Sunday, February 1, 2009

Legalistic or Sinful?

Which Is Better? Legalistic Or Sinful?

Man’s nature is that of a sinner. It is inescapable until glorification. It seems that sanctification is where we struggle. How is a Christian to live? If man is sinful should we struggle to escape sin and risk legalism or simply “be” and ask for forgiveness.

Q. Hi, I stumbled upon your site and really enjoy it. As an ex Biblical Science major at Moody I find your approach to Biblical interpretation to be very sound. I have a question for which I would like your opinion. Thanks in advance.

Man’s nature is that of a sinner. It is inescapable until glorification. Following the justification / sanctification / glorification model I think the Bible is clear on the requirements of salvation and the future state of the believer after death or rapture. It seems that sanctification is where we struggle. How is a Christian to live? If man is sinful should we struggle to escape sin and risk legalism or simply “be” and ask for forgiveness.

A. I believe the New Testament clearly states that there are behavioral standards to which Christians should aspire. Every one of Paul’s letters contains some kind of admonition in that regard, and Peter, James and John are no different. These are meant to be expressions of gratitude for what’s already been given us, but mankind has turned them into another set of rules and added threats for non-compliance.

Salvation is a free gift given on the basis of belief, not behavior, and brings eternal comfort. But sanctification brings true fellowship with God, opening the door to additional blessings, as long as our attitude is right.

If we’re trying to live up to Biblical standards out of fear or a sense of duty, or for the sake of appearance, we’ve missed the point and will become the miserable wretch Paul described himself as being in Romans 7 (the bondage of legalism).

But if we do so purely out of our love for the Lord and because we want to please Him, He’ll reward us with blessings beyond measure, both in this world and in the next. (the blessing of grace) Same behavior, different motives, different outcome. It’s like the difference between wanting to do something, versus havng to do it. It changes our whole perspective.

And when we sin, as we often do, the application of 1 John 1:9 restores us, and it’s like it never happened.

More On Saved Or Not

Q. I have been reading your answers to several questions about who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. I certainly understand the nature of trusting in Jesus alone as the basis for our salvation. Yet it appears that you give little weight to the command to repent and turn from sin.

I also understand that our ability to turn from sin and live a holy life is part of sanctification and not salvation and is also the work of Christ. Yet, part of the condition of salvation is dying to self and to sin per Paul in Romans. How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:2) One can’t partake of the new life or new birth, if the death to self hasn’t preceded it. According to Paul, those belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.( Gal 5:24). We are new creations.

Sadly, the Christian church is full of unregenerate people who believe they have eternal life with Christ through a gospel of easy believism with no cost or death to self. They continue to be the same person before their “conversion” as after their “conversion”. We are admonished by Paul in 2 Cor 13:5 to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith; examine ourselves! Is this truly the gospel you are intending to promote - that there need not be evidence of a changed life? If so, I strongly disagree with you.

A. You’re right in saying that turning from sin is something that happens after salvation not before it. When John the Baptist and Peter spoke of repentance they were telling their Jewish audiences to change their minds about relying upon the law and recognize their need for a Savior, because the Greek word translated repent denotes a change in thinking, not a change in behavior.

Once we’re saved the Lord sends us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and begin the regeneration process. But before that process even begins, the Holy Spirit is sealed within us as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, (Ephes. 1:13-14) so everyone who sincerely prays the sinner’s prayer and trusts in the Lord for forgiveness is saved. Remember, we’re saved because of what we believe, not because of how we behave.

Something that’s easy to forget is that all of Paul’s letters were written to believers, people who had already been saved. In those days of persecution there were no pretend Christians in the church. The new life he was talking about pertains to their fellowship with God and the blessings that come from it, not to their salvation. We can’t receive those blessings if we’re not in fellowship. As forcefully as Paul exhorted the believers to put the flesh to death, he admitted that he couldn’t do it either. (Romans 7:14-20). And he never once threatened them with the loss of their salvation for failing to try.

In reading Paul’s letters we have to separate the here from the hereafter. Paul was very clear in saying that it’s our belief that saves us, and he offered no additional conditions. But in places like 1 Cor. 9:24-27 he warned us the we shouldn’t think of our salvation as the end if the process but rather the beginning.

We shouldn’t be satisfied with salvation, which solves our problems in eternity. We should move on to submit to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and achieve victory in this life as well. If we do that we’ll avoid many of the problems of this life, and be carried safely through those we can’t avoid.

It’s too bad so few people understand that. Our lives would all be so much easier. But the scriptures are clear. Our refusal to live a victorious life makes things harder for us in this world, and causes us to miss out on numerous blessings, but it does not endanger our salvation.


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