It’s a privilege to grow up in a Christian environment, and be taught the Word of God as a child. (2Ti 3:15) If that’s been our heritage, we should be grateful, yet not presume we’ve always been a child of God because of this.
We all start out dead to God (Ep 2:1), seeking our own way and will (Tit 3:3), blind in our ignorance, alienated from God’s life (Ep 4:18) and under His wrath. (Ep 2:3) We may not seem as bad as those from more broken backgrounds, but measuring sin as the world does is unwise at best: in our selfishness and pride we’ve all been an abomination to God. (Pr 16:5)
So, God says we must each be born again (Jn 3:7), born anew, each and every one of us; in order to enter Heaven, at some point we must be converted (Mt 18:3), regenerated, made alive. (Ep 2:5).
It isn’t that we must know the exact day and hour we came to Christ, any more than we’d know exactly when we were born physically if no one told us. But the significance of the new birth, requiring that we understand the basics of the gospel and trust God for eternal salvation, and the radical inward transformationthat always accompanies this miracle of God (Jn 1:13), suggest we’ll know the general time period, and distinctly remember experiencing assurance of salvation as we began our faith journey. (1Th 1:5)
Thinking we’re Christians simply because our parents were, or because they had us baptized, is to ignore our need for personal salvation and regeneration. There’s no guarantee of heaven in any ritual, or in the faith of others (Ga 6:15): we must each strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), seeking God until we find Him for ourselves. (He 11:6)
We should each examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith, and prove our salvation (2Co 13:5), laying hold on eternal life (1Ti 6:12), and ensuring the evidences which accompany salvation appear in our own lives. (He 6:9)
God cares about what we say; He’s paying attention to and recording every idle word. (Re 20:12) The LORD will require every one of us to give an explanation to Him before the universe for each and every word we’ve ever spoken, all of them, whywe said what we said, what our motivation was. (Mt 12:36) We’ll be judged, justified or condemned, based on what we’ve uttered. (vs 37)
This is because our speech reveals our inmost nature, what we’re thinking and feeling is eventually expressed with our tongues. (vss 34-35) Most mere behavior is not necessarily good or bad, in and of itself: what gives an action its moral nature is whyit’s done. What we say reveals our intent.
And our tongue, the enabler of speech, is a fire, a veritable world of iniquity, because it’s inextricably linked to our hearts, which are set on fire of Hell itself. (Ja 3:6) As we think in our hearts, so we are (Pr 23:7), and so we speak.
In light of this, we should be very careful with our hearts, continually examining ourselves for selfish, prideful motivations, constantly seeking God for a clean heart (Ps 51:10), that He would help us think, feel and speak rightly. (Ps 19:14)
We should measure our words and be precise in our speech, purifying our promises, only speaking what we fully intend to do. (Nu 30:2) We guard our mouths as with a bridle (Ps 39:1b) and think carefully before we speak. (Ja 1:19) We should always say what we mean and mean what we say, needing no oath to mark our sincerity. (Ja 5:12)
Our words are so powerful that God provides a remedy to correct commitments we happen make thoughtlessly, under duress, when we’re pressured in the heat of the moment to vow without proper time to examine our motives and consider the implications of what we’re saying. (Le 5:4)
In such cases, when we come to ourselves and realize what we’ve done, that we’ve committed ourselves in a manner that’s contrary to Love (Le 19:18), we promptly confess our sin, repent, and reconcile with God. (vs 5) God mercifully allows us to bring a sacrifice to Him to atone for our ways: it costs a life, one offered up in our stead (vs 6); it’s no light thing.
We can thus give account for careless words, spoken hastily and thoughtlessly, in advance, and address them now so we won’t be held accountable on Judgement Day. But words spoken under normal circumstances, with our wits about us, are etched into eternity for all to ponder. (Lk 12:3)
To think we can say whatever we like to get our way, to claim our lips are our own, that no one’s Lord over us (Ps 12:4), is to reveal a true enmity against Heaven. God’s people do not live like this. (Ps 39:1a)
As God did in Creation, it is through the spoken word that we who are made in His image bring forth metaphysical reality into existence from the chaos of the void before us; with our speech we create the present from the future to be eternally preserved in the past. We wound, we heal, we encourage and exhort, engaging in spiritual conflict for good or for evil. (Pr 12:18) Let us create soberly, fearfully, wisely.
Each of us is an individual, uniquely and personally designed by God (Ps 119:73), made in His image. Yet as believers in God we’re also part of something larger, the body of Christ (1Co 12:27), thus members one of another. (Ro 12:5)
This body of Christ, of which every believer is a member, must then extend across time and space, comprising many distinct living building blocks (1Pe 2:5), all being continuously knit together into a single organism (Col 2:19), as actual members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. (Ep 5:30)
As Christ raised Himself, His divine body, from the dead, making Himself alive again, overcoming death and the grave, those in Christ are raised up together with Him. (Col 2:13) It is as though the Resurrection occurs both as an historical event, and also as a timeless, ongoing reality, outside of time and space.
