The idolization of the ‘changed life’

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10, NASB.

Discipleship, sanctification, the “Lordship of Christ”, the evidence of “changed lives” – these are all euphemisms for a graceless Christianity. Notice that when people speak of the “Lordship of Christ”, what they mean is that through their own obedience they ‘MAKE’ Him Lord – not that He actually IS Lord. I guess that poor Jesus cannot make Himself Lord unless I perfectly repent. What power I have! I conjure and control God with my ‘holiness’ – until I fall off my little pony! If the main sign of true Christianity is a “changed life”, then if those who otherwise consider themselves Christians still stumble, still struggle, still crawl off of the altar of being a “living and holy” sacrifice, then is that evidence circumspect? Of course it is, because human beings will always consider their last failure the truest evidence of what they really are, and this kind of thinking just reinforces the idea that perhaps they are not really a Christian. That just leads them into further failure, and closes the door to God, discouraging them from going to the throne of grace in their time of need. How do you think the Father feels about that whole dynamic? I don’t speak for Him directly, but personally, it angers me to no end.

On the other hand, we have the actual teachings of Jesus, and Paul, and the apostle John, et all. We have numerous parables and stories depicting the tender Father-heart of God. We see Him doing miracles to prove He has the power to forgive. We see Jesus persevering with making Peter the cornerstone figure of His church, even in the face of heinous rejection and betrayal. In this case, it is JESUS who is Lord – even terrible rejection and betrayal and abandonment by all of His closest disciples could not stop Him. He raised Himself from the DEAD, and came back with mercy and grace in His heart for them. I think that for them, the first disciples, the ‘Lordship of Christ’ would mean something very different than the half-hearted dim-witted drivel that most people who throw this phrase around mean.

Many modern Christians thus make virtue and their own changed life an idol, a graven and false image of God. ‘Holiness’ seems to be the chief end of their beliefs, not grace and mercy, not worship, not a free relationship with the true living God to whose throne we can go boldly in time of need. Grace for them is only a springboard into gracelessness. It is just as ridiculous and hopeless and pointless as it sounds. You can tell by your prayerlessness that you are sitting in that place – you have the picture that ‘God’ always sort of hates you and you certainly don’t REALLY like Him either, He just makes you feel really bad about yourself all the time. Why would you PRAY under that dynamic? No wonder that people fall away from such nonsense. It is such a bad and colorless idol! If you want to worship an idol, why not make it a fat smiling Buddha who will let you have some fun! Then you can at least enjoy yourself for a short time before you spend eternity in hell. Maybe this is a bad example, but you can bet that everyone who chooses to be outside of the church definitely believes it; and they are more right than they know!

The language of graceless Christianity enters subtly through the back door even for many who otherwise profess to believe in grace. “We must move on from the need for mercy to a ‘deeper walk.'” “Yes, Christ loves us, but we must strive to become more and more holy and make Him Lord of our lives and [blah blah blah blah blah].” “I need to die to self because the mind set on the flesh is death.” What they are really saying is this: “I need to take every scripture out of context and twist it to make me and everyone around me feel much much worse about our tepid relationship with Christ. Guilt-inducing conviction indicates that the Holy Spirit is really moving.” I’m sure they mean well, but what they really mean is, if you don’t show evidence of a truly changed life then you probably aren’t a Christian. What starts with grace continues with law and obligation.

So, does this mean that we reject virtue altogether? Does sanctification, gradually increasing righteousness, discipline and holy living, have any place? Of course, don’t be ridiculous. Here is a news flash: really giving over to Him in belief in His grace and His empowerment, IS DEATH TO SELF. It means I am no longer in charge of making God accept and love me. It means I give up responsibility for being good and significant. It means I give up the secret idea that I can manipulate the favor of God by a limited and flawed and short-lived repentance. Eventually you get worn down enough by the circumstances of life to realize that you can’t repent very well, and that in fact you don’t even WANT to keep going that way any more. It is at that point you are ready for the power and joy of knowing Him. It is a JOY to surrender everything, even our own responsibilities. However, the power to change, the power to grow in holiness, the power to sustain a true behavioral change, is not an obligation, and it is not the basis for the Lordship of Christ even for me personally. Such change and such behavioral shifts are a GIFT, a fruit, a wonderful consequence of a growing and ongoing relationship with a God who loves me like a very good father. When we shift from the universe of law and obligation over to the universe of grace, when we set our minds on the things of the Holy Spirit, love and joy and peace and kindness blossom. It is a GIFT!

