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The Vain Pursuit of Sinless Perfection

Very early on in my Christian life I reasoned (along with other brothers) that since God has called us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) that this must mean that we are able to not sin (1 John 2:1).  I reasoned that if we sin, we are not truly following Christ as the Bible says that we are not to sin if we know Him (1 John 3:6-9).  I read where Paul the Apostle said to stop sinning (1 Corinthians 15:34) and where Paul said that we are to not be mastered by sin (Romans 6:11-23).

All of this lead me to conclude that we are to pursue sinless perfection.  While I had never met anyone who was sinless, I reasoned that it was possible.  I read John Wesley’s book, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection and I reasoned that one could have an experience with God that would take you to a place of absolute holiness.  I pleaded with God to give me this experience of “entire sanctification” and I earnestly wanted to be holy.

All to no avail.  I have always struggled with sin.  Alwasys will.

I reasoned that there were categories of sin and that some sins were worst than others.  For example, Jesus said that Judas had committed the greater sin (John 19:11) since he had betrayed the Lord of glory.  I reasoned from the law of Moses that since God required different sacrifices for sins of omission and sins of commission then God must view our sins as different if we commit them willfully versus by mistakes or lack.  For instance, none of us pray enough since the Bible calls us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and thus while prayerlessness is a sin (1 Samuel 12:23), prayerlessness is not the same sin as sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and while prayerlessness is horrible, prayerlessness is not listed among the sins that keep us from the kingdom in passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 21:8.

In this way, I was able to tell someone that I had not sinned that day.  I could say that while I didn’t love God perfectly or pray enough or share the gospel or give to the poor, nonetheless I hadn’t committed any willful sins.  In this way, I thought of myself as holy and pure.  I though very highly of myself.

I now see it all as nothing but vanity.  I now sit here a broken man.  I see that my pride was horrible.  I see that God opposes the proud.  Oh I would have gladly claimed the grace of God for my salvation and I would have boasted that it was the grace of God that enabled me to holiness (Titus 2:11-12) but the reality is that I was proud.  I was arrogant.  I was not holy.  I was full of flesh.

I have never ceased to need Jesus.  I never have and I never will.  My good days are still nothing before a holy God.  He is not pleased with my self-righteousness (Isaiah 64:6).  My works play no part in my salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Salvation is the gracious work of God by His grace and by His Spirit through His Word.  I lay aside all boasting right now and I confess that Jesus is my salvation and He alone is my hope before a holy God (Hebrews 7:25).  My salvation is complete in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  I am saved not by what I do but through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:29).

While it is true that we are to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14) the reality is that we will always need Jesus and His grace.  Thankfully through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are holy in Him (Hebrews 10:10, 14).  Jesus and His blood makes us holy (Ephesians 1:4-7).  We are called to forsake sin and turn from sin but the promise of God is that while we are not called to sin, we have One who prays for us before the holy Father (1 John 2:1-2).  Through the Lord Jesus I am able to approach the throne of a holy God (Hebrews 4:14-16).  The entire focus of the New Testament is upon the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).  He is my salvation and my hope.  Not my works (Titus 3:5-7).

I don’t want to wonder into sloppy grace (Romans 6:1-4).  Having been set free by the grace of God, why would I want to go back to a life of sin?  Yet I do struggle with sin.  I hate my sins.  I really do.  I want to be holy and pure and praise God, in Christ, I am holy.  The Spirit of God is working in me to help me to hate sin and to turn from sin.  I admit that I struggle with sin and I always will but the promise of God is to complete this work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6).

If you struggle with sin, I assure you that you are loved by God.  I need to hear that too.  God gave His Son for our sins (John 3:16) and He demonstrates His love (Romans 5:8-9).  This love from God is not mere words but actions.  The Father has sent His holy Son to die for our wicked sins.  God has reconciled us through Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  My favorite verse in the Bible is 1 Timothy 1:15.  It reads beautifully in the KJV:

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Christ Jesus came to save sinners.  Luke 19:10 says:

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Jesus came to save us (Matthew 1:21).  He came as the suffering servant from Isaiah 53 who would die for our sins.  He came to bring us peace with God (Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20).  Jesus shed His blood on the cross for our sins and it by His grace, through His blood that we are saved from the wrath of God against our sins.

