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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.

Longing For A Sweet Spirit

I know several brothers in the Lord who have sweet spirits.  They are delightful to be around.  They glow with love for others, are full of joy, and pour blessings onto others.  I want that.

My own temperament is typically laid back, discerning (though I fear sometimes I am just plain critical), and often opinionated especially about theology.  I am not argumentative contrary to what you might read.  I don’t enjoy fighting.  I would rather just talk.  When I feel threatened, my face gets red (cursedness of being a white man).  My boys have watched me debating someone and they always say that I look mad, that my face is red like fire.

I want a sweet spirit.  I’m not sure how to cultivate that.  I have prayed about this before.  I want to be loving and kind.

When I was in full-time pastoral ministry, I was more or less a jerk.  I admit that now.  In those days I thought I was just being “biblical” and standing my ground for the truth.  It was others who rejected God’s truth but not me!  I heard a brother say once that it is better to be righteous than to be right.  I wish I would have lived those words.  I would use the pulpit to beat others up (not by name but by my teaching).  I was right.  Everyone else was wrong.  I was not loving and kind.  I was mean.  No wonder I was “let go” from my position.

Having been out of “ministry” for over 10 years now, I see my errors.  I am not writing this for sympathy or to beat myself up.  I am done doing that.  I am writing to confess before the Lord my desire to be like Him.  Yes at times the Lord can be angry but His anger is not based on sin or pride.  The Lord’s anger is a pure hatred of sin.

This leads me to the gospel.  I look back at my past 20+ years of being a Christian and I see all the sins I have committed, all the times I have failed the Lord.  I see how I failed him while I was serving in full-time pastoral ministry.  Yet I am so grateful that He never gave up on me.  The Lord Jesus could have cast me aside (as I would have long ago) but He has not.  Jesus has been faithful to me.  He has provided for me and for my family.  Most of all, the Lord Jesus has been my Savior through  all this.  The Lord knows how many times I have prayed Psalm 51:1-2 or 1 John 1:9?  The Lord knows how many times I have failed Him yet He has never failed me (2 Timothy 2:13).

The gospel teaches me that yes I am a sinner.  No doubts there (Romans 3:10-18).  Yet in Christ Jesus I am saved and forgiven and declared righteous before a holy God (Romans 3:22-27).  My salvation is not me saving myself from myself but God saving me from Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  The gospel teaches me that my temperament can be transformed but only by the work of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  In my flesh, I cannot please God (Romans 8:8).  No matter how much I try,  I will never be perfect, will never do enough to please God (Isaiah 64:6).  The gospel teaches me that Jesus alone is my salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31) and He alone is my mediator before the Father (Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25).  I am not lost today only because of the grace of God given freely to me in Christ Jesus my Lord (Romans 6:23).

I am so thankful for these small reminders of the faithfulness of God.  I am far from perfect.  Very, very far!  But I trust in the perfect Savior who can save me perfectly (Philippians 1:6).

Thank you Lord Jesus for Your salvation and Your forgiveness!  Where would I be without You?

And That’s Why I Need Jesus

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
– 1 Timothy 1:15

I find comfort in reading in the Bible that I am a sinner and that Christ came to die for me and my sins (Galatians 1:4).  I know many people read the Bible looking for “keys” to a deeper life, keys to victory, keys to a happier marriage, keys to a stronger prayer life, etc. but I read the Bible looking for my sins.  I want the mirror of God’s law to show me my ugliness and my sins so that I can repent and be refreshed (Acts 3:19-20; 1 John 1:9).  There is something wonderful about seeing God’s holiness in the light of my sins.  There is something beautiful that comes from confessing my sins.

Psalm 32:15-18 reads:

15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.

16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.

18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

When the Spirit of God confronts me about my sins, I love it!  I really do!  It shows me His great love for me, that He would not leave me as I am.  Hebrews 12:7-11 reads:

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Notice verse 10.  The Lord disciplines us so that we might share in His holiness.  Amazing!

