Theology – Sanctification

When the Fat Hits the Fire: Why Preaching Obedience is Cancerous to the Soul.

Types of Coal

I am a sinner.  Just ask my wife…or my family…my friends…or my pastor…

I may seem like I have it all together, but I can assure you that I do not.  It’s merely a facade to get through this life as best as I can and if you know me well enough, you’ll see glimpses, if not outright effects, of my own brand of sinfulness. I lust, covet, wish bad things upon people, gossip, get unrighteously angry and the list doesn’t stop there. You name it and I’ve at least thought about it. It was only about  a year ago when I truly began to figure things out. To best explain my discovery, I think it best to start with a little biographical information.

I’ve grown up in various Christian denominations over my 35 years of life.

I was born a Methodist and remained one until age 5.

My dad took a job transfer that moved us to the big city where we spent 8 years in a conservative nondenominational Christian church.

At age 13 my dad was once again transferred and we moved north. I spent the first 5 years, up north, in a Nazarene church before transitioning into a Christian & Missionary Alliance church for the following 16 years.

I guess one could say that I was an American Evangelical Mutt.

Each denomination had varying degrees of legalism, but ultimately all taught that in some sense obedience to the law is where one looks for assurance of continuing salvation for the Christian. The old question of “How’s your walk going?” Throughout my life I was taught to “trust and obey for there’s no other way.” The concept was sure enough easy to grasp. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for my sins gifted me salvation, but continued obedience was what Jesus really wanted and if I obeyed I would not only stay in his good graces but continue to seal my salvation and ultimately end up in heaven.

It seemed legit.

The Gospels are full of lists of sin that should be avoided.  The Apostle Paul was also quite the list maker when it came to sin. This all seemed well and good even though something inside tugged hard in opposition to this idea. I was perplexed because even though I tried really hard to obey my parents, my teachers and Jesus, I always failed. When I was caught in sin I expressed remorse and was typically asked what would Jesus think if he was sitting next to me? I for sure let him down…again. He must really be frustrated with me! I was typically encouraged to just do better. Try harder. Make Jesus proud. The problem was me.  I just needed to let go of the wanton desires of my sinful flesh and really give it a go with Jesus. Next time will be better. Next time I will succeed.

Next time around I usually did succeed, for a time, only to eventually fail again.  A pattern was forming. I was aware of this paradigm at a rather early age. I remember realizing early in my childhood, around age 5 or 6, that obedience was really hard. I remember reasoning that if I try really hard to obey, but keep failing, I might not be good enough to make it to heaven.  That would result in me not only going to hell, but more than likely I’d end up being the lowest on hell’s totem pole (as if there was such a thing).  Human reason kicked in and I contemplated the thought of being really bad. I thought if I tried to be bad instead of good, that would ultimately be easier, and maybe then I could climb hell’s corporate ladder. I mean I didn’t like the thought of hell and any picture of the Devil, no matter how cartoonish, scared the crap out of me, but I was shooting for the best position within grasp; not my ultimate preference. I told myself that maybe, if I was just bad enough, the devil would take kindly to me resulting in better hellish amenities such as cooler flames, flesh eating worms that took work breaks and maybe even getting awarded regional supervisor of sector 6. That sure sounded easier than trying to be fully obedient only to constantly fail. This good versus evil struggle often crossed my mind. The bar of expectations was always so far out of my grasp that I could certainly relate to a rabbit chasing after a carrot on a treadmill. I was plagued with thoughts about whether I’d end up in heaven or hell.  I remember practicing basketball in my driveway as doubting thoughts reeked havoc in my mind. Thoughts like “if you make this next shot, you’ll go to heaven, but if you miss, then who knows?”  I was internally consumed with assurance and instead of church delivering the healing salve of the gospel that my soul so desperately needed, it became the catalyst for what troubled me most. Even though these thoughts attacked me like arrows from the quiver of Olympic archers, I knew that they weren’t rational. I never spoke of my issues to anyone. Maybe it was because they seemed insane. Or perhaps I didn’t want to let my parents down. Or possibly I feared my spiritual superiors and youth leaders might confirm my worst nightmare and condemn me or say that I had a demon or something.  So I kept quiet, continued to play the part of the normal, good kid while a battle raged within.

I continued contemplating these thoughts through my teenage years and into my adult life.  In scripture, I was always drawn to the book of Revelation. It seemed so veiled and mysterious. I also reveled in the fact that my parents nor leaders at church could really explain it with any certainty. I enjoyed the salvivic images and overtones strewn throughout the book and I began to search for assurance there. This indeed would have been a fine plan had the churches that I attended not been premillennial dispensationalists. This led me to always be on guard for the rapture. If my parents were supposed to be home and didn’t answer the phone…maybe the rapture got them and I was left behind. If my mom ran to the store without telling me and I couldn’t find anyone home…maybe the rapture took them. You can see how this supposedly comforting doctrine of the rapture is really anything but. It was even reinforced when my mom would catch me watching something on TV in which she didn’t approve. I remember once while watching the Simpsons, my mom exclaimed “Is that what you want to be watching when Jesus comes back?” Once again, assurance was questioned. The excruciating part was not being able to honestly talk with anyone about these fears. Not because my parents were bad people, they are in fact great parents. Neither was it because my youth leaders, or pastors were especially terrible either, they were generally nice folk who cared for their flock (some much more than others). The issue from my perspective was that if I told them that I feared I didn’t make the rapture cut, then that would spark their curiosity about what kind of sins I was involved in. The microscope of failure would be zooming in on me with its lights on highest magnification. This added a new dimension to lack of assurance because now I only confessed to sins in which I was caught in.  Anything else was left for internal deliberation as to not let anyone down or avoid damnation talk. Therefore, I was constantly looking inward to see if I was meeting the requirements and for the better part of my life I knew that I was triumphantly missing the mark but didn’t really know what to do about it. All of the youth conferences that I attended just tried to answer my questions with endless lists and sermons about detaching from society, being a world changer and a light to those in darkness. This was all well and good, but how do I become a light to others when I know my own heart is as black as coal?

There were several times that I almost hung it up.  I was tired of putting on the mask and playing the role of the prototypical conservative Christian evangelical…Mr. Everyday Goodfellow. But something wouldn’t let me go through with it.  That something was the word of God. There were months upon months that I failed to read my bible and there were also months that I read it every day.  Every time that I tried to give up on Christianity, scripture always reeled me back. Each time that I willingly entered into sin, my conscience would toss scripture my way and leave me with overwhelming guilt. While this was ultimately good, the only tool that I thought I possessed in my spiritual quiver was obedience. Thus, the old try harder next time, read your bible more, pray more, go to church more, volunteer more attitude was the same old snake oil that failed to fix me every time.  I ultimately discovered that I wasn’t fed up with Christianity after all, but was merely tired of the snake oil that obedience was selling me in the name of Christianity.