Romans 3:23-25 (KJV) reads wonderfully:

23 for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.

This salvation is freely given in Christ (Acts 16:30-31) and He is our propitiation through faith in His blood.  This is the goodness of our God.  Our God reaches down to us and save us by His grace.

Now in conclusion I don’t want to sound like an antinomian.  I am not advocating sinning. I hate my sins.  I want to be holy.  Yet I believe there is balance.  The balance is not to see Jesus as our means unto holiness but He is our holiness.  The focus of salvation from beginning to end is Jesus Christ.  It is not Jesus plus our works that saves us.  It is not Jesus plus our works that makes us holy.  It is Jesus and His work alone that saves us.  Our eyes must be on Jesus.  Hebrews 12:1-2 is powerful in that regard:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Looking unto Jesus is the key.  Jesus has sat down at the Father’s side.  Sitting represents completion.  Jesus has sat down because He has completed  the work of atonement.  Jesus is now our faithful high priest before the Father (Hebrews 2:17-18).

No doubt I will sin.  I hate my sins even now.  Yet I know that before the Father is One who prays for me.  He is my defense.  I use to believe that when I sinned, I need to compensate God and His wrath somehow.  I would pray more.  I would read my Bible a little more.  I would go out and witness to someone.  I wanted to make up for my sins.  The reality is that God sees my wicked heart at all times.  He knows me perfectly.  The beauty of the cross is that it demonstrates God’s love toward sinners still in their sins (Romans 5:8).  God loved me while I was a sinner even under His wrath but now He loves me as His child through faith in His Son (Galatians 3:26; 4:6).  If God loved me while a wicked sinner who sinned without thinking of God, how much does He still love this sinner now?

I am tired of sinless perfection seeking.  I only want to know that I have peace with God through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1).  Jesus is my salvation both now and forevermore.

“Lord help me to not sin this day but forgive me of my sins as I forgive those who trespass against me.”

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Law and Gospel

Having come face to face with my own sinfulness, my own lack of keeping the law of God, I have spent the last several months looking at the law and the gospel.  While this is not new to Christianity, it is fairly new to me.  I grew up in a church environment that was heavy on the law.  You keep the law and God was happy.  Break the law (which was often), God is now angry with you.  The gospel was not the end but only a step to helping me keep myself clean.  It was not Jesus period.  It was Jesus who now enables me to keep the law and when I fail, back to the beginning.

We all sin.  None of us are perfect.  We read passages such as Romans 3:23 and acknowledge the universal sinfulness of mankind.  But we miss the point that we are sinners ourselves.  I am not arguing that we wake up each day thinking “what can I do today to violate the law of God” but we do sin.  Whether we make sins into categories such as “sins of omission” and “sins of commission,” either way we do sin.  Apart from grace, none of us can stand before a holy God.  It is only through Christ that we can stand before a holy and totally pure God.  The reason Christ died for my sins is not simply to enable me to be holy on my own power but He died because I am a sinner in need of forgiveness because I do sin (1 John 2:1-2).

Consider the command of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Stop and consider how you are doing with that one?  I’m not even good at it.  I would love to say that I love God perfectly as Jesus taught.  I would love to tell you that my love for God flows into loving my neighbor as myself.  But the reality is that I fall way short of these two commands and Jesus said that law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.  Do these and you’ll be perfect!  But I don’t!

And thus the gospel comes into play.  The law condemns me as a sinner (Romans 3:19) and the law teaches me that I need a Savior (Galatians 3:24).  The law condemns me.  The gospel saves me.  The law shows me that I am a sinner (Romans 7:7).  There is nothing wrong with the law of God (Romans 7:12) but the problem is me.  I can’t keep the law.  No matter how hard I try, I fail.

