Vessels of Mercy

Predestination and election are difficult to understand until we diligently consider the context — the dreadfully sinful human condition: Man’s Depravity. Apart from carefully integrating this concept throughout our theology, many fundamental precepts of Scripture appear hopelessly irreconcilable.

For example, how can God choose who will be saved while respecting Man’s Free Will? Similarly, How can a loving God be in total control when there’s so much evil and suffering? These are perhaps the hardest questions, and they aren’t peripheral; they’re fundamental spiritual bedrock. We can’t afford to dismiss them, yet resolving such mysteries seems impossible. Many stumble here, and go no further.

Yet God Himself gives us the key by addressing the problem directly, asking these same questions, and then answering them. God’s purpose in election will be realized (Ro 9:11) yet God will be totally righteous in it all (14), because God’s not obligated to be merciful (15) — by definition: mercy is undeserved, never justly required.

The reality is, if God didn’t elect anyone, choose anyone to be saved, and He let us all go our own way — we would: every last one of us would walk away from Him; we would not come to Him. (Mt 22:3) This would be fair, certainly, but then Heaven would be desolate (Lk 14:16-18a), and the world filled with even more evil and suffering than it already is. (Ge 6:5) This is what Depravity teaches us (11), if we listen. (Je 17:9)

So, if God chooses to intervene in a few of us, choosing us out from the masses and giving us new hearts and new wills that don’t run away, He’s showing mercy in election, not being unjust.

God never actually turns anyone away who seeks Him, or causes anyone to do evil; He controls by mercifully restraining us from acting out our full evil nature according to His sovereign purposes. (2Th 2:7) There’s nothing at all inappropriate about restraining evil; so, God’s in absolute control of all that happens (Ep 1:11), yet He’s also perfectly good, just and merciful; He’s righteous and holy in all He does. (Ps 145:17)

In giving us new hearts God doesn’t force us against our will; what He does in His elect is heal our will, displacing our love of lies, which moved us to distrust and despise Him, with a love for truth; He works in us to will according to His good pleasure (Php 2:13), such that we begin to want to do good. He works all this in us for our good and for His glory. (Ro 8:28)

The only remaining challenge here is: Why doesn’t God save everyone if He has this ability? The answer lies in God’s glory: He’s most glorified in fully revealing His nature, His wrath and power as well as His love and mercy. (Ro 9:22-23) If God didn’t let most all of His enemies act like enemies, and treat them as He does, we’d know much less about Him, so that’s exactly what He’s doing; God is perfectly revealing and glorifying Himself by only saving a few. (Re 15:3)

Rather than faulting God for being absolutely sovereign, and for choosing only a remnant to be saved, we ought to let all the blame for evil lie where it truly belongs: with sinful Man, and glorify God for His mercy. (Ro 15:9) Rather than complaining and running away, we seek God until we find Him (He 11:6), and discover that we’re indeed elect, vessels of divine mercy. (Ro 9:23)

And in being vessels of infinite mercy (Ps 103:11), undeserving recipients of God’s kindness, love and favor, we also ought to be merciful (Lk 6:36), to be compassionate toward those who are out of the way (He 5:2), esteeming others better than ourselves. (Php 2:3)

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Thy Judgments Are Right

The goodness of God ensures His judgements are right (Ps 119:75); the righteous understand that any affliction or punishment He prescribes is perfectly appropriate, faithful and just, more than deserved. (67,71) To resist or complain when God afflicts us is to defiantly reject His goodness and claim He’s inherently malevolent and evil; it’s exalting ourselves above God, arrogant presumption of the highest order (Ps 19:13), insisting we know better. (Ge 3:22)

This includes all those suffering everlasting punishment (Mt 25:46); to believe in God and receive Him from there, from Hell itself, which the wicked should certainly still do (Re 22:17), is to acknowledge that all divine punishments are appropriate in response to offenses and crimes committed against God; the wicked shouldn’t complain against or resist the wrath of God, even from Hell. (Re 15:4) They should exclaim with all Heaven that God’s judgments are true and right. (Re 16:7)

