- - Endorsed
- - Indifferent
- - Contested
|The Nashville Statement
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
My complete profile...
Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich
His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole
[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos
Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead
There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
| Refried Beans
|I am still too busy to post anything of value... But here is a very serious post I did last Christmas season on office gift exchange suggestions... It may well help you avoid embarrassment and provide you with enough insight to bring the "hit gift" that everyone wants to your office exchange party...
posted by Daniel @
| Monday, Monday...
|Did you ever have a discussion going on that you really want to get back to, but current responsibilities elsewhere are chewing up your time. Not that I am complaining, the responsibilities I find myself having to answer are not cumbersome, they are merely time consuming and high in priority. But I do feel that I don't want to let the series grow too cold before I can get back to it.
Any way, for now I will point to a few good posts elsewhere:
The boys at Fide-0 demonstrate (with caustic clarity) the difference between crisp and "so entirely sloppy one wonders if the substance is there at all..."
Jodie (A.K.A. HK Flynn) is debating Frank Turk again over at the debate blog. She seems to be of the opinion that it was very poor form for James to contrast the impotent and pointless "faith" of demons with that sort of similarly impotent and pointless (counterfeit) faith expressed by the tares, er... that is, expressed by those who are utterly deceived in their faith and therefore false Christians. It should be an interesting discussion.
John MacArthur gives a timely answer to those zealous, but misguided few who think that if you have a Christmas tree in your house you are an idol worshipper.
Phil Johnson recently demonstrated one of the main reasons many shy away from answering fools in their folly: it quickly becomes a full time occupation.
I don't read David Cloud as a rule (and neither should you), but sometimes he publishes something that really tickles my funny bone (H/T: Fred Butler). This is, and Fred described it best - a "garment rending lament" about that nasty old Calvinism. The fellow who wrote is your typical, run of the mill "Huntite" - it is guys like this who typically end up red hot Calvinist once their eyes are opened...
Anyway - sorry I have no time for content of my own - If the current rate of "responsibility piling" continues, I should be posting something original in a few weeks.
posted by Daniel @
| Another 4500+ Word Tangent...
|Innocently enough, I was reading a short little post over at Faith Classics, when I became somewhat engrossed in the meta discussion on a post about Antinomianism. Jim posted the following:
This word has been used a lot lately around the blogisphere in what my good friend and "heretic" brother in the Lord would call a theological cussword.
While their are many nuances to this word, my basic understanding would be that antinomianism is the setting aside of the law. So an antinomianist would be one who preaches lawlessness or disregard for law keeping.
Am I correct in this assumption? How do you see the position of the law in a believers life? How does the law of Moses relate to our christian walk?
and because I know Jim, and I know his heart is genuine - that is, he isn't looking to debate anyone, but has a genuine interest in knowing where things come from and whatnot - I decided to make a quick post to answer his question:
A very good and timely question Jim.
As I know while the word is formed as a compound "greek" word (anti [against] + nomos [law) it isn't in fact a biblical or even a standard Greek word, but was first coined by Martin Luther to describe a faulty doctrinal position regarding the relationship between faith and repentance that was originally held by a fellow named Johannes Agricola - though in a latter day letter (addressed to the Elector of Saxony) he more or less recanted of that unfortunate error.
The word itself I suppose has as its foundation in the idea that knowledge of the law brings condemnation and not salvation - thus in a practical way, the knowledge that one is a sinner (i.e. a law breaker) logically precedes the desire to do anything about it - that is, logically precedes repentance - and that since it was the undisputed position of every professing believer (at least until that point in history) that repentance preceded faith, it was understood that a knowledge of the law (or at the very least, a knowledge that one is condemned by the law) -must- precede faith. Thus because repentance was a gift from God and came after one was condemned by the law, it stood to reason that repentance must come immediately subsequent to saving faith.
I say, that was the opinion of the protestant church up until Agricola speculated that perhaps it was faith that preceded repentance!
In this new doctrine Agricola speculated that repentance was a "work" - and as such, it played no role in regeneration, but was in fact an immediate consequence of saving faith.
Really, the issue, as I understand it was about whether repentance happened the split second before you were saved, or the split second after. It wasn't as if Agricola was suggesting that you could repent at your leisure later - both sides understood that faith and repentance came (for all intents and purposes) together - what was argued was which one actually came first.
Practically speaking the precision was not that important - if you were a genuine believer you repented - that was understood. But the theological implications of Agricola's speculation were profound. The idea that you could receive saving grace without ever being humbled was not only unbiblical - it was dangerous - it was a new gospel.
In insisting that repentance played no part in saving faith - Agricola's position did away with the law as the moral instigator - hence the term "antinomian" - against the law.
While scripture teaches that the law is the tutor that brings us to Christ, and that god gives grace to the humble - the implications of Agricola's doctrine were that the law played no role whatsoever in bringing anyone to Christ, and that one could come to Christ and receive grace without humbling themselves before God in the slightest - which is no doubt one of the reasons Agricola recanted of his new gospel.
The word Antinomian isn't so much a cussword as an historical descriptive of anyone who imagines that they can come to Christ without first being convinced that they are a condemned sinner - and without ever repenting of their sin (humbling oneself before God and consequently receiving grace).
I think most reformed thinkers today would not insist that repentance "precedes" faith, because that suggests a chronological dependancy that scripture doesn't imply. But must would hold that repentance produces (leads to) faith, that is, there is a causal relationship between the two - even if in practice they always show up together.
Anyone who imagines that you can believe today, and repent later - either doesn't stand on the traditional, historical doctrines that formed the reformation - or hasn't done their homework as they ought to have.
The word Antinomian, therefore - rightly applied - refers not to the role of the law in the believer's life, but rather to the law in the unbeliever's life.
I wanted to answer the question about the relationship of the law too, so I added another quick comment to address that:
Jim asked: "How do you see the position of the law in a believers life? How does the law of Moses relate to our christian walk?"
I wanted to answer this in a separate comment so as not to confuse my explanation of where the word antinomian comes from, with my opinion about the role of the law in the life of the believer.
Briefly (as if brevity were one of my gifts - pffft!), prior to conversion, the law leads the believer to see themselves as condemned, and therefore in need of a Savior.
Once a person is "saved" the role of the law is to convict them that they are not walking according to the Spirit.
The law simply paints (in words) what the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus looks like. As long as a person is walking in the Spirit, their behavior will conform to the "law" - since both their behavior and the law are reflections of the same Spirit of life. It isn't that they rigidly conform themselves to the letter of the law through their own efforts - that would be trying to please God "under the law" (c.f. Romans seven) - rather they walk in grace, and so long as they are humbled before God (surrendered) they receive grace to obey, and their obedience conforms to the law. These are under grace. The former have no peace, and no victory, because they are still carnal - still babes - they still try to obey the law by simply keeping the law. The latter keep the law because no one who is humbled before God will transgress the Spirit whose life is reflected in the law.
The role of the law therefore, in the believer's life is to identify carnality - for when one breaks the law, one is not spiritual, but carnal.
Our old friend Antonio weighed in and quoted Calvin, painting him, as is Antonio's wont, as though Calvin were a free gracer at heart, so I answered again to give some clarity to my previous thoughts, and to provide some contextual alternatives for Antonio's spin on Calvin, and by implication, the reformation:
I think when the term "antinomian" is tossed about today by Joe Pew-warmer it us typically used to describe someone who believes and/or preaches a view of the law that promotes or leads to immoral license, and I think if we didn't have a rich reformed history to examine, that would probably be where we left our definition. Surely the Greek words from which it is formed present us with that sort of conclusion - and only that sort of conclusion.
However, when we are talking to those of some historically savvy in the reformed persuasion, we can expect the word to be used in its historical context - where, as I have previously mentioned, the term antinomian is used to identify a person who believes that faith precedes repentance.
Luther considered the idea of faith preceding repentance as "not only misleading but positively dangerous ... a scourge, the spread of which, cannot be tolerated." Certainly anyone interested in what what the reformers believed, will find an English translation of "Against the Antinomians" or at the very least, look up men like Johannes Agricola, Melanchthlon, etc. to see what history has to say about the antinomian dispute. It was settled in Luther's time, and the "faith precedes repentance" side lost.
Calvin understood that repentence does not come before faith, and that faith does not come alone, but is accompanied by repentance. In the very same article you mention from Calvin, he writes, "For since pardon and forgiveness are offered by the preaching of the Gospel, in order that the sinner, delivered from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of iniquity, may pass into the kingdom of God, it is certain that no man can embrace the grace of the Gospel without retaking himself from the errors of his former life into the right path, and making it his whole study to practice repentance." - which is to say, that we are saved by faith alone, but that the faith that saves does not lack repentance.
It is one thing to adamantly deny that repentance precedes faith, and quite another to say that faith comes in a "repentance free" vacuum. Calvin definitely did not write or teach, or even leave vague room for the notion that faith came without repentance. The two were bound together and where the one was, the other was always found.
