Recently, I have heard Christians describe righteous living as “dead works” or “living under the law”.
Recently, I have heard Christians describe righteous living as “dead works” or “living under the law”. I have heard that we should disregard the very words of Jesus because they were spoken “before He went to the cross”. I have heard that the New Testament contains only grace and no law. I have heard that when we sin, it does not affect our relationship with God because when God looks at us, all He sees is Jesus. Some say we no longer need to ask for forgiveness when we sin because Christ has forgiven past, present and future sins. Others say we CANNOT sin because Christ’s death abolished sin. These teachings and several others are currently spreading like wildfire among many churches. Are they biblical or have we bought a lie? Are we buying into 30 or 45 minute sermons with carefully selected bible verses without going home to study extensively on issues that have to do with our souls? All teaching must stand the test of lining up with God’s word, no matter how right sounding and how eloquent or anointed the lips that proclaim it.
First off, I must say that as Christians, we may differ on certain doctrinal issues like how often we should take communion for instance. However, there are some doctrines that have eternal significance and on which the bible is emphatic. On those, we must not compromise.
The bible is accurate and even though it sometimes appears to contradict itself, it does not. It is important in studying any verse of scripture, to always find out what the entire book and chapter are about. It is necessary to read preceding and following verses, and identify who the verse is addressing in order not to take the scripture out of context. It is also very important to compare seemingly contradictory verses of scripture with each other and sometimes other translations, in order to appreciate the full import of what is being said. It also helps to look at sub- headings and footnotes in bibles that have them.
In this four part series, I will be examining some doctrines that have become popular in recent years. I know that not everyone will agree with what I have written here but I ask in all humility that before you comment on this, kindly ensure that you read all four parts, go back to the Word and prayerfully study the verses I have provided here; not with the aim of proving me wrong, but with the aim of ensuring that what you know is the truth.
SALVATION; PAID IN FULL
There are some things the bible is very clear about. Salvation is completely by Gods grace, through faith. No amount of good works could ever substitute for Christ’s death on the cross. This means that if we did all the good works in the world without FIRST accepting Christ, we would still go to hell. This is why the bible makes us understand that it is not our works that save us (Eph 2:8-9). Upon accepting Christ, it is this same saving grace which will help us lead godly lives. If we tried on our own to do good works, we would fail every single time. It is God’s grace that empowers us, giving us both the desire and the means to please God (Phil 2:13).
IS THE NEW TESTAMENT ALL GRACE AND NO LAW?
I have heard it taught that the New Testament contains only grace and no law and that the 10 commandments have no place in a believer’s life. Is this completely true? There were over 600 laws in the Old Testament. These included civil, ceremonial and moral laws; the most popular being the 10 moral laws. Contrary to what most teach, the New Testament itself contains more commands than the old and includes most of its moral laws! Jesus even personally endorsed some of them! (Matt 19:16-19). So while the Old Testament laws are not binding on Christians today, the New Testament commands are! Some say that Jesus brought a new law which nullifies the 10 commandments; the law of love (John 13:34, Matt 22:37-39). In actual fact, this new law does not nullify, but fulfils and encompasses all the others (Rom 13:10,
Gal 5:14). Does all this talk about law negate the grace of God? No! We are no longer under the law and the punishment, condemnation and bondage of sin (Rom 7:6). We are under grace and grace demands that we love God and keep his commandments (2John: 6, James 1:22, Matt 28:20). It’s just that simple.
WE ARE SAVED TO “DO”
I have heard some preachers say that after you accept Jesus into your life, you must cease from works. They say any deliberate move to live right shows that you are saved by your works and you are saying Christ’s sacrifice was not sufficient to save you. But is this true if it is Christ Himself that gives you the grace to live right and if it is Him that is at work within you? The truth is that salvation produces good works. (Titus 2:11-12). In fact, God is glorified when we obey His commands and live righteously (Matt 5:16, 2Tim 1:9, 1John 2:3-5, Phil 1:11). The bible is very clear that works do not save us but it is also clear that we are saved FOR good works (Eph 2:8-10). We are then subsequently enjoined to be zealous (passionate) for good works! (Titus 2:14). Good works are the products of our salvation (Eph 2:10, Gal 5:25, 1John 2:3).