The gospel preaches peace to me.  The law tells me to love God perfectly and my neighbor perfectly (Matthew 5:48).  The gospel tells me Christ died for my sins and the sins of not loving God perfectly nor my neighbor as myself.  The law tells me to love my wife as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:25).  The gospel tells me that Christ died for the sin of not loving my wife as Christ loves His Church (I am far from a perfect husband).  The law tells me to pray, to worship, to evangelize, to give my money to the poor and to helping the kingdom of God, to do good to my neighbor especially of those of the household of faith, etc. but the gospel tells me that Christ died for my sins even the sins of not keeping the law perfectly.

Martin Luther taught two (and I would add a third) uses of the law.  Lutherans debate the third use of the law.  The three uses of the law are:

  • For society, to curb man’s sinfulness.
  • To condemn us a sinners and show us our need for salvation.
  • To help the Christian in sanctification.

These three uses of the law are seen not just in the Bible but in life.  Antinomians accept the first two uses of the law but not the third.  I believe in preaching all three.  Christians need to hear the law so that the Holy Spirit can help us in the process of sanctification.  So for example a believer hears that we should pray (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Prayer itself doesn’t justify us before God.  We are justified only through Christ Jesus alone by grace alone though faith alone.  Yet none would say that prayer is bad.  Yet prayer can become a law.  It was that way for me.  I once held that a person should pray for 2 hours a day or God was not pleased.  Prayer became a law and gospel for me.  But prayer is not the gospel.  The gospel is the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our justification (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Thus Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness.  Does this mean that I should not pray since Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness?  By no means! The key is to see prayer as flowing from my forgiveness and not from the law.  I pray because Christ shed His blood for me (Hebrews 4:14-16).

This holds true of any law.  The law if holy and good (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  The law shows me how far I am far from the perfection of God.  But the gospel shouts to me that I am accepted in the Beloved.  I am holy before God because of Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and not by my works.  The law tells me to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16) and this is good.  The gospel tells me that I am accepted in Christ Jesus who bled and died for my sins (Romans 5:6).

This understanding of the law and the gospel has blessed me.  It has brought some joy to my soul where joy has been lacking.  For so long I have been full of pride, my own self-righteousness.  I thought God was honored by my prayer life, my evangelism, my passion for God.  Like Voddie Bauchman preaches, my works-righteousness muscle likes to flex.  I would have, in the past, gladly acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and would have gladly told you that I was saved by His grace alone but in reality I was full of pride, thinking more highly of myself than I ought (Philippians 2:3).  I would have preached Christ but my focus was not on pleasing Christ per se but on men seeing how much I “loved” Jesus.  Oh how much pride was in my heart!  Oh wretched sinner that I was!

But Christ died for me.  Christ bled and suffered for my sins.  Jesus gave His life for my sins and now I am forgiven not because I keep the law but because I can’t keep the law (Galatians 3:10).  Christ suffered in my place, for my sins (Galatians 3:13-14).  I am saved now not because I keep the law but because of faith in Jesus Christ who gave His life for my sins.  What a blessing!  What a Savior!

I have no problem with the law.  The law is good.  The law comes from our holy God.  Yet too many Christians try to live the law.  You will always be falling short.  Always.  You will never obtain holiness by the law.  Even if you think (as I did) that I had obtained a level of holiness by my striving, inside (like me) you’ll know that you stand condemned because you can’t keep the whole law (James 2:10).  I have no problem preaching the law and calling Christians to repent of not keeping the law.  But the balance of this is the gospel.  The answer to not keeping the law is not more law.  The answer is the gospel.  The law condemns us as sinners.  The gospel comforts us by pointing to Christ who died for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Perhaps I am wrong on this.  I don’t think so.  I believe it’s biblically based.  I know that this teaching has pushed me closer to Christ and not away.  I still hate sin.  I really do hate sin.  I acknowledge that I do sin but I hate my sins.  I am so grateful to God for giving me His Son for my sins (John 1:29).  I stand condemned but Christ preaches to me no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  Satan accuses me of sin and he is right to do so.  But I trust in Christ alone for my salvation (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus has promised not only to save me from my sins (Matthew 1:21; Romans 6:1-4) but He has promised to keep me (Jude 24-25).  I trust in Christ alone and not my works-righteousness before a holy God.