My own personal thoughts are that God produces repentance and faith simultaneously, that just as Calvin said, "forgiveness of sins never can be obtained without repentance, because none but the afflicted, and those wounded by a consciousness of sins, can sincerely implore the mercy of God..." - Calvin wasn't suggesting that we behave as the papists do and regard the symptoms of sin as what must be repented of - as though we might repent of this sin on the left and be forgiven, while all the while cherishing and holding closely the unforgiven sin on the right. Calvin was referring to the moment of justification - the moment all of our sins are forgiven - that moment cannot be obtained without repentance. Not that repentance produced that moment - it didn't, God produced it - but that repentance was "in" that moment alongside faith.
That is my understanding of Calvin's position, and I am pleased that it agrees with my own opinion since I came to the same position without ever having studied Calvin.
It is interesting, in the context of this post at least, to recognize that even Calvin believed that one must see themselves as a condemned under the law (a sinner) before they can receive grace - which would mean that Calvin was no "antinomian" in the Lutheran sense - but held to the idea that the law produces an awareness of guilt that precedes that same repentance that accompanies saving faith.
Jim asked therefore about the causal relationship between faith and repentance - and that is a bit trickier - especially since Jim asked for prooftexts (ugh!). My reply was somewhat verbose - but I include it here because it makes good blogfodder:
Jim, I will give you a "handful of verses" (as per request) that I believe point to the relationship between repentance and faith - I shall do so, not as a spokesman for reformed thought however, but as a brother in Christ who is explaining why I am convinced from scripture of a particular thing - that is, I don't want to represent (and I am certain I would be a very poor poster child for) all of reformed theology by presenting a few prooftexts.
You see, I myself am seldom convinced of anything biblical simply because someone provides a few proof texts - Satan himself quoted scripture to Christ which ought to caution us against plucking a verse out of scripture and presenting the seed as though it were in fact the whole tree. Which is simply my way of saying, if we are convinced by a few prooftexts, our conviction is of that beggarly and tempermental sort, inclined to change with each new verse. Such a persuasion is not a very solid foundation, and I don't like to play with scripture as though it were a random mess of quotes - that is, while I may lift a verse out of its context to be gazed upon for its brevity in encapsulating some articulation of the greater truth reflected in abundant nuance elsewhere in scripture - yet I do not hold the verse as the "proof" - it is merely the briefest expression of what I am articulating and given as a shorthand way of demonstrating that whatever I am concluding does not reflect a theologically vaporous whim, but in fact reflects my understanding of the word of God as a whole.
Sorry for the length of the caveat, but I absolutely deplore prooftexting - not because I prefer to hold my opinions as though whatever airy-fairy whim I descend upon is valid simply because I believe it, and that there is therefore no need for me to fortify my opinion by demonstrating a real relationship between my peculiar fancy and the words of scripture - but rather that I believe that where one man reads the scriptures as a whole and identifies key passages which articulate the grand message he reads in scripture - and therefore supplies these passages in good faith as summaries of what he believes the whole of scripture echoes - yet another will read the bible as though it were a disjointed recipe book, reading here and there with no order, and building their faith upon a patchwork of passages all of which are taken either out of context, or coupled with verses that are taken out of context - and so builds up a hodge-podge argument for a position that scripture doesn't support - but that their "verses" purport to demonstrate. So great is my loathing for this second sort of prooftexting, that I desire to distance myself from it and its practitioners with all zeal.
Sadly, it is the latter group who are most abundantly found, and it is no doubt this same group who, under the puppet strings of our enemy, who have made such a wreckage of scholarly discussion.
Nevertheless, even though I disdain providing prooftexts for fear that some "schmoe" of the latter variety will come along with their hodge-podged noodle-mass "defense" against what I have said, and I shall be subjected to an eternity whereby as I pull the first noodle from the mess, and lay it out straight, this same debator cuts and pastes a tenfold more mass of noodles into the discussion and by his hodgery and podgery effectively strangles the life out of the discussion. The only solution to that sort of buffoonery is to sit and spoon feed the entire bible to one another in context. Not that such wouldn't be edifying - but that my life doesn't currently allow for such a profound effort (online).
So for what it is worth, I will give you the prooftexts you ask for, but only after couching them in my eternal disdain. ;-)
Seriously though, looking into scripture together, we do find some passages that illumine (in summary) the relationship between faith and repentance:
I suppose the first place to start would be in 2 Corinthians 7:10 - "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." [ESV]
Recall the scene? Paul had "greived" the Corinthians in a previous letter wherein he called them to obedience; their response was to repent. This change of heart was more than the standard weepy-eyed sorrow over what they had previously done, and the half-hearted (or even whole hearted) desire to someday stop being disobedient - it was an actual change in behavior - and it is -this- change in behavior that Paul is talking about when he speaks in general about repentance here - he is saying that godly grief is not simply weeping and feeling bad about the consequences, it produces repentance and makes the point by contrasting it against the repentance that brings "leads to" salvation.
Note: repentance itself, that is, the change in behavior from disobedience to obedience is not salvation - it merely leads to it. The Greek actually says, repentance "into" salvation which doesn't carry the chronological baggage of the translation "leads to" - but it does demonstrates a quantifiable relationship between repentance and saving faith.
One might argue that the salvation Paul is speaking of is not justification - that is, it is not salvation from sin (c.f. Matthew 1:21 "He will save his people from their sins...") but merely some sort of temporal easing of tension - a salvation from a difficult situation - but that is pretty weak. If one has repented from doing something, one no longer needs to be "saved" from doing it, and quite frankly, the salvation spoken of here is passive (I am saved by something else) as opposed to active (I am saving myself by what I do). Thus I don't buy the idea that Paul is speaking about salvation from the disobedience they have already repented of since the text speaks of repentance into salvation and not repentance as salvation itself. Surely, Paul remarks elsewhere on repentance with regards to justification - that just as we received Christ Jesus (i.e. in repentance) so we should walk in Him - that is, when Paul encourages us to walk in the same submission by which we were saved - we conclude that some act of repentance is present at the moment of salvation - that is, we recognize a relationship between saving faith and repentance - even if we haven't defined how it works - we still do well to acknowledge that the one does not exist without the other.
In the gospel of Matthew we read in Matthew 21:32, "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. " [ESV]
The word translated here as "change your minds" is used only once in the NT that I am aware of (metamellomai) and is the more general synonym for metanoia which is normally translated as "repent" - the KJV translates them both as repent, but the newer translations recognize that metamellomai (compared against the Septuagint) doesn't produce a change in behavior necessarily, but means a change of heart, where metanoia carries the meaning of a change in behavior that flows from a change of heart/mind. The former therefore does not imply a change in behavior as the latter does. I mention the distinction up front to avoid anyone thinking that I am infusing greater meaning into the word in order to make some sort of case for a relationship built on the grammar of the text. I am not. But I do hope to describe why I think this verse still demonstrates a real (albeit general) relationship between repentance and faith.
In the context, Christ is rebuking the chief priests and elders because (as he demonstrates) those with far less knowledge of the scriptures than priests and elders (the very people whom they hold in contempt) are entering the kingdom of God. Consider that. The priests and elders have witnessed firsthand a profound repentance by the very people whom they themselves have given up on - having regarded them as sinners beyond the scope of human hope - that is, the Chief priests and elders are witnessing a repentance amongst the very people that their religion has painted as so entirely lost and beyond the reach of any call back to the faith that they are without excuse when they see these same people repenting in droves - because it clearly demonstrated that Christ was doing a work that according to their own continuing failure to affect any change in them even with all their knowledge and ministry - was humanly impossible - this repentance that they were witnessing was a work that only God Himself could be doing - yet they themselves refused to change their minds (relent) about "who" Jesus was - even having seen it firsthand with their own eyes.
We see therefore that the reason the chief priests and elders could not come to a saving faith was first and foremost because they were blinded by their own theology - and their stoic refusal to re-examine it even in the light of enough evidence to warrant a full and detailed examination - they refused to do so because changing their mind about who Jesus was was "out of the question." This changing of their mind, this failure to relent of their wrong opinion in the light of its clear and obvious error barred the path to enlightenment - it choked out all possibility of saving faith - and if a mere refusal to change their minds superficially (metamellomai) about whom Jesus was did in fact bar the way to the tree of life, how much more so would a deep and granite-like refusal to change their behavior (metanoia) - impede saving faith? That passage paints a relationship between willful ignorance and failure to enter the kingdom. How much moreso willful rebellion (unrepentance)?
Of course, we have the very obvious references, such as Acts 20:21 where Paul speaks about the gospel he was preaching to the gentiles - "repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" or Hebrews 6:1 where we learn that the elementary foundation upon which our hope rests is "repentance from dead works and faith toward God." - These are described as the foundational and elementary principles of Christ - that is, those things that produce Christianity as opposed to those things which flow from it.
