Religious people I meet are always talking about their “personal holiness.” Almost everyday, I bump into someone who will quote Scripture out of context to support the notion that unless a professing believer is producing works (and by that the religious person means keeping the law; and by that the religious person means the parts of the Ten Commandments that they themselves are trying to OUTWARDLY keep), that the professing believer may in fact be an unbeliever.
With incredulity the religious person will ask “can someone live in unrepentant sin and be a Christian?” Typically, they have a limited subset of sins in mind-homosexuality, drunkenness and perhaps adultery. They will never say “Can someone live as a liar, a disrespecter of parents, a blasphemer, an idolator and be a Christian?” Or “Can someone who fails to perfectly seek the kingdom and the Lord’s righteousness be a Christian?” Or better still, they will never ask “Can someone who fails to love God perfectly with heart, soul, and mind be a Christian?”
It is always what they consider to be the big, bad sins that someone cannot be doing if they are really a true Christian. The little ones are fine because, after all, no one is perfect (*sarcasm alert* right, because failing to love God perfectly is a little sin compared to homosexuality). But if you are doing the big, bad ones according to their standard, then you have reason to question whether you have been truly converted. Of course, these questions betray their lack of understanding of a few things:
1)A lack of understanding regarding the absolute PERFECTION that God’s law requires. God’s law requires absolute perfection, not best efforts, which means that no man can be saved, or find assurance of salvation through imperfect legal obedience. Man is imputed with Adam’s guilt, and is guilty of his own legal violations.
2)The nature of God-given faith. Faith is given only to the elect by God as a gift, and God never gives a lame or dead faith to an elect sinner. The faith God gives always functions, because God does not do anything imperfectly, nor does He cooperate with men, nor does He leave the success of His ends dependent on men.
3)The finished work of Christ for His elect.
4)The nature of God-given repentance. Repentance is not a promise to do better. It is not even efforts made to do better. It is a change of mind caused by God in the minds of His elect concerning the only acceptable righteousness before Him, that of His Son Jesus Christ. Remorse for sin is not repentance. Promising to change is not repentance. Quitting drinking or smoking is not repentance. Repentance is a supernatural change of mind. It cannot be mustered up by dead sinners afraid of eternal punishment.
The religious person speaks of unrepentant sin with disdain, as if they have every sin of their own lives identified and mortified. As if the fact that they are attempting to be moral means they are not in “unrepentant sin.” As if the fact that they are not gay, not cheating on their spouse, or not getting drunk means that they are not in constant, open, and unrepentant rebellion against a Holy God. Friends, deception is real.
Usually, the accusation of living in “unrepentant sin” arises in the context of talking about the complete freedom that the elect sinner has in Christ, or in the acknowledgement that all we ever do is sin against a holy God, or, worst of all, when talking about Christ’s finished work for His people as the all sufficient basis of salvation.
They will accuse brethren of loving sin, or looking for excuses to “live in sin,” the implications of their statements being that they do not love sin, or that they do not live in sin. This only betrays the fact that they do not realize how truly sinful they are-that all they ever do is trespass against a Holy God. They will say things like “well sure, I sin, but it isn’t a pattern of life.” Or, “yes I sin, but I don’t live in sin.” Or, “if you’re not progressing in holiness, then maybe you’re not saved.” Or, “justification is objective, but sanctification is subjective.”
My question to people who are deceived into thinking that their meager, weak, and inconsistent attempts to obey the law are the proof that they are saved–Is the work of Christ somehow deficient? Is there something that He did not do, or worse yet, failed to do by His death on the cross which leaves the elect sinner with a burden of now working to perfect His otherwise incomplete work? God forbid!
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”Hebrews 10:14 ESV
Christ has PERFECTED His elect by His single offering. He did all of the work necessary to satisfy God and ensure that the elect will be spared from the coming wrath. There is nothing that the elect sinner can do to add to Christ’s work, to add to their justication, or to add to their sanctification. He did it all, and praise God for that!
The elect sinner is holy before God, not because of their efforts to obey, but because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. The elect sinner cannot, through imperfect obedience, further sanctify themselves, or find evidence of regeneration. Evidence of regeneration is found in believing the gospel.
The elect sinner is only holy because of Christ, not what they are now doing.
Now, in order to avoid the inevitable accusation of antinomianism-should the Christian try to live a life pleasing to God? Yes! “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”Titus 2:11-14 ESV
Is our inevitable failure to do these things evidence we are not saved? No! “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
Is a “pattern of sin”(whatever that means) evidence that we are not saved? No! “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”Romans 9:15-16 ESV
Should we sin that grace may abound? No!“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”Romans 6:1-2 ESV
The regenerated believer should seek to live in purity before God. But we have no intrinsic righteousness or holiness of our own. Any good standing we have before God is based on the merits of Christ and those alone. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—”Philippians 3:3 ESV