Grace and mercy and the everlasting acceptance and love of God really are good news! It is so HAPPY to believe all of this, and doubly so because it is BIBLICAL and it is TRUE. It is solid and sustainable to think that we will fail, but God will forever accept us and lead us to greener pastures, and feed our hunger for righteousness. Changed living is not the foundation of Christianity, grace is. There are terrible consequences when we worship idols, even very virtuous and seemingly benign and safely harsh ones. Jesus, on the other hand, is full of grace and truth:

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14, 17, NASB.

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30 Comments

  1. (From Carol Yellak, on FB)I believe the greatest change in us happens when we are in the presence of God. His Spirit like yeast in dough gradually takes us over. It is not through our efforts but our yielded spirit to His Spirit within us, our communion with Him. I do believe we have to (by an act of will )submit ourselves to Him in love and relationship and surrender to Him those things that stand in the way of our deepening our relationship with Him. And it is His grace (His enabling power) that allows us to submit and to surrender. Thanks Jim, for your insight and passion.

  2. Carol, right on. When you look at it from the perspective of grace submission and will and surrender come into their right focus. Outside of grace they are not liberating things, but weapons that beat you down. Under grace they are beautiful things. But you can never really have those things if you sneak them in as law and start to live under them as idols.

  3. (From my wife Betty on FB)This blog post makes me cry with the kind of joy that I learned about in Bible study this week; the JOY, not based on circumstances, administered by the Holy Spirit that makes your heart SWELL and PULSATE (Greek translation). All praise to our GLORIOUS GRACE-FILLED GOD!

  4. (From Kim Dickson on FB)I must say this raises mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, I appreciate your pointing out that a holy lifestyle is not to be idolized nor made the "end all, be all" in reference to Christianity. There are indeed plenty of moral people who live "good lives" (at least, externally) who don't belong to the Lord Jesus. And yet, all of their good works are meaningless before Him because they are tainted with sin which has not been washed in the blood of Christ. And we know a truly holy God cannot tolerate sin.On the other hand, what you seem to be implying is that we have no part in this process at all, which I think is an unbalanced view and not in keeping with the whole counsel of the Word. Let me clarify: Of course we are not saved by works. If that were the case, no one could stand. But when you truly surrender yourself to Jesus' lordship, those changes do come. And, both Paul and Jesus make it clear that if they don't, you have a problem. "And why do you all call me 'Master, Master' and yet not do what I tell you?" ( Luke 6:46) "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?" (1 Corinthians 13:5)John, who didn't mince words, was also clear about a true Christian's lifestyle: "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is HOW WE KNOW who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." (1 John 3:5-10)I grew up my whole life thinking I was saved. I went to church, I prayed occasionally, I read my Bible sometimes, etc. I was a good person by all standards (except God's, lol). I believed in Jesus. I believed all of it. BUT – I had no assurance of salvation. I was scared to death of dying because I wasn't sure that I would go to heaven. I only prayed when I was in some type of trouble or had a big need. I did not consult God about my life, because everything was going fine: I had a great marriage, great job, enough money, etc. I did not have a relationship with Him, but only paid Him lipservice. And, my life was fruitless. A few people around me tried to convince me that I just needed to rest, not worry so much about how much I prayed or spent time with God, He knows my heart, blah blah blah. But, I couldn't shake this feeling that I was not truly His. And then I read Matthew 7:21: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father which art in heaven." I realized right then and there that that verse was talking about me. I was calling him "Lord," and yet it was a farce. He wasn't really Lord of my life. I hadn't truly submitted myself to Him. And that verse, which some might find too harsh or too judgmental, is what finally brought me to the feet of Jesus. I fell on my knees in my living room and at that moment, crossed from death to Life. I was five months pregnant with Brennen. (part 1)

