Monday, October 22, 2007

Real Christians?

In studying and teaching from Galatians 2 during a conference this past weekend, our small group came to the conclusion that the tendency for we Christians who've been saved for a while, even in some reformed church settings, is to believe that we are somehow now required to do good works in order to be "real Christians." Even though we are convinced that we started by Grace through Faith, now we really have to grit our teeth and roll up our sleeves and get down to DOING all the right things to prove our Christianity is real.

Well there have been three items in particular which I think are worth sharing here.

1. Most recently, the article by the missionary Matt Kleberg, Does my failure mean that my Christianity is failure: Real Love is Transparent? In the article Matt writes: "To say that my failures somehow discredit Christianity completely disregards the cross! What pride and hypocrisy! Out of death we are made alive in Christ and our new identities are not bound up in our own righteousness, but rather the righteousness of Christ. It is by His perfection that we are presented as spotless before the Father. And while the Spirit does begin its healing work on our hearts, it is forever the work of Jesus that makes us children of God. I no longer have to disguise my sin for fear of nullifying the gospel. The gospel, rather, nullifies my sin, and frees me up to live as though transparent. The world can see through me- can see that I am needy and that there is a savior who triumphs over my brokenness."

2. The book The Lamb and the Fuhrer: Jesus Talks with Hitler. Reading this - especially the second half - was so convicting to me, because it helped to show just how very much closer my sin is to Hitler than to Jesus, how incredibly self-justifying my sin can be, and how corrupt my heart is capable of being. It was also like one of the conferences held at our church a couple of years ago. Speaking of a continuum of human sin, the presenter explained that we almost always like to see Hitler all the way on one end, and Mother Tereasa on the complete opposite side. But this view of "good deeds" is devoid of Jesus. It is Jesus who is on the complete opposite side, with Mother Tereasa right there next to Hitler, only a few baby steps away. Such is the darkness of human motives. Even the great preacher George Whitefield once wrote: "I cannot pray but I sin -- I cannot preach to you or any others but I sin -- I can do nothing without sin; and, as one expresseth it, my repentance wants to be repented of, and my tears to be washed in the precious blood of my dear Redeemer. Our best duties are as so many splendid sins." Surely he was a "real Christian."

And 3. John Piper's illustration (from desiringgod.org)

"A picture may help. God gave the law originally as a railroad track to guide Israel's obedience. The engine that was supposed to pull a person along the track was God's grace, the power of the Spirit. And the coupling between our car and the engine was faith, so that in the Old Testament, like the New Testament, salvation was by grace, through faith, along the track of obedience (or sanctification).

But this way of salvation is so uncomplimentary to the human ego (since God is having to do everything for us) it has never been very popular. The Pharisees, and many other Jews with them (as well as many people today), did an amazing thing. They took the railroad track—rails, ties, nails, and all—lifted it up on end, leaned it against the door of heaven, and turned it into a ladder to climb. This is the essence of legalism: Making the law into a long list of steps which we use to demonstrate our moral fitness to attain heaven. While the track is on the ground, some of the ceremonials ties could be pulled out from under the rails without ruining the track.

But as a ladder, every rung is crucial, or you may not be able to climb the next.

This ladder is what Paul tore down. He tore down the legalistic misuse of the law."


Even within the reformed faith, we see some who erect this ladder as part of the "Perseverence of the Saints." I have heard some say, "If you do not exhibit fruit of the Spirit or if you find yourself in pattern of sin, you may not be a believer." Self-examination is good, and sometimes we really do just have to whiteknuckle it rather than fall into the devasting consequences of giving into temptation. But Perseverence of the Saints was never meant to be cause fear and to nullify grace. Just the opposite. PofS is an affirmation that "He who began a good work in us will carry it through to completion, until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). The Bible is clear that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1) and that we have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer we who live life in the body, but it is Christ in us (Gal. 2:11-21). More importantly, God's Word says "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9). If we are telling others that the presence of sin is an indication that they are not, or might not, be saved, who will be honest? Who will confess their sins - one to another, as God's Word says we are to do?

Anyone have thoughts they'd like to share?

(UPDATE) I just found out that Desiring God did a conference with a segment titled "A Call For The Perseverence of the Saints." I'm going to have to watch and read and get back on here to comment - especially if I've missed something. But please do still feel to post your comments!! I know there are people who read my blog who are much more mature in the faith than I am - so go for it...

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