I was about 30 when things truly started to change. After a couple trying years dealing with financial problems and job loss, I had a new job and thanks to my wife, finances were in much better order. My new job had a 50 minute commute each way. I began to use that time to listen to sermons and podcasts. This lead to a desire to search out theology with a great fervor. Questions began to arise deep within my soul.

What did I truly believe?

Could I defend my faith?

What would I teach my kids (if and when I had kids)?

My prayer life began to change. I stopped asking God for favors and temporal desires and began asking him to strengthen my faith and to help me fight against the sin that was entrenching my life. I asked him to cut away all of the junk-pop-theology and help me figure out what his word truly says as revealed instead of just taking my parents, pastors, and pseudo-Christian teachers word for it. I was beginning to see progress in all areas of my life, but still continued to struggle with obedience and sin. I remember thinking that God is helping me to clean up my life, my prayer life is better, my scripture reading is better, I have a desire to study like never before, but…I still struggle with obedience and sin. Every time that I read Romans or Corinthians, I saw myself in the lists of sin that Paul called out by name. How could I truly be improving if I still identify with the worst of sinners?

As I continued to read my bible alongside many notable theologians I began to realize that while obedience is found in the Christian life, it is not where I was supposed to be looking for assurance. Obedience has an object, which is God’s law. God’s law can be simplified into two commands.  Love God and love people. This was the heart of the problem. In church, Sunday school and small group I was commanded to love God and people as if that was the gospel message.  It was the imperative that supposedly defined the Christian life.  It was the litmus test to determine whether one was truly a Christian or not.

I would often hear the question “Are you loving God and people?”

The answer, more times than not, was an emphatic no. I heard many lessons and sermons throughout my life encouraging me to do more, pray harder, read more, serve more, love more.  The problem is that none of these “actions” are the gospel message. This confusion was at the heart of all of my problems. The gospel message is not an action at all. It is simply good news. One cannot “do” good news. One can only receive good news. This was the message that I desperately needed, not just once at my conversion, but constantly. I needed to hear it not only in my personal study, but on Sunday mornings from the lips of the pastor. Week in and week out I needed to hear the ridiculously good news that “All have sinned (Romans 3:23), and the sin of all has accrued a debt that no mere man could ever pay (Matthew 18:21-35). God, in his great mercy and love, sent his willing Son to take on flesh (John 1:14), live a sinless life in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), die on the cross and rise again for our justification (Romans 4:24-25) and that all of this is secured by gifted faith alone (Ephesians 2:8 & Romans 3:28). That is the gospel. There is nothing that I must do in any of that. God has even taken care of gifting the faith necessary so that no man may boast. It is totally and exclusively God’s grace apart from my works. The command to Love God and people is merely condensed law that Jesus uses in Luke 10:25-29 to show that we are completely incapable of fulfilling! That is why he fulfilled it in our place. Therefore, since Christ has fulfilled the law, it is no longer a burden to us, but a joy. It allows for order in the world through the rule of law, exposes our sin which produces the fruit of repentance, and gives us a target to shoot for. The great blessing here is that our assurance is not tied to how many times we miss the target or fall short, but to Christ’s objective work on the cross. The best way to remember the three uses of the law is…

Curb – 1st use – The general revelation of rule of law that is written on the hearts of man and dispensed through civil and governing bodies. This is how sin is curbed in the world (Romans 2:15).

Mirror – 2nd use – The law mirrors Christ’s will for each of our lives. It shows us all the places that we each fall short. This is blessing as it leads us to repentance (Romans 1:18-32 & 3:23).

Guide – 3rd use – The law gives us a guide to strive toward in Christian living. The striving is fueled by the gospel message, not by a meritorious method of obedience. This is also a blessing because it shows us what God desires, but deals no condemnation to those in Christ (Romans 8:1).

This means that we can, as King David says, delight in the law (Psalm 1:22).  By it, God gave us a picture of his perfect will and thus we should strive for it solely because of the grace he  has dispensed to us. The spiderweb that often catches us is when we attempt to look to our obedience (or lack there of) for assurance. For those in Christ, meaning those with faith in Christ, the law is a guide alone, not a means to salvation. This can be said confidently because Christ fulfilled the law for us, in our place, and therefore we have been freed from the burden of the law. The law no longer has condemning power for those in Christ Jesus. Therefore the gospel, not the law, gives us the desire to strive forward.

This is where the legalistic majority will retort “So you’re saying that we can do what ever we want and retain salvation!?! You’re an antinomian!” Although logical, this is a false dilemma. The person asking this question isn’t someone who believes the gospel too much, but sadly someone who doesn’t have any grasp on the gospel message at all. Paul is asked the same question in Romans 6 and what was his response? He preached more gospel. He pressed the gospel message in further as the fuel to fire the new gifted desire of obedience. If someone thinks that the gospel gives them a free pass to sin, they really don’t realize the unfathomable debt their sin has charged to their account. They don’t fully understand the weight of the law. They don’t see their sin as really that bad. They don’t understand that every single seemingly microscopic sin was fuel for the arm that pounded the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. They don’t understand the full ramifications of the sermon on the mount. They don’t truly see their lust as adultery. They refuse to see their anger as murder. They don’t see their parking ticket as damning. They don’t see their A+ as justification for Pharisaical self righteousness and people pleasing or their F as slothful laziness. Until a person comes to grips with the full weight of their motives and sin, they will never understand the magnificence of the grace of God.

The argument can be reduced to a proper understanding of love. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian gets is exactly right when he says “It is forgiveness that motivates and generates love. It is love that begets love.  The law cannot beget love. Nowhere, and I challenge anybody out there to find a place in the bible that actually says the law, in and of itself, has the power to produce love. Preachers and parents make a huge mistake when they assume that simply telling people what to do will change their heart and make them want to do it. Nowhere does the bible say that!” Only the gospel can change the desires of our heart and give us the motivation to strive toward obedience. Pointing out our complete inability to adhere to the imperatives of the New Testament does not imply that the imperatives lack importance or should be ignored – all Christians should be encouraged to good works – but let’s not make the mistake of believing that simply telling someone what to do instills the power for them to do it. Even worse, don’t insinuate that failure to meet the demands reduces ones favor in God’s eyes. The law shows us our sin and gives us a guide to strive after. The gospel is the news of forgiveness that instills both the means to strive and a heart of repentance. I had this backwards for 34 years and it nearly made me walk away from the faith altogether.

There is a dialogue in the third novella of Bo Giertz’s “The Hammer of God” that has been very helpful to me. It’s between young Pastor Torvik who resides in Odesjo, Sweden and old Pastor Bengtsson from Ravelunda, Sweden. Pastor Torvik experiences an intense awakening to his sinful nature through a dream and thus he begins to make amends with those in his congregation whom he has wronged. This realization of sin results in legalistic preaching that is void of the gospel. His church sees a moral revival take place, but soon after everything begins to fall apart. In the midst of trying to discover what went wrong, Torvik receives a visit from Pastor Bengtsson. Pastor Bengtsson questions Torvik on the current condition of his congregation. Torvik honestly replies that things are not going well at all. Pastor Bengtsson’s response is invaluable.

