me for this important journey.