Those who preach that any work after salvation is bad usually quote Galatians 5:4 where believers are instructed not to become entangled with the law again. However, this verse was speaking of the Old Testament laws which some of the early Christians were still bent on observing. That’s why circumcision was mentioned (Gal 5:3). Further down in Galatians 6:2 and indeed across the entire New Testament, believers are instructed to keep Christ’s (New Testament) laws! It is important to note here that “the works of the law which Paul mentions in Gal 2:16 and Gal 3:10 is different from the works mentioned in James 2:17. We must be able to differentiate between the “works of the law” and “good works” which God ordained for New Testament believers to do.
The bible records in different verses that we are to REJECT ungodliness, HOLD FAST our confidence, FLEE youthful lusts, RESIST the devil, FIGHT the good fight, STRIP OFF every weight, RUN the race that is set, PRESENT our bodies, WALK IN the spirit, REMAIN IN fellowship, CARRY our crosses, THROW OFF our old nature, TURN FROM sinful pleasures, ENDURE so as to reign with Him, FOLLOW peace and holiness, CRUCIFY the flesh, etc. Those are all instructions to believers; good actions which we will have to carry out ourselves AFTER salvation. Matt 6:33, 7:21 and many other verses of scripture give direct instructions to “do” His will and actively pursue a righteous lifestyle. So the teaching that nothing is expected of us after salvation is totally wrong.
I will continue the series tomorrow with the sub- topic “Can a believer sin?”
Continuing from yesterday, part 2 of the 4 part series.
CAN A BELIEVER SIN?
I once heard someone say that sin is the transgression of the law and Christ has fulfilled the law therefore, believers are incapable of committing sin. Is this true? Certainly not! My answer is evidenced by Gal 5:16-21, Gal 6:1 and numerous other verses of scripture. 1John 1:10 which was addressing believers says that we call God a liar if we say we have no sin. Rom 8:23-25 shows us that someday, God will give us new bodies which will be free from sin; but we don’t have them yet! While we are in this mortal body, we will sometimes miss the mark, but God’s grace is available not only for forgiveness, but to help us not to make a lifestyle of sin.
Those who believe that nothing a Christian does can be called sin usually quote 1John3:9 to support their belief but a careful study reveals that 1John3:9 is
saying that a true believer does not make sinning a lifestyle. Note also that further down in the same book of 1John (5:16), admonition is given concerning a believer who is in sin. The reason that the New Testament records that and so many other instructions for believers to stay away from sin is that we are indeed capable of committing sin. The good news however is that grace is infinitely stronger and has set us free from the power of sin! (Rom 6:7). We are no longer slaves to sin and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can live righteously (Rom 6:18).
SHOULD A BELIEVER ASK FOR FORGIVENESS?
We have seen above that believers are capable of committing sin as receiving Christ into our lives does not automatically take us out of our corrupt mortal bodies. Now, should believers repent when they do sin? Yes! There are those that preach that when we sin, it is of no consequence and if we ask God for forgiveness, we are being “sin conscious”. They claim that God has forgiven all our future sins and only sees His righteousness when He looks at us. This is not true. True believers are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We are also hid in Christ. However, NOTHING is hidden from God (Heb 4:11-13). Our sins are forgiven, only if we confess (acknowledge) and repent of them. 1John 1:9 which says that IF we confess our sins, He will forgive us, wasn’t addressing unbelievers. Even the Lord’s Prayer indicates that we are to ask for forgiveness of sins. Jesus himself instructed Peter to repent in Luke 22:32 and Peter asks Simon, a professing believer, to ask for forgiveness in Acts 8:22. Several other verses of scripture direct believers to repent of known sins, confess them and ask for God’s forgiveness. Why would there be so much talk in the New Testament about repentance, confession and forgiveness of sin if God had already forgiven the future sins of these early believers? Surely, there would have been no mention of their sins if it were so!
