Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Buckle Your Self Righteous Seat Belts


Warning: The captain has lit the “turbulence” sign and for the next few moments you may experience some rough air pockets which can upset your doctrinal stomach.

I Cor.6: 9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Scripture must be interpreted through the prism of Scripture itself. That means that we cannot cull out certain verses and make them exclusive and isolated teachers without placing them within the context of not only their Scriptural neighborhood, but they must be examined and unpacked within the context of the entirety of the written revelation. Sometimes that is very easy, but other times that is very difficult and demanding. It is Biblical laziness to lift out verses and make them your sounding board. But that has always been a widespread practice inside the church.

The verses I have provided above are an example of using Scripture for an agenda while ignoring both the entirety of their teaching as well as the overall theme of the New Testament. Let me also pause to warn against melding the Old and New Testaments. This has been commonplace throughout church history, and it is a favorite practice among some even today. It is a dangerous path to error and self righteousness. The Old Testament is a prophetic instrument that points to Christ regardless of the writing styles of poetry, narrative, proverbs, or any other literary vehicle. They all point in some way to Christ. But now we have the substance, and the types and shadows and metaphors are used to substantiate the inspiration of Scripture as well as give a clearer image of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

With that in mind we are pilgrims of the New Covenant, and although we are edified by the illuminations of Christ in the Old Covenant, we walk exclusively in the New and Better Covenant. This is the covenant of the Spirit born of God’s grace, kept by God’s grace, and glorified by God’s grace. The law is now dead to those who believe, and there can be no man made amalgam of law and grace. If any part of our beings are still judged and condemned by the law, we are all still dead in our sins. That is why it is against God’s grace to demand that we as New Covenant believers adhere to the Ten Commandments or any other moral or ceremonial directives contained in the Law of Moses.

We have learned by the Old Testament how God feels about sin, and certain sins are specified. So we know God hates adultery, however we as believers avoid committing adultery because we walk in the Spirit and the love of Christ constrains us. No longer do we obey writings in stone, but now armed with the knowledge of those commandments, we obey God through the Spirit and not because we are bound to the law. And when we sin against God we are no longer killed, but now we are corrected. We are not merely obeyers of the law, we are children who seek to obey and please their Father. Please do not minimize the distinction since it minimizes God’s grace and the surpassing glory of the New Covenant. To desire the law is to desire death.

But I want to focus in on the verses from First Corinthians I shared. These have been used as a self righteous platform to condemn others, and especially those who commit certain sins. But let us take an honest look at the sins listed here. The word effeminate has been used to suggest that homosexuals can never be saved if they are not completely rescued from that sin. But before I address that issue, let us remove that word for now. So without the word effeminate, let us examine the other sins.

Look at the word covetous. Now remember, the word effeminate is for now not in the list. And these verses were written before the Industrial Revolution and when the culture was agricultural in nature. So what temptations were there for covetousness? Your neighbor’s crops? You neighbor’s one room house? Your neighbor’s mule? Yes, the sinful heart still coveted after such things. So if covetousness was a problem in that environment, how much is it a problem in this hedonistic culture? We are bombarded with commercials and advertisements that strenuously pull at our hearts and create small and medium and great amounts of lust.

But since we have been raised in this culture, and since we seem to compartmentalize sin, and since we arrive at truth with all kinds of cultural and environmental ingredients, how much covetousness do we have today? Cars, and houses, and clothes, and vacations, and savings accounts, and food, and romantic getaways, and movies, and concerts, and music, and all sorts of material things and experiences elicit some level of lust and covetousness within our hearts. And if you deny that you fall prey to any of it than you are exhibiting the sin of lying and are self deceived.

But as believers living in this culture, we have become inoculated and insulated to our own sin. We are no longer sensitive to covetousness, and the church now only recognizes a brand of covetousness that actually drools over something or in the context of coveting your neighbor’s wife. The little foxes, though they may be many, are ignored and accepted as normal. And in a clandestine effort to further minimize and marginalize our own covetousness, we magnify other sins which do not plague us and thereby sweep our own sins under the doctrinal rug. It is a very tidy way to rip Scripture apart and use whatever indicts others while almost ignoring what indicts us.