We see in Acts 5:32 a very clear and straight forward reference to whom God gives the Holy Spirit. He doesn't give the Holy Spirit to the unregenerate, and the moment you receive the Holy Spirit you are joined to the church (saved) - so the reference is to those who are saved, and so when we read, "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him" we understand that those who do not repent do not receive the Holy Spirit.
Now there is nothing in these verses that demands a chronological understanding of repentance - that is, while we understand that no one can receive God's spirit who does not repent, we do not prescribe repentance as the works-doorway to the faith that saves - rather we recognize that the faith that saves includes repentance.
If this subtlety is overlooked - you get some pretty shrill voices crying a rather tired old tune - that repentance is a "work."
I want to be unequivacable here - repentance is clearly not a work, but a gift granted by God as we see in Acts 11:18, "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”", and 2 Timothy 2:25, "in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth," (this same truth, I might add, is what "sets you free").
If anyone wants to call the free gift that God grants (in the process of regenerating a sinner through the gift of faith) a "work" they have earned whatever derision and ridicule their claims generate.
As for me, I am persuaded that faith and repentance are so profoundly intertwined that examining one at the expense of the other is not only folly, but error. I would consider myself the greatest fool to insist that one preceded the other - as it is clear to me that they come as a pair. Likewise I see no benefit in pressing my opinion that one causes the other - for even though I might hold an opinion on that, it produces no effect on my theology since I regard the two as duality not unlike the trinity in complexity. Should I say that faith is begotten of repentance or even that repentance is begotten of faith - even here I enter into a precision that I feel cannot be rigorously defended by scripture.
What can however be rigorously defended is the idea that faith can not exist without repentance, or that repentance can not exist without faith - I would gladly die on some hill defending that idea - for it is the gospel itself that is in jeopardy of corruption on that point, for if we suggest that faith is mere assent to facts, we err to the damning of souls. We build upon the foundation of the church, not with the gold, silver and precious stones of genuine converts, but with the wood, hay and stubble of worthless, vacuous, "counterfeit converts" virgins with no oil in their lamps, tares all dressed up as wheat - self deceived and deceiving others, souls for whom is reserved the gnashing of teeth, and the empty cry "Lord, Lord!" when they have never bent their knee to anyone's sovereignty but their own.
But if someone wants to bandy about which produces the other, the chicken of faith, or the egg of repentance - I may have my opinion (and I might even feel that my position is biblically superior), but frankly that is all smoke and mirrors - the real issue is whether or not faith accompanies repentance and the answer is ABSOLUTELY.
I was planning on posting this on my own blog and just linking to it here - but I have been doing that a lot lately - so I am going to post it here in toto, and put it on the blog (with no link).
Bottom line - while I suspect that many Calvinists may "see" a causal relationship between repentance and faith - I think most wouldn't die on that hill - we see repentance and faith as co-existing and being endowed simultaneously; and those of us who like to be precise may try and define the roles played by each player (faith and repentance) with respect to how they interact together to bring about salvation in a person. I personally think repentance is the paved road upon which the vehicle of faith is delivered, but that both appear at the same time. If I insist that one plays an entirely "causal" role and the other is entirely begotten of the former, well, I think that is more precise than I am willing to go. That is, I see some overlap and because I do, I would be hard pressed to isolate one from the other even in this way. It is enough (for my faith at least) to understand that repentance plays a paving role for faith - not necessarily causing it, nor preceding it, but certainly providing a foundation for it. No model captures the relationship well enough because even all the models I can imagine imply far more of a causal relationship that I want to endorse.
So if you are inclined, and think you know which "causes" which - I wouldn't mind hearing your opinions, and I am sure Jim would like to hear them too.
posted by Daniel @
| I Haven't Forgotten...
|My apologies to everyone, as I am half way in the middle of what I consider to be a very relevant series - but I find that recent re-prioritizing has given me less time to post on the blog and keep up with things. I will certainly get back to this series, and answer (and I hope fully so) some of the important questions raised in this discussion - but it seems I am booked solid until next week at the very least.
I was thinking of getting guest bloggers to post here - but really, that is so over-done nowadays! :-) So I am just putting up this quick notification, that if you don't hear from me till next week, it only means that I am crazy busy.
posted by Daniel @
| Forty Years.
|Yesterday, November 15, 2006 was my birthday. I took the day off of work, spent time with my family, we put up the Christmas tree, and more or less had fun all day. In the evening, for the first time in years, my wife and I went out with another couple and neither of us had any of our children along (they have five kids, we have four). It was such a wonderful time. When we came home my wife and I put the kids to bed and talked for hours. We were so very thankful for all the wonderful work God has done in our lives. We ended the evening in prayer together, thanking and sincerely praising God for the beauty of his glory. I can't remember having such a nice time.
My oldest daughter made me a computer out of paper, which was hilarious - she also made me a birthday card that had lots of crosses on it and bibles, because she knows I love God and that I love reading the bible. It was quite touching on a variety of levels. My eldest made me a card too, but his was full of lightsabres (he is presently infatuated with lightsabres and anything and everything star wars). My youngest daughter, who is notoriously stubborn, and by virtue of her steely will stands to teach my wife and I daily our need for grace - she came and gave me the most heart felt happy birthday, it was all quite sweet.
All in all, it was a stellar birthday, especially the genuine thankfulness I could extend to the Lord for the wonderful family, and wonderful life He has given me through His Son.
I will pick up the series on Carnal Christianity shortly - probably not today though...
posted by Daniel @
| An Answer to Brad
Carnal Christianity Part III
How Sanctification Works...
|Although Brad Williams has in the meta of my previous post, politely suggested that I am full of beans, he did give me some room to save face depending on what my understanding of Sanctification is.
I really don't like the way John Piper teaches "Christian Hedonism" - it isn't how I would do it. It is not that he is wrong, but that the way he describes it is so tangential to how I would describe it that I think it opens the door to confusion and misunderstanding a little wider than I am comfortable with. I respect however, that God can use wind to blow out a flame just as easily as rain - and in the strength of my faith in God to teach the same truths in many ways, I keep my opinion from becoming anything more than a personal preference.
My point is that sometimes we approach the same truth from such radically different angles that we throw off others who do not share our own "bent." It is this same charity that I believe Brad is extending to me in the meta of my previous post when after stating that he heartily disagrees with me, he leaves some room for discussion, and if I read him correctly, that room lies in my understanding of sanctification. His comment in the meta, which I am responding to here (because it is too long for the meta, and because it is pertinent to this discussion) follows:
I think I heartily disagree with you...Maybe. Could you define sanctification?
My reply, though addressed to Brad (I just copied and pasted my reply here) fits into this topic quite neatly, and I am thankful for the direction this is going. So here is my reply to Brad's question, my hope is that it edifies. Some truths are so simply once you get them - but they seem so slippery when you try to articulate them because the language we use in describing anything spiritual is so entirely pregnant with theological baggage that 90% of the struggle is trying to avoid being misunderstood by using language will be assumed to have more meaning that I intend to put in it - nevertheless we work with what we have - if I am misunderstood, it will just give us more opportunity to talk about a thing that is entirely worthy of our time anyways. With that thought I paste away...
Brad - I appreciate the magnitude by which we may have our differences in this matter. Had you asked me a few years ago whom Paul was speaking of in Romans I would have said he was speaking of himself, and I don't think I would have been very open to any contrary opinion. That is =not= to suggest for a second that my change in opinion necessarily reflects my having come to a superior understanding - perhaps it means that I am slipping further from the truth - but one thing is certain, my current understanding of Romans 7 harmonizes seamlessly with my understanding of the remainder of what scripture teaches, and because I find no contradiction in this understanding of the truth, I find nothing in it to persuade me against it. Which is just a round about way of saying, don't feel bad if you don't agree with me (not that I think you would feel bad), rather if you see something that stands out as false, direct me to it - perhaps you will bring something to light that I hadn't already considered.
Anyways, perhaps it is easier to describe what sanctification is -not- first, by contrasting it with how false religions (such as Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, or even secular humanism) believe sanctification works in their religion.
In all false religions, they way you "sanctify" yourself is by suppressing your natural tendency to sin, in some of these religions you thereafter give credit for this "sanctification" to whatever deity you worship as though they were the ones who gave you strength to do so.
TO be sure, in every false way "sanctification" is something that -you- do to your self, all -by- yourself. Efforts to break sinful habits are nothing more than attempting to restrain the beast within from acting outwardly, they do not change the beast within, but are directed at restraint and control. Really most false ways have this in common - a form of asceticism. They deny themselves through sheer effort; they program themselves to be content through auto-suggestion, and as they get better and better at it, their outward conduct begins to resemble a sort of holiness - which is the very thing they mistake it for. This approximation makes no one holy - it just makes you look as though you were holy. The tree is still producing bad fruit, it is just that the fruit is being snipped off as fast as it is produced.
Asceticism is not sanctification, it is a form of godliness that has no real power to affect what is truly wrong. All asceticism does is pretend the problem is gone when it is still there and being suppressed through sheer effort.
