May 31, 2017

Be merciful to me, a sinner . . .

Sometimes self-righteousness looks pious. Way back when I was a new Christian, I met a man who claimed to be sinless. He sincerely believed it because he thought being sinful was an insult to the saving power of the Gospel. His claim made me feel as if I was not a Christian. Only later did I find these verses:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 and10)

I hesitate to judge this man, yet am able to judge his doctrine based on what the Bible says. Being a Christian does not mean being sinless.

This week, I heard a different version of the same idea. In a Bible study, one person noted that these days, confession of sin seemed a rare part of prayer. After many others commented, I said that I firmly hold to the verse between the two verses quoted above, even thinking it is the most important verse in the Bible for spiritual growth and well-being. It says:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

I also said that keeping short accounts with God about specific sin makes it much easier to pray with clarity and with knowledge of His will. It also seems the best way to finally be rid of those sins that we keep doing, because each confession of what I did eventually brings me to the root of why I was doing it. Once that was acknowledged to God, the problem disappeared, resulting in a wonderful freedom.

However, one person said, “I believe all my sin is forgiven: past, present, and future. When I pray, I don’t confess sin, and don’t even think about myself. I just pray about the needs of others.”

My first thought was that maybe my theology about confession is in error, or I’ve been self-centered in the practice of confession, too concerned about my relationship with God. After a while, the Holy Spirit put this parable from Jesus in my mind:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)

The temptation to be ‘thankful that I’m not like’ those who boast of their spiritual piety is often strong, yet I know that in my flesh is no good thing. Confession is denying those kinds of temptations and feeding my soul with truth, even if sin is hard to admit. It is part of moving forward, of becoming more like Jesus.

That said, forgiveness is complete. God gives His children all we need to live the way He wants us to live. Our part is to simply do it, putting sin aside.

“His divine power has granted to me all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called me to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to me his precious and very great promises, so that through them I may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, I must make every effort to supplement my faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are mine and are increasing, they keep me from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, Elsie, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall." (2 Peter 1:3–10, personalized)

Because of God’s grace, I am in Christ Jesus. He is my wisdom from God, my righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). The Christian life is about growing up into what I already am, about living like Jesus instead of being governed by my fleshy nature. I’m to put off the old, put on the new. It has been my experience that confession is like taking off old clothes. As 1 John 1:9 says, when I confess, He forgives and cleanses. That ‘already but not yet’ reality brings me closer to what I already am.

Oh, my Lord Jesus Christ, confession of sin, particularly specific things like doubt, frustration, complaining, envy, and so on, always brings me into deeper communion with You. Confession is both humbling and freeing. It says You are right in Your evaluation of sin, but it also invites You to deal with the sin and bless me with a greater desire and ability to say no to those temptations. I am not thrilled to be in this battle, but I am thrilled by the joy and peace that comes with keeping short accounts. I’m also thrilled that Your Word has answers to all doubts and challenges to the faith You have given me.

May 30, 2017

More about Sanctification

A famous artist finished a sculpture of a mighty stallion. When asked how he did it, he said he just chipped away at everything that didn’t look like a horse. At times, onlookers may have wondered what that hunk of stone would become, but in the mind of the artist, it was already a horse and only needed his chisel to make it appear.

WWII fits this idea of being over before it was over. The end of the war was declared over before the fighting actually ceased. It was ‘already but not yet’ over, something like the horse was already there, only not yet exposed.

This sense of already but not yet applies to some biblical truths. The kingdom of God is here but not yet in that Jesus rules, but everyone is not yet able to see or experience it. This also applies to sanctification in that God declares me godly and perfect in His sight (because of Christ) but have not yet learned to act like what I already am.

C.H. Spurgeon said, “I do not admire the term ‘progressive sanctification’ for it is unwarranted by Scripture; but it is certain that the Christian does grow in grace . . . .” He went on to say that the conflict with sin never lets up, but Christians do grow. Even all that conflict and our imperfections cannot deny this progress because it is guaranteed.
The Scriptures says this about sanctification after a list of sins that keep people out of God’s kingdom:

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11, italics mine)

When a person becomes a Christian, the initial change is often obvious; they stop doing those sinful things that were part of their lives. Not all sin vanishes immediately, yet the changes happen and continue. As I abide in Christ, He is changing the way I live and this should be expected. Who can have the holy, sinless Son of God living in them and stay the way they are! As the above verse says, “And such were some of you . . . .” John the Baptist also said, “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease.”

Change, transformation, new life, is all part of what it means to be a Christian. Without it, Scripture puts a question mark on the genuineness of anyone who professes faith but has not changed.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:1–10, italics mine)

This growth and change does not affect who I am in the sight of God because Christians are already holy, already perfected in Christ. He “perfected forever them that were sanctified” meaning we are set apart by God for Himself and seen in Christ as new creations. To be born again means having His divine nature implanted in us.

That is, I am perfect and complete in Christ, yet not yet fully living up to what I am. I am growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, in faith and in love and in hope, and in learning to live according to how God sees me.

However, in God’s estimation, I do not grow in holiness because Christ is my holiness. As long as I live in this world, my old nature is sinful and never going to stop pestering me, but the new life I have in Christ continues to rely on Jesus and become more like Him. Growing up in Him is not my holiness: He is my holiness!

Jesus, I shake my head in wonder at this amazing truth. God has declared me His child and imputed to me Your righteousness and holiness, even Your very nature and self. I am so blessed. Nothing that happens can change this truth, yet as the Holy Spirit chips away at everything that does not look like You, You are changing me. Praise Your Name!