Sunday, November 18, 2007

A focus on sin, or righteousness?

I commented on a post on Alan Knox's "The Assembling of the Church" blog. The post is titled, "In the arms of your mercy I find rest." Alan asks a couple of great questions. "What does it mean to you to rest in God's mercy? Do you ever find yourself trying to work to earn God's mercy instead of resting in God's mercy?"

After I commented there were a few more comments from others. I was going to comment some more but I realized that my comment would basically amount to a full blog post or more! My thoughts were springing into all sorts of chutes and ladders (gee, that never happens!), so I thought I'd just post my own blog.

My question is this: Is God disappointed in us when we sin? In order for anyone to be disappointed, he must 1) have expectations and 2) those expectations must remain unfulfilled. So another question is, did God ever expect anything from us in the first place? Didn't He know that "all we like sheep have gone astray" and that "there is no one who does good, no not one?" I'm sure He knew that, as I'm sure that He's the one who inspired those words in the Old Testament. He knew all along that there was a problem with the Old Covenant. The problem wasn't that He wouldn't keep His part of the covenant. But God knew that man would not keep his part. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: 'Behold the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah...'" (Heb 8:7-8).

So the problem with the first covenant was "them." The people. The problem with the people was "they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord" (Heb 8:9). This was no surprise to the Lord. He did not expect that they would keep the covenant. He knew they wouldn't. Man's default position (those who are still in Adam) is to fall short of the glory of God, although it's most certainly possible for those who are in Adam to perform the best of the best of the good deeds. But the fact remains that even with all kinds of laws, ordinances, stipulations, rules, regulations, and so on, man's condition remained the same. Astray. Falling short. Not seeking God. Sinning. Going their own way. And most of all: dead to God. You don't have to search too far in this blog to know that I often point out that the law's job is not actually to help man to stop sinning. In fact, the law made sin increase and abound (Rom 5:20) and it did nothing more than to make the whole world guilty. Again, it aided no one in right living. We were born dead in Adam, and by trying to live right by our own efforts or by trying to keep the law, we'll be no more alive than if a person painted a dead, brown blade of grass green in order to make it appear alive.

And so God set out, not to change the behavior of dead people, but to make dead people alive! He sent His Son Jesus to die for us and to forgive sin. But much more than that, He also raised us together into Life with Himself! We tend to end the story with God's forgiveness. God's forgiveness of sin is a wonderful, wonderful thing, but it's only the beginning of the story of our lives in Christ! The rest of the story - that so often gets ignored or overlooked - is, "He has made us alive together with Christ!" The fact that we've been joined together with God (1 Cor 6:17) and that we now have LIFE seems to be just a sideline or an incidental note. Christians remain in this mindset that we're simply mere sinners and whenever we sin we lose our right standing with God and we need to go once again and confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. And we somehow get this ridiculous idea that there must be some sort of "cooling off" period before God will fully accept us again. Believe me, I've been there plenty of times.

NOT that God wants us to sin so that grace may abound! If you are worried that the preaching of grace will cause people to just want to go out and sin all the more, then the grace of God hasn't been preached enough! Or at least it hasn't been preached completely. For whatever reason, the fullness of the gospel of grace hasn't gotten into your heart. Indeed grace is the power of God that forgives us and saves us. But if we think we're merely "saved sinners" then we're missing a huge chunk of the good news! Living a life of not only being forgiven of sin, but of overcoming sin, is only possible by God's grace alone! I think that too many Christians fear that the preaching of grace may cause people to lapse into sin. And therefore there's a lot of preaching and teaching that says that introspective thinking and a deeper sorrow for sin is what we need. We've taken words such as "let a man examine himself" (in the context of being worthy of the body and blood of the Lord - see 1 Cor 11:27-29) to mean "let a man determine whether or not there's sin in his life."

Brothers and sisters in Christ... I don't care who you are or how deeply you've searched your innermost being to see whether or not you've sinned or how badly you've sinned, there is only one thing that makes you worthy of the body and blood of Jesus Christ... and that is grace, which you've received by faith. I'd like to ask this question. Looking back on your life, has your deep searching of yourself truly helped you to overcome sin, or has it simply left you feeling guilty, and therefore feeling as if there's something that needs to be done to get you right with God? Let me share with you what will hopefully be good news for you, as I believe it's the truth of the gospel: The former way - deep searching leading to guilt for sin - might certainly give an appearance of holiness and piety, but it's nothing more than a flesh-based focus on self and not on Christ! Please think about this. If we beat ourselves up over our sin, aren't we forgetting that JESUS was already beat up and crucified for our sin??? Does our self-inflicted guilt and punishment really fit in with the finished work of Christ? Isn't it an INSULT to the Spirit of grace and to the broken body and shed blood of Jesus when we take any of this upon ourselves?

