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Posts Tagged ‘Holiness

The Vain Pursuit of Sinless Perfection

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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.”

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.

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.

Jesus our Faithful Mediator

While teaching on the Levitical priesthood, I was struck by the standard that God set for the Levites.  The Lord said in Deuteronomy 18:13:

You shall be blameless before the LORD your God.

This was God’s standard not just for the Levites but for the children of Israel.  The Israelites were God’s chosen people, the ones whom He had delivered out of by Egypt by His strong arm and by His love (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).  It was God who reached out to deliver the children of Israel and it was by God’s standard the Israelites were to abide.

In Psalm 24:3-4 we read:

3  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.

God is holy and He requires perfection in order to be in His holy presence.  One does not merely come into the presence of God without holiness (Leviticus 10:1-3).  We must abide by the principles of God’s law to come into His presence and God requires perfection!

Who can obtain this?  Who can be blameless, holy, without sin?  I know that there are some today who teach that we can be sinless and that we can live perfect lives but I have never obtained that in my own strength.  When I start to think that I have arrived, I merely read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and see if I am close to loving like Jesus loves.  When I start to think I am doing okay, I read the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 and question if I love God like that our my neighbor as myself.  When I start to believe that I am conquering all known sin in my life, I read Galatians 5:22-23 and examine my own fruit to see if the fruit of the Spirit is showing in me.  I often fall short (Romans 3:23).  Way short!

I have no doubt that God’s standard is perfection.  This is why the cross is so wonderful.  Jesus paid for my sins (Galatians 1:4).  Jesus shed His blood for my forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7).  Jesus did what I could never do and He lived a perfect life and then went to the cross as my substitute to die for my sins (Isaiah 53:4-7; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  Jesus willingly laid down His life for my sins (John 10:14-18).  Jesus shed His blood for the fact that I cannot please God in my flesh (Romans 8:7-8).  I am dead in my sins in my flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3) meaning that nothing I can do is going to obtain God’s perfection (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Salvation is the work of God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice (Titus 3:5-7).  That is true grace!

Jesus then is my mediator before a holy God.  I am not saved by a church.  I am not saved by rituals.  I am not saved by my works.  I am saved by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is my everything (1 Corinthians 1:30)!  Jesus is my Lamb (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7) and He is the One who prays for me before the Father (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus is called the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 9:15).  Jesus’ sacrifice is once and for all (Hebrews 10:10).  We don’t need, as Catholics do and so many others, to go to God through priests or rituals or our church but we come into the presence of God through Christ by His grace (Hebrews 4:14-16).  The blood of Jesus is able to purify us from dead works (Hebrews 9:14).  Since Christ is our Lamb, we need not offer any sacrifices whether the blood of bulls and goats (Hebrews 10:4) or any religious sacrifices (Hebrews 10:18).  We can now enter into the holy presence of God because of Jesus our mediator (Hebrews 10:19-22).

All worship then belongs to Jesus!  All glory belongs to Jesus!  The only sacrifices the disciple of Jesus brings now is the sacrifice of praise unto God (Hebrews 13:15).  Our entire focus is on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).  Jesus is our faithful high priest who intercedes for the saints of God (Hebrews 8:1-2).

The Law reveals our sins (Romans 7:7).  The Law is good and holy (1 Timothy 1:8).  The law shows us our sins (Galatians 3:23-24 NKJV).  The law reveals our depravity before God by condemning us in our sins (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  But the law could never save.  It is not meant to save.  The law only condemns.  The cross saves.  The cross shows us the great love of God for lost sinners who have broken His laws (John 3:16-17).  The cross is the perfect demonstration of God’s love and His righteousness (Romans 3:22-27; 5:8-9).  I am so thankful that Jesus went to the cross for my sins!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/07/2015 at 12:35 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).

Don’t Be Holy In Theory Only

I think that most disciples of Christ acknowledge that God calls His people to holiness.  1 Peter 1:15-16 is clear enough that we understand that God calls me to holiness.  Psalm 24:3-4 is also clear that the only one that can approach the holy throne of God is those who have clean hands and a pure heart.  Jesus blessed those who are pure in heart by saying that they would see God (Matthew 5:8).  The Bible also calls us to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and His example was one of perfection (1 Peter 2:21-22).  Paul said wrote that the Corinthians were to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

So in theory we know that God calls to holiness.  We know that the people of God are to flee from sin (Romans 6).  We know that we are to set our affections on Christ above (Colossians 3:1-4).  We are to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).  We read passages such as 1 Peter 2:11-12 and agree that they are good and right.

Yet theory is not practice.  To simply hold to a theory of holiness is not enough.  Strange how I have met “holiness” people who are not holy.  I have met people who ascribed to a theology of holiness yet were not living holy lives.  They looked, acted, loved, adored, and were striving for the same things as the worldly-minded church.  They wanted to sip their latte and shake their head to some “worship” music but they didn’t want to be holy.  They wanted to read their study Bible but never practice what the Bible says.  They wanted to “share their testimony” with the lost but didn’t even have the strength to exhort sinners to flee the wrath to come.  They want to have a theory of holiness in which they say that Christ is their holiness and He is their salvation without actually repenting of their sins and being holy themselves.  They talk about holiness in some circles but then they sit at their computer screen or movie screen and fill their minds with filth, compromise, and worldliness.

Oh to be holy!  Oh for a people of holiness to rise up and preach the gospel!  Oh for saints to truly be saints (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  I am so thankful for Jesus shedding His blood for my sins (Galatians 1:4).  I rejoice in Isaiah 53:11, that I am justified before God because of the work of the Lord Jesus.  Nothing can take from His work and nothing can add to His work (Galatians 1:6-9).  Truly Jesus is my salvation (John 19:30; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

However, this doesn’t negate holiness.  Holiness is still required.  Just as God called His people to holiness in the Old Testament (Leviticus 11:44-45), so He calls His people to holiness in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16).  The blessing of the gospel is that holiness is now accomplished not by my keeping the laws of the Old Testament but by keeping the law of Christ (Galatians 5:24-25).  We now are empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Galatians 5:16-17) to be holy.  We have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20; 6:14).  We are to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).  The wages of sin remains death (Romans 6:23) and we are to flee from sin (Galatians 6:7-8).  The one who lives for their flesh will die (Romans 8:12-13).

The call then must be repent of our sins!  We must bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).  We must turn from our wicked ways (Ezekiel 18:30-31).  We must call sinners to repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30-31).  We must reveal to sinners the greatness of God in His giving of His Son for our sins (Romans 2:4).  We must call sinners to repent and take up their cross and follow Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).  We must call the people of God back to holiness not just in theory but in practice.  Theory is useless with the practice of holiness (1 John 2:3-6).  We must warn the saints of God to flee from sin (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and to be holy (1 John 3:6-10).

I pray to God that He would empower us to holiness (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).  Oh for holiness to be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit!

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.

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