Short Update

Having not written in a while, I just wanted to post a quick update.  The devil has been beating me up pretty good for many months.  I have been struggling in many areas of my life.  That said, I still love the Lord Jesus.  His grace toward me is amazing.  I know that I am saved by God’s grace and not by my works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  I know that my salvation is based on the work of the Lord Jesus and not my works (Romans 4:5).  I know that I have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) and He is my peace (Ephesians 2:14).

I ask for prayer.  I ask for forgiveness from anyone I have hurt.  I do long to please the Lord despite seeing my faults on a daily basis.  Each day I pray Martin Luther’s daily prayer: “Lord help me to not sin this day” and then I pray with Luther during the evening when I go to bed, “Lord forgive me of my sins this day.”  I am thankful that God does forgive me of my sins (1 John 1:9).  I long for holiness (Hebrews 12:14) despite seeing my sins in the light of the gospel.  Thank God for the good news of His grace.

So I am okay.  I find each new day the truths of God’s grace and His mercy while finding my sins in the light of the perfection of the Lord Jesus.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/13/2017 at 7:52 PM

Justification by Faith in Galatians

The epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians is a precious book to turn to when you are struggling with your faith.  The book provides clear answers to our justification before God which is not based on our works or our moral goodness or our works of righteousness but is based on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our assurance is based on Jesus and not us.  This precious truth is a bulwark in times of trouble either from the flesh, the devil, or the world.  As you read the book of Galatians you feel the passion of Paul the Apostle to protect the gospel from error (Galatians 1:6-9) which clearly is pointing back to the first heresy to come into the Church in the Judaizers (Acts 15:1-5).

What is amazing about Galatians 2 is that Paul says that even Barnabas (the son of encouragement) was led astray by this heresy.  The great apostle, Peter, was led astray.  In Galatians 2:14 we read (NASB):

But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Live like Jews.  That was their error.  In Galatians 2:15-16 Paul makes it clear that these Jews understood that they were sinners (Romans 7:7) and through the law they knew they could not save themselves because of their sins.  Instead, these Jews knew that we are justified before God through faith in Christ and not by being Jewish.  His point is clear, our salvation is based not on keeping the law or what we do but is through faith in the Lord Jesus.

This is the key for our struggles.  We are not perfected by the works of the law (or law).  In Galatians 3 Paul begins by telling his readers that we are not made perfect by our efforts even after our salvation.  Our trust from beginning to end must be in the Lord God.  We don’t begin in the Spirit and finish in the flesh (Galatians 3:3).  Paul then points to our father, Abraham, as our example in the faith in that he trusted God and God reckoned it as righteousness (Galatians 3:6).  From the seed of Abraham comes our Savior, the Lord Jesus, who is the blessing of Abraham that God promised beforehand in Genesis 12:1-3.  This promise was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14).

The law was given for a purpose writes Paul the Apostle in Galatians 3:15-29.  The law shows us our need for salvation.  The law doesn’t produce righteousness (Galatians 3:21).  The law only shows me that I am a sinner (Galatians 3:24).  Paul’s defense here of the gospel is clear: we are not saved by the grace of God plus keeping the law.  The law shows us the need for grace!  The law is not bad at all.  It does it’s job which is to show me that I am a sinner in need of salvation.  The law condemns but it doesn’t offer any hope.  It only shows me that I have broken the law of God and deserve His wrath.

The solution to our sinfulness is not to try harder or to resolve to not to sin.  This will never work.  We are simply too weak.  Too human.  We need the grace of God that He has given to us in His Son whom He sent to redeem from under the law (Galatians 4:4-6).  We are not slaves of sin or slaves to the law but through Christ we have been set free to be sons of God (Galatians 4:7).  Paul turns again to the Old Testament to show that we are children of the promise, of Abraham and not of the slave woman (Galatians 4:12-31).  Our mother is not the law but is the promise of God that He has fulfilled in His Son.