False religion has no power to make you truly love God or your neighbor, false religion cannot stop you from wanting to lust, or from being bitter or envious; it cannot deal with the inside of the cup, but it can sure put a shine on the outside! That is why people see no difference between a moral Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Secular Humanist - they all can become morally upstanding (on the outside). But God, we are told in scripture, does a work on the inside of the cup, and when God begins to clean the inside of the cup the outside naturally follows suit. That is the difference between Christian sanctification and worldly counterfeits - no counterfeit (be it in a false religion, or even in a genuine Christian who knows no better) can produce a clean inside of the cup because only God can change the leopard's spots.
While every false religion gives you some method or methods to reduce the outward symptoms of sin (that is, to snip the fruit of the tree off as it grows) - no false religion can actually change the nature of the fruit that is being produced, no false religion can change bitter water to sweet.
Genuine sanctification therefore, is something that God does to us, and not something we do to ourselves. It isn't forensic either - justification is forensic, but sanctification is experiential. I want to be clear on this also - sanctification is -not- merely our external obedience - yet external obedience always flows from sanctification.
We are not sanctified -by- obeying rather we are sanctified by surrendering to God. That is a very important distinction, because I can "obey" without being surrendered to God - and that is not a picture of bondservice, it pictures a mercenary heart who would try and earn sanctification rather than receive it.
Now here is the meat of it - there is no such thing as a partial submission to God, we are either entirely submitted and therefore in bondservice, or we are somewhat rebellious and therefore entirely independent, but deceived into imagining that we are "mostly obedient."
The problem they have when they try to understand sanctification is that they think that as you become more sanctified, you get better and better at suppressing sin - they think that sanctification means that you, as a believer, always desire to sin, but get better at denying yourself the pleasure.
That isn't sanctification, it is asceticism. God's solution isn't to strengthen our wills so that we are better able to suppress sin - His solution is to destroy that which disobeys. Sanctification therefore is the process by which God destroys whatever is genuinely put on the altar.
Sanctification therefore is not something I do through the might of my own arm, but something that is done to me - I don't make myself holy, God destroys in me all that is not holy as I surrender myself to Him to do so. Here too many make the mistake and think that we offer this or that to God and ask him to take it away from us - NO - that is not it. What we offer is ourselves - we recognize that the problem is not "what we do" it is "who we are" - that what is wrong is not our conduct, but our person - us - our "who-we-are-ness" - that is what we must surrender. Not that we say - take this sin away, but that we have a heart that say, I am a sinner, and unless -You- destroy me in Christ, I will never be free. It is a willingness to unite with Christ in death. It is the deepest Christian teaching, but it is also the most foundational to genuine spiritual life.
I don't consecrate what I do - I consecrate "myself" to God. That is the difference. I don't set aside "what I do" to God, I give myself to God. The Holy Spirit cannot do anything in me if I do not surrender to Him. It isn't that obeying the rules (against my will) sanctifies me - as though the act of "doing good" were what was changing me - (as if all of sanctification boiled down to fostering good habits and breaking bad ones), rather it is that unless I am walking in the Spirit (that is surrendering myself to the death that God has united me to Christ in), God cannot be at liberty to work freely in me. If I am unwilling to surrender my life to God, then I am unwilling to have God sanctify me.
Sanctification begins and ends with the cross of Christ. Not some mystical weirdness - as though I have to get into the right frame of mind or hear voices or all manner of oddity - it is not that I try and "kill" myself or slay myself in the Spirit - it is agreeing with God against myself. When I begin to agree with God against myself, I begin to honestly surrender myself to the cross of Christ, and then, and only then is God at liberty to destroy in me what I myself cannot change. That is sanctification.
posted by Daniel @
| An Answer To Buggy
(I am too verbose for the meta)
Carnal Christianity Part II
|Clearly, I am a hopeless windbag. I began to answer Neil in the meta of my previous post, but found that once again, I was writing as though people have all the time in the world to sit and read my plodding thoughts and opinions...
Anyway, here is what Buggy said in the meta of my previous post...
I fear for my health, debating Romans with you. Be gentle with me? ;)
Do you think Paul sinned after conversion? Ever? Once a year? Monthly? Daily? More than once a day?
My Pastor once told me that he sinned many times each and every day. He was not a 'carnal' Christian, should such a thing actually exist. To the best of my knowledge, and I knew him well, he was a man of God. He was humble and dependent upon God. His realistic assessment of his thoughts and actions and his tender conscience revealed to him that he was a frequent lawbreaker.
I used probably an unfortunate phrasing when I said 'regularly fell into sin'. What I meant, was that Paul was saying in Romans 7:18-24 that he sinned many times, and in ways that frustrated and perhaps surprised this very humble man. I understand that it was said in the context of broader points, but it was said. Paul uses his own frailties as an example in the discourse. Paul says in pretty plain language that he did fail, and did sin, and far too often. I believe that he did sin and was not fully sanctified while here on earth, and so when he says his flesh betrayed him again and again I believe him.
His mind was set on God, but his body in the here and now failed him. He sinned. He sinned regularly, unless I misread it entirely. The man who says 'O wretched man that I am' is speaking anguish. His conscience is testifying to his breaking of the law.
The reason I used this example in my post was to make the point that all of us are carnal, in the sense that we are still in these bodies, and in the sense that sanctification lags justification, and in the sense that we will not be fully sanctified while still in these bodies. Thus, we are all susceptible to temptation all of our days, just like Paul. I was trying to show that opportunistic sins appealing to our carnal flesh can take the legs out from anyone, including the most sanctified Christians. It's not an enslavement. It's not living according to the flesh. It's an unforeseen stumbling.
What do you think?
Here is the reply I began to work on, but decided to make a post out of instead:
Let us hope that rather than debate, we simply look at the text and learn. I don't hold onto my understanding of Romans so tightly that I would debate over it - if I come with a heart set on debating "my view", I cannot be taught - but if seek only to share what I understand, and with a heart willing to take instruction in the matter (and I do), then perhaps I will be edified. This is one of the ways God teaches me, and I want to be a willing student.
Do you think Paul sinned after conversion?
Yes I do. I believe that every Christian offends God and most of us on a daily basis. If I had any doubt in the matter, scripture plainly teaches that Peter, even though he was mightily filled with God's Spirit at Pentecost and powerfully used by God for a multitude of miracles - yet at Antioch he was more concerned about his reputation as a "law keeper" than about making the gospel plain - that is, Peter allowed his pride to get the better of him, and the stink of that offense presented a very false image of the kingdom of God to the Jewish converts at Antioch - which is why Paul withstood him to his face, because he was guilty Paul rebuked him in front of everyone - because as an elder, Peter should not simply have known better - he should have "walked" better.
So the question about whether or not a genuine believer -can- sin is answered in scripture by example - yes, every believer -can- sin after conversion, of that there can be no sober doubt. Even if conversion could wipe out of our memory every sin we had ever sinned so that we were intellectually a perfectly clean slate, that would only make us like Adam in the garden, we would remain as capable of sin as Adam was, and eventually, left to our own devices, we would sin as surely as Adam.
But the Christian has not been left to his own devices has he? While God never offered Adam the indwelling Holy Spirit, he not only offers but gives the indwelling Holy Spirit to every genuine believer. So at the very least we see a difference, spiritually, between ourselves and Adam.
I am currently in the middle of a study on carnal Christians, and the timing of your post is most interesting. I am still working on post that describes what a carnal Christian is, and I believe God's hand is at work in the timing of this, because I was going about showing what a carnal Christian is without really touching on Romans Seven - and in beginning to comment on your post, I suddenly saw that this was where I should have started the post on Carnal Christianity.
I mention that because you mention that your pastor was not a carnal Christian and by the way you mentioned it, you suggest that in your own mind at least, you are not sure that such at thing even exists.
There is a Jewish rabbi, who, while he rejects Christ and Christendom, never the less demonstrates a powerful love for the God of Torah. He is not insincere, but truly an orthodox man of God, well, at least a man of God according to the amount of light he is willing to receive. He is a humble fellow, dependent upon the only God he recognizes. His own realistic assessment of his actions and his own tender conscience reveal to him that in spite of all his best efforts, he is truly a law breaker. Few Rabbis are as sincere, tender, and introspective as this particular one - for were you to meet the guy, you would never imagine that he was anywhere near the miserable wretch that he knows himself to be. He is an outstandingly gentle and conscientious fellow, generous, and kind - would that we had more men (outwardly) like him in our churches! But let's be fair - his humility, his kindness, his gentleness, his admission that he is a sinner even when he is a respected Rabbi - these all point to a man who is not willing to lie about his experience just to impress others or build an unearned reputation - yet for all his humility, sincerity, and introspection - he is not a spiritual man - these things do not make or even identify him as Spiritual. This Rabbi is carnal as a pagan - he is just morally aware, and working to conform himself (with zeal) to a form of godliness that lacks any real power.
The idea of a carnal Christian was not invented by myself or others, it comes from Paul, recall in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul recognizes that he cannot instruct the people at Corinth as though they were mature in Christ, but rather as infants, it is this infancy that Paul refers to as people of the flesh, or if we use the older English, as carnal. Paul says, "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ..."