However, the wicked will not do this (Ge 4:13), because the very wellspring of wickedness is the belief that God is not good, that He is unjust. (Ge 3:5) Even to escape the fires of Hell itself, the wicked won’t repent of this sin against God; they’ll stubbornly persist in it. (Re 6:16)

Consider the story Christ tells of a rich man in Hell, lifting up his eyes in torment, pleading with Abraham to relieve him in his misery. (Lk 16:23-24) He plays on mercy to tempt the righteous to do what God will not do, and thereby admit God’s justice is too severe. Yet Abraham aligns with God and refuses, reminding the rich man of his sins against God and Man, having profoundly neglected the helpless in their earthly suffering (21), and of the righteous consequences. (25)

The rich man’s next move is to again beg Abraham to do something else God will not do: send someone back from the dead just to warn his family to flee the wrath to come. (27-28) This is a second attack upon God, directed at His self-revelation, claiming it’s insufficient, again implying His punishments are unjust. Abraham again refuses, pointing out that his family has perfectly sufficient proof of God’s character and expectation: God has plainly revealed Himself in Torah and the Prophets. (29)

The rich man persists in his denial of the sufficiency of God’s provision, insisting that his family would repent and be saved if they witnessed such a spectacular miracle. (30) This is a third arrogant attack upon God, directed at His knowledge of Man: his presumption is that God is misinformed, that we’re mostly reasonable people, his family in particular, undeserving of eternal punishment; we simply lack sufficient warning to live in light of eternity. Yet Abraham remains faithful: God knows Man’s depraved heart and is revealing Himself to mankind accordingly.  (31)

What would God do if the wicked softened their hearts in Hell and acknowledged His goodness? If we know God well we know how He’d respond: His mercy is infinite toward those who fear Him. (Ps 103:11)

Why won’t the wicked honor God then, even from Hell? Why would anyone ever deliberately sin against God? This is indeed the true mystery, the mystery of iniquity (2Th 2:7): the desperate wickedness of Man; the godly are horrified by it; we may never fully understand it. (Je 17:9)

In repentance, regardless of our suffering at God’s hands (La 3:9), we admit to receiving the due reward of our deeds (Lk 23:41) and heed God’s warning to flee the wrath to come. (Lk 3:7) This is God’s gift to all who are willing to acknowledge that He is, and that He faithfully rewards all who diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)

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How Can Ye Believe?

Christ asks how we can believe in God when we’re more concerned about Man’s approval than God’s? (Jn 5:44) The implication is we can’t: before we can believe in God we must be seeking God’s kingdom and pleasure first and foremost as a manner of life. (He 11:6) If we’re out to please others we aren’t servants of Christ (Ga 1:10); and if we aren’t obeying Christ we aren’t seeking Him – we’re His enemies, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

This follows from the fact that esteeming Man’s approval above God’s is to trust unfaithful sinners more than the Holy One; it’s believing in Man rather than God, disvaluing God by serving the creature more than the Creator. (Ro 1:25) So, preferring the praise of men is unbelief in God by definition.

This begs the question: what other conditions preclude us from having saving faith? Any disposition to sin intentionally, on purpose, means we don’t fear God (Ro 3:18): we don’t revere Him as our King. This also is to mistrust Him, to reject Him, to disbelieve in Him. Salvation is far from such a heart. (Ps 119:155)

Is believing in and trusting God even something we can decide to do? Is this subject to the power of our will at all? (Ro 9:16) Believing God exists is certainly a necessary first step, but that’s not the same as believing in Him, trusting Him, receiving Him as He has revealed Himself to be. (Jn 1:12-13)

Suppose a man stretches a tightrope across Niagara Falls and balances a wheelbarrow across the raging torrents. To cheering spectators he yells, “Do you believe I can push a man across in this wheelbarrow?”

How do you respond?  Can you make yourself believe? Is this an act of your will, like scratching your nose? Maybe you figure he can, so you nod in subtle agreement, but then, pointing directly at you he commands: “Get in!”