Tonight I could sit here and write all about my sins.  I don’t need to.  The point is not about me.  The point is about why I need Jesus and you do as well.  If Jesus came to save only the righteous, none of us would be saved (Romans 3:10-18).  I have met people who think they never sin after getting saved but I have found that they were mostly prideful, arrogant, condescending, and full of their own flesh.  They focused so much on themselves “not sinning” that they lost sight of their sins.  I am not advocating living in blatant sin but I am calling us to recognize the truth that Jesus came to save sinners.  Of course there is truth that those whom He saves become saints in Him (1 Corinthians 1:2).  Jesus saves us out of a life of sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  That I know but He is also still saving me out of a life of sin.  Sin is not out of me yet completely nor is it out of you.  Let’s face it, we like sinning.  No, we love sinning.  That is why Jesus had to die for us.  Because we enjoy sin.

And that is why I need Jesus.  I like sinning.  I don’t want to like it.  In fact, I want to hate it.  Yet I find that I enjoy sinning.  I have sinned in many ways.  I have let many people down over the years.  Those who know me best know I am not perfect.  I never confess to be.  Oh there was a time I thought I was all that.  Not anymore.  I see my sins.  I know my sins.  I hate my sins.

It’s funny how people think that we Christians are suppose to be perfect.  I have yet to meet a perfect Christian.  I have met arrogant Christians.  I have met prideful Christians.  I have been those myself.  Yet I have never met a perfect saint.  Every person I have known who truly loved Jesus needed Him.  They knew it.  I knew it.  Jesus knows it.  Even the godliest people I have known, once you get close to them you can just smell the flesh.  They hate it.  I hate it.  Jesus still saves them.

So here I sit writing at nearly 2 AM in the morning.  I can’t sleep.  I am pondering the truth that Jesus loves me and died for my sins.  Yet I still struggle with sin.  I recently had lunch with a godly man and I asked him how about sanctification.  I want to be holy, I told him, but I struggle to be holy.  I see my sins and I see how far I am from being like Jesus.  Yet I still want to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  So how can I be holy?  His reply:  look to Jesus and love Him and obey Him.  He died for you while you were still a sinner (Romans 5:8).  His love hasn’t changed since the day I first believed the gospel and He saved me.

So tonight I issue this call to all who know me: you know I am a sinner.  You know that I sin.  Yet that is why I need Jesus.  I am not perfect.  I am not a perfect father.  I am not a perfect worker.  I am not a perfect saint.  I am not a perfect “deacon” (as a guy at work calls me).  I am a sinner in need of a Savior.  I thank God for sending such a Savior.  I cannot earn His forgiveness (Titus 3:5).  My salvation is based on the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) and He alone is my salvation and assurance before a holy and just G0d (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  That is me.

When Do We Know They Are Not One of Us?

1 John 2:19 is a cornerstone passage for those who hold to unconditional eternal security and even those who hold to perseverance of the saints.  This verse is said to teach that those who go out from us (from Christians) proves they were never said to begin with.  I differ with this view in that I see 1 John 2:19 in context speaking about false apostles or in this case antichrists who claimed to be apostles like John but their teachings proved they were not apostles.  They went out from among us (apostles) but they were not of us (apostles); for if they had been of us (apostles), they would have continued with us (apostles).  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (apostles).

My question here is when do we know they are not one of us from the eternal security view?  At what point can we declare, “Never saved to begin with?”  I have even heard many exponents of eternal security teach that a person might be living in sin and the Lord will either discipline them to bring them back to Christ (Hebrews 12:3-11) or He will even allow them to die before they completely apostatize (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 11:29-31).  I have heard eternal security teachers teach that a person living in sin can still be saved and so we are not to judge someone harshly.  They point to the examples of David or Samson as proof that a saint can live in gross sin and still be a child of God.

I have often said that eternal security leads to antinomianism.  How can it not?  The idea that we must be holy is not a true teaching among eternal security teachers.  Yes they preach holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) but they often make statements contrary to holiness teaching such as “we all sin every day” and they view Romans 7 as the highest form of Christian living.  Further, they teach that sin has no effect on the believer so they ignore the Bible’s call to forsake sin (1 John 2:1-2).  They instead teach that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus even though we are warned over and over again not to get a hard heart, not to go back to living in sin, not to forsake Christ.  We are called to perseverance but these teachers teach preservation of the sinner.