Having been there and done that, I can understand why people who truly, sincerely want to please God through righteous living resort to this type of fleshly thinking as a means of overcoming sin and living righteously. But again, even though I understand it, that doesn't change the fact that it's fleshly thinking! I fully believe that our focus in this life in Christ is not to be SIN. Our focus is to be the righteousness of God, which we've become in Him! (2 Cor 5:21)

If you've not thought about it or looked at it this way before, or if you have and you simply want encouragement in the good news, I'd like to suggest a few biblical truths as things worth focusing upon.

1. "Christ became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). We are not sinners. We are the righteousness of God in Christ! We are righteous people who sometimes sin.

2. We sometimes sin, not because we are sinners, but because we take our eyes off of the reality of who we truly are (the righteousness of God). And in fact even though it's a reality that we're righteous, we have a lot of growing in grace to do, and a lot of growing in our knowledge and understanding of who God truly is and who we truly are! Therefore sometimes we will stumble. We will sometimes commit obvious sins and sometimes commit sins we don't even realize. But there is something that is equally as important to consider, that I think we either ignore or give far too little emphasis to in the church today. Sometimes we will trust that our own good deeds and accomplishments have kept us in God's favor. If we beat ourselves up over our evil deeds, then shouldn't we also beat ourselves up over these dead works??? But praise be to God! We don't need to beat ourselves up over anything. We can take the focus off of ourselves when it comes to both good and evil, and instead of worrying about how well or poorly we're performing, we can "rest in God's mercy."

3. God's grace is sufficient. I sometimes say ""fully sufficient" or "completely sufficient," but that's redundant!

4. We focus far too much on principles, methods, steps, rules, ways, programs, etc, to help us overcome sin. The only thing that overcomes sin is grace. I believe that God is not expecting "us" to overcome sin, but rather He wants us to get rid of this fleshly focus on our selves and to keep our eyes on Him and on the truth of who we are in Him. The yearly sacrifices of bulls and goats provided "a reminder of sins every year" (Heb 10:2). But what the blood of bulls and goats could not do, Jesus did in the shedding of His blood... He took away sins! I don't believe that we are to live with the mindset of guilt over our sins. Rather, we are to live with a heart of thanksgiving that Jesus took away our sins!

Indeed... what I am saying is that when we sin, instead of going through a period of guilt and self-condemnation for our sins, we immediately turn to the Lord in gratefulness and praise, thankful to Him for the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that took our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west, burying them deep in the sea, never to be brought up again! Resting in God's mercy and grace, and focusing on the truth of the righteous people that we are in Him, will not lead to more sin. Rather, it will lead to a deeper love and commitment to Him that yields peace and righteousness, love and joy, and all the wonderful fruit of the Spirit!


  1. Joel,

    I'm glad that you decided to post this on your blog - not because I don't want comments, but because I think more people should read it. Thank you for continuing to remind us that God's grace is sufficient!


  2. Hi Alan,

    I really had planned just a quick follow up comment on your blog, but too much time had gone by before I was able to spend enough time again at my computer... and about 10 million thoughts had come to my mind during that time! So, knowing myself, I knew it would be impossible to stick to the short comment I had planned. :)

  3. Joel,

    Excellent post! When I read it I was reminded that I had written something similar to this a couple of years ago. I didn't know if you have been that far back on my blog, so I thought I would share it.


  4. Thanks for sharing the link, Gary! Wow, I see so many of the same things being said. It doesn't take a "genius" to see that we see eye to eye on all this. ;) Hehehe...

    It appears that quite a conversation followed that post of yours. It's amazing to me how so many people can miss, or deny, the fullness of the gospel. Well, I do understand it, as I said in this post, because I've been there. But my hope and prayer is that this great news of our completeness in Christ, and of complete forgiveness, and of having been made alive together with Christ, and so on and so on, would be proclaimed and understood and believed by Christians worldwide!

  5. Really really great post! I might have to pull a few quotes out and put it on my own blog so a few more people will come over here and read it...

  6. Okay so when is your book coming out....:)

  7. Jul,

    Thanks for sharing the quotes and the link on your blog. I really appreciate the things you share there!

  8. Lydia,

    Since you bring it up, I quite honestly would love the prayers of everybody on that. :)

    Specifically, for clear direction from the Lord and His proper timing, as well as the discipline to sit down and put all my random thoughts together in a presentable way.

  9. And I think we should put out a collaborative book too Lydia, a chapter for each of us telling our testimony about how we came out of legalism into grace.