Our hope now is the Lord Jesus.  God has set us free to look to Jesus and not to our flesh or to the law.  In Galatians 5:1-12 Paul turns to the Judaizers who were demanding circumcision as proof of keeping the law.  Paul says that what matters is not circumcision or what we do in the flesh.  Paul uses strong words in Galatians 5:12 by saying that those who want to circumcise should go and circumcise themselves and mutilate themselves.  They want to cut the flesh so bad, go all the way and mutilate yourselves then!  Paul is attacking this idea of circumcision hard because it robs Christ of His glory and robs the believer of the truth of justification by faith and not by what we do.  Paul adds that our call is to freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1, 13) and not to our flesh.  No doubt we are at war with our flesh (Galatians 5:16) but the answer is the Spirit and not the flesh (Galatians 5:17-18). Those of us who belong to Christ are circumcised in Jesus and His cross (Galatians 5:24; 6:14).  Circumcision is not what counts but being a new creation in Christ (Galatians 6:15).  This is the true Israel of God and not merely the Jews who keep the law (for they are not the true Israel; see Romans 9:30-33; 10:1-5; 11:1-10).

Paul ends Galatians with powerful words that would have cut the Judaizers.  He ends with this:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren.  Amen.

Grace.  Such a marvelous word!  Paul ends by pointing to what saves us: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This was what he preached in Acts 15:11.  It is grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We are not saved by the keeping of the law.  We are not saved by our works of righteousness (Titus 3:5).  We are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus came and bore our sins on the cross for our eternal salvation (Galatians 1:4).  This is our hope.  This is our assurance.  This is our salvation.

I don’t know about you but that is good news to this sinner.  I am far from being what I know I need to be.  I don’t pray enough.  I don’t share my faith enough.  I don’t give enough of my money to the poor or to missions.  I can see my sins.  I am not a perfect husband.  I am not a perfect dad.  I fall so far from Christ and His perfection (Romans 6:23).

But I find peace in knowing that I am saved by grace and not by works.  I love 1 Timothy 1:15 because Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous.   Jesus didn’t come to save perfect husbands or perfect dads.  He came to save sinners like me.  Jesus died because I am sinful and have violated His laws.  I know this.  The law condemns me each and every time.  But thanks be to God who gave me His Son.  This is my assurance.  This is my hope.  This is the reason why I keep going.  It’s not because I am just strong willed.  It’s not because I am disciplined.  I am not of those things.  I am a sinful man.  I fall short in many, many ways (Romans 3:23).

Galatians is for sinners.  Galatians is for people who struggle.  Galatians is for those who need grace.  Galatians is for those who are tired and weary of trying to live the “Christian life” only to fall short all the time.  Galatians is a book of hope for those who do long to love Jesus and be more like Him.

I pray this has encouraged someone.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/03/2016 at 12:00 PM

The Point of 1 John 1:9

Modern Evangelicalism teaches that God forgives us of all our sins both past, present, and future.  How often have I heard evangelical pastors proclaiming that forgiveness from God means that He forgives us of all our sins both now and forevermore. Yet some of them would be quick to preach holiness, to preach that one must persevere in the faith, and that we must confess our sins.  A few will teach a radical view of eternal security (or “once saved, always saved”) to the point that even confessing of sin is not really necessary.  The rise of the hyper-grace movement over the past twenty years flows from this viewpoint.

My question then is what is the point of 1 John 1:9?  Hyper-grace teachers teach that the point of 1 John 1:9 is for unbelievers. They argue that 1 John 1:9 has nothing to do with New Testament followers of Christ.  The context, however, destroys such a view.  Notice John’s usage of “we” and “our” and “us” in 1 John 1 below:

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 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. 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. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The context is clear that John is not jumping from believers to unbelievers in the context.  John is writing to believers.

So let me go back to my point again: what is the point of 1 John 1:9?  If Jesus has secured our salvation and if He has died for all our sins both past, present, and future, what is the point of 1 John 1:9?

Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for the elect.  The elect’s sin were placed on Christ while He was on the cross.  Therefore, the cross secures the forgiveness of the sins of the elect.  Some Calvinists are inconsistent on this point however and teach that a person is lost, dead in their sins, and on their way to hell apart from the grace of God intervening in their lives and drawing them to salvation.  All Calvinists that I know of have a testimony of Christ saving them.  They all acknowledge that at some point in their life, the Lord opened their eyes to His grace and He caused them to be born again unto faith.

More consistent Calvinists teach that all the elect are born justified before God.  Some teach eternal justification where God looks through time and He has chosen His elect and because of His sovereignty, He knows the elect even in eternity past and thus all the elect were seen as forgiven in the mind of God through Christ Jesus.  Either way, in Calvinism, the elect have their sins forgiven in Christ and thus all their sins were in Christ when He shed His blood and thus they are justified forevermore because of the work of Christ.  Calvinists then can teach that all their sins are forgiven in Christ.

The problem then becomes the issue of holiness or even 1 John 1:9.  What is the point of 1 John 1:9 if in fact Christ has shed His blood for the elect’s sin already?  Some Calvinists simply teach that holiness is like prayer or evangelism: we simply do it because God has commanded us to do so and as His elect, we will obey Him completely.  Others teach that holiness is necessary and part of the perseverance of the saints.  Thus holiness and 1 John 1:9 are practices of perseverance.

From a biblical viewpoint, 1 John 1:9 is clear that we must confess our sins to be forgiven of them.  This plays into the very words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 6:12.  We confess our sins to be forgiven.  This would imply that the provision for our forgiveness is set: the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  However, we must confess our sins before God through the Lord Jesus to be forgiven.  This is the clear understanding of 1 John 1:9.  Even Calvinists acknowledge this in part.  Even John MacArthur in the MacArthur Study Bible (NASB) says that confession of sin is part of being a true Christian.  The mindset of the Christian is that we are sinners in need of a Savior because of our sins.

What then happens if 1 John 1:9 is not obeyed?  MacArthur would likely say that such a person would demonstrate they were never saved to begin with (1 John 2:19).  Others would say that nothing happens since Christ paid for our sins already on the cross.  However one looks at this, if you hold that Christ died for all our sins both past, present, and future then you would have to water down the clear meaning of 1 John 1:9.  In reality, if the Calvinist understanding of definite atonement is to be assumed, 1 John 1:9 does little to nothing for the elect.

In Arminianism, we hold that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2).  Forgiveness is based on faith in the Lord Jesus and His saving work (Romans 10:9-10).  The blood of Jesus even bought the forgiveness of false teachers though they did not trust in Him alone to secure their forgiveness (2 Peter 2:1).  Forgiveness of our sins must be through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 13:38-39).  Our forgiveness comes through Christ alone (Romans 3:22-25).  When Peter preached in Acts 2 the first gospel sermon, he didn’t preach “eternal justification” nor did he preach that their sins were already forgiven by simply trusting that Jesus had paid the price but he called them to repentance (Acts 2:38).  The message of the gospel is Jesus-focused, Jesus-filled, Jesus-centered and Jesus alone saves by His grace.  However, we must call people to repent and forsake their sins and place their saving faith in the Lord Jesus alone to save them.  The work of salvation: conviction, regeneration, being born again, etc. are the work of the Holy Spirit as He works to glorify the risen Savior (John 16:8-11).

When it comes to 1 John 1:9 in Arminianism, the Christian must obey.  The Christian must confess their sins when the Spirit of God convicts them and they must repent (2 Corinthians 7:10).  God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  1 John 1:9 is what happens after we have had our sins washed away with Christ (Romans 6:1-4).  When a person repents, their past and present sins are forgiven but their future sins remain in the future.  Their future sins must be repented of just as their past sins were (1 John 2:1).  The disciple of Jesus is thus forgiven of their sins (Ephesians 1:7) as we walk in the light of Christ and His saving work (1 John 1:7).  We must repent lest we fall into sin and perish (James 1:12-15; 5:19-20; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:17).

in Revelation 2, Jesus saw the sins of the people in Ephesus (Revelation 2:5).  Jesus Himself called them to repentance as He did others in Revelation 2-3.  How could the Lord Jesus do this if He didn’t see their sins or if their future sins were already forgiven?  Why didn’t Jesus just tell them they were covered by His righteousness and they were forever forgiven?  Yet Jesus called them to repent.  In fact, He promised them things for their overcoming (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28).

