The Mortal Sin Problem, Part 2

Argument 3: No, it’s not better to be ignorant of God’s will

The natural and obvious rejoinder at this point is to argue that, if ignorance of God’s will “excuses” sin, it would be better to leave a new convert in ignorance. But that’s legalistic thinking.

Years ago, my girlfriend (and future wife) invited me to a banquet hosted by her social club. I was flattered and gladly accepted. But I didn’t know that I was supposed to buy her a corsage for this event. And she didn’t tell me, because she didn’t want me to buy the corsage out of a sense of obligation.

A friend of mine pulled me aside a couple of days before the event and told me I’d better buy the corsage, because all the girls would have one. I had no idea. None. And although my ignorance would have been an excuse, I was thrilled and relieved to have been told — because excused or not, I didn’t want my girlfriend to be embarrassed. You see, it wasn’t about me. It was about the girl I love — and her embarrassment would have hurt me far, far more than my own. (In fact, I had a perfectly good excuse and wouldn’t have felt embarrassed at all.)

Just so, Christians love God. They therefore want to please God. God’s pleasure gives us joy. It’s not about obeying the rules so we do the bare minimum to get to heaven. It’s about being the best we can be for the God who loves us.

That’s why penitent Christians study the Bible — not because it’s commanded, but because they love God and God’s word.

(Psa 1:2-3)  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

(Psa 119:70-73)  Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. 71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. 72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. 73 Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.

(Psa 119:174-175)  I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. 175 Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.

This is what happens when we finally escape legalism. We don’t escape God’s word. Rather, God’s word is transformed from burden to blessing and from constraint to freedom. We don’t study to earn our salvation but to be the person God wants us to be.

Argument 4: The Holy Spirit matters

All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they are saved (Acts 2:38). And God, through his Spirit, circumcises the Christian’s heart (Rom 2:12), writing his laws on the Christian’s heart and mind (Heb 8:10), working in the Christian to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13). We presented the scriptural case for this teaching earlier.

The key thought is that the Spirit keeps a Christian from turning grace into license. However, a Christian can resist, grieve, and even quench the Spirit — and so lose the Spirit.

Argument 5: We are saved into community

One of the critical mistakes we often make in discussions such as this is to speak as though Christianity is solely about a person’s relationship with God. It’s also about a Christian’s relationship with the rest of the church. You see, we are saved not only from hell but into a community of believers — a community that studies and has been shaped the scriptures for nearly 2,000 years.

Therefore, when someone is converted to Christ, he learns from fellow Christians with greater learning and experience than he. And this means that he’s trained, equipped, and instructed in God’s word — that he very much wants to learn and obey.

The scriptures are plain that the visible church on earth is required to instruct and, when necessary, discipline its members who become guilty of knowing sin. When a Christian becomes weak and begins to do the things that characterize an unbeliever, the church is to lovingly, patiently, gently rebuke him, and where necessary, even discipline him by disfellowshipping him, in hopes of returning him to a penitent lifestyle.

Therefore, when a Christian slips into an unrepentant life, the first question isn’t whether he’s apostate; it’s whether the church loves him enough to call him back from the brink.

Argument 6: God disciplines his children

Not only is the church called to discipline its unrepentant members, but God also disciplines his children (Heb 12:5-10). We often fail to see God’s activity in our lives, but he promises to work in our lives to “for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Heb 12:10).

Conclusion

In short, the doctrine of apostasy is only a part of the overall doctrine of why we should obey God’s commands. Certainly severe enough disobedience can cause us to fall away, but there’s much more to our relationship with God than fear of falling away. And so it’s a mistake to suppose that God’s grace somehow condones sin. It doesn’t.

We tend to think: if this doesn’t damn, why not do it? But a Christian is not permitted to think that way. That’s the exact opposite of being penitent. Indeed, it’s very much the first step toward damnation.

Rather, the hard case is: what if I’ve misunderstood God’s will on this or that point? And in that case, for a penitent, believing Christian, the answer is that he’s in grace. But that doesn’t mean he is permitted to continue in sin. He is charged with studying God’s word. The church is charged with instructing and, when necessary, rebuking him. God himself will discipline the Christian.

But we all know that there are countless issues where good, studious, smart Christians disagree on the answers. In such a case, grace covers the sin and discipline is inappropriate because the Christian is penitent — he just disagrees. This is especially true in the realm of positive commands, because it’s the moral commands that are closest to the heart of Jesus.