So in effect, we as western believers can covet all sorts of things and even practice idolatry while standing upon a moral platform and proclaiming that those that practice other things cannot inherit the kingdom of God. How rich is that? Of course if we did not have the word “effeminate” we would have to be even more creative in our interpretation. Nationalism is blatant idolatry and yet it is openly and warmly received within the evangelical community. But we never suggest we cannot inherit the kingdom of God. It is quite the spectacle and reveals a superior level of Scriptural gymnastics.

And let us be clear and pull back the curtain. The sin of covetousness is not only committed with regularity within the community of faith, it is on some level accepted. The prosperity message has made it an art form. But even in “orthodox” communities, it rears its ugly head like the chipmunk game at a kid’s amusement park. I once attended an evangelical church that called a pastor from another church to be their pastor. That pastor said he was willing but they had to increase the salary package or it would just be a “lateral” move. And that pastor had made millions in the secular world before he became a preacher. That is blatant covetousness.

Even such seemingly innocuous things like cell phones elicit covetousness when the newer versions come out. See the lines form to buy the new iPhone and pay handsomely to get it! And believers by the millions covet them. I am suggesting that covetousness is embraced and practiced by the western church in ways that should be clear and also in more clandestine ways. And yet we would never suggest that preacher who coveted a new set of golf clubs or a designer suit or even a new reference Bible was not going to inherit the kingdom of God. Why? Why can we excuse that sin and not the sin of being effeminate? Or why can the rabid patriot who hates President Obama and regularly speaks ill of him and others inherit God’s kingdom but not the effeminate? Why can the believer who regularly complains about taxes or gas prices which is a form of covetousness, why is he allowed to enter God’s kingdom even though he commits sins included in that list?

Why? Because we have taken God’s Word and made it our personal defender and an incendiary device with which to condemn others. Take another look at verse 11. You were sinners attached to those sins, but because you are now in Christ you have been washed by His blood. This does not mean you do not commit those sins ever again, because if it does mean that then heaven will be empty. But it does mean that once those sins condemned us to death, but now we have been justified through Christ.

Rom.4: What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Not only are we justified without works, we are justified in spite of works. This is no game of grace by faith to get in, but sinlessness to actually be in. Are we called to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit? Yes, of course! But even those who legalistically attempt perfection in that area fall short. And if we say that certain sins exclude people from redemption, than we must say that all sin does. Christ did die as a sacrifice for all sins, but some have a caveat? And the caveat is that they can be forgiven if you do not commit them. So what does that say about redemption?

Let us be clear, no one can be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ. No one. But what sins must be given up to be saved? If that even enters the conversation then the answer is all sins. And just so we are clear about this, the person who says he trusts Christ and then goes on exactly as he was before and with no change or desire to change, that person is deceived. But all of us still sin after we have been saved. And regardless of how wonderful our transformation was and is, we still sin. Sometimes we sin inadvertently, sometimes we sin knowingly, and sometimes we sin and are blind to the sinfulness of that sin. Yes, sometimes we practice something that we believe is not sin, or even believe is of God, and yet it is sin.

But we are now washed, and as John wrote, “The blood of Jesus is cleansing us from all sin”. And why would we depend upon God not imputing sin unto us if we had no sin to impute? Redemption is a faith-gift of God’s grace. And when a sinner sincerely believes in Christ, his sins no longer are imputed against him. There is now no condemnation, not to those who do not sin or even try and not sin, but to those who are in Christ Jesus.

So can a sinner believe on Jesus and be saved and washed but still practice certain sins? Let us be clear, we all fit that description. Can a person be saved and still covet? Can a person be saved and still be self righteous? Can a person be saved and still curse? Can a person be saved and commit adultery? Can a person be saved and look at pornography? Can a person be saved and abuse prescription medication? Ok, most of us would say yes to all these.

But here is my point. The church has loudly and self righteously promoted the concept that a gay person cannot be saved unless he rejects that sin and makes an observably successful effort to live without it. We have made the sin of homosexuality the unpardonable sin and thereby both kept gay people from faith in Christ as well as made ourselves moral champions. But there are growing numbers of gay people whose lives have been changed by Christ in many ways, who read the Scriptures and pray, and who support world wide missions, but who remain blind to that particular sin. Some of them are honest in their business, active in a local church, pay their taxes, and even witness Christ among the gay community. Can they, hypothetically, be saved?