So our rabbi in the example above, would not be a carnal believer, but simply carnal - that is, he would not be "of the flesh" by virtue of spiritual immaturity, but rather by virtue of a spiritual vacuum - that is, by not being in possession of the Holy Spirit.
Consider the theology professor, or the biblical Greek scholar who although respected in their field remain avowed Atheists. Their knowledge of scripture and ability to bring others to the truth is not a reflection of spiritual maturity - it is not their spiritual gift, it is their natural talent.
Now consider Nigel, I met him while waiting for a bus one day. He was a special needs fellow who was absolutely sold out to Christ. His love for Christ shone out of him like ten suns going super nova. He was ready in season and out because he was utterly and completely given in his heart to the service of the Lord. He probably couldn't tell you what propitiation meant, but he could tell you what it was like to love God and obey him always.
My point is that we err if we imagine that spiritual maturity is tied to knowledge or position. There are plenty of people in the church who know the bible better than the pastor, and there are plenty of people in the church more sincere than the pastor, and even - dare I say it - more mature than the pastor. To be put in the role of pastor, one ought to be mature spiritually speaking, but (and I am being frank here), more often than not spiritual maturity is not weighed in obedience to Christ, but in knowledge and personality. If a man looks to be a good leader and knows the bible, can teach it well enough, and believes himself to be "called" (whatever that is), then we say this man is good enough to be a pastor.
And if all we want in a pastor is someone to lead us to truth on Sundays, marry our children, bury our dead, and administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lords table - we will pretty much be satisfied with anyone who can fit that bill in an amiable way.
Twenty years can roll by under such a pastor, and while the knowledge in the church increases, and while everyone likes him - yet it can happen that the sheep still sinning daily, and the church remains a sanctified sinners club, where people have to be coerced into doing anything spiritual because they have never grown spiritually, they have only grown in knowledge.
I hope I can paint that truth with some clarity - there is a world of difference between being spiritual and being knowledgeable, there is a world of difference between being spiritual and being humble and generous and kind. Ghandi was all of these, and probably a more humble fellow than your pastor, but that doesn't make Ghandi spiritual, and it doesn't make your pastor spiritual either.
That is, whether or not your pastor is a great guy, humble, and worthy of all praise is not the point, there many people who are more so than he on all points who are not even Christians. In other words, these things carry no clout with me in a discussion about what scripture is saying. I want to be careful here Neil - I am not suggesting that you are not making good points and whatnot - I am just saying that I am held by scripture to think one way, and that as clear as your examples are to me, they must fail to persuade me because they do not add anything to the biblical case, and can be dismissed with other examples from our worldly experiences. Surely you will concede that our history records profound humanitarians whose personal humility, kindness, generosity and sincerity actually dwarf the best our pulpits have to offer, or at the very least, and significant to our discussion, give me room to suggest that the goodness and sincerity of your frequently law-breaking pastor do not merit a comparison to Paul by virtue of these traits, since these traits are found in abundance outside of Christianity.
Given that, what you seem to be saying, in essence, and correct me if I am oversimplifying your reasoning, I am not trying to paint your words in any one way - I am just taking them apart in a way that illustrates (I hope) why I am not convinced by them. You seem to be saying that your own humble pastor because he is a frequent lawbreaker, and because he is humble and wants to be free from this same law breaking - that is, because this passage in Romans Seven describes your own pastor - it therefore stands to reason that what Paul was discussing in Romans seven what "spiritual maturity" looks like (since the presumption is that your pastor is spiritually mature).
Now, I hope that I have shown that the description you give of pastor in no way demonstrates spiritual maturity to me, unless you will admit that the great atheist humanitarians of our history were equally mature spiritually for having shown the same traits, and moreso. That is, your point seems to fall apart because it relies on the presumption that your pastor is spiritually mature, a presumption that, for reasons demonstrated, I cannot weigh with any real clout. That is, if I am going to learn something from this text, I cannot begin it by saying, this man whom I regard to be godly is a regular sinner, therefore Paul is talking about godly men in Romans seven.
Paul is talking about slavery to sin. What does slavery look like? Consider the stereo typical plantation slave: I want to be free from my master, and so I run from the plantation - but every time I run, my master gets a hold of me and puts me back on the plantation. I don't want to be on the plantation - I hate it here, but whenever I try to escape it, I fail because my master is bigger, and more powerful than me, and no matter how I try to escape, he always wins - I am his slave, and even though I don't want to be his slave with all my heart - yet I can do nothing about it, because the running away that I want to do, I find that I cannot do, but the remaining on this plantation that I hate is the very thing I find myself doing.
Do you see that the slave doesn't want to be a slave, and that no matter how he tries, he find himself enslaved at the end of the day? Has this slave overcome his enslavement? Not if he is still on the plantation he hasn't - nor has he overcome his slavery merely because he hates it and tries to escape it. That isn't freedom, that is slavery.
Now lets say that the north wins the war, and legally speaking, the slave is at liberty, but he doesn't really believe it. I mean, he knows that legally he is free, but when he tries to run, the master snatches him up again, and brings him back to the plantation. So long as he continues to obey that old master, his "freedom" exists in name only, not in practice. That is a very, very, very, very important thing to understand. Even though Christ has set us free if we continue to obey sin we continue to be enslaved by it. Paul makes that absolutely clear in Romans six.
Now, if we have been set free from sin, and we continue to sin - that makes us sin's slave and not free. We don't have to be sin's slave, but we are "free" to remain slaves as long as we continue to obey sin.
Romans Seven, as I explained, teaches not what spiritual maturity looks like (for surely the least spiritual babe in Christ has no desire to sin, but finds themselves sinning in exactly the same way as described), but what living without grace looks like. Paul's argument, you will remember, is that we were no longer under the law, but under grace.
By saying -that- Paul differentiates between the two ways men were trying to conduct themselves as believers. Jewish believers were under the law, and as such they had a list of rules that they tried to keep. They had no power to keep them, they wanted to do good, that is, to keep the law, but they found that they had no power to do so. That was what the law couldn't do - it couldn't empower you to keep it, it could only condemn you when you didn't. The pericope in Romans 7 describes what being under law looks like, and in doing so it describes two types of people:
First it describes the righteousness of a Jew. The Jew wanted to keep the law, but had no power to do so other than their own sheer will. Try as he might, eventually his attempts to suppress the sin nature within failed, and he sinned. The good that he wanted to do, he found he could not do consistently, and the evil that he hated, he found himself eventually giving in to.
Second it describes the efforts of a Christian who doesn't understand grace, to be righteous. Having no understanding of grace, the immature Christian also looks to his own arm to save him from sin - and in the strength of his own will, like a good Jew, he tries to suppress sin, in the exact same way a Jew would, with methods and techniques that seem good and religious, but amount to little more than asceticism which, as scripture teaches, has no power against sin. So these baby Christians are taught coping techniques and methods by which one can break habits - whenever they are tempted, they are instructed to respond in a predetermined way - recite Romans six to yourself (for instance) - what shall I say, shall I continue to lust so that grace may about - certainly not! How shall I who died to lust continue to lust? etc. And that is great for breaking habits - you don't need to be a Christian to do this - that is how every false religion in the world deals with habitual behavior that doesn't agree with its morality - that is how you clean the outside of the cup - you don't need to be a Christian to train yourself to stop sinning outwardly - you just need to be serious about it. But while such techniques will break all sorts of nasty habits - they have no power whatsoever against the real problem. We call such techniques, whatever they are (auto suggestion, positive thinking, etc.) we call that suppressionism - because it does absolutely nothing to deal with the source, but instead deals on a case by case basis with the symptoms - you suppress what is really there. It is like the man who snips all the apples off his apple tree. Doing so does not turn the tree into an orange tree - even if he can snip the buds as they come, and even if he can hang oranges on it that he in his own strength has produced - yet the tree is an apple tree as will be demonstrated the moment the man stops his monumental self effort in snipping the buds.
The problem is, that for many of us, this second way of being under the law has been presented to us as "walking in the Spirit" - but that is a great deception. We honestly think that it is normal and okay if the fruit that is constantly being produced in us is entirely and always carnal fruit. We might even convince ourselves that the good we have learned to approximate in our behavior is really "spiritual fruit" - as though our "tree" were honestly producing two kinds of fruit simultaneously spiritual and carnal - or if we are clever enough to see the impossibility of that, we might imagine that our "tree" actually flips and flops between producing one kind of fruit or the other. Truly, we believe that as long as we can nip the fruit that is really being produce in the bud, and as long as we can approximate in our behavior what genuine spiritual fruit would look like - we are willing to thread water in our Christian life and remain deceived about what kind of tree we really have.
Being under grace means that the tree no longer produces carnal fruit. It means that the spring no longer gives bitter water.