Ah! Now we’ll see if you believe! Perhaps you’d be willing to risk your life, but if you’re shaking like a leaf … if you have any doubt at all (Mk 11:23), any hesitation at all (Ja 1:6), any fear at all, this isn’t trust, belief – faithFaith is knowing you’re safer in that wheelbarrow than anywhere else in the universe – perfectly secure, chill enough to fall asleep. That isn’t something you can just will yourself into knowing. Faith in God is a miracle: it’s supernatural assurance. (He 10:22)

Consider, if placing saving faith in God is an act of our will then it’s a work; for if an act of the will isn’t a work, then nothing is a work. Acts of our will are works by definition.

However, believing on God saves us from sin (Ge 15:6), yet no work can save anyone from sin. (Tit 3:5) Since no work can save anyone from sin, experiencing saving faith in God can’t be our work; so faith can’t be an act of our will; this must be the work of God. (Jn 6:29)

Yet God commands us to repent and believe on Christ (Ac 17:30), so how can this not be an act of our will?

Well, God requires us to be perfect (Mt 5:48); this isn’t an action, but a state of being from which our actions originate, and one clearly beyond our reach. (Pr 30:29) God’s command doesn’t imply our ability; it’s righteous for God to demand perfection of us: He can’t rightly accept anything less. (Eze 18:20)

The reality is that faith and repentance aren’t things we do, or actions we take, but characteristics of our state of being as we’re transformed by God; they’re two sides of the same coin (Ac 20:21) – both are gifts of right beliefs, affections and desires, a new heart, a Godward disposition. We don’t do faith, we have faith … to trust and obey God when our blind heart is healed to see and know Him more as He truly is.

And to repent, to stop believing lies, to have faith and start believing truth, God must intervene: He must give us repentance and faith so we can identify and dismiss the lies as we acknowledge the truth. (2Ti 2:25) So, while God may command us to be a certain way (1Pe 1:15-16), this doesn’t imply that we’re actually able to obey; our will is broken and corrupt. (Je 13:23)

Faith is rooted in the divine nature from which godly action springs (Ja 2:18): what we need in order to believe in God is a new nature (Ga 6:15), and we just can’t decide to have one.

Our inability to align with holiness lies in our being in a state of unbelief and enmity against God (Ro 8:7); in this state we deliberately choose patterns of disobedience which further enslave our will. We are, in our broken state, eating the fruit of our own way and being filled with our own devices. (Pr 1:31) Engaging sin leads to deeper bondage, the continual weakening of our ability to resist sin and choose good. God isn’t responsible for this condition, for our inability to choose good: we are.

Alienation from God is the result of our own ignorance and blindness (Ep 4:18), which comes upon us as we reject the light (Jn 3:36) and respond inappropriately to God. (Ro 1:21) In blindness we make more choices which alienate us even farther from God (Ps 73:27), leading to ever deeper sin and bondage (Ro 1:24), such that we’re continually becoming more irrational, confused, deceived, believing more and more lies about God, others and ourselves. (2Ti 3:13)

We can no more escape this spiraling descent into bondage and corruption through the effort of our own will than a rotting corpse can raise itself up from the grave (Ep 5:14), or the non-existent can conceive and birth themselves (Jn 3:7), or the wicked can give themselves new hearts (Ez 18:31) – yet God requires this of us.

God isn’t cruel to command the impossible – He does this in mercy, as a promise: if we hear His command, humble ourselves and seek life from Him (Ps 119:107), trusting He’s faithful (1Co 1:9), He quickens us (Col 2:13), conceives us with the truth by an act of His own will (Ja 1:18), and gives us new spirits and hearts (Ez 36:26) which delight in His Law. (Ro 7:22)

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Theirs Is the Kingdom

Who are the children of God? Who will dwell eternally with Him? Am I one of these blessed souls? Are you?

