In the post “Justified… ‘Accepting Membership in THE Club’” [January 20, 2022] I admitted I had more questions about my “new life” so as promised, I will continue discussion of justification in this post.
By way of review, justification is to be made right with God or as many prefer to say, “to be saved.” That happened to me as I recount on 1/20/22 but I have also made reference to this event several times in this blog [just type “being saved” on the search bar].
After being saved, I had to “reenter” the world which means I had to find a way to operate as a baby Christian in an environment that was not on the same “wavelength” as me. I was trying to find my way with new values, new commitments and a newfound love for my Savior. Others did not have that attitude; in fact, some seemed opposed to the new David. They were the same; I was the one who had changed. Family members did not know what to do when I droned on about Jesus. Friends continued in their habits of behavior even though I was trying to change my habits [more in tune with “Christian” values]. Work continued on with secular interests, not spiritual [college teachers have never been encouraged to elaborate on their faith, except those professors in the Religious Studies Department].
And most importantly, I still had my old sinful predilections [what a nice sounding word for something so bad].
I write all this to introduce the biggest question I had after I was saved. What was I to do when I continued sinning? I was saved but sinning had not gone away.
John Stott* refers to this problem when he writes “We put on Christ’s righteousness like a cloak which conceals our continuing sinfulness….Are you not claiming to be changed when in fact you are not changed? Is not your doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ a thinly disguised free license to go on sinning?” .
I have known many Christians over the years and some don’t worry about this; they answer this concern by responding “once you are saved, you are always saved” no matter what you do. Others are “saved” and that is the end of their worries about their Christian life. They don’t seem interested in doing anything better [they are made right with God and that is enough]. However, I have to admit that I don’t know peoples’ hearts; only God does. These are only my suspicions.
What I am getting at is the idea that If “once saved always saved” is true, does that mean we can live our lives any way we want to?
My experience tells me that the answer is yes. Jesus sacrificed Himself for us sinners, knowing that we would sin after we received Him as our Savior, BUT a person who has truly received Christ as his/her Savior will not want to continue their ways of sinning. Accepting Christ into your life is a transformational experience [you are a new creation in Christ]. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” [Second Corinthians 5: 17]. When God justifies sinners, He is not declaring them perfect. He is saying they are righteous [free from the penalty of their law-breaking]. Jesus has borne the penalty for their law-breaking.
IF the transformation is truly a transformation, over time a man or woman will make an effort to live a better life. Jesus refers to people who have faith in Him as people who bear fruit. Over time there will be evidence of God working in your life. The wonderful metaphor of fruit is that God is the vine, we are His branches and when we perform righteous acts, we bear good fruit (visible acts of good work). Stott cites Titus 2: 14 and 3: 8 that transformed Christians are “eager to do what is good,” eager to devote themselves to good works [i.e. fruit production]. By these signs, we will see evidence of Christian transformation.
This is a trite expression but Christian transformation is “a process.” It does not happen overnight. It is naïve to expect instantaneous change from merciless sinner to Godly person. In real life, we make two steps forward and three steps back but God expects that and Satan wants us to give up, turn our back on God and quit trying to be a better person. In my experience, I had a mentor who told me to claim God’s grace, repent as sincerely as you can and get up off the ground [so to speak]. He will forgive you and help you move forward again. Romans 3: 23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and we always will; it is in our sin nature [thank you Adam and Eve].
Many years ago, I read a Christian author who touched my life with a metaphor that worked to explain things for me.** He told of his family’s cottage on a lake and how every summer they went to spend time there. His dad had a chore that had to be performed every summer; rocks needed to be removed off the bank leading down to the lakeshore. Every summer the rocks that could be seen would be dug up and hauled off. The problem was after staying away for a year, erosion would reveal new stones as soil washed down the bank; the author’s family would return next summer to see more stones that had to be removed. The Christian’s life is like that rocky bank. As we live life, we see things that need fixing, habits that we need to break, problems that need to be addressed. We are always working to make things better. We know that we will never get things perfect but we attend to the flaws that need improvement because we have a heart that leads us to do that. Being saved makes us want to try to do better. Being saved makes us want to produce fruit.
In my January 20, 2022 post about accepting membership in “THE Club,” I made reference to my Methodist faith and the use of the grace words [prevenient, justifying and sanctifying]. Prevenient means that God loves us and gives us His grace before we make our decision to declare Him our Savior. Justifying is to be saved. Sanctifying grace is the path we can take after we accept Christ as our Savior, God transforming our lives into the likeness of Jesus. He transforms our heart, transforms our actions and transforms our relationships.
If we believe in Him.
If we listen to Him.
If we allow the changes to occur.
There is nothing that says we have to be transformed. In fact, we can stay just as we are after we are saved. God will still love us and forgive us our sins. However many Christians who feel a great love for God are listening to Him as He communicates to us via our Holy Spirit. He wants us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” [2 Peter 3:18]. We are told in Romans 8: 15 that we are adopted into His family. Rather than making life decisions to please ourselves we want to make decisions to please God [Second Corinthians 10: 31].
If we are justified in Christ, we have a personal relationship with Jesus and by faith in Him we have a chance to live a better life. Stott says we are members of the “Messianic community of Jesus.” If we are in Christ and therefore justified “we are also the children of God and the true (spiritual descendants of Abraham)….this new community—which Christ gave Himself on the cross to create—is eager to do what is good” [Stott, 188-89]. Will we sin? We do, even after we have come to know Christ, but Christians do not have a desire to persist in sin. Whenever we do it, we grieve and repent “for the whole tenor of our life is against sin and toward holiness.”***
*From his book The Cross of Christ
**I apologize, I will never forget the metaphor but I can’t remember the author and where I got the metaphor.
*** from “The Challenge of John” in John Stott’s Through the Bible Through The Year , 158.