Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Christ Our Lord

(Revised, 10-17-2014, 11:25 am)
Quisquis natus est ex Deo, peccatum non facit, quoniam semen ejus in ipso manet; et non potest peccare, quia ex Deo genitus est.
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9). 
The young woman -- newly born in Christ -- apologized for her flakey behavior. The girl sheepishly confessed, "I'm stoned."

I have known far too many professing Christians who live like pagans. They smoke, drink, have sex, go to bars, use drugs and live out-of-wedlock. Sometimes I want to shout from the mountaintop, "Is there anyone who has not bowed down to Ba'al?" (See the story of Elijah, 1 Kings 19.)

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

How can the "church" be a light unto the world when so many of its members are walking in darkness? What does it mean to be saved? People seem to think they can go on sinning because they are covered by the blood of Christ -- and confession of sin is unnecessary because they have eternal security.

Those who love the world, but are afraid of God's judgement, are easily seduced by this false doctrine which gives them permission to go on sinning guilt-free. But what about repentance?

Harry Ironside wrote:
The Gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of our ways, to make restitution for past sins, or to promise to do better in the future. These things are proper in their place, but they do not constitute the Gospel; for the Gospel is not good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed.
Do not make the mistake then of thinking that the Gospel is a call to duty or a call to reformation, a call to better your condition, to behave yourself in a more perfect way than you have been doing in the past. 
Nor is the Gospel a demand that you give up the world, that you give up your sins, that you break off bad habits, and try to cultivate good ones. You may do all these things, and yet never believe the Gospel and consequently never be saved at all. [1]
Ironside (ca. 1876 - 1951) was a Canadian-American theologian whose Plymouth Brethren (Dispensational) background was in doctrinal alignment with his fundamental contemporaries Dwight L. Moody and Cyrus Scofield. (Readers of Messiah Gate know that we have serious theological differences with our Dispensational brothers.)

A schism within the church developed in the 1980's between those who believe in faith-based salvation, and those who adhere to the doctrine of Lordship salvation. One side holds to Paul's teaching that we are saved by faith, not works ...
Yet we know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified (Gal 2:16).
... and those who side with James that a man is justified by works, and not faith alone (James 2:14-26).

A more careful reading of scripture will dispel any misunderstanding of these passages. Paul is clearly referencing the works of the law -- all 613 articles of Mosaic code -- while James is citing works of righteousness.

James affirms that we are saved by faith, but justified by good works. We're talking about two different things. Lordship salvation exhorts us to bear the fruit of our submission to Jesus Christ.

This debate has also been presented in the context of saving faith versus consecrated faith. Saving faith is that which is prescribed by the Gospel while consecrated faith reflects our submission to Christ as Lord. According to some fundamentalists, the former is essential while the latter is voluntary.

Where does the Bible teach this? There is only one faith ... (Ephesians 4:5).

We are, therefore, dead to sin (Romans 6:11). Not turning from our iniquity brings shame to the Gospel, and is a powerless witness unto the world.

What are we to do with professing Christians who live in sin? Understand, we are not talking about faithful believers who may occasionally stumble, but unrepentant followers who willfully transgress.

Recall that Ironside said repentance is not necessary.
The Gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of our ways, to make restitution for past sins, or to promise to do better in the future.
Paul noted that we are, indeed, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Paul and James are in agreement though seemingly at odds with fundamentalist thought.

Does John mean to suggest that a believer never sins? John Calvin offers this interpretation:
(John) says that they sin not who are born of God. Now, we must consider, whether God wholly regenerates us at once, or whether the remains of the old man continue in us until death. If regeneration is not as yet full and complete, it does not exempt us from the bondage of sin except in proportion to its own extent. It hence appears that it cannot be but that the children of God are not free from sins, and that they daily sin, that is, as far as they have still some remnants of their old nature. Nevertheless, what the Apostle contends for stands unalterable, that the design of regeneration is to destroy sin, and that all who are born of God lead a righteous and a holy life, because the Spirit of God restrains the lusting of sin. [2]
Calvin's assessment is fair. Regeneration is an ongoing process. Paul wrote that he had not yet attained perfection, but that was his goal (Philippians 3:12-16).