“Let me teach you what you ought to have known long before you stepped into the pulpit. When an individual has been called through the power of the word – in other words, the very thing that has been happening in this congregation of yours – that person is first enlightened by the law. He understands that there is something called sin that he must be careful to avoid. He becomes obedient, you see. That is the first awakening. Thus far it has perhaps come here and there in Odesjo by now. But then comes the second awakening by the law, when one sees the miserable condition of one’s heart. I am going to preach about that tonight. Then one understands that, with all one’s best deeds, one is and remains black as a chimney sweep. Then the danger is really serious. A person will the say, either, ‘If my condition is so terrible, I may as well wallow in the dirt,’ and go away and sin again. Or he will say, ‘I am after all not as black as Karlsson or Lundstrom and their card playing cronies, since I do not sin intentionally, and surely the Lord must make some distinctions on the last day,’ and he goes away and becomes a self righteous Pharisee, and all is lost. Or his eyes are turned from his own miserable condition and he catches sight of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for such black rascals as himself. And he hears that it is faith that makes righteous, and not works. That is the enlightenment through the gospel. Therefore everything here in Odesjo depends on whether you can rightly preach the gospel and guide souls to the redeemer.

Looking back, I am thankful for God’s protection from apostasy as well as his grace along my path. I’m eternally thankful that I didn’t pursue evil just because because I was clever foolish enough to convince myself of false hope in hell’s corporate ladder. God has always sustained me through both tumultuous and simplistic times. It was never a mystical reading of the tea leaves type journey, but simply a remembrance of scripture when I needed it most. I am ever grateful for the upbringing that my parents gave me and even though we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on all things theological, the biblical foundation they gave me was strong enough to persevere against the rocky seas of life. At age 35 I can certainly relate with Pastor Torvik as he is representative of how much of my life was spent. The counsel that Pastor Bengtsson gave him also pulled at my heart. I had experienced both of the negative paths that my awakening to the law had yielded. I was internally miserable and defeated by sin as I secretly wallowed in the dirt while externally playing the part of the Pharisee as I tried to obey my way into temporal favor as I attempted to secure my standing before a righteous God. The motivation was all wrong. I didn’t try to obey out of love for Christ, but out of fear of the law and a perverse desire for approval. I am eternally grateful that through word and sacrament, God has brought me to the place, through his Son, that I can freely confess…

Most merciful God, I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean. I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Forgive me, renew me, and lead me, so that I may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.

 Praise be to God!

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Mining the Parables: The Barren Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9

barren fig

The Hammer of God is a little known classic within Christian literature and the fact that it flies under the radar is indeed sad.  The book consists of three novellas, all which paint the picture of church life from a pastoral perspective.  In the first novella, titled “The Hammer of God”, Giertz introduces the reader to a young curate named Savonius.  Savonius preaches the law with great ferocity, but fails to ever comfort souls with the healing salve of the gospel.  This results in a reduction of sinful living within the community, but also begins to breed an air of self righteousness in many congregants and an internal sense of overwhelming desperation within Savonius as he begins to realize the depths of his own depravity.  One day a cobbler named Anders visits Savonius to seek counsel about his brother who lives with him.  Anders is angry that his brother is drinking whiskey in his home and desires Pastor Savonius to give advice on how to coerce his brother to stop.  Savonius asks if his brother is in the habit of being a drunkard. Anders says no,  but expresses anger that his brother has the audacity to openly drink in front of him. Sovonius replies by asking if Anders would prefer his brother to drink alone where temptation could more easily overtake him?  Anders, frustrated that he isn’t getting anywhere with the pastor, abruptly storms out.  Savonius’ questions were purposefully pointed to show Anders that the true problem didn’t lie with his brother or the whiskey, but with himself.  Self righteousness is synonymous with unrepentance and this is what Savonius attempted to help Anders realize. Todays biblical text is Luke 13:6-9, “The parable of the barren fig tree.”  The contextual setup for the parable is found in Luke 13:1-5 and is remarkably similar to the dialogue between Savonius and Anders.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

In these opening verses, Jesus finds himself in the midst those reporting the atrocity of Pilate desecrating the temple sacrifices.  At this time Pilate was fighting against the Galilean zealots.  These zealots were top priority for Pilate as their motivation was to promote unrest in gaining support to rally the Jews toward insurrection against Rome in an effort to ultimately gain full independance. Pilate was consumed with ridding these zealots from his territory at any cost.  In seeking shelter from Pilate, some zealots sought safe haven in the Jerusalem temple, a place they assumed Pilate would not dare go out of reverence for Jewish religious laws.  Not only did Pilate pursue the zealots into the temple, but also slew them in the temple, thus mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices (which were for atonement from sin).  This was a terrible act of desecration which nullified the sacrifices that were tainted with human blood.  Jesus’ response to the report is very insightful.  Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus knows the heart of his questioners.  His questions are motivated by a desire to aid the questioner in their understanding, not because he is looking for the answer.  Jesus knows that these reporters are telling him this story out of self righteousness instead of remorse.  This is why he responds by asking them if they thought those slaughtered by Pilate in the temple were worse than all other Galileans.  He knows their heart and thus calls them to repentance saying that apart from repentance, they will die in like manner.  This statement is fascinating when understood in the context of what happened concerning Pilates desecration of the sacrifices.  Self righteousness always looks both inward, to prove that we are checking things off of our list, and downward, at others when their sin is exposed.  Repentance comes through the realization of our sinful state by resting in the person and work of Jesus.  Thus, if these reporters reject repentance and cling to self righteousness instead, they are ultimately choosing to rely on their work rather than on Jesus’ salvivic work alone thus desecrating the sacrifice that Jesus will earn for them by his death and resurrection.  Jesus continues to press this issue further by speaking of a tragedy that killed 18 people when the tower fell at Siloam.  Jesus is saying that it is not the manner in which one dies that matters, only the condition of their heart.  Whether a person dies in a car crash, is murdered or succumbs to cancer is spiritually immaterial.  The only thing that matters is where their faith rests.  Saving faith always rests in the person and work of Jesus and always bears the fruit of repentance.  Saving faith is the antithesis self righteousness.

To further paint this picture to the reporters, Jesus tells them a parable in verses 6-9.

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Some theologians attempt to divorce this parable from the previous 5 verses because on the surface, the narrative in verses 1-5 seems detached from the theme of the parable.  However,  a careful study will prove their theories incorrect.  The parable begins with a man who owns a vineyard and plants a fig tree in the vineyard.  The owner planted the tree with the purpose of bearing fruit, but each time he checks on the tree, he sees that it fails to bear fruit.  The owner then contacts the vinedresser, explains the situation and tells him to cut the tree down as it is merely wasting profitable space. The vinedresser petitions the owner to wait it out the rest of the year so he can once more give the tree the best opportunity to bear fruit, but that if tree continues to be barren, he will then cut it down.  With this understood, it is now time to reveal the parable cast.