1 John 1:9 is a wonderful gift from God.  What a delight to confess my sins to the Lord.  King David cried the blessings of being forgiven (Psalm 32:1-2) that comes through confession of our sins (Psalm 32:5).  The godly realize this (Psalm 32:6).  We who know the grace of God in truth (Titus 2:12), know that God is willing to forgive sinners who come before Him confessing their sins.  I rejoice when I confess my sins knowing that God has forgiven me through the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the One who has secured my salvation and I trust in Him to pray for me before the Father (Hebrews 7:25).

Another Take on Prevenient Grace

I have been listening to a podcast of a brother and he has been dealing with the issue of prevenient grace.  His take is that prevenient grace within Arminianism is not much different from the view of Calvinists only that the order of salvation differs.  His regard is that the Arminian gives up ground to the Calvinist when they admit first that people are born dead in their sins and unable to respond to God at all.  His view is that people are not born unable to respond but simply born with a sinful nature and thus sin but are still able to respond to God’s grace and God’s call.  He secondly says that we give up ground to the Calvinist when we ignore both the call of Scripture for all to repent and say that they can’t or that we teach that people must have prevenient grace given to those whom God foreknows will believe.  This linear view of election is not biblical in his estimation.

In reply, he offers that prevenient grace is not a unique enabling that God only gives to the foreknown elect but rather God gives His enabling grace to all through the gospel.  The gospel is prevenient grace in his view.  The gospel, he argues, is given to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), is empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8) through Spirit chosen Apostles (John 15:16).  The Apostolic preaching is thus from the Spirit and is the Spirit’s work in the world to bring about the salvation of sinners (John 16:8-11).  As the gospel is preached, this is the prevenient grace of God (prevenient means “beforehand”) at work among the nations to draw them to salvation.  God uses the gospel to entice sinners to repentance.  All are freely able to respond to the gospel of God’s grace (Romans 11:32).  Prevenient grace is thus the work of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the Church.  This is all prevenient grace and should not be cornered into one area: just the drawing of the Spirit unto salvation.  This is all the work of the Spirit in bringing salvation to sinners.

This is an interesting view and one that I am curious about.  I have not heard prevenient grace explained in this manner.  I have long heard the concept as taught by John Wesley and the early Methodists.  The Wesleyan concept is that people are born dead in their sins (original sin) and only the work of the Spirit to draw sinners to salvation is sufficient to bring dead sinners to repentance.  Wesley very much held to a Calvinist view in this regard.  Arminius likewise seems to hold to such a view.  The Calvinist question, of course, is how does God choose one person over another.  Is it based on works?  Is it based on the response of the person?  Is it based on foreseen faith?  The Calvinist answer is simple: the elect are chosen based on the arbitrary choosing of God.  While Calvinists would disagree with me and would say that God chooses people based on His love and His glory (Romans 9:22-23; Ephesians 1:11-12) but either way, the Calvinist would never admit that God chooses a person based on anything the person does and the choice is completely God’s choice and a mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29 is the most appealed to passage).

However, Acts 28:27 would seem to disagree with both the Calvinist and Arminian viewpoint.  It reads:

For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

Paul is speaking here of the Jews.  Notice he doesn’t say that they are born dull or born without the ability to believe.  He says that they have become dull.  These Jews have made themselves this way.  Later he would write that these same Jews can turn and be saved if they will humble themselves (Romans 11:23).

So why does one man believe while another man does not?  The issue is not with God.  The issue is humility.  Does one person humble themselves before God as a child?  Does one person continue in their pride and unbelief?  Acts 28:28 Paul the Apostle states that he is turning to the Gentiles but not because of God’s sovereign election but because they will listen.  The Gentiles humbled themselves while the Jews did not.