Go back and look at the list of sins at beginning of this post. Not a one deals with church organization, worship, or how to spend the church treasury. They are all moral in nature. And yet, historically, the Churches of Christ have been far more inclined to divide and damn over the positive commands than the moral commands. What church has been disfellowshipped over Matt 7:1-2?

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13 Comments on “The Mortal Sin Problem, Part 2”

  1. laymond Says:

    Jay said, “All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they are saved (Acts 2:38). And God, through his Spirit, circumcises the Christian’s heart (Rom 2:12), writing his laws on the Christian’s heart and mind (Heb 8:10), working in the Christian to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13). We presented the scriptural case for this teaching earlier.

    The key thought is that the Spirit keeps a Christian from turning grace into license. However, a Christian can resist, grieve, and even quench the Spirit — and so lose the Spirit.”

    (talk about opposing doctrine !)
    Please allow me a few questions. At what point is a Christian saved? If a Christian is actually “saved” how can they become “unsaved”. If the Holy Spirit actually dwells within a human body, to influence it to do good, how could it do otherwise? Is it possible that the Spirit dwells in a body with both “Good” and “evil” and is actually run out by evil? Is it possible that the “gift” that Acts 2:38 speaks of could be the promise of salvation, brought by God’s own son, who he gave for the salvation of the world? Jesus, the gift to the world.

  2. laymond Says:

    Jn :8:31: Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
    1 Jn: 2:24: Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.

    could this be the way in which the spirit indwells?

  3. Jay Guin Says:

    My wife influences me to do good. She doesn’t always succeed. If she were sufficiently unsuccessful, there may well come a point when she leaves me. (It’s an analogy. No MDR comments should follow.)

    Is it possible that Acts 2:38 is referring to salvation rather than the Spirit? It wouldn’t change the conclusion, as there are so many other passages that speak of all Christians having the Spirit. Please review my earlier post on the subject (linked in this post).

  4. Jay Guin Says:

    Laymond,

    No. The word does dwell within us as well. It’s not one or the other. But there are many passages in both testaments that demonstrate the personal indwelling. The earlier post here (linked above) on the indwelling gives some of the arguments.

    I did not attempt a complete argument for a personal indwelling because Phil and Mac agree that there’s a personal indwelling. However, I’ve argued the case more extensively over at The Spirit Who Lives in Us, Part 1

    The Spirit Who Lives in Us, Part 2

  5. Rob Woodfin Says:

    How many times have we heard the sage advice, “you must look at scripture through ‘first century glasses?’” That sounds smart. But through what kind of glasses do we look at the first century? There are some who through scholarship can construct a fairly decent historoscope, but the sad fact is that most of us depend on totally untrammeled hindsight for our queries. There is a third group, however, who do a pretty convincing job of pretending to know how it was 2100 years ago, what they did, how they did it, and, most importantly, why God had them do it thusly (that last part takes a double dose of inference and a heapin’ helpin’ of hubris.)

    I raised this question before and was soundly ignored, but I ask it again with the objective of being resoundingly ignored (extra points). Why do we assume more than a mere handful (at best) of our first century brethren ever read or heard, much less possessed, the 27 books which fully outline our new covenant? And without such, how could anyone then (or the vast majority for the next 1600+ years) piece together the plan of salvation complete with all the doctrinal requirements (including the silence issues) which are necessary to avoid apostasy?

    When we insist on well over 7000 verses worth of conditions to salvation, we take the keys to the kingdom and fasten them to a boat anchor keychain. Peter began to sink, while walking on the water, when he took his eyes off Jesus. Is it possible that we, too, have become overwhelmingly distracted by our doctrinal quest to qualify ourselves as the few and the proud, and in doing so have taken our eyes off Him, too? Could that be the reason we are sinking?

    I make no claim to be a scholar, Biblical, historical or otherwise. But my read of the multiple NT scriptures that talk about the Spirit dwelling in us simply does not sound like superlative reading comprehension, it sounds like Divine presence; not like accomplishment, but like relationship. And how might we fail to make perpetual good choices with such a presence? The same way our children make mistakes while still living under our roof … sometimes they just don’t listen.