We must be careful not to let wrong teaching cause problems for us. A heart that cannot recognise or isn’t sorrowful over sin is in trouble because God won’t
forgive a sin for which frgiveness is never asked! This means that those who have let pride make them feel they no longer need to ask for forgiveness are in a dangerous place. Many of us professing Christians are already at this point and we don’t even know it!
In teaching about God’s grace, we must never downplay the dangers of sin. God loves us even when we make mistakes but He yearns for us to have tender consciences and hearts which have not been seared by sin and which are humble enough to run to Him when we miss it. When we begin to justify or ignore sin, there’s a problem. True believers may sin but are quick to repent. They recognize and hate sin. We must never ever be indifferent to sin. One may ask, “What about sin that we committed without realizing we had sinned? How do we ask for forgiveness for those?” Well, I believe that when we walk in obedience, the Holy Spirit sometimes points out our faults to us. Beyond that, 1John 1:9 says He will cleanse of ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS if we confess our sins! That’s all the reassurance we need to not live in the fear or guilt that we have some un-confessed sin lurking in the shadows somewhere.
Thank God for our merciful and ever loving father who has made provision for our forgiveness through the precious blood of Christ.
ARE ALL PROFESSING BELIEVERS TRULY CHRISTIANS?
We have seen that a professing believer can miss the mark and that when that happens, God expects us to ask Him for forgiveness. Now, is every professing believer a true Christian? In order to answer this, we must understand that being a true believer is more heart knowledge than head knowledge. Contrary to what many preach, it involves more than saying the siner’s prayer (which can be recited without any conviction). The sinner’s prayer without right believing is empty and will not save anyone.
According to James 2:19, a believer is not merely one who believes that there is one God, for even the demons believe this! It goes on to say in verse 20 that our faith/ belief without corresponding works is useless! This clearly means that believing is more than lip service (Matt 15:8). It involves faith, genuine repentance, trust and consequently obedience. New Testament believing changes the heart first and then manifests on the outside. That’s how it differs from the old.
The word “Christian” means follower of Christ and is synonymous with the word believer. The bible mentions different characteristics of Christ’s followers throughout the New Testament. One of them is in 1John 2:5-6 where the bible says that we know we are living in God when we OBEY Him and live as Jesus did. This alone proves that not everyone that professes to be a Christian is one because it simply means those that are not obeying Him are not living in Him.
In John 8:31, the bible says “If you ABIDE in my word, you are TRULY my disciples”. The word “truly” means “really”. This means if you don’t abide (stay) in His word, you are not a true or genuine disciple. 1John 2:4 also says: If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. In John 6:54, Jesus also explains that to have eternal life, a believer must eat His flesh and drink His blood. This speaks of intimacy and covenant; something that is lacking in the lives of many professing believers today. Believing is a heart matter. God who sees our hearts knows those who truly belong to Him (2Tim 2:19) and no man can deceive Him. The hearts of many are far from God and many professing believers are not relying on Him and are certainly not obeying Him. This is why on the last day, some who professed to be Christians will not enter His kingdom (Matt 7:21).
Every church cngregation is a mixed crowd containing both true believers and those professing to be but whose hearts are in reality, far from Him. That is what makes blanket statements and sweeping promises of eternal security proclaimed by many pastors, lethal. This brings us to the next fallacy.
I will continue the series tomorrow with the sub- topic “Can a professing believer go to hell?”
Part 3 of the 4 part series.
CAN A PROFESSING BELIEVER GO TO HELL?
