Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Illogical Idea of Earning a Free Gift You Alredy Received

This week I read a post on Facebook from someone implying that if you willful sin after receiving Jesus, you can lose your salvation and that a belief to the contrary is part of what is wrong with the church today.  I will admit that the modern church has strayed far and away from traditional Christianity and that there are grave problems regarding the acceptance of licentiousness, but the idea that we are not forgiven for "willful" sin after coming to Jesus is swinging the pendulum much too far the other way.  First let us begin with their scripture.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Hebrews 10:26-27 NKJV
Taken on its own, this is a pretty scary verse.  If we read this verse and only this verse it does seem that if we receive Jesus, and we sin willfully, we will be judged.  Some want to do just that.  They take this one passage, inflate it larger than the rest of Scripture so that this passage is all you see, and use it as a means to control their congregations.  They teach, per this passage, that if they sin willfully, they will be judged.  Fortunately, this verse does not exist on its own but must be compared with the rest of scripture.  Only then can we truly begin to understand what the author of Hebrews is telling us. 

The first, and most obvious passage, to compare this to is this:
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 NKJV
The Bible clearly says that if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins.  The Bible does not say if we confess our accidental sins, God will forgive our accidental sins.  There is no sin we can commit, other than rejecting Jesus, that God will not forgive.  Now this is not a license to sin, but an assurance of the grace and mercy of God for those times that we do fall short.  When we sin, we admit to God we sinned, and that sin is forgiven. 

Another key passage to look at is one found right in Hebrews.
For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?   Hebrews 12:6-7 NKJV
Why would God promise to chasten us in order to raise up as sons if He did not anticipate us still sinning?  Why would God even bother to chasten us, in order to help us grow, if He only intended on judging us?  God's promise to chasten us implies that we will need chastening.  Chastening is required when we willfully sin.  Think about it, do you punish your son or daughter for doing something they had no way of knowing was even wrong?  If your child makes an honest mistake, do you discipline your child?  Of course you do not, that would not teach them anything.   Good parents discipline their children when they are rebellious or willfully being disobedient.  It is after we explain to them that something is wrong, or something they already know is wrong, and choose to do it anyway that we discipline our children.  The same is for God.  God is just.  He is not going to chasten us for those things we did not know were wrong, but He certainly will chasten us for those things that we willfully do as wrong.  If He has not forgiven us those sins and only plans to judge us, there would be no point to chastening us. 

I will share one more Scripture on this matter, and this is of an actual example of willful sin.
It is actually reported [that there is] sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 NKJV
There was a man in the Corinthian church in an affair with his stepmother.  It common knowledge that this was going on.  It was sinful, it was sexually immoral, and it was so shameful to the church that there was no alternative but to make this person an outcast to the church.  This man sinned willfully and publicly and refused to repent.  The church was just as culpable in that they allowed it to go on in their midst.  Did Paul say that this person will be judged for their willful sin and refusal to repent?   Paul said that this man needed to be cast out of the church, but the purpose was restoration not judgement.  He was being cast out not because God was rejecting His soul, but so that God can do the work needed to save this man's soul. 

Ultimately, accepting the idea that only sins committed before Jesus are forgiven creates a contradiction in the Gospel.  It becomes a free gift that you have to earn after you receive it.  If that is true, then it is not a free gift.  It becomes a conditional gift or really no gift at all.   What it really becomes in an incentive.  Think about it, if someone gives you something for "free" then tells you all that you need to do to keep it from being taken from you contradicts the fact it was "free."  It is like one of those contests you win for a "free" trip to Florida as long as you pay a processing fee and listen to a sales pitch.  That trip is no longer free at all, but offered as an incentive.  Even worse, if their version of the gospel was compared to this "free" trip, you would also have no freedom to choose what you want to do on the trip but abide by some itinerary they lay out for you.  It is then no longer a free gift, but an incentive to get you to live a certain way.  Actually, it becomes payment in advance in anticipation of services rendered with a clause to revoke that payment should those services not be provided.  That is not the gospel that the Bible teaches.  If you can not earn your salvation to begin with, you certainly do not have to earn it once you receive it. 

Holding this point of view also creates a situation that is just as bad as never having been saved to begin with.  Is there anyone in Christ who has not willfully sinned since receiving Christ?  Has anyone never told any lie?  Has anyone never taken the Lord's name in vain?  Has anyone never, even for a moment, taken a second look at a man or woman after being married?  This is but a few example of the plethora of sin we continue to commit.  We also need to consider exactly what "willful" means.  I am not trying to make a play on words, but "willful" can be interpreted in degrees.  Does it count if you premeditate your sin and then carry it out?  Or does it merely mean that in the heat of an emotional moment you choose to take the Lord's name in vain?  Either of these can be interpreted as "willful?"  We can go even further and consider whether a man takes a second look at an attractive woman as being willful adultery.  Of course he could not avoid seeing her the first time, but what if he turns his head to take a second look?  Has that man just forfeited his salvation by taking a second look?  God wants us to be sure we are saved and this theology takes away any assurance of our salvation.  In fact, if anything, it creates an assurance that none are saved because none can maintain it. 

The fact of the matter is that the original passage was written to the Hebrews.  It does apply to us, but we must understand it in its cultural context.  The sin the author is speaking of is that of a willful rejection of Jesus Christ and reminding the Jews that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant are no longer acceptable under the New Covenant.  Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and was the last and complete sacrifice for all sin.  God could no longer accept blood to cover sin unless that blood was from His son.  Furthermore, choosing to turn back to animal sacrifice was choosing to turn away from Jesus.  It was a rejection of His son and putting trust in something no longer acceptable.  That is what the author meant.  He was not speaking of the sacrifice of Jesus, but of earthly things.  There was no longer an earthly sacrifice that could cover their sin.   The only sacrifice was Jesus and the only blood to cover sin was that already spilled by the Son of God.  That truth remains to this day.  There is no other way, no other sacrifice, no other name that can save you except for that of Jesus Christ who  suffered and died for our sins.  Sure many have taken the grace of God for granted and turned it into a message of licentiousness and, yes, that is a terrible problem, but we can not let man's failures compromise or change the gospel message.  If people take it for granted, that is between them and God and God will meet out His discipline as He feels necessary.  For those who preach this message of salvation maintained by works and good behavior, there is a similar message in the Word of God for you. 
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?  Galatians 3:1-3 NKJV

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