  6. Zach Cox Says:

    A similar line of thinking relates to the Ethiopian Eunuch; was he able to go home after learning the gospel and be a “good Christian” with only his Old Testament? It seems that wouldn’t be a hindrance for a God who now writes His laws on people’s hearts.

  7. Jerry Starling Says:

    I asked once before in this conversation why we attribute more power to the Devil than we do to the Spirit of God. (I explored this more on my blog at http://committedtotruth.truthpress.com, #14 – 07/10/09 – Tempted To Do Good.) We readily recognize the power of the Devil to influence us toward evil, yet some are hesitant to give the Spirit of God any power to influence us toward good. As soon as someone speaks of influence by the Holy Spirit, some object that this would mean we can not sin. Really? Then why does the fact of temptation by the Devil mean that we cannot do good? The Devil does not MAKE you do it; neither does the Holy Spirit. Each of these spirit-beings influences us, but as Rob stated above, sometimes we are like children who do not listen to the Spirit of God. Instead, we resist Him, grieve Him, and (sadly) sometimes quench Him.

  8. Randall Says:

    Rob,
    I comment more than I should, but feel compelled just to just to keep you from getting the extra points for being resoundingly ignored. 😉

    In your comment you said: “Why do we assume more than a mere handful (at best) of our first century brethren ever read or heard, much less possessed, the 27 books which fully outline our new covenant? And without such, how could anyone then (or the vast majority for the next 1600+ years) piece together the plan of salvation complete with all the doctrinal requirements (including the silence issues) which are necessary to avoid apostasy?”

    At least some of us believe we are saved by a person, not a plan. (Or a plan only in the sense that God planned to save me – but not by my doing all the right things to comply with the rules of the plan.) And some of us believe we are saved by grace (alone) through faith (alone); not by doing church the right way or contributing to the finished work of Christ.

    OK, I apologize for keeping you from earning megapoints.

    Peace,
    Randall

  9. laymond Says:

    Jerry, you are not suggesting that the “unholy spirit” dwells within a Christian as well, are you?
    I seem to recollect stories where people were indwelled by unholy spirits/demons, and Jesus drove them out, he didn’t run from them.

  10. Jay Guin Says:

    Excellent point. I’ll be borrowing it down the road, I’m sure.

  11. Jerry Starling Says:

    No, Laymond, I’m just suggesting that if anyone doubts we can be influenced by the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us, he should also doubt that the Devil can influence us from outside that indwelling relationship.

    Yet, did not Paul speak of the “law of sin at work in my members”? It is only in Christ that we find deliverance from the law of sin as the law of the Spirit of Life sets us free from the law of sin and death. He also said that if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His! And, “You, however, are controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (Rom 8:9).

  12. laymond Says:

    Jerry said, “No, Laymond, I’m just suggesting that if anyone doubts we can be influenced by the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us, he should also doubt that the Devil can influence us from outside that indwelling relationship.”

    Brother Starling, it seems to me that we are in full agreement.
    The question I ask of brother Guin was approximately the same as you ask here.
    I asked, “If a Christian is actually “saved” how can they become “unsaved”. If the Holy Spirit actually dwells within a human body, to influence it to do good, how could it do otherwise? Is it possible that the Spirit dwells in a body with both “Good” and “evil” and is actually run out by evil?”

    I believe we are both asking the same question, Is the Devil’s power such that he can control us from without, over the influence of God’s power (indwelling spirit) within (and snatch us away from God).

    My view, no one has to agree. If we were truly indwelled by “The Holy Spirit” Which I understand as “God the Father” only spoken of in other terms, as Jesus spoke of him in Jn:4:24: God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
    and in Mt:19:17: And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God:——.
    No if we were truly indwelled by God, there would be no power that could turn us again unto evil.
    Mt:7:18: A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

    No I believe the power of God trumps the power of Satan, if you have doubts read the book of Job, again.

  13. nick gill Says:

    The relationship between God and humans is qualitatively different than His relationship with angels, whether obedient or rebellious.

    On the matter of God’s Spirit dwelling in a rebellious person, have you not read the Samson narratives? Did the Holy Spirit force Samson to “be good”?

    The relationship that God desires with humanity precludes forcing us to act contrary to our own will.

    The indwelling Spirit is never described as a sin-prophylactic, but as the seal of our Lord.


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