The Man…..God the Father
The Vineyard…..Israel
The Fig Tree…..Jerusalem
The Fruit…..Repentance
The Vinedresser…..Jesus Christ
The 3 Years…..The collective ministry of the preparatory work John the Baptist and the fulfillment in Jesus Christ
The current year…..Extension of grace that carried through from the time of this parable through Jesus’ death and glorification.

God the Father owns a vineyard.  This vineyard was initiated by God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15 and realized through Jacob and his 12 sons in Genesis 32 when God changed his name from Jacob to Israel.  After many generations of nomadic living and temporal instability, God then plants his presence, through the building of his temple in Jerusalem which makes it the spiritual center of the Jewish faith.  Eventually through sin, Israel breaks into two kingdoms and only a remnant is faithful.  The remnant is taken into Babylonian exile with God’s promise of rescue after 70 years.  After 70 years, God keeps his promise and rescues the remnant, however, their spiritual exile continues until the Messiah comes.  This prophecy is consumated in the preparatory work of John the Baptist and completely fulfilled in the redemptive office of Jesus Christ.  John comes preaching repentance, and Christ, at his Baptism, engulfs John’s ministry and propagates it.  Christ continues to preach repentance.  This means that the vinedresser (or the one who cares for, nurtures and inspects both the condition of the tree/vine and its fruit) is Jesus Christ and the fruit that both he and The Father are looking for is repentance.  The collective ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ was 3 years up to the point of this parable and the remaining year carries forth until Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.  In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus is most concerned with the unrepentant hearts of these Jewish reporters.  He is seeking the fruit of repentance, but they are yielding none.  Jesus will continue to preach repentance to them until his time comes.  This understanding adds all the more meaning to Matthew 23:37 where Jesus says ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” This is the picture of the vinedresser talking to the fig tree at the end of the final year saying that he cared for and nourished it as much as he was given time to do, but that it ultimately refused to produce fruit and thus must be cut down.  Ultimately, this picture is not reserved just for Jerusalem alone, but is a picture of our sinful, hardened, self righteous hearts.  Repentance is the fruit that Jesus looks for in each of us. Repentance is not self righteous, but instead is naked agreement with our righteous God as we turn from sin and admit His ways alone are right and true.  Repentance also is not something that is done once, but is continual in the life of the Christian.  Just as the fig tree continues to bear fruit until death, so too will the Christian.  This fruit is not something that is forced, but comes out of our new nature which was gifted to us.  Therefore repentance is ultimately a gift.

As the first novella in “Hammer of God” comes to a close, the reader is never told what becomes of Anders.  Did he eventually recognize his self righteousness and repent or did he continue down the road that leads to  hardness of heart?  I suppose we will never know and while Anders is merely a fictional character in a book written long ago, the hardened heart he displayed is alive and well in each of us from Adam forward.  Each time the sun breaks the plane of a new day, the battle once again rages.  Self righteousness is our natural, fleshly preset. So although Anders may have never existed, his attitude is all too familiar. The call to repent is not only to the Galilean reporters, Jerusalem or to Anders.  The call to repent is directed to each of us as we go forth in this life. The first of Luther’s 95 Theses says it best. “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” In 1 John 1:8-10 the Apostle writes…

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

Let us therefore confess our sins daily with great eagerness. This is the perfect picture of a fig tree that is no longer barren.

The Bride of Christ Needs Counseling…

I’m thankful that I’m married.

Watching my single friends run through the gambit of 21st century dating etiquette allows me to feel all the more blessed.

The onslaught of what is considered culturally acceptable on social media platforms boggles the mind as many freely expose the dark taboo-ish corners of their lives in an effort to gain attention through individualism and avant garde living.  I’m amazed at what is considered “commonplace” in the arena of social media.  Passive aggressive girlfriends who, with their forked tongues, speak slander and praise as an attempt to manipulate their way through relationships.  Misogynist man-boys who’s goal is to mark their territory and expand their imaginary empires by the means of lies, deception and emotional thievery.  This formerly sealed off corner now has the spotlight through the likes of  reality TV and no-holds-barred social media.  The landscape is hostile, lawless and ultimately narcissistic.

This paradigm shift makes me all the more satisfied that I not only have a wife, but that I love her and find security and assurance in our relationship.  Sure neither of us are close to being perfect and our relationship has its ups and downs, but as I watch while others openly live their lives in the public forum, I began to entertain a thought.  What would the bride of Christ, which is the church, look like within the confines of  modern day social media?  Do we look passive aggressive?  Do we jump into the relationship just to strip-mine the benefits for ourselves and then bail?  Are we emotionally unbalanced?  What is our current mental state?  I recently read an article on “Ask Men” titled “10 signs she’s crazy.”  In the article the author lays out 10 signs that you might be dating someone who is crazy and when I compared the list to the current state of the Church, the results were scary.

10. Controls Narrative

We like to be the one that controls the narrative.  So often, God’s word is conformed to our worldview instead of our worldview being conformed to God’s word.  We control this narrative through many ways such as the purpose and direction of the church service, how worship is viewed and a strange view of what prayer actually is.  I could spend much time delving into how the modern church is embracing culture instead of maintaining its position as counter-cultural, but for the sake of time I’m going to focus on prayer.  Prayer is often viewed as a literal conversation between us and God.  In the personal setting many are instructed to find a quiet room, talk to God and wait in silence until he answers.  This is the perceived “conversation” that many Christians expect.  However, this is not the biblical definition of prayer.  Prayer is simply talking to God, through Jesus.  The perfect picture of this is found in the Old Testament where the high priest would offer prayers for the people and would burn incense to represent the prayers ascending to God. Interestingly enough, the smoke never descended back to the people. Nor did it change back to incense and audibly reply. This is because prayer is not like our earthly conversations.  We should not expect an answer directly from God, but instead should seek answers in his word.  That is how God speaks to us.  Prayer is not a conversation.  Look at the Psalms.  David was a prophet and how many of his prayers were conversational?  Jesus is God and taught us how to pray in Matthew 6 and Mark 11.  Jesus’ prayer doesn’t end “…and deliver us from evil and answer me back to let me know if I should date Cindy.” The Lord’s Prayer was given because it shows God’s precise will for each of our lives.  It’s not that Cindy doesn’t matter, but that if you are honestly praying the contents of the Lord’s prayer, then you will trust that his will be done.  I am not saying that God could not talk directly to us, only that direct revelation is not normative. The modern church correctly takes its every need and desire to God, as directed through scripture, but controls dialogue when answers are sought outside the appropriate method of response, given by God, which is through his word.   The answers to our prayers will ultimately be answered as God perfectly reveals his will in his perfect time.