  5. (From Kim Dickson, FB, part 3)I still struggle with certain things. I still fail daily. I still have days where I should have made time for the Lord and didn't. Only, now, it doesn't seem like a duty that needs to be done. I WANT to spend time with Jesus. I want to grow in holiness and maturity. My heart grieves when I fail to be a good representative of Christ. God has given me true love for the brethren. The point is, those things were not in my life before I truly belonged to Him. And I could do nothing to conjure them up without His Spirit in me, bringing them about. So, what I'm saying is, if those things don't come after a profession of faith in Christ, it's not completely illogical to ask if indeed the Spirit is there. Another example that I think works well here: Suppose someone at your office came to you and said, "Hey, there's a bomb in this building which is about to go off in 3 minutes!" And, yet, after saying that, he simply walked calmly back to his desk and continued working. Would you REALLY believe that HE believed what he was saying? If he really believed it, it would be backed up with action. God backed up his love for us with action, too. Just some thoughts. Sorry it's a novel. :)

  6. Kim, great response! Don't apologize for the length. I have to be brief right now, but the same book that John wrote "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning" also wrote, in the same book, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8, NASB.Note also that the real turning point is not sinning or not sinning, but LIVING IN HIM. If you LIVE IN HIM, you will not go on sinning. It totally reinforces my point, even more. If you don't live in Him, if you are a poser pretending at dead law-driven righteousness, if it doesn't sustain, you aren't LIVING there, you are posing.The "Lord, Lord, didn't I do X" people – aren't they all about personal performance? Right? The chest beaters and head hangers are the ones who get approved. Think about it!You are allowed to fail daily, and still be living in Him. That is the real experience. HE accepts you. As soon as we start conjuring God through our 'sinlessness', we worship idols.

  7. Also, yes, there is human agency. We are to be "diligent to enter that rest"; we are to "walk in a manner worth of the calling". The touchstone for all of this is in Romans. After 11 chapters explaining grace, in chapter 12 he says,“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Romans 12:1-3, NASB.What is the therefore there for? He means, having understood everything in the first 11 chapters, live like this! So, he doesn't mean, throw out Romans 8:1, right? The WHOLE counsel of scripture is grace driven. The nature of human agency is much much different under grace than under law, that's why your MIND has to be transformed.

  8. (From Kim Dickson, FB)One distinction that I think needs to be made: in 1 John, he is talking about two different types of sin in those references. Obviously, all of us have sinned and will commit more sins until the day we die or our Lord comes for us. BUT – committing singular acts of sin in a daily struggle against our flesh as Christians is different than a lifestyle of habitual sin, which John is talking about in the verse I referenced. Yes, we will still struggle and sin. But, no, we will not disregard the Lord and continue to engage in an overall lifestyle of habitual sin. If we do, there is something amiss.

  9. I don't think the text warrants that distinction. I'm not advocating habitual sin, but as soon as you make that distinction you rule against many many people with habitual sins who would really like to dig out of that hole. Doesn't God love people who habitually sin but would love to stop? Can't grace help them? Where does the TEXT support this idea? I would say that it isn't there at all, and this is a VERY KEY observation. It is the same greek word by the same author in the same book

  10. Also, don't you think that 'little' sins are probably just as habitual and lifestyle as really dramatic ones? Isn't the point of the sermon on the mount that if you distinguish big dramatic sins like murder from little ones like anger, or adultery from 'just looking', you are just as bad? That being so, where does JOHN draw the line, if you are right about this?I think grace is grace, all the time, every time, big, little, one-time or habitual, and the goal is always more love and more joy and more peace and less sin. The means is WAY different under grace, and grace has a higher animus than human resolve.If someone wants to REALLY repent, they have to come under complete and total grace, and really come to terms with being helpless and rotten and in love with evil. Surface posing promises of 'repentance' mean very little.

  11. (From Kim Dickson, FB)The best way to find out what John means is to understand the tenses in the Greek text. In verses 6 and 9 John uses the present tense, which expresses habitual, continuous action. Verse 6 literally translates, "Whosoever abides in him does not continually, habitually practice sin." Verse 9 translates, "Whosoever is born of God does not continually, habitually practice sin." Do Christians sin? Sometimes. Do they sin deliberately? Sometimes. But if they are true Christians, they will respond with grief and repentance (Ps. 51). Unsaved people live lives of habitual sin. Even their righteous deeds are filthy rags in God's sight (Isa. 64:6). But Christians do not live lives of habitual sin, and that is the thesis of 1 John 3:4-10.