This is not a perfection teaching.  I am not advocating that Christians are sinless or that we can obtain sinless perfection though some in the past have advocated such a position.  The Trinitarian hero Athanasius of Alexandria held to perfection.  He taught that saints of God in the Bible had obtained such a state such as Job or Noah.  While I am not advocating that position, I simply point out that Athanasius is viewed as a hero today despite his teaching on perfectionism.  I believe that Christians do sin.  I know.  I sin.  I don’t wake up and seek sinning.  I don’t want to sin.  I don’t try to sin.  But I have sinned.  I am thankful for 1 John 1:9 (which would be pointless if sin has no power over the disciple of Christ).

My point here is not to rail on eternal security.  I know godly people who believe in this doctrine.  I have also known people who used the doctrine for their own flesh.  I have known men who justified pornography by claiming eternal security.  I have known men who committed adultery by claiming eternal security.  I have seen churches ignore church discipline because its possible that the sinning person is truly saved and just needs the Lord’s discipline to come back to faith.  I have seen people “walk the isle” and say “the sinner’s prayer” and be told that they are saved and bound for heaven and are now eternally secure no matter what.  I have heard preachers tell people that they can even become an atheist and God will drag them into heaven kicking and screaming that they don’t want to go.

My point here is to simply ask the probing question, “When is someone deemed never saved to begin with?”  The lines seem blurred.  You could read Revelation 21:7-8 and ask a person who holds to eternal security if these people are not going to heaven and they will likely say, “No they are not.”  “But what about saints who do these things?  Are they still saved or are they never saved to begin with?”  “Well that is tough.  Only God knows a persons heart.  We can’t judge them.  We must leave that to God.”  “So are these people who do the things in Revelation 21:8 saved?”  “No.”  “But you just said that people who do these things might be saved?”  “Well yes we can but we shouldn’t and if we do, it might show that we are not saved to begin with.”  “Can you do these things if you wanted to?” “Yes I could I suppose.”  “Would that make you lost?”  “No because I am eternally secure!”  “Well would that prove you are not saved to begin with?”  “No I am eternally secure!”  “But what about others who do these things, why are they not eternally secure?”  “They possibly are!  God knows!”  “But you said that Revelation 21:8 are lost since they go to hell.”  “Yes they are but Christians can do these things too.”  “Should Christians do them?”  “No” “Why does it matter if they are eternally secure as you claim?”  “Because if a person does them they might not be truly saved.”  “But what about their eternal security? It doesn’t sound very eternal nor secure?”  “Those who are saved will persevere until the end for God keeps them but if they don’t persevere, they were never saved to begin with.” “And if a person does the things in Revelation 21:8 are they proving they are not saved to begin with if they claim to be a disciple?”  “Well only God knows.”

Do you see the circle of eternal security?  It doesn’t produce the assurance of one’s salvation.  I have often argued that if a person is seeking Christ, we have no fear (1 John 4:18).  Jesus said that if we abide in His teachings, we are His disciples (John 8:31-32).  As disciples, we have no fear (Romans 8:38-39).  Those who abide in Christ know that He is their high priest, their salvation, their security (2 Peter 1:10-11).  I fear the Lord because He is holy God (Romans 11:20-22).  I stand in awe of His grace toward me (Romans 6:1-4).  His grace teaches me to hate my sin (Titus 2:11-12).  God’s grace doesn’t give me a license for sinning (Jude 4).

True security is found in persevering in Christ.  True security is not found in teaching people that sin has no power over them.  We must teach the people of God to hate their sins, forsake their sins, confess their sins, and examine themselves (2 Corinthians 12:21-13:5).  Holiness is the heart of God (Hebrews 12:14).  We are holy in Christ and being made holy though Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

May the Lord help us all to hate our sins, forsake our sins, kill our sins, and confess our sins.  Our sovereign Father is faithful to help us (1 Corinthians 10:13) and He is faithful to forgive us when we sin (1 John 1:9).  May we run daily to the Lord Jesus and remain faithful to Him always.

