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…

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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.

Gospel Promise #1- God Is For Us – Part 2

The most glorious person in the universe thought it worthwhile to die for you. He was more willing to lose the universe than lose you. When you’re in the midst of your anxiety, in the pit of despair, on the path of giving up, look to the cross and be reminded that he is for you because HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR YOU!!!

As a kid growing up I had a pretty big mouth and enjoyed talking smack as much as the next guy. Unfortunately I didn’t really know how to fight nor did I have a physique that implied I could. That never swayed my confidence however. You see, I had a number of things on my side. Well, a number of people, to be more precise. I always had a sense of confidence that the other guy may not be scared of me, but he sure as heck would be scared of those who were with me. You see I’m number 4 of 5 children which means I’ve got three older siblings and not only were they on my side but so were all their friends. I was bold because I believed that those who were with me were greater than those who were against me. This too is how many biblical characters felt when faced with great opposition (Rom. 8:31).

How would it change your Christian life if you really believed God was for you? If you’re not a Christian what difference would it make to your view of God if you knew he was for you? As noted in my previous post (http://wp.me/p1gDan-3B), we doubt God is for us. BUT HE IS FOR US IF WE’LL JUST SEE IT!!! In this post I want to look at multiple ways the Bible gives to show that God is for us. Additionally I would like to note a great book by a friend, that God used during a time of great despair to deepen my faith in God’s love for me personally.

experiencing the trinity

‘Experiencing The Trinity – The Grace of God For The People of God’ by Joe Thorn. Stop reading and go buy it. It’s short, it’s simple, it’s great. Much of what is in this post came from my studying that book and the scriptures.

Let’s have a look a three reasons we can know God is for us in this post. Then we’ll look at three more in Part 3 next week.

 

GOD IS INTERESTED

A common experience at the Lewis dinner table is my children talking over each other as they fight for the undivided attention of my wife and I. Like a reporter at the White House it’s as if they feel they have to compete with each other for our attention and have a limited window of opportunity. It reveals their great need to know we are listening and interested. If I’m honest sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not depending on my day, what’s on my mind and sometimes even just how interesting my kids stories are. I know I know, Dad of the year right here.

But what about God. Is he interested? Is he listening? To me? To you? Surely we couldn’t possibly have his attention when there’s so many vying for it? Certainly he has more important things to do than listen to our trivial prayers and daily concerns? The Bible says God is interested. He’s watching. He’s listening. He’s thinking about you and me.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. Psalm 139:1-4

The Bible teaches that God’s love for us is such that his ears and eyes are turned towards us. Unlike the flawed parent that I am, God’s mind doesn’t wander. He’s not preoccupied with the to do lists of tomorrow or the stresses of today. He is interested in you; his attention is toward you; and he is waiting eagerly to hear from you, even if he already knows what you’re going to say. Whether it be our stresses or successes he is listening and is interested.

GOD IS INVOLVED 

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26

God is not only listening and interested; he’s involved. Not only is his heart for you, so too his active hands. Consider what it took to get you that one piece of fruit you ate this week. The farmers, the workers, the machinery, the weather, the transport, the supermarket, the economy…everything. All for you. God is crazy about you and more involved in your life that you even realise or give him credit for.

You see the question is not are you all in with God. The question is ‘Is God all in on you?’ and the answer is YES. There is never a moment of your life when God is disinterested, unaware or inactive. Many christians verbally affirm theism (belief an involved creator) but function out of deism (belief in an uninvolved creator). We don’t believe that God is that involved in our lives. But he is and wants us to be aware of just how involved he is. And not just on our good days, but also our bad days. After all through our good times we’re just ignorant of God’s involvement, through our bad times we question it.

Consider the words of Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29–31). God’s promise to us is not just that he’ll never leave us but that his hand is toward us providing us with everything we need in every situation we find ourselves in (2 Cor. 9:8). 

Joe Thorn writes in ‘Experiencing the Trinity’

He watches over you and cares for you with not only good intentions, but also with successful actions. He even numbers the hairs of your head. This means that no detail of your life and existence escapes God’s attention, just as the life and death of each individual sparrow is accounted for in the sovereign care of the Lord. But you are no bird. You have far greater value as a person both made in God’s image and adopted as a child through Jesus. The Lord is your Father, and as such his eyes are fixed on you in the midst of all you must go through… This is comfort for the soul that is hurting and frightened. All his actions toward you are full of grace. Like any good father, the Lord watches over you, protects you, and provides for you. 

GOD IS INVESTED 

How do you evaluate the value of something? The price someone is willing to pay for it. Well God was willing to pay the highest price for you. He’s all in and fully invested. This is what instilled confidence in the Apostle Paul to live for Christ. Paul didn’t try his hardest to live for Christ in the hope that it would impress God enough for God to choose him. It was the very opposite. Paul realised God made the first move. God was invested in Paul well before Paul even thought about God. How did Paul know God loved him and was for him? THE CROSS!!!

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

The most glorious person in the universe thought it worthwhile to die for you. He was more willing to lose the universe than lose you. When you’re in the midst of your anxiety, in the pit of despair, on the path of giving up, look to the cross and be reminded that he is for you because HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR YOU!!!

No impersonal force, cosmic law or external necessity compelled Christ to die. It was love, unmerited, immeasurable, infinite, that sent Jesus to the cross. Not for his own sake but “for you” he endured the rigors of Calvary. And by his willing death and triumphant resurrection, he conquered Satan and broke his power and the power of sin over your life in order for you to live free and to be all he designed you to be. If there was any evidence that God was for you this is it. HE LOVES YOU AND GAVE HIS LIFE FOR YOU!!!