  12. (From Betty McNeely, FB)It's so interesting that any message on Grace usually ends up with folks wanting to spar about sin. It's right back to the idolatry issue; Me Me Me. "I'm" so repentant… "I" shouldn't be habitually sinning, "I'm" this and that… blah blah blah. Grace ALWAYS puts the focus back on the Father and His lavishness. It always leads to the Son and His forgiveness. It inevitably points the way to the Holy Spirit's gentle wooing. Every Christian I know is entangled in SOME kind of habitual sin; (not necessarily a pervasive lifestyle, but some seemingly unconquerable fleshly strongholds we continually seek the Father for). Grace says "The Spirit and the Bride say Come" Love says it "covers a multitude of sin." Mercy says "though you keep doing it 70 x 7, you can boldly come to the throne as a child to your Abba Father who loves you." THIS is good news. Walking in Grace for myself and others puts the focus on bringing God's kingdom of Heaven to earth, where Jesus made it clear that He didn't come to condemn the the world, but to save it. It's all about fixing our eyes on Him; the author and perfecter of our Faith. Walking in Grace puts me in the camp of "I'm so grateful that God will use me and has created good works for me that I can walk in- even, and perhaps despite of, this fleshly attire that so easily distracts and entangles me!" "Thank You, thank You, thank You, Father!!!!"

    • Betty! I stinking love you!!!! YES! I’m sick to death of the constant “shoulds” and “evidence ” of salvation. The bottom line: we humans suck! We are selfish. We are self centered. It’s all about us. Even our modesty thatwe profess is so often just humble bragging. “Wow, I’m so thankful God changed my life and I no longer …..” Or “God blessed my faithfulness and gave me a better paying job!” Why not just ake God out all together and say that you were faithful and earned a second job? And maybe all the others who are still broke and tithing just aren’t doing it exactly right or they would be “blessed by God” with a better job too.

      Alright, I realize I’m sounding bitter. But I’m just weary of the whole debate of what we are “supposed” to be doing as Christians. And to be honest, I’m tired of the term “Christian” which seems to be more about marketing or its a badge we wear like we earned it. Jesus said “It is finished!” , now why do we want to add to that??? Betty, you’re the woman! Thank you!! Serene

  13. (From Betty McNeely, FB)Romans 7:18-8:1 "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

  14. YES!!!! We have the best conversations don't we?!! Living under grace is AWESOME!!! The Lord is SO GOOD! Thank You Father, for your undying and unshakeable love for us! I am so glad to depend on YOU for my blessings and favor. I choose to let YOU guide and help and bless and teach and discipline me according to Your design, by Your unmerited favor and great mercies, and not as I deserve under the law!I pray for ways to invite many to jump in, the water is GREAT! Thank You that the life of grace is so secure, so joyful, so simple, and so sustainable and real! Thank You for Betty, who is my true companion in life, and really really gets all of this and walks in it and showers grace and love on everyone she meets. I'm so grateful, publicly grateful, for her.Father, open the doors for mercy and grace to rain down on many, for the message of the gospel of grace to go forth, to expand the borders and influence, to really move forward! Call all of the failed miserable beaten down habitual failures forward, and bless them because they know they do not control or conjure You with their good behavior or knowledge of systematic theology.Show us that You have the power to forgive sin on earth, and do miracles in the context of Your mercy and grace! Open the floodgates of ministry and open our dumb mouths and move our leaden feet to go out to the harvest and speak and serve the ones You have Your eye on! This is my true wish, Father, my one thing, my 'bucket list.' You know me well. Under Your grace, show us what true ministry is!!!And bless Kim because she is Yours and she knows You and she went to so much trouble to read all of this and to dialog about it, to deem it important, and that is precious and valuable.AMEN!!!

