The Righteous Will Live By Faith
hen can you say that you obey him? That you know him? Is it six months or a year after you were saved? No. If you have exercised genuine faith and repentance you became righteous when you put your faith in him, and you became obedient when you repented. Repentance is not merely turning from sin, it is turning to obedience. It's turning from the kingdom of darkness to light. A heart of unbelief turns to faith; a heart of rebellion surrenders to obedience. The root of conversion is a change of heart which springs forth in a change of conduct. This sacred moment begins a process of growth in wisdom, knowledge, love, and grace.
The Great Divide
Before you became a Christian there was a great divide between you and the Father. Now the divide should stand between your old life and your new one. When someone becomes a Christian they start with a clean slate. They are clean, forgiven, and free. If you really love him you will make it your goal to stay clean, our Lord deserves no less. If you do sin and allow any unrighteousness into your life confess it, he has promised to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
The sinner is morally depraved: He lives for himself while the saint lives for God. Every sinner is guided by his sinful nature, that is, his passions and desires. The Christian however, has crucified the sinful nature ( Gal. 5:24) and is guided by the light of the world. At the point of conversion the new believer is a babe but he has a clean and righteous heart. Such people will be lead by the spirit and when the truth is presented to them they will respond. A failure to respond resulting in continued sin would be conclusive evidence that they never did repent and receive Christ.
The same faith that receives Christ's righteousness becomes the wellspring of the believers life. Often people will assume that it is impossible to in one moment change from being morally depraved to being righteous. They say that there will always be rooms of your heart that need to be cleaned. The idea sounds plausible but the promise of the New Covenant is not a slow renovation of our old wicked heart, it is a new heart. To suppose otherwise is to confuse conversion with Growth. Conversion involves turning wholly from sin and wholly to God. One involves the attitude of the heart or will the other involves growth in knowledge and ability. God will settle for and even delight in the weak as well as the strong, but he will not not settle for half a heart and part of a mind. New believers should be taught that they are to live completely and consistently for God. Growth should be seen, not as waffling back and forth between good and evil, but as an ever increasing awareness of how to Love God and our neighbor.
Righteousness, Works, and the Gospel
Some would accuse me of mixing works with the gospel. However the basis for this accusation lies in a misunderstanding. Those who do this confuse the grounds for our salvation with a condition for receiving it. Faith is the condition for receiving salvation, and this same faith works by love, purifies the heart, and produces obedience (Gal. 5:6, Acts 5:6, Rom. 1:5). This is why it could be said that "faith without works is dead" (James 2). A call for obedience is not necessarily antagonistic to grace, because true faith goes hand in hand with repentance and produces obedience (Rom. 1:5).
Paul concludes Romans by saying that the Gospel has been revealed by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him. This is not preaching works of the law. This should be proclaimed in complete confidence despite the opposition from those who try to hide their rebellion under a cloak of deception. Let us leave it at this: there is a difference between works produced by faith (1 Thessalonians 1:3)...and "works of the law" (Gal. 2:16).
Problem often arise when people take a true statement and draw a false conclusion from it. In this case they will say that our obedience (IE. our works) cannot merit right standing with God (a true statement); thus, obedience is not necessary (a false conclusion). While it is true that righteousness is not given on account of merit earned by personal works part of the gift involves making us Holy. They are right in saying that works done by sinners will not merit salvation but they are wrong for failing to mention that salvation merits holiness. In other words we are called to live a life worthy of the gospel (Php 1:27, Eph 4:1). God not only gives us righteousness, he redeems us so that we can serve the living God.
Righteousness and Responsibility
Hank Hanegraaff, God makes us obey Him; it's
completely Gods responsibility. But that is not all, since obedience is
also impossible we must conclude that God has forsaken his responsibility. Not only is the
idea confusing, but it transfers the blame to the wrong person. In this
scenario the blame for disobedience ends up being thrown upon God. Observe Hanegraaff's counsel to a woman who has some knowledge of the truth that
she's suppressing. The question is who gets the blame? She has confessed
that her sins are black before her face, and acknowledged that she's doing
some things that the scripture says excludes her from the kingdom of God.
On a practical level this is a crucial issue. On the issue of sanctification, do we have to cooperate with God - that is, do we have to let him work in our lives so the work can be accomplished? Hank's response is no, as he stated: "he started the work in you and will finish it for you." Here he is overlooking some very clear teaching. There are usually two or three agents in sanctification: God, man, and often pastors or other Christians. Hanegraaff only acknowledges God's activity. Let's examine his analogy of the cleansing shower.