Many preach that a professing believer cannot go to hell. They believe that the moment they recite the sinner’s prayer, they would always be saved, no matter what. By inference, this would mean that if one prayed the sinner’s prayer and soon after, became an unrepentant serial killer till their dying day, they are still saved. This would be convenient to believe except that it is not at all consistent with scripture!
At different times, the bible records various ways by which believers shall be saved, some of which include; Endure to the end: (Matthew 24:13); Love: (Luke 10:25-28); Repent: (Luke 13:3); Listen and Believe: (John 5:24); Obey: (John 8:51, Heb 5:9); Keep doing good: (Rom 2:7); Remain faithful (abide) in Him: (1 John 2:24-25); Overcome: (Rev 2:11). These clear conditions show that beyond reciting the sinner’s prayer, one must, by God’s grace, listen, obey, abide in Christ, love and endure to be able to lay claim to eternal life in the end. A PERSON WHO PROFESSES CHRISTIANITY AND YET DOES NOT LISTEN, OBEY, LOVE, ETC. IS NOT A TRUE BELIEVER AND IS IN REALITY, LOST (1John 3:10).
For those that believe that those who were once saved are always saved no matter what, Jude 1:5 makes a clear comparison, reminding us that God saved the Israelites from Egypt, yet He destroyed those that did not remain faithful!
Hebrews 10:39 tells us that it is possible for professing believers to turn away from God to their own destruction. In Matthew 24:10-11, Jesus says “And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other and many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people” The bible is replete with examples of professing believers who later rejected God’s way and in every case, it was mentioned that their end would not be good (2Peter 2:20-22, Luke 12:39-48, 1Tim 6:8-10, James 5:19).
The parables also give some insight into this. In the Parable of the sower for example (Matt 13:20-21), it is clear that the second category who fell away were believers at some point. In Heb 6:4-6 and several other verses of scripture, it is made clear that many believers in the last days will not only deny the faith but will also apostatize.
There are many bible verses that warn believers of the dangers and eternal consequences of practicing sin. Why would God continually caution believers to take heed if all that profess to be believers are home and dry? 2Peter: 2 talks a lot about false teachers. Why would Satan put false teachers in the church if there was no chance for the people to fall away? If all church members have eternal security, why waste his time on them? Satan himself knows that it is possible to turn hearts away from God.
Those that propagate the doctrine of eternal security for all professing believers quote John 10:28-29 where Jesus says His sheep have eternal life and will never perish. They see this as an automatic ticket to heaven for anyone who once said the sinner’s prayer. To understand John 10:28-29, kindly read from verse 27 and you will realize that in reality, John 10:28-29 has a condition; LISTEN AND FOLLOW! (John 10:27). This is what makes us sheep in the first place! This means that if you are not listening and following, you are not a true
believer and therefore not entitled to the promise of eternal life stated in verses 28 and 29!
In the same way, some quote that in Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom 8:1a). They do not realise that this is only true for all who are truly in Christ, WHO WALK NOT AFTER THE FLESH! (Rom 8:1b). 1 John 2:24 also shows that there is a condition for the promise of eternal life spoken of in verse 25. That condition is to ABIDE/ REMAIN FAITHFUL! They also quote Philippians 1:6 to support the claim that God will keep them to the end but reading from verse 1 will show that verse 6 is talking to active participants in the gospel and not to all who merely profess.
Quoting scripture out of context only succeeds in deceiving ourselves and each other but does not deceive God who alone knows those who are true believers (John 10:14).
God never took away our free will. Even though His grace is available to help us, it is ultimately our choice to remain in Him or not. Those who do will be saved. Those who don’t will be denied on the last day. How do I ensure this doesn’t happen to me you may ask? Examine yourself and make sure your heart is in the right place and you are still in the faith! (2Cor 13:5). This will mean doing a heart check from time to time to be sure we are believing and living right (Heb 3:12-13). If you are living in sin, have no desire to please God and no interest in obeying Him, then you are likely just professing and not a true believer because no one born of God makes a practice of sin (1John 1:6, 3:9).