If I correct a wayward brother I am accused of being judgemental. But what does the Bible say?
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1). 
I (Paul) wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -- not even to eat with such a one (1 Corinthians 5:11).
Certainly, a discerning spirit is necessary to sift the many people who occupy a Sunday pew. Church can be a compromising place for not all who call themselves Christian are, by example, in Christ.

Granted, not all brethren are at the same level of spiritual development, but the doctrine of saving faith suggests that it is not even necessary to submit completely to God for we are saved by grace, and not of ourselves.

On the other hand, there are people who are healed (or delivered) immediately from their sins. They turn from their transgressions, and seek after the righteousness of God. A truly saved person will display the visible fruits of their salvation. In essence, that is the message of James. Some think it is heresy to say, but I agree. Show me your faith by the example of your life. You might error or even fall away for a time, but the seed planted within you is like an ember that burns in the ashes. I know this to be true from my own walk.

Lordship salvation -- our submission to Christ -- seems to be defined by one precept, and that is repentance. Compare the teaching of Ironside with the words of Peter after he delivered the Gospel message in Jerusalem:
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:37-38).
Repentance means that you forsake or turn from your sins. From what has Christ saved us if we do not stop sinning? If we are saved by grace shall we go on sinning so that grace will abound? By no means declares Paul (Romans 6:1-2). And what did Christ tell the woman caught in adultery? Go and sin no more (John 8:11).

What is this seed that keeps us from transgressing?

Calvin explains:
The Apostle means the same thing by the seed of God; for God's Spirit so forms the hearts of the godly for holy affections, that the flesh and its lusts do not prevail, but being subdued and put as it were under a yoke, they are checked and restrained. In short, the Apostle ascribes to the Spirit the sovereignty in the elect, who by his power represses sin and suffers it not to rule and reign. [3]
Augustine so derived that this seed is the word of God which the Holy Spirit brings to fruition in the heart of a truly saved person who, though he may stumble, will not habitually sin.

Of course, we have examples in the Bible where people are not instructed to repent. Paul told his jailer that he had only to believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved (Acts 16:31). It is faulty exegesis, however, to not compare scripture with scripture. If all one has to do is believe -- well, the demons believe and they tremble in fear (James 2:19).

I could simply confess belief in God and go back to living in the muck and mire from whence Christ saved me. Even as Paul coped with the struggle between flesh and spirit it is comforting to know that God will not forsake us (Romans 7:21-25).

As to whether we can sin or not, Barnes concludes:
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin - This passage must either mean that they who are born of God, that is, who are true Christians, do not sin habitually and characteristically, or that everyone who is a true Christian is absolutely perfect, and never commits any sin. If it can be used as referring to the doctrine of absolute perfection at all, it proves, not that Christians may be perfect, or that a "portion" of them are, but that all are. But who can maintain this? Who can believe that John meant to affirm this? Nothing can be clearer than that the passage has not this meaning, and that John did not teach a doctrine so contrary to the current strain of the Scriptures, and to fact; and if he did not teach this, then in this whole passage he refers to those who are habitually and characteristically righteous. [4]
In other words, our desire is to be perfect and sin not, but if we lapse (and confess our sin) He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).

Consider that salvation is contingent upon our abiding in Christ. He said that we are to bear fruit, but whosoever does not remain in Him will be gathered as a branch and burned in the fire (John 15:1-6).

Doesn't sound like eternal security -- not if you say a prayer and light your pipe. After all, it’s hard to walk the narrow path ... when you’re stoned.

Notes:

1. Dr. Harry Ironside, Sermon, What is the Gospel?

2. Calvin's Commentary on the Bible, John Calvin, 1555.

3. Ibid

4. Barnes Notes on the Bible, Albert Barnes, 1834.

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