  15. (from Kim Dickson, FB)Guys. Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying here. I never said it was all about me not sinning (or humankind, whatever). I don't disagree with anything you've just written. Grace is beautiful. It changes everything. I'm not walking around saying, "Oh, thank you, Lord, that I'm not like THOSE people over there, etc." I have certain areas of sin where I continue to struggle, some might say, habitually. I'm amazed and so thankful that my Father continues to love and forgive me, though I am "wretched and poor and blind and naked." My main point was to say that IF you have someone who claims to follow Christ (which many many people in this country do), and yet their entire lifestyle is characterized by sin – they do whatever they want, whenever they want, without a regard for the Lord at all – then this person would be lying. I think we have a big problem in America of people truly believing they are born again just because they happened to say a prayer when they were seven years old or something, the way that I did. My heart is concerned for those people, because I was one of them! Walking in death and sin and still thinking I was saved because of some prayer I said as a child. When I "tested myself" to "see if I was in the faith," I failed the test. And one of the ways I knew I failed the test was because of my OVERALL lifestyle. My life was not characterized in any way by obedience, and the Word makes it clear that that is a problem. And the Spirit's gentle conviction of that in me is what truly brought me to a place of repentance and salvation. (And, yes, I know that it is the Spirit who enabled the repentance, just to clarify.) Please don't imply that those of us who believe what the Word has to say about sin are arrogant idolators. That really breaks my heart.

  16. (From Betty McNeely, FB)I believe what the Word has to say about sin and yet unfortunately, I can certainly be an arrogant idolator sometimes, especially when I walk around with the Measuring Stick of (or Pharisees Stone of) "Am I?, or, Are you?, being a "faithful follower?' The Good News of Grace says "Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either." (John 8). The whole point of Jim's article was pointing out that some well-meaning Believers fall into the trap of idolizing a "changed life." A changed life is certainly the fruit of following Christ, bu Christ's Life, His Gift, His Grace, His Mercy, His Work in us, His Love, His Kindness is the True focus. I really agree that dying to self includes dying to being concerned about the fruit of our own or others lives. If all I did was stand over Jim's garden (the real one:) and be concerned about the weeds, the lack of viable fruit in the dormant season, the slug-ridden, bug-infested, half-eaten lettuce leaves, the dirt on the squash, the puny output of tomatoes, then I couldn't enjoy the crop which ultimately God brings to fruition. Kim, It's precious that your heart is concerned over folks whose lives are characterized by sin and your prayers are a fragrant aroma to God. Add me to the list, and thank you for continuing to offer God's Grace to me in the midst of my failings; It is such a mercy to walk in the Light and not in condemnation.

  17. (From Kim Dickson, FB)Betty, I sincerely apologize for my last two sentences above. I should have believed the best and not assumed you were trying to make me feel that way. I also know how much you treasure Scripture and that you do believe what the Word says. I should not have worded what I said that way, and I'm sorry, Sister.I think what we can agree on (and none of us has said otherwise) is that, as you said, a changed life is certainly fruit of following Christ. And I agree 100% that He is the One who brings that about, as the Gardener. He is the One who changes my heart, my desires. I can claim no responsibility for anything good that comes out of me; it is all His work. And some days I wonder if there is any good in there at all, unfortunately. It seems the longer I walk with the Lord, the more keenly aware I am of just how much muck there is in there. Please understand I was not arguing or denying any of those things, nor do I feel at all that it is somehow my (or other Christians') job to walk around inspecting others' fruit. That is the Gardener's job.

  18. (from Kim Dickson, FB)I heartily agree with Jim that it is unbalanced and wrong to set up in our hearts an idol of acting a certain way in lieu of simply loving and following our Lord Jesus. The issue is that of our hearts before Him, and He is much more concerned with our motives for doing the things we do even more so than the actual things we do or don't do. (Conviction-o-meter just went off.) I agree that the most important question is not, "Am I sinning? Am I bearing fruit?", but rather, "Do I LOVE Him with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength? Failure that I am, do I still HUNGER and thirst for righteousness?" etc. Heart issues rather than simply the external actions. I think I was wanting to discuss the possibility that, even as there can be an error of putting too much emphasis on external fruit and not enough of what is truly the HEART of the issue, there is also the error of making external fruit irrelevant or unimportant. That's all I was saying. I hope this helps clarify my thoughts a little. Love you guys.

  19. Kim, thanks! I think that you're right on, that He is the One that brings the fruit to bear. Here is the key idea that is new for me, personally – The question is all wrong. It is not, Do I love Him. I know at first that sounds crazy! But it is really about this – do I walk around in the truth that HE LOVES ME?! Look at this verse:“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10, NASB.(I have a whole other blog about this here: http://jimmcneely.blogspot.com/2010/04/in-this-is-love.html)The tables are completely turned around. So even this greatest commandment, He does not expect us to keep. You must very seriously read this verse for exactly what it is saying in plain English. It is about HIM LOVING US, first, That is square one. That is the gospel. Once we believe THAT, the world changes, we read the scriptures with new eyes. We pray differently, going boldly to a throne of grace where we expect favor. He already knows we screw up. The prodigal in us wants to delay, to wait, to fear the return, but the Father does not have the ire and punishment in mind that we fear.