Brief Thoughts on the Gospel Centered Movement

The gospel centered movement has been refreshing in many ways.  I have longed to hear the Church preaching the gospel and standing for the gospel.  The word “gospel” has become popular again among Christians and I am grateful for that.  I rejoice that many books and even songs are now coming out that focus on the gospel.  The gospel has become a point that we are now agreeing is essential and is what the Church must be built upon.

That said, I do see some problems beginning to arise in the popular gospel centered movement.  We would be best to avoid these areas as we preach the gospel to the lost and I believe we should keep in mind that we are to preach the full council of the Word of God and not merely what we like.  Let me give you three main problems I now see with the gospel centered movement as it presently is taking shape.

1.  Antinomianism.

Antinomianism means “no law.”  This is becoming a major theme among gospel centered preaching.  The problem is that many want to focus all on the gospel without the law.  We need both.  The law shows us our sins (Romans 7:7) and Paul said the law was good (1 Timothy 1:8).  The law prepares the heart for the grace of God as revealed in the gospel (Galatians 3:23-24).

Furthermore, those who preach all gospel seem to not care about personal holiness (a point I will make later).  The focus is always: gospel, gospel, gospel.  But the New Testament is equally clear that God has called His people to holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16).  The gospel does not mean that we can now live in sin and be proud.  The gospel is all about Jesus setting us free from the power of sin (John 8:31-38).  The gospel is all about grace that leads to holiness (Titus 2:11-12).  We need to preach the fear of God (Proverbs 1:7) and that discipline is good and flows from the gospel (James 2:14-26).

2.  Lack of Holiness Preaching With Warnings.

Gospel centered preaching can become so full of grace that we fail to warn people to forsake sin (1 Corinthians 15:34) and to repentance (Matthew 3:8).  We can fail to preach biblical holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and that God sent His Son to save us from His wrath and from our sins.  We must also warn people to abide in Christ (Acts 14:22-23).  We must preach the so-called “warning passages” such as Romans 11:20-22 or 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:21 or 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  We must preach Galatians 5:1-4 or Galatians 6:7-9 and many more.  Certainly preach the grace and forgiveness of the Lord but also warn people to flee sin and to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

3.  Too Much Focus on Self and Freedom.

Todd Friel points out that many gospel centered blogs now feature blogs on beer and wine.  While I am not saying that one drink condemns a soul,  I do believe that many are taking their freedom in Christ too far.  There are many disciples who have forsaken all alcohol and we must keep this in mind in our freedom (Romans 14:13).

While I am grateful that God has given me freedom in Christ, this freedom is to serve Him (Romans 13:10).  Galatians 5:13 says that we are not to use our freedom for our flesh.  God has redeemed us to glorify Himself (Ephesians 1:6).  2 Timothy 1:9 says that God saved us and called us to a holy life.  God didn’t call me merely to the gospel so that I could be free to do what I like.  God saved me by His grace for His glory and for a holy life that I might serve Him (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Conclusion

I am thankful for the gospel.  It is the gospel that saved me and kept me all these years (James 1:21).  The gospel is precious to me.  Recently I was praying and I begin to thank God for the preciousness of the gospel like a pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46).  The gospel is wonderful and the thought that Christ gave His life for mine is a wonder in of itself (Galatians 2:20).  I rejoice that Jesus died, rose again, and now sits at God’s right hand till His enemies be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1).  I pray that the gospel will go forth.

But I also pray that the warnings I have stated will become part of our preaching.  The gospel is precious but the gospel is about Jesus saving me from both the wrath of God and from my sins.  Romans 6:1-4 is clear that those who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death and His resurrection.  We now can walk in the newness of life.  Sanctification is not optional.  Sanctification flows from salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

How Should Arminians Respond to Attacks?