It is important to note here that while it is clear that a professing Christian can fall away, it is also clear from scripture that TRUE believers will have eternal
life and will not be condemned (John 5:24). Thank God for His grace which does not condemn but restores and transforms us if we will embrace it!
SAVED BY GRACE, JUDGED BY WORKS
We have seen that a true believer is one who listens to, obeys and loves God. This love or obedience is the evidence of our salvation, made possible in the life of a believer by God’s power and grace. We have also seen that only true believers have eternal life.
Now, this may sound strange and wrong because our minds have been wrongly conditioned to resisting anything labelled “works” but WE WILL BE JUDGED BY OUR WORKS! Luke 12:45-46, John 5:29, Rom 2: 6-16, 1Cor 6:9-11, 2Cor
5:10, Gal 5: 6, 19-21, Eph 5:5-6, Heb 12:14, James 2:14-26, Rev 20:12-15 and
many other verses of scripture all show that believers will be judged according to our works to receive rewards (1Cor 3:12-15). Our good works are acceptable to Him because they are done by His power! For unbelievers/ professing believers who have nothing to show for the faith they profess, they will be judged based on the absence of good works. They will have no evidence of salvation (Matt 25:31-46). One may ask, what about unbelievers who did plenty of works while alive? The answer is that their works will not be recognised because they were done completely outside of Christ and His marvellous grace.
James asks, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good works?” (James 2:18). Of a truth, good works are the proof of our faith. We are shown to be right with God by what we do and not by faith alone (James 2:24). That is why we will be judged by our works; works which grace makes possible.
This may be a lot to swallow considering all that has been taught to us in recent years but it is the simple truth backed by God’s word.
I will post the concluding part of the series tomorrow, starting with the sub-
topic “The dangers of half truth”
Part 4, the concluding part of the series.
THE DANGERS OF HALF TRUTH
There’s a saying that goes; Beware of half-truth, you may havegot the wrong half! It’s witty but aptly describes much of what is being preached in Christendom today. Several times, the bible mentions that there were false teachers in the early church and that MANY will also be present in the last days (Matt 24:11). God wants to expose them (Jude 1:3&4). He says they will be identified by their fruits (Mat 7:15-16). One does not have to go far to encounter them today. Just getting on social media or putting on the radio or TV ushers them right into our homes. They are adept at twisting absolutely any verse of scripture, totally out of context, to mean something entirely different. (2Peter 3:16). In 2Cor 11:3-4, Paul mentioned Christians being deceived by wrong preaching. 2Peter 2 shows the harm that they bring to the body of Christ and the terrible judgement that awaits them. Most of them are not obvious because they take a lot of truth and mix it up nicely with a little lie; tiny, but big enough to make a difference. That’s the tactic of the devil and we must not be ignorant of it. He’s not going to come with some wild lie to deceive you, he knows you won’t believe. He will skew the truth ever so slightly. DECEPTION IS SUBTLE; THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT SO DANGEROUS. You have to care enough about your soul to spot it and uproot it from your heart.
To prove that every professing believer is saved forever no matter what they do, these preachers would have to remove over 100 verses from the New Testament (including whole chapters from books like Titus) that contradict that teaching. Since they can’t do that, they just pretend that those verses aren’t there, ignore them completely and focus on other selected verses.
So much is taught of a loving God; not much about Him being righteous and just as well. The real truth though is that God loves everyone. Nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8:31), but His love for mankind will not stop Him from judging those who reject Him.
Some have gone to wild extremes, openly despising obedience, holiness and the fruits of the spirit. They say that all our righteousness are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64: 6), refusing to acknowledge that God’s grace gives New Testament believers the enablement to live righteously(Titus 2:11-12).