  20. Try this as an experiment – walk around for a week, pretending like no matter what, you are His pearl of great price, the one pearl that He sold everything for. He greatly greatly loves, and even likes you, and when you come to the throne, he immediately dismisses ALL of your guilt and failures and muck and problems, and is overjoyed to fellowship with you. Always. You can't make Him feel different, He already knows everything, even the future. He decided that He really likes you. When He bids you to do this or that, what a different dynamic! If He takes away or gives, like He took away our 'dream' home here, He gives something better- freedom, less ties to things, the ability to sympathize and give comfort to others with similar problems.

  21. For a week, read the Bible with that mind set, and listen to worship songs and the radio with that perspective. When you have problems and failures walk through them with this mind set. IT'S SO GREAT!!!!!!!!!!! I could never stop being excited about it! Now, I am writing another blog post in a comment! Love you Kim, you and all the Gillam women totally rock. You come from such great spiritual stock, habitual sins and all :-) The McNeely's love love love the Gillams. It was only right that you marry a Dickson as well, there is blessing all over your marriage and family, obviously.

  22. (From Kim Dickson, FB, Part 1) I would love to continue this disucssion, if you're up for it. Like I said, I love spiritual conversations and being able to express thoughts about the Word and the Christian life. I read through your response and your blog post, and I have a couple of thoughts and questions. Thoughts: It is awesome, humbling, and amazing to realize and live like I am truly beloved of the Lord, all the time! Agreed on that! I look at my children, and my heart ACHES with love for him. And to think that my Father loves me even more is just awe-inspiring. Walking in that is wonderful. Also love your thoughts about not being timid or afraid to come to Him after we have failed, thinking we somehow need to "build up" some more good works before we're worthy to enter His throne room for fellowship with Him. I am always welcome, not because of anything I have done, but because He has made me the righteousness of Christ as I have put my faith in Him alone for my salvation. Again, it's just incredible.

  23. (from Kim Dickson, FB, part 2)o, in your last response, you said, "It is about HIM LOVING US, first, That is square one. That is the gospel." And, I have to say, that statement doesn't sit right with me. Not because God didn't say that He loved us first, because you're right. He did. However, just saying that God loves us is NOT the gospel. If I walk up to someone and say, "Hey, just so you know, God loves you, even when you don't love Him," that is not sharing the gospel. (I don't know if we're just getting into semantics here.) Yes, God is love. And praise Him for it. But if we leave out the REASON Jesus had to come and die, which is our sin, it's not going to cause a godly sorrow leading to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The full picture of the gospel is God being holy, just, righteous, and intolerant of any sin whatsoever. He would not be good if He could. Then you have man, who, like Satan himself, wants to set himself up as his own God and violate every standard God has set forth of being righteous. Then you have God, who is not ONLY just, but perfectly loving, making Himself the holy and perfect sacrifice for the propitiation of our sins, bringing us back into fellowship with Himself. It makes me tear up to write it, because it's so beautiful. But the thing is, it's important to see that God's amazing grace and mercy are made cheap and meaningless WITHOUT the alternative. If I walk up to someone random on the street and say, "I just want you to know I forgive you," that statement is meaningless to that person unless they know how they have offended me.

  24. (from Kim Dickson, FB, part 3)Here is a quote about how John Wesley used to preach the gospel that I love: "He says that whenever he arrives at any new place to preach the gospel, he began with a general declaration of the love of God. Then he preached "the Law" (by which he meant all of God's righteous standards and the penalty of disobedience) as searchingly as he could. This he kept up until a large proportion of his hearers found themselves under deep conviction of sin, beginning even to despair of the possibility of forgiveness from his holy God. Then, and only then, did he introduce the good news of Jesus Christ. Wesley explained the saving significance of Christ's person, ministry, death, and resurrection, and wonderful truth that salvation is solely by God's grace, through faith. Unless his audiences sensed that they were guilty, and quite helpless to save themselves, the wonder and availability of God's grace would leave them unmoved."

