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How Far Can We Follow Jesus? Part 3
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In Part 2 of this series about the perfectionism debate which awaits millennial Christians' rejection of easy Church membership, I offered an interpretation of Mt 5.48 which I've not read elsewhere. I sought to do justice to the words of the text and of its wider biblical context as carefully but briefly as possible; yet I concluded that Jesus didn't command sinless perfection there.
Today I'd like to look more closely at the idea that Christians' efforts to follow Jesus are doomed to be co-mingled with sin. Supporters of this view assure us (if that's quite the word) that our failure in the sight of God is but a matter of time, often adding that it's because we have “two natures”; one fallen, and one redeemed.
We're told that everything we offer to God in terms of worship and obedience will be the product of these two natures together; whether better or worse than what we might offer, it will always be impure, and thus unacceptable to the Father but for Christ's intercessions on our behalf in the courts of heaven. Let's start by seeing if this view of the regenerated Christian fits in (or not) with the rest of Scripture.
In 2 Pe 1.3, the apostle Peter assures his readers that the Lord has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness”. Does this sound like a life filled only with impure offerings to God on our part? In Rom 6.17-18, Paul rejoices that his readers have “become obedient from the heart” to the gospel Paul proclaimed, “and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness”. Does this sound like a description of Christians with sinful natures? In Mt 5.48 Jesus Himself tells us that if we love and forgive our enemies, in so doing we will be perfect even as our Father in heaven in perfect. Does this sound like obedience tainted by sin?
I could cite other verses, but will add only that not one of the forty-three instances of the Greek word for “sinner” in the New Testament refers clearly to a born-again, faithful Christian. However, we still need to work out how it's possible for born-again Christians to sin, when they're inhabited by the Holy Spirit of God. I suggest an important part of the answer lies in remembering that godliness and obedience are related but different concepts, and that again and again God looks for obedience from people, rather than godliness. This is because of the difference between identity and action.
Godliness is about who we are; obedience to God concerns what we say and do. Godly people generally seek to obey God; but even the ungodly can be blessed for doing what God requires, be it King Ahab responding to God's verdict on him (1 Ki 21.27-29), or the Assyrians enriching themselves as agents of God's judgement (Is 10.5-11), or a nameless son who decided to help in his father's vineyard after all (Mt 21.28-32).
Jesus Christ's teachings offer people the chance to obey God; Jesus' death and resurrection offer people the chance to become godly by being born again of the Holy Spirit. So God seeks obedience and offers godliness to those who wish to follow Him. But what about 1 Jn 1.8 and Rom 7.14-25, the classic “proof texts” of the view that Christians remain Christian sinners until they die? Don't they mean something too? Scripture, after all, can't just be set aside (Jn 10.35,NIV). Part 4 will examine Rom 7.14-25 to see if it says Christians have two natures.
© 2014 by Christopher Bevis. A Licensed Lay Minister in the Church of England, a Christian for many years, and an avid reader for even longer, Christopher is a UK-based writer who has long-standing friends and contacts in the USA. He's thinking of setting up his own web site to give busy subscribers a time-saving, affordable chance to profit from his extensive Christian library. Send him a message if you'd be interested in signing up. He can be contacted for matters relating to Christian writing via the Faithwriters.com website.
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