Sunday, February 12, 2012

Did I Really Hear That??

Driving home from church today, I was listening to the radio and some preacher was blasting away at sin (I think).  Maybe he was talking about the glory and power of the Lord through Christ to redeem humanity, but these are the words I actually heard: “You cannot sin your way to hell because your Defense Attorney (Jesus) is standing there with the bloody contract.”

No, really.  This I heard word for word.  As I was pulling my chin from the floorboard of my truck, my first thought was, “Oh no, he didn’t!”  My second thought was, “That sermon needs a whole lot of context to make that statement stand on scriptural integrity.”

I get that our Calvinist brethren speak of the fidelity and integrity of the Lord who redeems humanity when they uphold and defend the so-called “once saved, always saved” doctrine.  I get that the Lord cannot – will not – go back on His eternal Word … if that Word is indeed eternal.  What I don’t get is why we would reasonably think we can go straight from a profession of faith directly to the Pearly Gates and surrender to the realities and temptations of sin along the way. 

Why would we think we can live like the devil AFTER having been justified by faith before the Lord?  What sort of statement does this “faith” make besides “hypocrite” to our social and doubting neighbors, as in having our cake and eating it as well?  How can we reasonably come to think Jesus has become our ‘alibi’ rather than our Lord who can and does dictate, “fulfill”, and perfect “policy” (the Law)?  Where in Scripture is it written that after we profess Christ as Lord and Savior that we are no longer subject to His commandments all of which prohibit, rather than merely discourage, sin?  “By this we may be sure that we know Him, if we obey His commandments.  Whoever says, ‘I have come to know Him’, but does not obey His commandments is a liar” (1 John 2:3-4). 

Jesus says, “You will be hated by all because of My name; but the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22).  Salvation, it would seem, comes at the END of the long and tiresome journey after we have faithfully endured that journey to which we are called; justification comes at the beginning when we are made worthy to follow Him.  It is when we are made spiritually able to follow Him and given every reason to declare our allegiance to Him.  From that moment it becomes our choice in whether we will continue on the journey; the journey John Wesley believed to be the “process” of sanctification, “going on” intentionally and purposefully “toward perfection” (Hebrews 6:1-2). 

In Matthew’s context, Jesus is speaking to His disciples who have been given “authority over unclean spirits … and to cure every disease and every sickness” (Mt 10:1).  Prior to the declaration in verse 22, Jesus warns them (us) of all they (we) will encounter along the way; the persecutions, the mistreatment – and all along this way the disciples are told in no uncertain terms that they (we) are to “flee” (vs 23) rather than stand and fight.  And under no circumstances are they (we) to rely on their (our) own devices but rest instead in the hospitality of those who will receive them – AND – trust in the wisdom and benevolence of the Holy Spirit who will tell them (us) what to say when and only when it is time to say anything at all.  Remember that in Jesus’ last hours before Pilate, He finally stopped speaking, perhaps realizing in those final moments of the futility of speaking grace and truth in the face of lies.  In other words, Jesus commands His disciples to act and react not according to the “flesh” but according to the Spirit.  Sin is our act according to the “flesh”; righteousness is our act according to the Spirit when we “take up our cross and follow Him”.  Obeying Him.  And He commands – REQUIRES! – that we obey Him! 

St. Paul says, “Do we overthrow the law by this faith?  By no means!  On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31).  Prior to this, and within the same context, St. Paul also asks, “Why not say, ‘Let us do evil so that good may come?’  Their condemnation is deserved (Rm 3:8)!

That radio preacher misspoke on a grand scale!  There is no good in sin except that we “are tempted by [our] own desires”, not by the Lord (James 1:13, 14), and seek to fulfill these desires according to the “flesh”; that is, what is pleasing to us.  If we sin, we sin by the deliberate choices we make according to our preferences, but we are offered no excuses or free passes.  There is no biblical reason we are given to justify continuing “in the flesh” because whether “saved” or not, sin is an offense against the Lord – perhaps more so from those who have “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5).  Continuing in sin in spite of what we claim to know of Jesus’ sacrifice suggests Christ died in vain. 

Language is everything in our vocations as Christians – being “called” and “set apart”, in my opinion, rather than “saved” for all time before the journey has even begun – so we must be careful about the words we use in order to make a point about the, yes, “saving” power of the Lord God through Christ.  Before we can reach that point of spiritual perfection, however, we must come to realize and embrace the discipline that will be required of us if we are to endure the journey in the midst of persecution and social isolation from the “world” that is not interested in the Gospel but is instead in full pursuit of the fruits of the “flesh” which are, by their very nature, contrary to the Spirit.

Sin is still sin and always will be.  Grace is always grace … and neither the two shall meet or ever be compatible.     

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