The Holy Spirit does not produce sin in a Christian - if sin is being produced it is coming from the flesh. But Scripture teaches in Romans six, that those who are in Christ have been united in his death for the very purpose of rendering this power inert - that is, to free the Christian from this very bondage. The flesh will not be redeemed until Christ's return, that is, the flesh will -always- tempt the Christian, but the Christian is no longer in Romans seven, that is, the Christian is no longer without power with regards to sin - rather they have been set free from sin's rule.
That means that any Christian who knowingly disobeys God, does so because he or she has chosen to do so. They don't have to, sin no longer has dominion over them - but they do because they want to.
That is what spiritual immaturity looks like.
Picture an ornate glass bottle. You pour hot lead into it, and the lead takes on the exact shape of the bottle. You allow the lead to cool - and viola! you have a form that resembles exactly the inside of that ornate bottle. Now you break the bottle and "free" the lead from its bottled slavery - but guess what? The lead has "hardened" into its current form.
That is what a baby Christian looks like. They have been poured into a worldly mold, and hardened into a life of obedience to sin. When the gospel sets them free, the bottle shatters and they are no longer bound into that shape by the mold that previously confined them, but they are still hardened into the shape of the bottle by their own hardness of heart.
Maturity has nothing to do with defining the bottle, or the environment around it - and has everything to do with conforming it into a new image. The trouble is that the lead has been hardened into the shape of sin and in order to be conformed into the image of Christ the lead has to be heated up and reshaped. That is, it must surrender itself to the furnace.
Immaturity tries to conform to the image of Christ through every other way except surrender. That is, the immature believer retains in themselves the "right" to disobey when things get too stressful.
I do not drive through amber lights as a rule. If the light turns amber that means "do not enter the intersection" and as a law abiding Christian, I abide by the law. Except if I happen to be in a hurry... then I will drive through an amber light. I will feel guilty because I know I have compromised what is "right" on the alter of "Daniel's in a hurry" - that is, I am willing to obey right up until doing so inconveniences me in a way I am not willing to surrender to. That is not a picture of surrender - it is a picture of compromise - I am willing to compromise what I want to approximate a genuine surrender - right up until I have to actually surrender - then I go it "my way."
The average "sincere" Christian is like that. They are willing to set aside all manner of sin because, lets face it - they don't really need it, and they are happy to be rid of it. But they reserve for themselves the right to "give in" whenever they want to. They look great on the outside - these are our pastors, our deacons, our elders - the men of substance, our deaconesses, our Sunday school teachers, the ones who are willing to minister - they all have learned how to polish the outside of their cup.
But the mature Christian is the one who does not reserve the right to "give in" - the mature believer does not make room for disobedience in their walk - the mature believer does not knowingly disobey God.
This is what scripture teaches.
Now, that is not to say that the mature believer doesn't sin - we all offend in many ways, and we may well be unaware of the magnitude or variety of our sin - that is, no one can say "I have not sinned today" with any certainty - but there are some who are mature and can say, "I have not disobeyed God today in any way that I am aware of"
A humble and mature believer will readily admit that he very likely sins in many ways each and every day - but not by actively disobeying God as a result of failing to surrender to him - rather he accepts that in his ignorance he has likely offended God in a way he himself isn't aware of.
That being the case, at least according to my limited understanding, when someone says that Paul is describing himself in the Romans 7 pericope, I am confounded, because it is the antithesis of everything Paul and scripture teaches about how to be a Christian.
Jesus came to save us from our sins - that is, to deliver us from sin's power; to free us from sin's dominion! We are no longer slaves of us, so how can it be that Paul is describing himself as a slave to sin? It can only be if Paul is doing so as an hypothetical and parenthetical thought used to illustrate a point he is making - which is exactly what the text shows. Romans six says you are not under law but under grace - Romans seven shows what being under law looks like, Romans eight shows what being under grace looks like. The flow is natural and comprehensible - so long as we don't tell ourselves the one lie that makes all if it confusing...
What is that lie?
The lie is - "I can't help sinning."
If we say that we cannot help it, we say that we are enslaved, and we say that everyone else is too. We have no hope in understanding Romans seven as an hypothetical parenthesis - since it is describing our own experience. Surely, that is why I used to preach from the rooftops that Paul was speaking of the healthy normative Christian experience. It was my own experience, and I took a great deal of comfort in knowing that since no one is ever truly freed from sin, my own enslavement was excusable.
Every argument I have ever heard to defend Romans seven as the normative Christian experience ends in this lie, no matter where the conversation is dragged to, the one defending this idea must admit, they themselves are entirely convinced, contrary to scripture, that even if scripture says they are free from sin - they will admit that in practice they are not - and this demonstrates that the problem is not that they cannot understand the truth - it is that they have hardened their heart against it.
I am sure that some of you reading this are sincere and intelligent people. I am equally certain that (if your take on Romans is that it describes normal Christianity) you are indeed convinced that way because your own experience demands that interpretation.
Somewhere in the last century or so, it has become a Christian taboo to suggest that Christians can actually -stop- sinning. Every time scripture says something as plain as "sin shall no longer have dominion over you" or as simple as "everyone who is born of God does not keep on sinning," or as straightforward as, "no one who abides in [Christ] keeps on sinning" or as blatant as, "no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him" we quickly douse whatever fire God's word would have started in our soul with an extra-biblical and carnally comforting caveat: "but that doesn't mean you can ever -really- stop sinning..."
Seriously - Christians are called to obey Christ, and empowered by God Almighty to do just that. Failure to obey doesn't happen because we are "fallen sinners" it happens because we are not walking with God in the same way as we received God - that is, in absolute surrender (see my previous post on this) - we are not walking with God "in the Spirit."
You see, Jesus walked with God in the Spirit to show us that it can be done - and to illustrate what it looks like. Paul walked the same way - in the Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit we do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, that is because we are surrendered to God in the same way we were surrendered at the moment of our conversion - that is, surrender opens the door that allows the Spirit of God into our lives in the first place, and into our walk thereafter. Just as God's Spirit quickened us to obey the gospel in the first place, so too the Holy Spirit gives us grace to obey when we surrender. That is why Christ's yoke is light and his burden easy - because if we take the yoke (surrender) we don't carry its weight (obey)alone, but God carries it with us. If we do not surrender, our obedience is going to come out of our own effort, and we are not walking in the Spirit, but in the flesh.
That is why many Christians think that Romans seven is the normal Christian experience - because they don't really know the first thing about the yoke of Christ - they think that obedience is the yoke, when in fact surrender is the yoke - and so they attempt to live the Christian life without really surrendering - that is, without walking in the Spirit - and all who do so are carnal Christians even if they are currently "obeying" the law. Obedience to the law does not make you spiritual, just as it doesn't make the obedient Jew spiritual. Surrendering to Christ, that is, dying daily to our own control over our life - that is what a spiritual walk is - and those who walk thus grow more mature in their faith, those who do not simply grow older in their faith.
There is a man who is close to God, he isn't close because he has been in the church the longest or because he knows the most - he is close to God because he has learned to surrender.
I was trying to show that opportunistic sins appealing to our carnal flesh can take the legs out from anyone, including the most sanctified Christians. It's not an enslavement. It's not living according to the flesh. It's an unforeseen stumbling.
I believe that the only person that opportunistic sin can take the legs out from under, is the one who has is not surrendered to God, and is therefore taking the temptation in the flesh and not in the Spirit.
"Sanctified Christians" are not simply those who have the best track record with regards to suppressing sin in the past - as if, being able to snip sin in the bud made you sanctified - it doesn't, it just keeps you busy, and threading water to boot. Even a person has done so for years, and in doing so has given the impression of being an orange tree - they are still an apple tree if what is produced in them is apples. A great track record doesn't necessarily indicate a sanctified believer, it only indicates that a believer has kept himself from sinning for a time. I would argue that so long as one not surrendered entirely to Christ, even though they have been set free from sin, yet in practice they are very much enslaved to it, and remain thus until they through surrender they overcome that enslavement. The way is open, but they have to actually walk as Christ walked - in the Spirit.
That is not to say that the one who begins to walk in the Spirit is going to be perfect in their obedience. As a believer surrenders they will stumble in places they didn't even know they were being disobedient - and when they do they will surrender - but they can be surprised and see the sin only after the fact. No one who is in the Spirit is going to actively disobey God however. So yes, there is a stumbling into sin - but it doesn't happen with your eyes open, it takes you unawares. Not a giving into temptation - but a realization that something is sinful, and an immediate surrender to God so as to never do that again - we call that "repentance." Weeping, and feeling bad that we are so enslaved is not repentance. Crying and "trying" to do better is not repentance. Holding a secret place in our heart that says, "I haven't really turned from this, I am just stopping it for now because I don't want to offend God further" is not repentance - that is trying to pacify God, but it is certainly not surrender, it is certainly not spiritual - dare I say it - there is nothing "Christian" about it - it is a false way, and a perversion of the truth, and is not overcoming sin, but giving into it, and making provision for it.