This is this brother’s take.  No system of theology is perfect.  We are all humans trying to understand the infinite God.  We are so limited in knowing God.  A.W. Tower said:

The doctrine of justification by faith (a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort) has in our times fallen into evil company and has been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved”, but he is not hungry or thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word.

The reality is that knowing God is not knowing facts about God.  It is knowing Him!  Salvation is not a part of a system but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).  Salvation is found in a person (Romans 5:1).  I want to know Him more and more!  I want all people to know Him as well (Matthew 28:18-20).  Thankfully, God does not save Arminians or Calvinists but He does save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/16/2015 at 7:06 PM

Arminianism and Free Will

Arminius is often said to be the theologian of freedom.  One Calvinist theologian said that Arminius was “anthropocentric” in that he placed humanity at the center of his theology and not God.  To this day, Calvinist theologians continue to assert that Arminius and Arminianism is all about human freedom.  Libertarian free will is said a chief focus of Arminian theology.

And yet is this fair?  Is Arminianism focused on free will and humans as its center?

The fact is that those who say that Arminius was first and foremost about human freedom must prove this from his writings.  This cannot be done.  Arminius does not elevate human freedom above God’s sovereignty nor does he ascribe to salvation the basis being free will.  Arminius is clear in his writings that the will of man is free indeed but bound by sin (Romans 8:6-7).  The will of mankind is darkened by our sinfulness.  The will of man, like Jonathan Edwards later, was free but free to sin.  Man could do nothing with their free will to earn salvation.

Arminius was clear that we should uphold free will for three main reasons.  First, sin must be ascribed to free will.  While God can certainly use man’s free will sinful acts for His glory (Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23-24), the act of sin must be free and not from God lest God be made the author of sin itself which Scripture deplores (James 1:13-15). God is simply too holy to sin (Exodus 15:11; Habakkuk 1:13).  If mankind does not have free will, sin must come from outside of them and that would be from the Creator Himself and Arminius simply would not affirm this.

Secondly, Arminius defended free will in regard to grace.  It was here that Calvinists often attacked Arminius as being Pelagian.  For salvation to be truly gracious and a gift from God (Romans 6:23) then it must be maintained that mankind receives this grace by their own free will albeit by the ministry of the Spirit.  To deny freedom in the work of grace is to make grace not truly grace.  How can one ascribe salvation as a work of grace if in fact man has no choice but to succumb to the irresistible drawing power of God?  Calvinists will insist that this is truly grace when dead sinners are regenerated to believe the gospel but salvation as a gift from God (John 3:16) is not a gift if the person offered the gift has nothing to say about receiving the gift.  Salvation as gracious is gracious in Arminianism since the will of man is freed by the Spirit to believe and receive the gift (John 1:12-13; Romans 11:5-6).

Finally, Arminius affirmed human freedom because it upholds the relationship between God and man as a true relationship.  God is not forcing His will upon people as a Master and they as robotic slaves.  Instead, God is loving, gracious, and reaching out to lost humanity through His Son and through His Word to bring them into a free and loving relationship with Himself.  The consistent theme of the Old Testament is God having relationships with people (and later the nation of Israel) through human freedom.  God allows the free will decisions of Abraham, David, and others to build His relationship with them.  No doubt God is sovereign in His choosing but He continues to allow a man like Abraham or Moses to even sin against Him in the process but nonetheless uses the men and their free will for His glory.  This does not end in the New Testament.  The coming of the Messiah is God still reaching out to humanity.  Yes our will is bent and wicked.  Yes we are sinners but God is consistently holy and pure yet He reaches out to the lost though His Son (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15).  God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The facts are that Arminius is not putting man at the center of his theology nor even free will.  Instead, Arminius affirmed the grace of God as central to his theology.  We are saved by grace and kept by grace.  Pelagianism places the beginning of faith in man but Arminius places salvation as an act of God’s first grace.  It is God who initiates salvation first in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15) and ultimately in His Son (John 1:17-18).  The beginning of salvation is not in man.  The beginning of salvation, according to Arminius, is God and His grace.

For more on this I highly recommend the book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall.

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