9. Self Aggrandizing

There is so much self importance placed upon the individual that Christ is left as a supporting cast member instead the lead actor.  This happens often as many sermons are set up to make us feel important.  These days, it’s more important to make people feel like they have purpose than to show them they are a sinner in desperate need of salvation.  I mean, who wants to feel bad about themselves? Many pastors subtly engage in this behavior by reading themselves into the biblical texts.  When the narrative of David and Goliath is the Sunday text, the pastor compares the congregations life to that of David and accordingly asks them to identify the “Goliath” in their lives.  This belittling of the biblical narrative not only takes our eyes off of Christ and his scarlet thread through the old testament, but feeds our inner narcissist as we suddenly have the power to slay our giants of guilt, debt or anger.  The problem is that Goliath was a real Philistine giant not a projection of our problems.  The bible is not about us.  The bible is about Jesus and what he has done FOR us.  All things point to him and we can rest in what he has accomplished in our place.  The bible isn’t a self help book that leads us on a path to self actualization, but instead is a book enables us to die to self as we place our faith in Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, that came, bled, died and rose again for our justification.  The church should be aggrandizing it’s groom, Jesus, not itself.

8. Hates other women

How often do Christians look down on unbelievers living in exposed sin?  How often are our lives lived as if we are sinning less and less while the world around us are way worse sinners than we are?  Have you ever caught yourself feeling pretty good on the inside when a person that annoys you gets caught in sin?  Have you ever had a person tailgate you for 10 miles until you move over and let them pass only to think “I hope there’s a cop up there waiting to give them a ticket” as if you never speed?  How about realizing that you are sinning by not speeding because your motive for driving under the limit is fueled by greed instead of a desire to serve Christ through obedience? How often do we look like Pharisees on both the inside and out. This attitude against unbelievers is true hatred.  Love would come along side them.  Love is not haughty.  Love would not discount the damage and and ugliness of their sin, but would point to Christ as the one who died and rose again for those sins.  Love would point to repentance, not as a process to perfection, but as a realization of complete inability to please God apart from the work of Jesus Christ.  True love doesn’t hate others through haughty eyes that see the spec in their neighbor’s eye while missing the plank in their own.  We often harbor hatred for others because of our own insecurities.  We may have been deeply, personally hurt by a particular sin of others and now paint those with even a hint of that sin with the broad brush of reprobation. We often hate because we see what we don’t like about ourselves or our experiences in others.  That sin is just as damning as the sin committed against us because both sins are in opposition to God.  This is precisely what 1 John 4:20 is talking about.

7. Isolates herself

How many times do we like to hang out in our comfortable groups, speaking Christianese as a way to protect ourselves against the trials and tribulations of this world.  This is not only unhealthy for us, it is also hypocritical.  Hanging out with “only” Christians as we isolate ourselves not only implies superiority, but also projects an unloving attitude.  This attitude will reveal itself in the places in which we are in contact with the largest population of unbelievers…which is usually our work environments.  Our unbelieving co-workers are curious as to why we claim to be Christians, but fail to show them any love or always turn them down when they extend an invitation.  The mission field is wherever our vocation is.  Every time we head into the office, job site or the onto the production floor we carry the torch of Christianity through our thought, word and deed.  The same goes for when we visit others work places as we dine in restaurants, pick up our children at daycare and interact with others at the grocery store. The world doesn’t need to see us in our collective groups of dissociation.  The world needs to hear the comfort of the full proclamation of the gospel message.  The world needs to know that we struggle just as they struggle, but that our faith and hope lay in the one who came and died for the sins of the world instead of faith in our works.  Isolation is not an adjective that defines the Christian life.

6. Weird about Exes

We are pretty weird about our exes.  Our exes in this case are the idols that we used to (and continue) to exalt in place of God.  These idols could be food, comfort, luxury, pietism, other people…really anything.  As Calvin famously said, our hearts are idol factories.  This being the case, we are weird about them.  We struggle to call them what they are. We often run back to them in an attempt to satisfy the longings of our sinful flesh.  It’s a weird coping mechanism. On one hand we hate and renounce them while on the other, we secretly love and cling to them.  Our God is a jealous God who doesn’t desire to interact with our former crushes.  He wishes to exterminate them and call them out for what they really are…false securities of our sinful flesh.

5. False Accusations

Many times in an effort to comfort ourselves, we project our shortcomings onto our loved ones.  When we see the things that we hate so much about ourselves in other people we tend to harp on it.  This is an interesting paradigm when compared to our relationship with Christ.  How many times, in our sin, have we said “Well you made me this way.”  How often to we project our shortcomings onto Christ as if he is responsible for our condition. The interesting twist is that even though he is not responsible for our condition, he did willingly and actively take our place on the cross.  He bore each and everyone of our sins that we falsely blame him for to earn our pardon.  He defeated death and the false accusations which to him were very real, true and painful as he suffered and died only to rise again for our justification.

4. Shaves her head

We are attention seekers.  We really love attention even if it’s negative.  We do weird things in order to steal the spotlight.  Many times these weird things are a blemish to the name of Christ. We do many of these attention seeking acts in the name of relevance with the tag line “If it could only save one person…” as our qualifier.  We shave our heads by attempting to make the worship service “entertaining.”  This could be as ridiculous as an arena rock service with smoke machines and laser lights or as head scratching as a Mixed Martial Arts Fight Church (I am not lying.  This is a real thing).  This is akin to the girlfriend that always acts outrageous as a means to gain acceptance, while her boyfriend stands at the side shaking his head in disgust.  Once again the church is and always will be counter-cultural.  It’s not counter-cultural to draw attention to itself because it’s an attention seeker, but because we have been given a true picture of what the church should look like in scripture and it’s never been bright lights and parties to draw in unbelievers.  For 120 years Noah preached the word to all who would hear.  Scripture doesn’t tell us that Noah offered free drinks, a rock concert and a MMA fight to get people into the Ark.  He simply preached the word.  Sure the Ark was a spectacle. A spectacle of ridicule instead of relevance.  The same Ark that he was ridiculed for building, is the same Ark that God used to save him and the only 7 others in the world that believed God’s word, which were Noah’s family.  We shouldn’t figuratively shave our heads to focus the attention on us, but instead should stay with the outline that Scripture gives us and focus the spotlight on Jesus Christ.  Anything we do to steal the spotlight, will take our eyes off of him.

3. Hits below the belt

This can either be a literal kick or an verbal spar.  Either are equally painful.  Angry and hateful comments about our family or lack of success should be off limits to our spouses, but sometimes find themselves fair game in the heat of battle. The church utilizes these cheap shots against our Lord and Savior when we deny the efficacy of the sacraments.  Jesus, through his word, promises to be present and offer gifts through baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution of sin.  When the church, through many denominations, deny what Jesus proclaims using arguments of fallen reason, it is a hit below the belt.  Jesus offers to meet us and give himself to us through these particular means and many reject them because it doesn’t fit within their comfort zone or desired understanding.  I am sure that some will take exception with this, but think about it for a moment.  If the sacraments are truly efficacious, as I believe the word clearly proclaims, then rejecting them on any basis would be a supreme low blow to the one offering his presence and gifts.