It is not uncommon for me to be attacked for my Arminianism.  I have been called a liberal, to holding man-centered theology, to not loving God, to not loving God’s grace, to denying God’s sovereignty, to believing that I earn my salvation, to hating God, to denying the gospel.  Often these attacks come from Calvinists and many of them are perhaps in their “cage stage” but they honestly believe that Calvinism is the pure gospel, that Calvinism is just what Jesus and His Apostles preached (I am not kidding there).  They love all things Calvinistic and any attacks on Calvinism are viewed as attacks on God Himself.

Now to be fair, this is not the case with all Calvinists.  I know many godly Calvinists who love the Lord and know that Calvinism is not the gospel nor the major issue.  I have sat with many Calvinist brethren in great fellowship.  One only needs to think of the great friendship of John Wesley and George Whitefield to know that people can be Arminians and Calvinists while being brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Nothing in the New Testament suggests that we have to be nothing more than disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35) to love one another.  Love is one of the greatest evidences of our salvation (1 John 4:19-20).

So how do we respond to those who attack us?  Here is my response in brief.

1.  Answer With Love and Grace.

While I have had some say that I am lost because of my Arminianism, we should answer all people with love.  While they may despise me, I don’t despise them.  Love should flow from the disciple who has been forgiven (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).  Proverbs 15:1 reads, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  We should heed these wise words and answer with love and grace.  None of us are perfect in our knowledge and we all are seeking to know God through this glass (1 Corinthians 13:12).

2.  Answer Biblically.  

I have read many debates and they often turn to philosophy instead of Scripture.  Scripture is the final authority (and I pray that all agree on that fact).  Scripture alone speaks the truth for God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Scripture is what sanctifies us (John 17:17).  Scripture is our sword (Ephesians 6:17) but let us use our swords not out of hatred but love and grace.  Again, we are not perfect in our knowledge and all can learn from one another.  I would be the first to admit to a Calvinist that I don’t know all things perfectly but I love Jesus Christ and long to know Him truthfully (Philippians 3:8-11).  I pray that all of us would love the Word of God and long to know the truth of God from His holy Word.

3.  Be Godly.

It’s better to be godly than to be right (Hebrews 12:14-15).

4.  Never View Your Attacker As A Vile Enemy.

See the person as a person.  They may despise you, they may hate you, they may desire to kill you but see them as people made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Recently I heard the story of a family being attacked by Muslims for their faith.  The mother told the children that if men ever came to their home to always answer them with, “God loves you and we forgive you.”  This family did face their Muslim attackers and had to endure their own beheadings but they did so with those words, “God loves you and we forgive you.”

While Calvinists are not our vile enemies, all people need to see that we are full of love. We love because of the love of God (John 3:16).  Our theology flows from the love of God (Romans 5:8-9).  We read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and we see the heart of God all in the text.  This same love should flow from us toward others.  We love people because they are people.  We long to see them saved because they are made in the image of God.

5.  Be Christ-centered In Your Talking.

Christ is the center of all things.  Christ is the center of the Bible.  Christ is the center of all creation (Colossians 1:15-20).  Christ should be the center of our biblical interpretation.  In other words, election doesn’t begin with man but with Christ.  Salvation doesn’t begin with man but with Christ.  Christ is the focus and He is the One that we should worship and adore (Revelation 5:9-10, 12).

The focus should not then be on our favorite preachers or Bible teachers.  The focus is not on Arminius or Calvin or Wesley or Spurgeon.  The focus should be on Christ and remain on Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5).  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that we preach Christ and Him crucified.  I pray I would do that.  I don’t want anyone (including me) to receive the glory that is due to Christ alone.

Conclusion

I pray that God would grant us peace among brethren.  We are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:26-27) and not into men.  Arminius nor Calvin will ever save a sinner.  Only Christ saves (Acts 4:12).  The focus of our theology must not be on Arminius or Calvin but Christ.  Christ is the only one who is worthy to be praised and adored and imitated.

May the Lord help both Arminians and Calvinists be godly in our talking.  May the Lord be the One that we worship and serve.

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