We’ve been asking this question for millennia (Ps 15:1), and God’s been answering (2), but it’s easy to miss Him if we aren’t seeking. (Ro 10:16)

As Christ begins His public ministry, He gives us a window into this precious company of eternal souls, telling us what we’re like, how to begin to identify us. He doesn’t describe those with a particular theology or doctrine; rather, Christ shows us what we believe by describing our behavior, how we live. (Mt 7:20)

He begins with the poor in spirit (Mt 5:2): we who, finding ourselves entirely insufficient to meet God’s righteous standard on our own merit (Ro 7:18), to please Him in any way in our own strength (2Co 2:16), to even think clearly without Him – find God Himself to be our sufficiency. (2Co 3:5) We enter into His rest by faith. (He 4:10)

Note this well: these blessed souls, the poor in spirit, comprise the kingdom of God: in other words, all in God’s kingdom are poor in spirit, and no one else is – the kingdom is ours. (Mt 5:2b)

He continues to describe these precious souls – God calls us saints (Ep 1:1) – as those who mourn (Mt 5:4), who grieve as God’s law is broken (Ps 119:158), especially within the church. (1Co 5:2) Saints find no ease in the midst of sin (1Co 13:6); we’re afflicted in it, we mourn and weep over sin, both within and without. (Ja 4:9) As we do, we’re comforted: Christ is our sin, and He’s making us righteous. (2Co 5:21) He’s also restraining sin in the wicked according to His perfect will and plan (Ps 76:10), so we thank Him in and for everything. (Ep 5:20)

Christ continues to describe the blessed: we’re meek (Mt 5:5), submitted to God and obedient to Him (1Pe 1:2); we hunger and thirst after righteousness (Mt 5:6), continually pursuing the living God and wanting to be more like Him (Ro 2:7); we’re merciful (Mt 5:7), rejoicing when others repent and turn from their sin. (Lk 15:10); we’re pure in heart (Mt 5:8), cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2Co 7:1); we’re peacemakers (Mt 5:9), encouraging every soul around us to align with the eternal God. Consequently, we’re also persecuted (Mt 5:10), we don’t fit in with the world because we’re no longer of it. (Jn 15:19)

When we find God at work in our souls like this, conforming us to the image of His beloved Son, we confirm we’re blessed, bound for eternity with God: ours is the kingdom – it belongs to us, and no one else. (Ep 5:5-6)

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To Be Saved

The question of the ages: “What must I do to be saved?” (Ac 16:30) has a straightforward answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (31) Salvation isn’t complicated; little children can get this.

Yet, as simple as this is, we may miss it by changing believe on Jesus for something else. For example, we could say as Billy Graham did, believing on Jesus means repenting of our sins, asking Christ to come into our hearts and save us, and committing our lives to serve Him.

Just one little problem: no one in the Bible was saved like this, and in the end it didn’t even work for Dr. Graham himself (he had no assurance of Heaven). With the world ablaze in the wrath of God (Ro 1:18) and nowhere to hide (Re 20:11), we can’t afford to get this wrong.

To help us understand, God describes believing on Christ from multiple angles. It’s receiving Christ as He claimed to be (Jn 1:12a), believing on His name (b) … totally convinced He will do as He says He will do (Ro 4:21), that He’s trustworthy and perfectly good. (Ep 1:13) It means entering into His rest (He 4:3), ceasing from dependence upon our own works to gain acceptance with God (10), trusting implicitly in the finished work of Christ for our redemption (1Th 1:4-5a), the total payment of our sin debt to God. (Is 53:11)

God says we must be born again (Jn 3:7), conceived by God (Ja 1:18), quickened by the Holy Spirit (Ep 2:5), made a new creation. (Ga 6:15) We’re saved by grace through faith (Ep 2:8), supernatural confidence that only comes from the enabling power of God. This is a miracle, not a human work (Jn 1:13); only God can do this, with Man it’s impossible. (Mk 10:27)

So, if we don’t have supernatural assurance in the finished work of Christ, resting confidently in Him as our only hope of eternal salvation, trusting Him and believing in Him as He has called us to, knowing we are as safe from the wrath of God as Jesus Christ Himself, this then is our greatest need. Let us not go back to a memory of praying to receive Christ, or pray again to receive Him now, but let us look to the cross itself (1Co 2:2), asking God to reveal the Lamb of God to us (Jn 1:29), to give us faith in His blood. (Ro 3:25) Let us seek the Lord until we find Him (He 11:6), striving to enter the narrow gate, until we know He has borne our sins in His own body on the tree, and has set us eternally right with God. (1Pe 2:24)

