#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.

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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.

 

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 – #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.