The Christian has been set free from sin, for freedom, and not for slavery. They path is not obedience sans surrender, but surrender avec obedience. The one produces carnal Christians, the other spiritual - they may look the same on the outside (clean cups), but only one has a clean inside (surrender).
Let me know if this makes sense. I would be glad to expand any point that doesn't make sense or answer any questions my stumbling and wandering narrative produced. These are, in my opinion, the most important truths of Christianity, and they deserve our full attention to see whether these things are so.
posted by Daniel @
| Romans Seven...
|On his blog, in this post, Bugblaster remarks about the Apostle Paul:
Alrighty then. Even the most famous Christian to ever live regularly fell to sin, ... I was going to answer that in the meta, but it got a little long, so I am posting it here.
Doesn't Paul ask at the end of Romans seven who is going to set him free from the body of sin and death?
Follow my logic here. Who needs to be set free from the body of sin and death? Those who are enslaved to sin, or those who are freed from sin? Those who are enslaved - right? If I follow your logic, you are insinuating that Paul was actually still enslaved to sin when he wrote this yes. If you say that he fell into sin regularly, you are saying that he was never actually set free from sin - or alternately you are suggesting that freedom from sin necessarily includes a partial enslavement to sin - a thought that is a little self defeating to what Paul is on about -no?
Whom does scripture teach us is enslaved to sin? Those who obey sin - right? Regularly falling into sin means regularly obeying sin - no?
Who obeys sin? Those who have not been set free from sin - right? I want to understand this right. You are saying that Paul had not really been set free from sin, or at least that he had not completely been set free from sin, or possibly that freedom from sin was partial at best correct?
Consider the way in which scripture teaches "how" it is that we have been set free from sin - it says that the body of sin is made powerless because it was taken on the cross with Christ (Romans 6:6).
So in order to hold to the idea that Paul fell regularly into sin, we have to say that sin was not powerless in Paul's experience, and therefore we conclude that Paul had not actually been placed into Christ, or alternately that being in Christ was not forensic, but something we do - so that we can pop in and out at our leisure.
The trouble with the latter is that we do not place ourselves into Christ - scripture tells us that God places us there. So if God places us there, we can reject the popping in and out in our own strength idea - we are either in or out, and if I follow your logic, you are implying that Paul was out. No?
Follow my reasoning, and correct me if after some reflection you still think that I am off:
The whole point of being crucified with Christ is to make sin powerless to rule over us - that is, to set us free from sin's dominion - so that we are free to obey God.
That was the point that Paul was in the middle of making. What I understand you to be saying is that while Paul was in the middle of making this point:
...Christianity doesn't produce lawlessness because Christians have been put into Christ, and this through this union they have literally been crucified, died, and resurrected with Christ. What had previously enslaved them was not dead and by virtue of its death there on Calvary, the Christian is freed from it - so that instead of being enslaved to sin and thereby breaking the law, they are instead freed from sin, and are the only ones who can actually keep the law...
He suddenly, in chapter seven, flip flopped and said - no wait, I am enslaved to sin still.
The chronology of Paul's argument then, according to that interpretation is:
Romans six - we are freed from sin that is why we don't sin anymore.
Romans seven - my body is not dead, I still sin living in obedience to sin, that is I still live according to the flesh
Romans eight: If you live according to the flesh the spirit of God is not in you, you are not Christ's and you will die because of it.
Clearly, the reason so many have trouble understanding this passage is because Paul is apparently schizophrenic. First he says you don't sin if you are a Christian because you have died to it - then he says he is a great sinner who is still enslaved to sin, then he says anyone who obeys sin isn't in Christ, and will die - which presumably includes himself.
If I take Romans seven the way you have, I have a very confusing time of it.
But if I take Romans seven in the context of Paul's apologetic - consider how it flows:
Follow me on this: Paul begins Romans six in the middle of an apologetic for the way in which Christianity works. He is anticipating the ongoing Jewish criticism leveled against him (recall the charge against Paul in Acts 21:28, "This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and [the temple]) they were basically saying that Paul was teaching lawlessness, and Romans six, seven, and eight are all part of his defense against that misunderstanding - a defense that articulates more clearly than any other passage in scripture - exactly what Christianity is supposed to look like (and why!)
Paul taught in this same epistle that the law did not cause sin - that really, men had been sinning since before the law came - a fact that demonstrated that lawlessness is a reflection of sin and not the other way around. Paul makes the point earlier in Romans that the law shows men that they are all guilty before God. He articulates the same thought elsewhere when he calls the law a school master that brings us to Christ. It's purpose was to show us that are sinners who need a Savior.
So When we come into Romans six, Paul is explaining that Christianity is not lawless - since Christians are dead to the sin that produces the lawlessness they were so sure Christianity would produce.
He explains how it works - we are dead to sin because we were put into Christ, and Christ was crucified, died, and resurrected. That is why we are dead to sin.
Most people make the mistake of taking this as some sort of metaphor for what happened on the cross. It isn't. It is as literal as literal can get. God wasn't directing His wrath at Christ on the cross - He was directing it at those who were in Christ. Christ became sin for us - He took our sin into Himself by taking -us- into Himself. We were -in- Christ and when God poured out His wrath He wasn't all confused and punishing Jesus instead of us - He was punishing us - but Jesus willingly intercepted that same wrath on our behalf - sacrificing His own life to do so, and the death that was poured out on us, was instead received by the innocent Lamb of God - our Savior and God's Christ - Jesus.
Because God dealt the death blow to us in Christ, we really died there with Christ, and because God raised Christ, we really are no longer under condemnation - but what happened there had a benefit that Paul was expounding in the text - by virtue of our death in Christ, we are no longer enslaved to sin - that is why Christians do not practice lawlessness - because they are in Christ.
That was the point that Paul was trying to make with the example of of the widow. While her husband lived if she had been remarried she would have been an adulterer, but when her husband died she was no longer under the law and was free to remarry. The widow is Israel, and her husband was the Mosaic system. Israel was bound to the Mosaic system for the "life" of the Mosaic system, but when the Mosaic system "died" Israel was freed from it, and could be married again this time to Christ and she was no adulterous for doing so.
It becomes a confusing metaphor because Paul is talking about the law with regard to the widow, and THE LAW which the husband represented, but when this is seen, it becomes an easily understood metaphor.
The whole tangent that Paul begins in Romans seven jumps off of this line:
"For when we were in the flesh..."
Paul associates himself with the reader - when "we" (Christians) were in the flesh we did such and such - but now we do it differently the old way looked like this but God be praised, I have been set free from that and there is no condemnation to me, because I am in Christ Jesus.
When I read that part of Romans seven, I see a parenthetical that makes perfect sense in the argument Paul is laying out - we were slaves of sin, when we were in the flesh this is how we acted - thank God I am delivered from this body of sin and death, that is, thank God I have been saved from the way I formerly was.
Thus Romans seven describes a carnal attempt to be obedient - and Paul says, I used to be like that when I was in the flesh, but thank God, I am in the Spirit and am no longer like that.
You see - that is what Christ died to set us free from. That is Paul's point - how can we who have been set free from sin continue in it.
Let me know if this is confusing.
posted by Daniel @
| Carnal Christianity Part I
|Test question #1: Jesus, by his own testimony, came to call sinners to <fill in the blank>. (hint: see Luke 5:32).
Background: Scripture teaches that no one can come to Christ unless God the father draws him (c.f. John 6:44), and that God grants repentance (c.f. 2 Timothy 2:25) in order that they might "come to the truth" - that is, God grants repentance in order to lead men to eternal life (c.f. Acts 11:18) through the gospel; a message that Paul described as repentance towards God and faith towards Jesus Christ.
In Jeremiah 13:23 the question is rhetorically asked, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?" and the presumed answer is no. It is referring of course to ones ability to start doing good when one is accustomed to doing evil - that is, it is referring to repentance.
When scripture asks whether a man can repent when that same man is accustomed to doing evil, the answer given is "No, he cannot." Yet doesn't God command all men everywhere to repent?
These two ideas only seem to be at odds with each other when we imagine that God expects us to repent all by ourselves. If we begin with that premise, we will either say that a leopard -can- (in his own strength) change his spots, or we must conclude that God doesn't really command us to repent - but either way - we have to drop one if we are going to be intellectually consistent.
The proper understanding however drops neither - we cannot change our spots (repent) yet we are commanded to do so. This was well understood by Augustine of Hippo who prayed that God would give what He commanded and command whatever He would. Recall that Pelagius took exception to that prayer, feeling as he did (and this is of course a rank heresy that we call Pelagianism) that the human race did not suffer any corruption on account of Adam's sin and that men therefore were perfectly able to choose to do good without divine assistance. The orthodox understanding is that God -does- command us to do what we are not able to do apart from Him.
What do the scriptures say? They tell us that the purpose of the law was not to justify us, but to condemn us so that we would understand our "less than good" estate, and see ourselves as sinners in need of salvation - that is, in need of a Savior.
Now granted this is all Christianity 101 - I mean this isn't meant to be meat, but colostrum (mother's milk) - the first milk, the very beginning truths. I go over them only because I am inclined towards thoroughness.