  10. I think that would be AWESOME, ladies! Your stories are wonderful and I think it would be truly inspiring for people to be able to read about your testimonies, as well as your teachings on the grace of God and our identity in Christ.

  11. And I want to add... if there's anyone else here who might also be inspired to stir up the gift of writing in themselves, I pray for you to be encouraged in this! I know most of you mainly through this blog and through your own blogs, and you all have such great things that the world needs to hear!

  12. This is great. I have been discussing this same topic with a friend of mine, Wayne, who leads a church.
    I have been shown some scriptures that point out that we are not to have a sin conscious at all.
    Heb 9v9
    Heb 9v14
    Heb 9v26
    Heb 10v2
    Heb 10 v17-18

    Thank you very much for the post.

  13. Grace's comments about us being freed from sin consciousness reminded me of a video I saw last night called "Amzing Grace". (If anyone hasn't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.) The story is about William Wilburforce's struggle to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire.

    One of the scenes that really struck me is his conversation with John Newton, the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace". John Newton, prior to becoming a believer and a pastor, had been a slave trader. Now, he said he lived with the ghosts of the people he had delivered into slavery. It was a poignant scene as he expressed his horror for what he had been and had done.

    I understand that we've been freed from the guilt of our sins and I can see how that would be a reality for most of the sins we commit but what about sins like John Newton's . . . sins of such magnitude that even the world is appalled by them.

    While I've never committed any sin of that magnitude, I was wondering how do we deal with the reality of guilt over sins especially when others have been injured by our actions and there's nothing we can do to rectify it.


  14. Hi Aida

    I know I am being a bit cheeky by replying like this, but I am sure that Joel won't mind me giving some my thoughts.

    I think we can start by understanding that in our Fathers eyes, sin has no scale. Sin is sin. What's more is that if we break one law we have broken all the laws (James 2v10).
    Thank God for His mercy and grace.

    Secondly, I think that sorry goes a long way. You can't take back the past. What we can do is concerntrate on the now and leave the future in the more than capable hands of our Father.

    I live in South Africa. Many wrongs have been done to many different people here. As in the whole world. Yet people have chosen to "forget the former things" and build together for a wonderful now and tomorrow.

    Sometimes things must be left on the cross. Our sins are one of them. Our regrets might be another.

    Bless you

  15. Hi Grace and Aida,

    You both bring up great points. I love those verses in Hebrews! I think if more churches would focus on the truth that is found in those verses, rather than focusing on all kinds of methods and principles for overcoming sin, there would actually be much more true freedom in Christ and less fear of falling into sin!

    As far as our standing with God goes and our identity in Him, and as far as there being any such thing as sin standing between us and Him, He has taken it all away. We stand perfectly righteous before Him.

    However our minds and bodies don't always behave in ways that are true to who we truly are in our spirits. I don't believe for a moment that these actions and behaviors are held against us by God, but I do believe there is room for a different kind of guilt and sorrow. I'm not talking about a sentence of guilt, or a guilty verdict that condemns us. I'm talking about guilt in the sense of true remorse or sorrow for what we've done. I believe this is different than the "sin consciousness" that we've been made clean of. That has to do with the removal of the actual condition of sin that we had in Adam. The actual nature of sin. We are no longer sinners. We no longer have sin to be conscious about.

    But as long as we're in these clay jars we do have sinful actions and behaviors that can truly violate or hurt ourselves and others on a body and soul level (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc). If we've hurt someone in an especially bad way, the hurt and regret can be hard to overcome. We still stand before God without sin, because He has removed our sin by crucifying us with Christ and raising us up together with Him in righteousness. But our actions have a lot of catching up to do with the reality of the truth of who we are, and I think that godly guilt and sorrow can play a role in the overall process of growing.

    I'm not sure how well I've explained my thoughts. Any thoughts?

  16. Grace, I like what you shared about leaving our sins and our regrets at the cross. That was good. While I haven't done anything of the magnitude of John Newton's sin, I still have plenty of regrets that try to haunt me. If I let them, the "what if's" will try to put me in bondage. Thanks for reminding me that the cross is the answer and that I can leave them there and continue my journey not burdened down by those weights.

    Joel, I agree with you. The focus in church is usually on our sinfulness rather than on the grace that has set us free. Your comment that godly guilt and sorrow can play a role in the process of our growth is good. I was tending to lump guilt and sorrow altogether but I believe you're right. There is godly sorrow that is different from the guilt and remorse that we normally feel. Your explanation was very good.

    I'm beginning to believe that guilt can be good or bad. What we do with it is what matters. If we let it overcome us, it will eventually bring depression and destruction. However, if it causes us to draw closer to God, then it will bring healing and life.

    Thanks, Grace and Joel, for your comments and for your help in processing this.