  25. (part 1)I am loving this, no reason to stop. We are not arguing, we are reasoning together. There is no harm and no animosity, just iron sharpens iron.John Wesley was getting his playbook right straight from the book of Romans. In fact, all of my stuff comes from years of camping out in the book of Romans. I can't tell you how much time I have spent studying all the little nooks and crannies of that book. Before Betty and I got married, I told her we could see each other if she would come at 6 AM every morning and study Romans with me! What a woman! That was over 25 years ago, now that I think about it.

  26. (part 2)Anyway, chapter 1 through the first half of 3 is the 'all have sinned' section. All have sinned. It isn't fake sin. It is true guilt; there isn't a person on earth, believer or not, who doesn't carry the weight of that on them, the weight of their own personal true and present guilt. I believe that the person who runs around partying and sinning who is godless and happy and going to hell and doesn't care is a complete myth. Everyone has a conscience, and the law shines a light on it with great power and precision. The law says, this is what you are, this is the kind of person you have become, and there is no argument. The release of grace is all the greater when forgiveness is truly desired. There is no pill or therapy which can deaden this guilt, no coping overcomes it. It is a poison which spoils every joy. One of my posts talks about why Christianity rightly obsesses over law, sin, and righteousness so much:http://jimmcneely.blogspot.com/2010/05/why-does-christianity-obsess-over-law.html

  27. (part 3)Grace doesn't negate this or navigate around it, it directly dives into it and conquers it. Grace doesn't gloss over or forget it; this is certainly not my message at all. Paul is so clear – the purpose of the law is not to produce righteousness, it is to show the need for grace.However, the point of grace, the point of belief, the core point of the gospel, the thing we must truly repent of, is thinking that by some resolve or moral repentance, that we can come to God. While we were YET SINNERS, Christ died for the ungodly! Get it? If you think that once we were in line with loving God, THEN Christ died for the godly, then it just doesn't work. If you say so, then you are saying that it isn't salvation by GRACE, it isn't faith in God's provision, in God's initiative in loving us, it is faith in our own moral change that saves us. You can't have it both ways, it is one or the other. Salvation is either by the blood of Christ plus nothing, or the blood of Christ plus something we do, which nullifies Christ's blood.

  28. (part 4)If it is the blood of Christ which saves us plus nothing, and faith isn't some kind of flawed moral repentance but acknowledgement that He is the one who love me, who saves me, it is all His work, then what does the Christian life look like? As Paul says, and as I get asked in various ways all the time in different ways, should we just sin all the more that grace might increase? Can we just sin and sin and sin, and party and do all kinds of fun selfish horrid evil, just because in Christ anything goes? That is your question isn't it?The answer is, yes, you can just sin and sin and sin, and He forgives 70 times 7 PER DAY. However, He loves you, and wants the best and happiest thing for you, and all of that sin is going to get REAL old and is not the happy life anyone might think it is. Real freedom, total freedom, the joyous Christian walk, is released from OBLIGATION to do righteousness so it might be freely chosen and given empowerment by the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life.

  29. (part 5)Explaining such incredible freedom, real freedom, to a non-believer is likely to raise this "can you just sin and sin" question in the same way that explaining sex to a 4 year old will raise some strange questions. (Not that I advocate this!) The 4 year old is likely to be confused and frightened, and might ask, can I still eat candy if I have to do this? The answer is, you can do whatever, but you probably won't want to. The answer to the "can I just sin and sin" question is that, well, you can indeed do whatever, but the happy path is to set your mind on the things of the spirit. Eventually, by the grace of God, through discipline or teaching or just time, He will lead us each on to the simple path of holiness, a true holiness that is childlike and unshakeable and real. Such a thing is only born of God, our initial or even present conceptions of holiness and repentance are off the mark and we must look to His love for us to lead us to the place where deep calls to deep, the truly beautiful places. He may take us through poverties of spirit or finances, or even of power over habitual sins, to bring us to a place of brokenness and truth, where His deepest gifts of grace are imparted. Non-believers and young Christians are not ready for such glories any more than a 4 year old is ready to hear about sex. But the glories of the love of God are greater and more pleasurable in the end than sex, however, since so few really believe in the real love of God for us they have trouble entering into these places because they cannot go boldly to the throne because they don't actually believe that it is a throne of grace, but mainly a throne of judgment.

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