2. Contradicts herself

This deals with the sad fact that many Christians that I run into, couldn’t explain their faith if their life depended on it.  Jay Leno used to have a segment called “man on the street” where random tourists outside his studio would be asked insanely simple questions and fail to give the correct answer.  If we did a similar experiment in many of our churches, I hypothesize that the results would be similar.  This is a major issue because those participating in Jay Leno’s segment aren’t making a knowledge or affiliated claim before being subjected to the simple questions whereas those in the church are claiming fellowship and thus should know something substantive about what they believe.  This does not mean that each and every Christian should be able to succinctly wax eloquent on the hypostatic union, but should at minimal, be able to defend the faith they claim to lay hold of.  When we don’t know what we believe, we become walking and talking contradictions.  These contradictions are easy to spot and make us easy picking for false teachings and teachers who will gladly guide us to apostasy.  Could you imagine a marriage where the wife has only superficial knowledge of her husband?  Could you imagine the confusion and utter amazement of the husband for how clueless his wife really is?  It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the relationship is based off of what the bride can “get” instead of actual genuine, sacrificial love.

1. Other crazy people think she’s crazy

Atheists and agnostics are quick to point out all the craziness that was pointed out in the previous 9 signs.  While I am fine with a self-proclaimed atheist or agnostic calling me crazy if I am proclaiming the truth of the gospel, (1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing) it’s a whole other story to behave in the fashion of the “signs” listed above and be justly labeled crazy.  There is a difference.  Accept the label of foolishness for the message of the cross, not because you exhibit behavior found in the above “signs” of craziness.

Is this what the true bride of Christ looks like or is this some doppelganger infiltrating the ranks of Christendom?  As much as I would like to lay the blame on an evil twin, scripture gives us picture of what we look like and it’s messy.  Throughout scripture the church is compared to a prostitute.  Our story is more  desperate than we’d like to admit.  This doesn’t mean that we are supposed to give up and give into our sin nature as scripture also gives us a picture of what we should strive to look like.  We will continually fall short of the goal, but his grace gifted to us is what gives life to the striving.  We have been redeemed.  Purchased for a price.  Bought and freed from the bounds of sin, death, and the devil.  Our groom is the text-book example of loving and puts up with our garbage as he continues to strengthen and encourage our faith in him through word and sacrament.  So yes we have many problems and need counseling. Yet, even though we are trapped in these earthen vessels, we can look forward with faith, hope and love to our wedding day when we are finally united with our groom who gave it all for us so that we can have freedom in him.  We are the treasure in the field.

Updates & Blog Direction

First of all, thank you for continued interest in this blog!

Thank you for the support through views, likes, comments and follows. Going forward, I thought it best to come up with a plan to aid continuity of content so that readers can understand the direction.

The following list will hopefully shed some light on what to expect…

Christian Baptism Series
The first 3 posts are up in this series and there will be 4 more which will make this a 7 week series. I plan to continue posts from this series on Mondays.

Introducing the Church Fathers
The first 2 posts in this series are live (Gregory of Elvira & Melito of Sardis). I plan to continue this series for the life of this blog. There are many church fathers that all Christians should be acquainted with. I find it troubling that culturally, more is known about national history (be it ever so slight) than our Church history. I plan new posts in this series on Thursdays. The focus of this series is not to provide an exhaustive biography, but to give a short introduction to the person and then let them speak for themselves through their surviving writings. It is also very possible that some church fathers will be revisited as many have insights on a variety of Theological topics rarely seen in the modern era.

Topical
I will continue to season the blog with topical content on occasion. I hope to do this more often than not. Some examples of my topical posts are “Baptism & the Fountain of Youth”, “Can I Lose My Salvation”, and “Sacraments for those who don’t believe in Sacraments.”

Mining the Parables
This is a new series that I am currently working on. This series will take the place of the Christian Baptism series once it completes. The plan is to exegete the parables of Christ. I find much misinformation regarding the parables and hopefully this series will be a helpful resource for those seeking to understand them in an exegetical, historical and contextual fashion. This series will begin on Monday June 16th.

Once again, I’m very grateful for your interest in this blog. Please don’t be a stranger. If there are any topics that are of interest to you, I’m certainly open to suggestions. Feel free to contact me on twitter @JonRodebaugh or by email at inwithandunder@gmail.com.

Thank you all and have a blessed weekend!

Can I Lose My Salvation?

Navel Gazer Question Mark

I hate hearing it.

Not because it’s altogether wrong, but because it’s damaging.  It insinuates a contradiction.  A true life oxymoron.

I hate hearing the question “Can I lose my salvation?”

It’s like nails on a chalkboard.  It’s a contradiction because it insinuates that it can be done apart from our will.  When I lose something, I’m always upset about it because I never wanted to lose it in the first place.

I currently find myself in the midst of several home improvement projects.  My house is a disaster area.  In the mix of attempting to work from home, advise contractors and field questions from my wife; I lost my car keys.  Did I want to lose them? Not at all.  Did I reject that the car keys were effective in starting my car or unlocking my front door?  No.  I simply lost them.  The next reasonable question is why did I lose them? On the most simplistic level, I lost them because I am a sinful fallen creature that is encapsulated in this body of flesh until death or Christ’s return. I lost them because I’m forgetful. I lost them because my mind wanders.

I lost them because they were mine to lose.

This begs a rather large question.  Do we own Christ or does Christ own us?  Let’s go to scripture for answers.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it

John 15:5 – I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

These passages makes it very clear that we are the possession of Jesus Christ; not the other way around.  In addition to these verses, there are many more that speak of our new position in Christ as children of God.  Simply put, that is more evidence that we are His possession.  Therefore, in my case, I lost my keys not because I wanted to, but because I am a sinful fallen creature AND because they were mine to lose.  Christ Jesus on the other hand is not sinful nor is he a creature.  He is the one and only God-Man who is the Second Person of the Trinity and is of the same substance as the God the Father.  Therefore Jesus can never lose me.  His perfection won’t allow it.  We are secure in Christ.

This opens a whole new can of worms.

I can hear the premature victory chants from the Calvinists alongside feigning shouts from the synergists.

My encouragement is to bear with me because we’ve only just begun.

If you look back to the beginning of this post, you will see that my issue was with wording.  This is why proper phrasing is key. The phrase “lose your salvation” completely irks me primarily because it is not possible for anyone to lose their salvation.  However, I do think it is possible to forfeit your salvation.   There is an important difference between lose and forfeit.

Webster defines lose as “to be unable to find, to fail to win or to fail to keep or hold (something wanted or valued).”

Webster defines forfeit as “something that is lost or given up as punishment or because of a rule or law.”