They say that when believers sin, there are only physical consequences like sickness, whereas in truth, sin has spiritual and eternal consequences, as evidenced by James 5:19-20: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.”
They are quick to point out that guilt and condemnation are of the devil, but rarely mention godly sorrow which is good because it leads to repentance (2 Cor 7:9-11)
They hand pick some verses of scripture, label them as things that were said “before the cross” (crucifixion) and say they should be ignored by New Testament believers! Is this scriptural? How can we follow only what was written AFTER the cross when majority of the words Jesus spoke were BEFORE the cross? How can we call ourselves Christians and yet disregard the very words Christ spoke?
PAUSE, UNLEARN AND RELEARN
We need to begin to renew our minds. We need to tear down old mindsets and unlearn much of what has been taught by preachers across the world and accepted as true. I certainly have had to do a lot of that myself and I am still in the process. I have, in the past few years, gone from bewilderment, to horror, and then to grief, hearing troubling misinterpretations of God’s word especially concerning things that scripture addresses clearly.
Friends, guard your hearts. What we hear has the power to shape our lives so we need to be careful. Stop listening to people that preach stuff that is not backed by the bible, no matter how eloquent they are! (Rom 16:17-18). Familiarise yourself with the truth so that you can detect a lie. Don’t accept everything you hear; check by yourself and learn to check correctly! Never read a bible verse in isolation. Read verses before and after. I used to make the mistake of picking verses out of context and I am still learning to do it right but one key lesson I have learnt is that you cannot see two seemingly contradictory scriptures, take one and leave the other. To get a wholesome understanding, you must compare and study both. Put together, you get the full picture of what is being taught. IF YOUR INTERPRETATION OF A VERSE IS CONTRADICTING OTHER VERSES, THERE IS SOMETHING YOU’RE NOT GETTING RIGHT. GOD CANNOT CONTRADICT HIMSELF; HE CANNOT LIE!
THE CONCLUSION OF THE WHOLE MATTER
The penalty for our sins was death so nothing short of the blood of Christ could save us. Because of this sacrifice, we are not under the law but under grace. However, grace says obey, so we must! We certainly are not under the law but we are also not above Christ’s laws either! Like someone said: “this so simple that one will need help to misunderstand it”! Christ’s laws and grace aren’t in competition; rather, Christ’s laws follow grace. Paul who preached grace says
He does not ignore the law of God; he obeys the law of Christ! (1Cor 9:21) Should we act differently?
There are things that a believer is called by scripture to do. These are all done by God’s grace as we could never successfully abide or obey without His help. They also do not save us, but are the evidence that we are saved and we will be judged by them.
There are over 100 verses of scripture (by my own rough count; there likely will be more), which show that a professing believer can wilfully reject God’s plan for eternal life and miss heaven. This is so because as long as we are still in our mortal bodies, man has freewill. There is however, assurance of eternal life for true believers who accept God’s plan and obey Him. (1Cor 15:2, Hebrews 5:9).
A true believer is not one who will never sin, but one whose desire is to please God and who will not cover, justify or ignore his sins but will draw from God’s grace to overcome sin. When we are truly in Christ, we are not to live in fear of judgement because we have passed from judgement into life (John 5:24, 1John 3:14)
Believers need to start asking teaches to explain the countless verses in the New Testament that are contrary to what they preach. But be ready. When you start to ask, some of them will say you are still in bondage and they are liberated. Some will tell you that examining yourself (2Cor 13:5) is “sin consciousness”. Even if what you say is not contradicted by the bible, they will say you are mixing works and grace and propagating fear.
A pastor I respect so much says that there shouldn’t just be outreaches to reach
the lost, but “in- reaches” to reach those in churches too. I believe this with all
my heart. May God help us not to disregard His precious gift of grace but draw from it in order to live right in these last days when the truth is in very short supply.
I close with Peter’s final words in 2Peter 3:17-18:
“You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. 18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to Him, both now and forever! Amen”.