Give diligence to make your calling and election sure – we cannot accept “not sure” for an answer. (2Pe 1:10) His death is available to us all (2Co 5:15) that we may know for certain that we have eternal life. (1Jn 5:13)

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Lay Hold

Paul tells Timothy, an earnest Christian, to lay hold on eternal life (1Ti 6:12), and to encourage others to do the same. (vs 17-19) Why should we do this, lay hold on eternal life, if we know we already have eternal life? (1Jn 5:13) Why lay hold on what we can never lose? (2Ti 4:18)

For one, it’s exceedingly unwise to presume we have eternal salvation unless our lives are consistently reflecting this reality (He 6:9), proving it experientially (2Co 13:5), as we’re earnestly pursuing the living God (Php 3:12), to know Him more deeply, to obey Him more consistently, and to love Him more passionately. (2Pe 1:5-7) Those who are complacent in their walk with God, comfortable in this world and focused on it, are actually enemies of the cross, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

It’s good for us to intentionally and firmly grasp the salvation of God (Mt 11:12), to strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), to cleave to God and His redemption as our only hope, the precious anchor of our souls. (He 6:19) Our old man takes for granted the infinite mercy shown us in Christ, the incomprehensible price paid for our redemption (Ro 8:32), forgets we’ve been purged from our old sins, loses sight and perspective, and would pull us back into dullness and blindness. (2Pe 1:8-9)

Laying hold of eternal life is laying hold of Christ Himself: He is our life. (Col 3:4) It’s abiding in Him (Jn 15:4), partaking of Him (He 3:14), grounding ourselves in the promises and nature of God (Ep 3:17-19), continually reminding ourselves of His way and word. (Col 3:16) Those who won’t abide in Christ are trodden down (Ps 119:118) and cast away. (Jn 15:6)

Ultimately, laying hold of eternal life is letting go of everything else (Php 3:7-8) that we may know Him. (Jn 17:3)

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According to Our Works

In one sense, there are only two eternal destinations: Heaven and Hell, no third option. (Mt 25:46) So the chosen strive to enter Heaven (Lk 13:24), seeking the Lord for eternal salvation until they have it. (He 11:6) We can’t afford to get this wrong. (Mt 16:26)

But this dual nature of eternity can be misleading; in only two possible general outcomes, we might fail to see the many possibilities within each one: there’s surely joy in every heavenly place (Jud 24), and sorrow throughout Hell, but some heavenly states are much more desirable than others (Mt 5:19), and some hellish places far worse than others. (Mt 11:24)

Scripture is clear that we’ll all be recompensed based on our behavior (2Co 11:15); those who’ve done good will be resurrected to life, and those who’ve done evil will be raised unto damnation. (Jn 5:28-29) It isn’t that we can earn salvation by being good, but those who know God love Him (1Pe 2:7), and do their best to please Him. All the saints will receive a reward (2Ti 4:8), yet some of us serve God better than others, and will get a better reward for our labor; it makes a difference how we live. (Ep 6:8)

Christ will repay each and every one of us according to our works (Mt 16:27); so, as there are degrees of good and evil, there will also be degrees of rewards (Mt 5:19) and punishments. (Lk 12:47-48a)

To the degree that our works are deficient, corrupt, tainted with wrong motives, even as believers in Heaven we suffer loss. (1Co 3:13-15) And if we’re actually despising the truth, headed for Hell (Ro 2:8), we’d be much better off if we’d never known the truth at all. (2Pe 2:21)

The boundaries of both Heaven and Hell lie in the infinitude of God Himself. His fury can address the deepest depravity, of Satan himself, and His delight the purest heart, that of Christ Himself. He is capable of giving the saints more than the very best of us can possibly fathom or enjoy (1Co 2:9), and is able to crush His enemies (Lk 20:18) with a fierceness and indignation that even the most rebellious heart cannot endure. (Na 1:6)

Though we aren’t saved by works (Ep 2:8-9), how we live each day does make an eternal difference (Mt 10:42); whatever we sow we reap (Ga 6:7); the more we sow the more we reap, whether for good or evil. Every single choice is thus an eternal one.