As God is ever present in every moment of time, continually experiencing every instant of time all the time, He is always there at the instant of the Resurrection of Christ, always defeating death permanently and fully and completely in Christ.
And in His Resurrection, Jesus Christ is also quickening each believer, raising each particular soul from both physical and spiritual death to be forever alive together with Him and in Him. (1Co 15:22)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a verifiable historical fact which provesand demonstrates that something profound is continually happening, and that it will continue to happen, until it is complete (Php 1:6): until all that are in Christ are raised to perfection and newness of life. (Ro 6:4)
As surely as Christ has risen, so each and every living soul in Him will one day be quickened in a spiritual body like His to eternal life. (1Co 15:49) Christ is the Firstfuits, the promise and first evidence of the coming harvest: the rest of us who are in Him. (1Co 15:23)
Our resurrection from the dead has already happened in Christ (Ep 2:6); God sees the end from the beginning as if it were altogether one, and calls those things which be not as though they already were. (Ro 4:17) It’s done — Christ leaves none of His own behind. (Jn 6:39)
Grace may be the most important word in the Christian Faith. We’re savedby grace (Ep 2:8) and we standin grace. (Ro 5:2) If we get this foundational concept wrong, we may call our theology Christian, but it may still be foreign to God, and leave us with false hope.
God exhorts us to earnestly contend for the authentic, apostolic faith (Jud 3) because false teachers promote a counterfeit Christianity by changing the definition of grace, turning it into permission to indulge, essentially denying God’s nature. (vs 4)
Grace is commonly defined to be the unmerited favor of God, the idea that we may freely enjoy the blessings of God without deserving them. Since those who receive Christ are forgiven and loved by God unconditionally, the claim is that we’re free to sin against God on purpose, that even if we sin deliberately, God will never be angry or disappointed in us: He’s taken care of our sin in Christ. In other words, defining grace this way means we can receive all the benefits of salvation merely by receiving Christ as Savior, and that receiving Him as Lord is optional.
This teaching on grace effectively turns it into a type of open-ended leniency, permission to pursue our own interests, passions, and lusts. This is what Jude calls turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, exposing those who promote this as ungodly, denying the Lordship of Christ. (Jud 4)
Routinely overlooking the willful, wrongful behavior of those we love is unhealthy at best. Claiming God is this way, and that we should be too, is foolish. God simply isn’t like this; He cares very deeply how we act, being grieved and angered by all intentional sin (He 10:26-27) This is clear in the Word, proof of His love. (Re 3:19)
The problem with the common definition of grace is that it fails to account for the miracle of the new birth, and the transforming dynamic inherent in grace. Grace isn’t freedom tosin, it’s freedom fromsin (Ro 6:14); grace is God providing us a new nature (2Co 5:17) that’s inclined to obey Him. (1Pe 1:2)
Let no one deceive us (1Jn 3:7): those in Christ have received Him as He truly is, as both Savior and Lord. (Jn 1:12) Those who carelessly and willfully disobey Him as a manner of life don’t yet know Him. (1Jn 3:9)
The relentless assaults of false teachers require us to earnestly contend for the basics of godly faith as we engage each other to fight the good fight and lay hold on eternal life. (1Ti 6:12) God’s Word is unmistakably clear: those who don’t love Jesus Christ don’t belong to Him (1Co 16:22), and all who aren’t trying their best to honor and obey Him don’t love Him. (Jn 14:23)
Christ commands us to be perfect (Mt_5:48); the Greek is teleios: complete, mature, flawless, morally perfect. This is an impossible standard, clearly, but it’s not surprising: God doesn’t tolerate imperfection, and He shouldn’t. (De 18:13) He requires perfection of us because it’s right for Him to do so (Re 3:2); our lack of ability is irrelevant. (Pr 20:9)
So, how should we respond to this demand for moral perfection? There are dangers here we do well to avoid.