If we do not even allow for that possibility than what we are saying is that millions of heterosexual believers who lie, and covet, and practice idolatry, and lust, and never read the Bible, and never pray, can be saved but not the afore mentioned gay person. Only God knows those that are His, but if we limit redemption to those who do not commit certain sins we dilute the scope and power of redemption but are careful not extend the boundaries to exclude us. What about the preacher who divorces his wife and marries his mistress, can he be saved? Oh yes, you say, because he has repented and is not steadily committing that sin. Sure he repented, because he fulfilled his lusts and now he can claim complete forgiveness while enjoying the fruits of his sin. Like a bank robber who steals a million dollars, repents, and keeps the million dollars.

But I am not saying that preacher cannot be saved. What I am saying is that if you say the gay person cannot be deceived about his sin but still be saved, then none of us can be saved. This is where redemption is put to the test.

I Cor.3: 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Now examine this principle. Here is a man who arrives in heaven and has his works burned up, but is saved. Now I ask you, was that man’s life filled with begin works that were neither righteous nor sinful? Is there any such thing? No, this man lived a life filled with himself, which is sin, and all his works went up in smoke. However, in the hypothetical, the man’s soul was saved. Why? Because he had trusted Christ and upon that foundation alone he inherited God’s kingdom. Wow, think about that. Yes, there are warnings in Scripture about people having false conversions and yet thinking they were saved. That is a very legitimate concern and should be presented to all of us. But this particular teaching is revealing as it pertains to the scope and power of redemption.

But back to the original portion of Scripture. We are not labeled as covetous, although we still covet. But we are washed and are now the redeemed. We are not labeled as idolaters although we still commit idolatry. We are washed and are now the redeemed. You see, our sins are no longer imputed to our account because we are washed and justified. We are not justified because we no longer do those things, but we are justified because of Christ. We should not commit those sins, in fact we should not commit any sins. But we are not justified based upon our successful avoidance of sin in particular or as a whole, and thank God we are not.

So the next time you hear a preacher proudly proclaim that no gays can inherit the kingdom of God, and he quotes those verses, take a look around and watch as people who commit others sins outlined in the New Testament nod and clap. And as you do, bow your head and your heart and give thanks to Almighty God because He has saved you even though you yourself are just like that publican, or for that matter, just like that gay person.


jerry mcfarland said...

Brother Rick, you make me think. And that's a good thing.

JMD said...

Some of the most moral of people I have known are atheists. Makes one truly stop and reflect about how they live, think and act. Or it should.

Anonymous said...

I love this theological line of thought. However, I am left wondering about Paul's challenge, "should grace abound? God forbid." We all have blind spots, but we are called to pursue the "transforming mind." I know someone involved in an adulterous relationship. She is definitely a Christian. I am obliged to exhort her to turn from that relationship and restore her marriage. Yes, we are not the judge of one's salvation, but as the Spirit speaks conviction of sin to our spirit, we are called to turn from that sin. Although I have my blind spots and sin, my desire is to turn from them when made aware, and with the support of fellow believers. How do I stand alongside a gay person who proclaims his lifestyle is alright with God and not allow my own sin or that of my friend to go unchallenged? I still find it hard to balance grace and truth in these situations.

Josef Sefton said...

God is a righteous God so the unrighteous ought to desire wholeheartedly to trust and obey him.
It is challenging to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ but as long as they are willing to learn from the God of the Holy Bible God will help step by step to inch toward him

Rick Frueh said...

"I still find it hard to balance grace and truth in these situations."
Yes, and if we lost that challenge we eneter into self righteousness or condoning sin. But do everything in love.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jesus, for this preaching. It's like cool water over my soul.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so true what Anon. said, "I still find it hard to balance grace and truth in these situations". And also so true what Rick Frueh adds to this: "Yes, and if we lost that challenge we enter into self-righteousness or condoning sin. But do everything in love".

Love does cover a multitude of sins. And we know that in John 20 even the disciples needed to know what God's intent was for others......"Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me."

John 20:25: "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen".

Josef said...

Anonymous is quoting from John 21.