If I would use the same logic and only tell someone one side of the issue, you could just as easily prove the opposite point and say that it's not God's responsibility to cleanse you; rather, it's yours by quoting James 4:8, "wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double minded." I could say that it's completely your responsibility, but I wouldn't, because I recognize that there is a sense in which it is your duty to wash your hands and purify your heart, yet nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash your sin stained hands and no one but God can purify your heart. Sometimes the bible talks about sanctification from God's perspective, sometimes from man's, as in James, and sometimes from both. Unfortunately, Hank has missed this point and thus gives destructive counsel.
Romans six brings both sides together, proclaiming God's provision and our responsibility: "our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless." God has provided in Christ's crucifixion for your crucifixion. You've been "freed from sin" (v.7), but it does not end here you still have a responsibility. Verse 11 clearly spells out your responsibility: "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." So we do have to let God work in our lives, but can we just say "Oh God, you've done it all" and do nothing? I answer with a resounding NO! God has done his part, now it's up to you to do yours. If you were just a puppet, if it was only up to God, apart from your own agency as some seem to imply, none of us would ever sin again. The fact that this is not the case, that sin continues, demonstrates that some agency apart from God's is at work in the world. Fortunately God still allows freedom, unfortunately people abuse that freedom. The reason people still sin is because they forsake their responsibility, ignore God's provision and cling to the darkness. The apostle Paul said it best:
This should not be hard to understand God works and provides for your sanctification, and you respond to his working in your heart. Fellow believer's are told to come along side and encourage you to respond to God and reprove you if you don't. The bible pronounces you dead in Christ, you are dead to sin that is something Christ has provided for you through your union with him on the cross. But it is up to you to count yourself dead to sin. It is up to you to "put to death the misdeeds of the body." that's something you are told to do, God will not make you do it he's put the sword in your hand.
The woman from the earlier conversation was confessing her sin. She was confessing that she was aware of her obligation and had abandoned it. Hanegraaff forsook his as well, he should have told her the truth and rebuked her (2 Timothy 4:2). Instead he told her that it was not really her fault. Instead of working with the Holy spirit and exposing the sin in her heart he placed the blamed on God, how did he do that? He did it by denying her responsibility, and implying that it belonged solely to God? This is a horrible situation, here we have a woman who is under conviction the father is reaching out to her offering restoration and forgiveness. Then Hank steps in and Instead of turning this sinner from the error of her way (James 5:20). Instead of bringing her face to face with reality, with the lord he gave her an excuse so as to ease her sin stained conscience.
If our own agency wasn't involved at all, if it was only God in the sense Hank seems to imply, not only would God be responsible for our obedience he would also get the blame when we are disobedient. This would naturally be implied because if we are only obedient when he makes us obedient then when we are not it was due to him not choosing to make us obedient. This is truly shifting the blame and I would say is blasphemous, because in an insidious manner it is accusing God of sin. You can not say, "I sinned but it is not my fault," I'm in the shower but God hasn't cleansed me yet, that is not confession that's denial.
We need to get in the shower and stay there. God will not force you into the shower. Even in the shower analogy there are at least two factors. You the water, and perhaps some friendly person who said you need a shower.
I would hope that I am misunderstanding Hank, but I'm afraid that I haven't. I want to hear him telling people that they are dead to sin. I want to hear him say that if you know something is a sin you don't have to give in. In the course of the conversation I could only think of God's word to Jeremiah;
"They dress the wounds of my people
The Providence of Man The Providence of God
Most of life belongs to the providence of God but some
belong to man. Obedience is an issue that falls into both. There are certain
consequences that naturally result from our obedience or disobedience.
I have a wife and two children who are both greatly effected by my conduct.
How I treat them, and live in all the practical affairs of life effects
their well-being and happiness. Their response to my actions also effects
me. This is in the providence of man. He can
forgive me if I break his law and could erase consequences, but most often
we will experience the natural consequences of our actions.
Faith, Love and Obedience
The apposing system makes obedience a confusing idea. In this system Jesus lived a righteous life in our place so that we could be forgiven and excused rather than forgiven and redeemed. Thus, our obedience becomes an abstract theological concept, leaving sin as the only reality. It is at this point that the theory breaks down and becomes practically confusing. It becomes confusing because people such as Hank Hanegraaff still assert that a true believer will be obedient. Unfortunately, he doesn't see this as inconsistent with claiming we have to sin. In the end people are left wondering how many sins they have to commit, what kinds they have to commit, and how much is to much.
Only a heart full of faith and love for God can inspire real obedience, the kind that will keep family's strong, motivate the shepherds and impact the world. "Faith works by Love." This love is what fueled the fire in the apostles hearts. This is what caused the Corinthians to repent in Godly sorrow (and filled them with zeal). Respond to God and his word in faith and trust.
1. Hank Hanegraaff, Live program, (San Juan Capistrano, CA: The Bible Answer man Broadcast), 13 December 95.