Run for a reward in God (1Co 9:26); He calls us to run that we may obtain (1Co 9:24), so run with all your might — for this reward is God Himself. (Ge 15:1, Php 3:8)

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Children of Wrath

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 transformation that 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)

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Turning the Grace

Grace may be the most important word in the Christian Faith. We’re saved by grace (Ep 2:8) and we stand in 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 to sin, it’s freedom from sin (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)

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The Liberty

In Christ we’re free, absolutely free; He paid a great price to deliver us, so we should stand fast in that freedom, rejoice in it, and not return to bondage. (Ga 5:1) It’s like He’s given us the key to our own prison door and expects us to use it. But what exactly is freedom, and how do we walk in it?

Those who find A Scandalous Freedom (Steve Brown, 2004) in Christ, define freedom as “exemption or liberation from the control of some other person, or some arbitrary power.” (p.6) To them, freedom in Christ means we may live as we please, with no rules, constraints, expectations or obligations toward God. The claim is that we have God’s permission to do whatever we want; anything else is “a weird sort of freedom.” (p.7) Their claim is that God will love us just as much, be just as fond of us, no matter what we do, and that He will never be angry or disappointed in us. (p.14)

Yet Christ defines freedom differently, as the ability and tendency to keep God’s Law: when we break God’s law we become slaves to sin (Jn 8:34); so freedom is deliverance from the tendency and inclination to sin (Ro 7:24-25a), being given a new nature that aligns with God’s law. (He 8:10) He says, in effect, that freedom is the ability to live according to our design, and that our design is to be in right relationship with God, to love and obey Him; there’s no salvation, deliverance or freedom apart from this. (1Jn 3:7-8)

Freedom isn’t about having no master; it’s about having the right master. We all have a master: we either serve sin or we serve obedience. (Ro 6:16) Outside Christ we’re slaves to sin (vs 17), but Christ sets us free from sin to serve righteousness. (vs 18) Our new nature serves God’s law, but any lies remaining within us will always serve sin. (Ro 7:25b)

Sin always springs from a lie and takes us captive (2Ti 2:25-26); so freedom is walking in truth, for the truth makes us free. (Jn 8:32) Those who find permission in Christ to sin are simply twisting God’s grace into indulgence, missing Christ entirely. (Jud 1:4)

Lies about freedom are often rooted in a misunderstanding of grace, confusing it with leniency, mercy, and forgiveness, and thus reading related scriptures incorrectly. Grace is the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life. (Strong) Grace is the very power of God enabling us to live free of sin, to be aligned with His law. Grace is divine enablement, not unconditional forgiveness and love. So, thinking grace gives us freedom to sin is an open contradiction: it’s like freedom to be sick in our healing, or filthy in our cleansing. It is this misunderstanding of grace, turning God’s truth into a lie (Ro 1:25), which gives the half-truths of Christian “freedom” their insidious appeal.

It is true that God loves and forgives believers totally and unconditionally; there is no sin that Christ did not atone for, and He will never impute sin to any believer. (Ro 4:8) But this is only half of the truth.

The rest of the truth is that believers don’t sin, or break God’s Law (1Jn 3:4), on purpose, carelessly, negligently or presumptuously, as a manner of life. (1Jn 2:4) God has commanded us to keep His law diligently (Ps 119:4), and believers have a new nature that longs to be perfect (Ps 119:5); we actually are obedient to God (1Pe 1:2), inclined toward righteousness and holiness. (Ep 2:10)

Yet believers do sin (1Jn 1:8), missing the mark of perfection even as we try our best to obey. And when we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1Jn 2:1) So, once we have salvation we can never lose it: it is eternal. (He 5:9) But thinking this implies freedom to sin willfully and presumptuously is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel. (He 10:26-27)

As believers, we work out our deliverance from sin with fear and trembling (Php 2:13), knowing God Himself is working His grace in us according to His good pleasure. (vs 14) And He that began this good work in us will continue to perform it until the Day of Jesus Christ. (Php 1:6)

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