Which bring us back to the point at hand - unbelievers are indeed commanded to repent and believe (turn to God), but they have no power in their unregenerate state to do either. That is why scripture makes it plain that God grants both the faith that saves, and the repentance that opens the way to that faith.
Why is it important (in the context of carnal Christianity) for us to understand that:
- God commands us to both repent and believe, and
- That we have no power in ourselves to repent, and
- That we have no power in ourselves to believe, and
- That no one comes to Christ whom God does not draw to Christ
- That God grants repentance to the one he draws to Christ, and
- That God gives grace through faith to the one whom He draws to Christ?
It is important because when we start tossing around labels such as "Carnal Christian" we want to define them up front.
The first case I want to talk about isn't a Christian at all - but is a deceived false convert. They think they are a Christian, but they have no oil in their lamp. They received a false or incomplete gospel, were not converted by it, but because they give intellectual consent to it, they imagine themselves to be Christians - as though one could enter the kingdom just because they agreed with the facts. They are absolutely sincere, and in the strength of their own will and delusion, they set about trying to be like Christ as best they can - they may or may not attend church, read the bible, and pray regularly. They are tares, and the whole point of the tare is that it looks like a genuine stalk of wheat.
The most common false convert is the one who came to Christ intellectually, without turning from their sin. They no doubt arrive at this persuasion because they have been told that all one must do in order to be saved is acknowledge certain facts as being true:
- That they are sinners,
- that sinners are condemned because of their sin,
- that Jesus is the son of God,
- that Jesus died to save sinners,
- that God raised Christ from the dead, and
- that God promised to save all who come to Christ.
We want to be ABSOLUTELY clear on this point. That --is-- enough information to bring a person into a saving relationship with Christ.
The trouble is, given this information the prospect is then encouraged to pray a prayer that more or less says, "I am a sinner, please save me Jesus" and the moment they do they are slapped on the back, gripped in a firm handshake and told, "Welcome to the fold brother - you are a Christian!"
To be sure, SOME will say the prayer with their mouths while in their hearts there come a moment of absolute surrender to Christ - in the very moment of time that they agree within themselves that they are no longer the lord of their own life, but that Christ -IS- their rightful Lord, and that they are going to obey Him even if they go to hell at the end of it all - in that moment God's Spirit produces saving faith in them, comes into them, and justifies them. In that moment, when they set aside for the first time in their life their rebellion - in that moment when they step for the first time into the light - in that very moment God is no longer restrained, but the very moment they step into the light God's promise (the Holy Spirit) enters into them, and they are justified. Not that they produced this effect themselves, but that God granted them the repentance that opened the way to faith, and allowed them to truly believe Jesus would do exactly what He said He was going to do. Whether they sin from that moment on or not is not the point - what matters is that the way of life was opened through faith and repentance just as the scriptures teach.
However, SOME, having the same information, and assenting to the truthfulness of the facts will say the same prayer with their mouths but they will not come to Christ because in their heart they will not be willing to let go of their sin. These will not receive the Holy Spirit, nor will they be justified for having "prayed" a sinner's prayer. You see, the gospel promise is that God will save all those who come to Christ, but there is a way to go through the motions without actually coming to Christ because one refuses to surrender their life to Him.
The moment this latter group chants their Salvation Mantra™ they are welcomed into the fold by the well meaning, but misguided person who led them
to Christ in their chant. The more genuine of these will rightly doubt the efficacy of their prayer - but often these will be sternly warned that such doubts are sinful, and must never, ever be entertained!
These same will think they are Christians, because a person whom they regard to be Christian has assured them that they are! They have heard a gospel, and prayed a prayer - and although they are exactly the same person they were before they prayed the prayer, yet they are told that they are now a Christian, and encouraged to act appropriately thereafter. So these place their faith in their prayer, and try ever after to be a Christian. Their "faith" is in the validity of the truths, and the fact that they said a prayer. Their trust is not in God, their trust is instead in themselves - that they have believed the right things, prayed to the right guy, and more or less jumped through all the right hoops. It is little wonder that such as these fear losing the salvation they hope they actually posses - they were never trusting in God to save them, but were in fact trusting in themselves to have done everything right.
Now some genuine Christians experience doubt as well, I am not suggesting that doubt identifies false religion - but a genuine convert will NEVER doubt, nor can they deny that something profoundly changed inside themselves the moment they truly repented/believed.
But we aren't talking about genuine salvation at the moment - we are instead focusing on the tares. The tares look like wheat, that is, they appear to be genuine on the outside - but they are and remain persuaded that their salvation comes as a result of  assenting to the truthfulness of certain biblical truths and  praying the right prayer because they acknowledged that certain truths are true.
We want to be clear before we go much further - when we call the latter gospel a "false gospel" we do not mean to say that the information associated with it is necessarily false, or that those who preach it are insincere or malicious. That is, We do not say that the facts presented in that gospel are invalid...
What we are saying is that what is being presented as the "way of salvation" either obscures or confuses the genuine way of salvation.
Surely we must show people that according to God's word we are all sinners, we must tell people that they are without hope in the world outside of Christ, we must present to them the truth that God provided a way for sinners to come to Himself.
Presenting these facts as factual is not wrong, but we must also explain that our faith is -not- simply that these facts are true, but that we trust Christ to truly accept us into Himself as He promised to do. It is subtle but there is a world of difference between trusting in facts and trusting in Christ. We cannot trust in Christ without trusting the facts, but trusting the facts is not the same as trusing int Christ.
The way of salvation does more than define the fact that there is no way to God except being in Christ - it operates upon that fact. There is no communion between light and dark - the way of grace is paved in genuine surrender - and that it is this very surrender that transcends our intellectual assent and enables us to exercise genuine saving faith in Christ.
We explain that in order to be saved you must come to Christ, and that you cannot come to Christ with a heart that remains in rebellion against Christ. Christ can forgive a former rebel, but he cannot receive one who is currently in rebellion. When God grants grace to the one who humbles himself, faith comes in like a flood, poured into them through the receiving of the Holy Spirit, but if that person stands aloof from God by holding onto their rebellion as they jump through the gospel hoops - the same is a deceiver and deceived.
The fact is that if we truly come to Christ we will truly be saved - and the faith that saves us will not have been generated by us, but will be a gift we received according to God's promise the moment we stepped into the light that the gospel gives.
There are those however who rail against this idea that you must have clean hands in order to ascend the holy hill of God. They rage against this idea, because they regard humility as a "work" feeling as they do that faith is entirely an intellectual persuasion, and as such: they paint anything more than a purely intellectual decision as a human work - and reject it as false. They don't stop to think that the very "faith" they think is saving them is by this same definition a work, since it is a human effort that they are relying on.
Nevertheless some who hold and teach this view -are- genuine Christians, although they weren't saved by the way of salvation they both defend and present to others - yet they become deceived or persuaded falsely, and in their error they begin to misrepresent the role of repentance in the way of salvation.
These rail therefore against the true way of salvation because they have painted repentance in their own understanding with the brush of a cartoonist. They imagine that those who hold to the genuine gospel are teaching that you must (of your own strength and initiative) start doing good (which they caricature as "repentance") in order to (or at least prior to) believe. That is they reject the genuine way of salvation because they don't understand the role repentance plays in it. So they paint repentance as a "work" and In the strength of such a misrepresented and cartoonish facsimile, they reject the true way of salvation as a "works" gospel, and dismiss it summarily. To be sure, some spend all their time dismissing it ad nauseum. I am convinced that many of these really don't see their deception which is why they deserve our patience and our love (and -not- simply our pity or disdain).
I don't mind going over it again to make the point clear. God is light, and as such, by definition He cannot have fellowship with darkness. No one can bring darkness with them into the light - that is, there is no communion or fellowship between darkness and light. The one who enters God's holy hill must have clean hands - that is, they cannot come to God on the one hand while remaining rebellious on the other. They either remain rebellious and do not come to God (no matter what their mouth might chant), or they step out into the light in surrender. I am talking here about salvation. It isn't that they "stop sinning" in order to come to God - it is that they must come to God in the light - and the light isn't "sinlessness" it is genuine surrender.
So the first sort of "Carnal Christian" that we identify is not even a real Christian at all, but a false convert - a person who calls themselves a Christian because they followed a recipe that they are convinced has made them a Christian. The recipe can be as elaborate as the one described above, or as simple as an unbeliever deciding that today they are going to start calling themselves a Christian and attending a church. Whether they go through the fence, under it or over it is of no consequence - they did not go through the gate, they are not legitimate sons.
This is all a rather long way of saying, that there are some "Christians" who think they are "Carnal Christians" when in fact that are deceived and simply "carnal." The first group therefore of "carnal Christians" are definitely carnal, but they are not genuinely Christian - they just wear the label and are deceived themselves into thinking they have a right to it.
My next post in this series is going to be on genuine Christians who are or become carnal.
posted by Daniel @