In order to lose something, one must be in possession of it.  I have already established evidence that Jesus Christ is the one in possession of our salvation and thus cannot lose it because of His perfection.  On the contrary, one who receives a possession from the possessor has the right to forfeit the rights and privileges that are being given from the possessor. You don’t have to be in possession to forfeit or give up your rights to the possession.  Therefore, speaking directly of salvation, Christ is the possessor of salvation and whether you initially forfeit those rights in unbelief or you lay hold of salvivic rights through faith in Jesus and then forfeit them at some point later (Ephesians 2:8 states that faith is also a gift, and thus can be forfeited) the right to forfeit is freely given to all as is defined by the term forfeit. The second part of the definition states that forfeit occurs by punishment of a rule of law.  This also works perfectly within the constraints of biblical reason.  If the gift of salvation is passively received through faith in Jesus, then active rejection of the gift through unbelief obtains the wage we earned which is punishable by separation from God in hell since the law demands perfection (James 2:10).  So when salvation in Jesus is forfeited through unbelief, punishment in eternal hell is earned.  This presents two distinct categories of people who actively forfeit the gift by grace through faith won by Jesus upon the cross; those who always will reject the gift of faith and those who passively receive the gift of grace through faith and eventually actively reject through unbelief. Both categories forfeit the free gift that is offered.  The first category containing those who always reject faith and live in unbelief thus forfeiting their salvation is generally accepted as a normative doctrine amongst most denominations within the church catholic.  The second category is someone who comes to faith in Jesus and eventually forfeits said faith and becomes apostate. Whether this category is possible is often debated between brethren.  The bible is clear that though it is uncommon, the possibility does exist. The following verses provide clear evidence for this position.

Hebrews 10:19-39Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

This Hebrews passage is crystal clear in its warning to the church.  The person described in this passage has “received knowledge of the truth.”  The phrase itself forces the idea that the knowledge received was true to the person who received it.  If the person did not agree with the knowledge they received they would not label it as truth therefore the person receiving the knowledge must have agreed at one point that what is being received is true or the verse completely falls apart.  A few verses later in this passage the same person is labeled as being “sanctified” (meaning made holy) and then trampling Jesus underfoot.  It was already made abundantly clear in verse 26 that there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins for the this person.  Several verses later the writer of Hebrews warns the reader to not “throw away their confidence” in like fashion.  Why would the writer of Hebrews give an example of a sanctified believer that received knowledge of the truth and turned from that through rejection of Jesus by trampling Him underfoot through deliberate sin thus nullifying the forgiveness of sins that was gifted through the original reception of the knowledge of truth AND THEN warn of us not to do the same?  If falling away isn’t a possibility, this passage would simply be a lesson in futility. The Hebrews passage is abundantly clear and thus doesn’t need further explanation. The only reason one would attempt to twist these verses to mean anything other than what they clearly state would be to form them into a doctrine of human creation.

John 15:1-11 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15 provides further evidence concerning real possibility of forfeiting salvation.  This is the famous passage about Jesus being the vine and Christians playing the part of the branches.  Verse 5 tells us that if anyone doesn’t abide in Jesus, the true vine, they will be cut off and thrown into the fire.  To be in the vine is to be in Christ.  Jesus gives the answer on how to stay in the vine.  A person stays in the vine by abiding in Christ. A couple verses later, Jesus says that we abide by loving Him and we love him if we keep his commandments.  The Greek word for “keep” is “tereo” which does in fact mean keep, however, not in the sense that it is most often understood.  “Tereo” means keep-in-tact or guard. We keep Jesus’ commandments in tact when we believe that they are right and true.  We guard them against false teaching because they are right and true.  Therefore we keep His commandments by trusting in Him, i.e. faith.  Once again, faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins receives the promise of forgiveness of sins while unbelief forfeits the gift that is offered.  One cannot be cut from the vine if they were not or were never in the vine to begin with.  The argument that those who are apostate were never really saved doesn’t hold water because if they never had faith, they would have never been in the vine in the first place.

These two passages are clear texts that show that we must be on guard against apostasy (forfeiting our salvation).  Apostasy is always the result of unbelief expressed through continual, unrepentant sin.  One doesn’t accidentally fall into apostasy as it is a premeditated active exchange of forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ for the pleasures of this world through temporal desire for instantaneous satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that when someone sins they are apostate or if someone fails to repent of each and every sin they have forfeited their salvation.  It simply means that if someone comes to a place where they find themselves consistently choosing /living in sin and when confronted with that sin, has no contrition, remorse or desire to repent, then forfeiture of salvation has occurred.  There is still hope for these people (as long as they have breath in them) that through the hearing of the word, God could bring them back to repentant faith in Him.

(Side Note:  I am aware that Hebrews 6:4-8 states that is impossible for anyone who has ” been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” to be restored again after falling away.  I wholeheartedly agree with this passage as it is scripture and I readily confess that all scripture is God breathed.  I’d like to take a moment to harmonize this passage with my thoughts pertaining to hope for those who have fallen away.  What is exposed in this passage is “blasphemy of the Spirit” also known as the unpardonable sin.  This sin is also discussed in Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29 and Luke 12:10. The writer of Hebrews paints a vivid picture of one who truly believes and experiences the complete fullness of the Christian life with great understanding and then falls away, rejecting all that they factually know to be true (we are not dealing with standard unbelief, but true belief that results in them rejecting all they know be true).  Since we do not know the heart of those we minister too, we cannot go forward with the attitude that all who have fallen away fit this description of having blasphemed the Spirit, therefore we must treat all as if there is hope.  I have actually met some people who thought they had blasphemed the Holy Spirit and were wrecked thinking that they were hopeless.  Their contrition proves their heart has not completely hardened (Acts 28:27).  I initially considered removing the statement concerning hope for those who have fallen away out of the post as to avoid confusing people or starting a debate, but I decided to leave it as a way to give hope to those who may have thought they unintentionally committed blasphemy of the Spirit.  After thinking about it i decided it would be better to add this side note for clarification.)

The argument put forth in this post is why I get worked up when I hear of someone terrified of losing their salvation and equally upset when they believe they are eternally preserved by the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints.  You see, either end of this spectrum will bring you doubt instead of comfort. Either end of this spectrum forces you to look within yourself to determine if you have either lost your salvation or to answer internal doubts about whether you are indeed elect (or not).  Whenever we look to ourselves for proof of salvation, we take our eyes off of Jesus Christ, the possessor of our salvation who will never lose or forfeit our salvation because of his perfection.  In the gospels of Matthew and Mark when Peter walks upon the water to meet Jesus, he only begins to sink when he takes his eyes off of Jesus.  Likewise, looking to ourselves takes our eyes off of Jesus which causes us to sink into the miry depths of depression and soul searching while leaving us in constant limbo as we continually question our salvation.  Both the Calvinist position of perseverance of the saints and the synergist position of losing your salvation are two sides of the same coin and the effects are equally damning to any confidence that we have in Jesus Christ.  They both draw you away from Jesus by turning your eyes from His promises to introspective mind games of self doubt and insecurity. It’s my encouragement for you to stop looking in the mirror.  Stop focusing on yourself so much because ultimately it’s not about you; it’s about what Jesus Christ has done for you.  That should be the focus of your attention.  Rest in his perfection.