Firstly, we shouldn’t complain about God being unfair: fair is giving us all what we deserve – eternal tormentin the Lake of Fire. We’re all desperately wicked(Je 17:9), unbelievably sinful, even on our best day. (Is 64:6) There’s no requirement for God to lower the righteous standard simply because we’ve chosen to sin and corrupt our will. Borrowing more than we can ever repay, and gambling it all away, doesn’t mean we owe any less. We’re guilty as charged: we need mercy.(Lk 18:13)
Secondly, we shouldn’t try to lower the standard for ourselves (Mt 18:26); aiming for anything less than perfection is willful sin (He 10:26); choosing this as a life pattern is insolent, arrogant, disrespectful to God – inexcusable. (vs 27) Every willful sin is a personal affront to God; He hates all who break His laws on purpose. (Ps 5:5) We must try our best, our very best, to be as perfect as possible (2Pe 1:5-7), as poor as that might be. (Php 3:12)
Thirdly, we must ground ourselves in the unconditional love of God (Ep 3:19): God loves each of us because He made each of us uniquely in His image, with His own hands. (Ps 119:73) Real love isn’t conditioned on behavior (Mt 5:44-45): God loves the righteous and the sinner equivalently, because that’s His holy nature.
We must be grounded in the love of God to retain our sanity before Him while we’re stained in our sin. (He 11:6) Our sin is repulsive to Him; it makes Him indignant(Mi 7:9), and every single one of our sins must be dealt with firmly and justly. Yet even in His anger God Is Good – there isn’t a malicious bone in God’s body, and we must count on this in order to function as we consider the second death. While there’s any doubt about our standing before Him, we remain in dreadful peril.
The only sane response to God’s demand for perfection is to find refuge in Christ through the gospel. The terrorof God moves us to seek Him(2Co 5:11), to pursue salvation from our sin until we know we’re safe in Christ, absolutely sure. (1Jn 5:13) We can not afford to stand before God all on our own, and be judged according to our own works.
We should examine ourselves very carefully to ensure that we’re in the faith; we should be able to prove this. (2Co 13:5) There are things that accompany salvation (He 6:9); without these manifest in our lives we’re deceiving ourselves. (Ja 1:22) Until we’re perfectly sure of our eternal destiny, we strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), and labor to enter into His rest(He 4:11); diligently making our election sure. (2Pe 1:10)
We work this out, our own salvation from both the penalty and power of sin in our lives, with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) We don’t rest until we know that Christ Himself is our own personal advocate, dying in our place for us, giving us His perfect righteousness (1Jn 2:1) and working His righteousness in us (Ep 2:10), making us as eternally safe from the wrath of God as He is.
It is only from the safety of eternal rest that we pursue perfection with joy, not to be saved, but because this is right, aligned with our new nature to love and obey God. (Ps 119:4) We don’t presume the liberty to sin because He has redeemed us.
And as we pursue God, we don’t let others define good and evil for us, telling us what perfection looks like – we go back to Torah(Is 8:20) and check every requirement against it (Ac 17:11), searching out truth for ourselves. (Ps 119:99) One of Satan’s tactics is to both add to the Word and take away from it (De 4:2), imposing such unhealthy, burdensome regulations that we either rebel, or we or become hateful, proud and judgmental in keeping them. (Mt 23:4)
Finally, and this is key, we don’t focus overly much on ourselves, on our own behavior and how we’re failing; we stop trying in our own strength to be perfect. We grow in holiness through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit as we behold Jesus Christ. (2Co 3:18) Behold Him and rejoice in Him (Php 4:4); He’s the one who gives us faith(He 12:2), our access to grace, the power to live for God. (Ro 5:2) Christ Himself is our life (Col 3:4), and our sanctification. (1Co 1:30)
We behold Christ primarily through Torah, (Ps 119:18), which shows us where we need cleansing (Ps 119:9), then we ask for help to obey (vs 10), hiding His Word in your heart and meditating on it (Ps 119:97) so we won’t sin against Him. (vs 11)
As we receive with meekness the engrafted Word, beholding the living Christ within it, the lies we believe, which keep us in bondage, are exposed and corrected through God’s gift of repentance. (2Ti 2:25-26) This is how Christ transforms us and delivers us from sin. (Ja 1:21) He Himself is the Word, giving us His life (Ps 119:50) through the scriptures (Jn 6:63), enabling us to live uprightly.
We don’t dwell on our own sin, focusing on it constantly; there’s a specific season for this, in which we’re to afflict ourselves. (Ja 4:9) As a general pattern we meditate on Christ through His word (Php 4:8); He points out things that are amiss, where we’re off the mark, imperfect (He 4:12), as He is pleased to work in us.
As He does reveal our sin to us, our imperfections, flaws and weaknesses, we immediately confess and agree with Him, asking Him to quicken and enable us to obey Him (Ps 119:35), and to reveal specific scriptures to us which shed light on our darkness and lies. (Ps 119:130) We meditate on these texts until they become part of us, prayerfully quoting them whenever we feel tempted. (Mt 4:4) This is how we take the sword, the sword of the Spirit, and fight the good fight of faith (1Ti 6:12), abiding in Him, so we won’t be ashamed before Him when He comes. (1Jn 2:28)