Thoughts on Sanctification

ImageSanctification is a tough subject to define in the culture of 21st century thought. Thankfully God’s truth is transcendent and absolute, so therefore we need go no further than scripture to define it. On one hand, there are those who claim that sanctification is positional; that it was a finite declaration that happened in union with or shortly after justification and thus all Christians have liberty and freedom from the harsh damnation of the law through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. This is the antinomian leaning perspective. On the other hand, there are those that claim justification and sanctification should be distinctly separate, and thus sanctification is evidenced in the work that we do. This is the legalist leaning perspective and can be taken to the extreme where complete holiness can be obtained on earth (Wesleyan thought) or that works are actually a necessary element for salvation; not just an evidence of (Roman Catholic). My position and claim is that sanctification is both positional and progressive.

I will begin by defining what “sanctify” objectively means. Sanctify is defined as “to set apart or declare holy; to consecrate.” Therefore sanctification is the act of setting apart, declaring holy or consecrating. Within the broad spectrum of Christianity each definition applies, however, holiness is most often used. In the first place I will put forth the position that sanctification is a positional declaration. Whenever sanctification comes up in scripture, it is typically positional. It is positional because it is typically found in the past tense; i.e. “sanctified.” Let’s look at a few examples.

1 Corinthians 1:2
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:11
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Romans 15:16
But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 2:11
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,

Acts 20:32
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Here we have some clear passages that point to the act of sanctification as a declared position the Father has made by the work of Christ through faith. These verses do not speak of an ongoing, progressive perfecting, but a declaration that the Christian is now declared holy (set apart) by the work earned by Jesus’ death and resurrection. This culminates in 1 Corinthians 1:30 where Paul writes,

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

So it looks pretty clear that our sanctification is in Christ. It is done, finished and completed upon the cross…right?

Yes and it is ongoing.

Sanctification is progressive in each Christian’s life because we bear fruits by walking in good works. These good works are evidence of our walk with Christ (James 2:14). These works are not performed to earn position with Christ, but to show forth the work of Christ in and through the Christian life. Good works are as simple as changing dirty diapers and providing for our families. Whatever vocation God has given us, we bear fruit by being good stewards of those gifts and blessings. Luther was once quoted as saying that even our best works would earn us damnation, and he is right. We are saved solely on account of Christ and his atoning work. Works contribute zero to our salvation. If you spend any time with a Lutheran you will hear the phrase “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does” and this is a true and right saying. The works we perform are God given. God uses them to minister to others. Does this mean that we are completely oblivious to our good works or that we are not cognizant of them?

Many times yes…

Sometimes we know that we are doing a good work and other times we will be oblivious until the final judgment (Matthew 25:33-40). As we go forth in the Christian life, we must be nurtured and fed. This comes to us through word and sacrament (hearing the the word (both Law & Gospel), partaking in the Lord’s Supper,  repentance/absolution, and our personal study of the word). As we are nurtured and fed, we will begin to see how wretched and filthy we are, and realize our desperate need for Christ and his work. The best way to explain this is to use a dimmer switch as an example. At regeneration, the light switch is turned on, but the dimmer is at its lowest setting. We see a faint image of how filthy we are. In response we cling to Christ through his word and sacrament. As we are fed and nurtured through his word and sacrament, the dimmer switch goes up, ever so slightly, revealing how dirty, sinful and corrupt we really are. Our response is to once again, cling to Christ through his word and sacrament. Therefore our sanctification, or progression in holiness, is not centered on our works, but a clarifying agent that shows us what we really look like apart from Christ. If God were to show us all of our sin at once at the time of regeneration, it would truly be harsh act that would cast us into the throngs of a great depression and probably cause instantaneous death. God, in his grace and mercy, reveals our sinful state to us slowly throughout our lives as we continue to abide in Christ through his word and sacrament. The result of this action is that we begin to walk in good works. As I stated earlier, good works are as simple as taking care of your family. Good works are also choosing not to sin. Paul gives us many lists of sins that we as Christians must refrain from. These lists are found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:19-21 and Colossians 3:5. As God reveals our sin to us, and we cling to him, we not only perform good works through our actions, but also through a lack of action as we choose not to sin. There is a cooperation that takes place here. We choose to submit ourselves to God’s law, not because it has any power to save us, but because through Christ and his work on the cross we are now able to cooperate in holiness. This doesn’t mean that we will perfectly keep the law; far from it. It does however mean that we have the power in Christ to say no to sin and yes to good works for the sake of Christ, not selfish ambition. We as Christians will continue to struggle with sin until Christ’s return because we are all simultaneously saint and sinner. This is the battle of the flesh. At regeneration we share in the paradoxical nature of Christ. Christ became 100% man while maintaining 100% of his divinity. He is not two partial sums that add up to 100%, but rather the full expression of both natures. Likewise at regeneration, we are “simul justus et peccator” which means simultaneously saint and sinner. We are not saints that still sin or sinners that are improving towards perfection; we are the fullest expression of both natures as a reflection of Christ. To simplify, I once heard it put this way by a listener of the Just & Sinner podcast by Pastor Jordan Cooper. “At regeneration we are a new creation in Christ and the result is that our sin nature (the old Adam) is both put to death, and continually being put to death. It both happened and is happening. Our new nature that God created in us is perfect and thus cannot improve. The old Adam that is dead and dying has been definitively killed, but is going down fighting as it continues to wage war against our new nature. This is the source of conflict within every Christian. Therefore, sanctification is not a self improvement continuum but a cognizance of the war within that yields an increasing desire to daily drown and kill the old Adam and embrace the perfect new life that we already posses in Christ.” This daily killing of our sin nature will haunt us until death or Christ’s return. When we receive our glorified bodies, the same type of perfected fleshly body that the resurrected Christ has, our old Adam is finally conquered and eternally destroyed.

To summarize, sanctification is both positional and progressive. Our work in sanctification is not efficacious in salvation as that is solely the work of Christ. Our work in sanctification is to grow in holiness by abiding in Christ through his word and sacrament, thus we are sanctified and Christ is continuing to sanctify us cooperatively (even though our cooperation is minimal). In addition, sanctification is only a work that we do inasmuch as we are capable to do good works by the work of Christ on the cross and his drawing us to himself. We only cooperate in sanctification because Christ made it available through his death and resurrection by consuming his word and sacrament. Thus Christ does good works through us that are unbeknownst to ourselves as well as us choosing to do good works because of our love from and for Christ. This is all understood within the parameters and framework of our dual nature of simul justus et peccator.