You may give up, but God does not

Most Christians agree that the Bible teaches us that we’re saved through faith, not by works. Of course, most Christians also agree that faith cannot be totally without works, but these works should never be the centre of our attention. These works simply manifest themselves when we gratefully embrace his grace, and the Holy Spirit starts working on our hearts. It’s a proces, and while we cannot always see it happening in our own lives, people around us will have noticed such growth.

Some difficult verses

The Bible does give a few examples, however, of people being outside the reach of God’s grace. At least, it looks that way sometimes. Jesus says that ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ (Mark 3:29) And in Hebrews 10, we read that for whoever ‘wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.’ (vv 26-27)

Obviously, this cannot be understood in terms of God not offering salvation to everybody, because we’re told that God wants everyone to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:3-4, 1 John 2:2) After all, God is love (1 John 4:8) – unconditional, choice-based, non-discriminating agape love – and we’re constantly reminded by Paul that God doesn’t distinguish between different sorts of people. ‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’’ (Romans 10:12-13) Like he said in the beginning of that same letter: The gospel is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’ (Romans 1:16) It’s free, it’s available, and it really is there for everyone to have. That’s the framework.

It’s hard to imagine any Christian ever being depressed if he knows this stuff, but I guess that is just a testimony of how our fragile minds work: Every mind is at war with itself. And I think the scary verses I’ve quoted speak of exactly that: people who gave up the battle and decided to say “screw everything”. They gave up, and they lost the battle against themselves. Let me elaborate on this.

Paul’s way of sinning

You can actually sin while knowing you’re doing it—and yet, you’ll be a child of God. Before you start shouting “heresy”, please listen to the words of Paul: ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’ (Romans 7:15) And a few sentences later: ‘For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.’ (vers 19) This begs the question: What makes Paul different from those who are lost? Well, the very wanting to do good! ‘I agree that the law is good’ (vers 16)

The people outside of God’s grace—the ones who keep sinning against the Spirit (Mark 3) and the ones for whom there is no longer sacrifice (Hebrews 10)—do not agree that the law is good. There is no guilt afterwards, no desire to be changed, no longing for God, no realization of the state that they’re in. They eagerly try to silent their conscience and eventually, they will succeed.

Of course, reading the verses this way does not make it less serious. This is not an attempt to escape the reality of these texts by saying, ‘Oh, this doesn’t refer to me, but to those worse than me.’ That’s not the point. The point of Jesus and Paul actually saying this is to warn us not to go there, I think. (It would hardly make any sense to write this to someone if it was too late, would it?) We may notice in our own lives when we’re moving in that direction, and we need to be tuned into this and respond to it, not by thinking “it’s too late” but by thinking “I need to seek God!”

The Devil’s easy way out

Psychologically, this is what I think happens when we move in that dangerous direction: I sin. I sin again, though I still agree that the law is good (like Paul). Therefore, I experience the thing called “cognitive dissonance”. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing them. (Wikipedia) So I’m basically trying to make my beliefs fit with my behaviour, so I have to change one or the other to resolve this tension.

Now Paul has said to us that we cannot escape this tension completely. No human ever reached that state of perfection (well, Jesus might have). Why that is, I do not really know. Maybe we simply do not have enough time since we’re “born in sin” and the transformation by grace is a long process? Paul shows us in Romans 7:25, that the tension is part of Christian living, and the realization of this prompts him to cry, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ And the obvious answer he gives is Jesus—he will rescue us. But in the meantime, we’re here, and we’re dealing with this tension.

Living with this tension is a struggle, admittedly, but nobody ever said Christian living would be easy. We have to constantly hold on to our beliefs—for instance, consider ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11)—despite the physical evidence pointing to the contrary. The easy way out is offered by the Devil. He suggests you simply give up your beliefs, ‘Jesus has given up on you. The grace is no longer available. Repentance is too late now. God’s spirit has left your heart. Don’t bother to call yourself a Christian anymore. The law condemns you. Nothing matters anymore.’ If a person accepts these lies, the tension will be rid of. It’s the easy way out. I suspect this will eventually lead to bitterness towards God and an apathetic lifestyle worse than the one the person may have led even before conversion. That is when you truly belong in this dreadful category, because how could it possibly get any worse than that?

It’s not God who gives up

Oddly, people who deliberately keep sinning end up condemning themselves rather than be condemned by God. (Titus 3:11; 1 John 3:19-21) The issue is not with God giving up on us—that’s what the Devil wants us to think that he has, but we evidently have Biblical grounds for saying God would never do that. No, the issue is with us giving up on God while we kid ourselves by saying, ‘God has given up on me.’ It is very typical for the human mind to blame God for the breaking of our relationship (like Adam did in Genesis 3:12) rather than take responsibility ourselves.

The reality is that God never stops reaching out for our hand. That is the pattern we recognize all the way through the Bible, particularly the way he dealt with the Israelites in the Old Testament. In all these instances, the children of God turned away first. And in all instances, God is yet again there for them when they turn back to him. This pattern starts in the book of Judges and continues from kingdom to kingdom right till the Babylonian exile in which God still has not left them! God’s patience endures and he only longs to have us back and to restore the broken relationship.

God really is like the father of the prodigal son who was just waiting for his son to return. (Luke 15) The son expected that he would have to make up for it and return as a servant rather than a son, but his father ignored this—that’s not how the kingdom works. We’re children of God, not because of our doings, but because God simply hands us that privilege, that is, if we accept it.

Affirmed by Christian experience

A few ambiguous verses in Mark and Hebrews could never rid the Bible of this wonderful truth. But things can be resolved, I think, as long as we understand these verses as warnings rather than as cold verdicts. If you read it like, ‘I did this, so now it’s too late,’ then I think you’ve missed the point (and you’re welcome to disagree). These words should not condemn us but rather remind us that God’s grace is continually available to us and it should be embraced before we give into the lies of the Devil, before we end up not caring and not agreeing (with Paul) that “the law is good”. Yes, we’re moving in a dangerous direction, but God is reaching out for us.

The wonderful thing about this interpretation of the scary verses is that it corresponds with common experience. I am a sinner, and I have sinned most deliberately—it’s not even that long ago. Surprisingly, God did not leave me but continues to reveal himself in my life. I’m confident that thousands of Christians experience the same thing after having sinned quite deliberately. First, they may encounter some existential struggle, but eventually they reencounter God’s love and realize that he never left in the first place.

Om Lars

Previously a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor in Silkeborg and Aarhus (Denmark), I now study Rhetorics at the University in Bergen.
Dette indlæg blev udgivet i Adventist, Kærlighed, Kristendom. Bogmærk permalinket.

6 Kommentarer til You may give up, but God does not

  1. serina skriver:

    ”In Hebrews 10, we read that for whoever ‘wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.’ (vv 26-27)
    Obviously, this cannot be understood in terms of God not offering salvation to everybody, because we’re told that God wants everyone to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:3-4, 1 John 2:2)
    It ’s free, it’s available, and it really is there for everyone to have. That’s the framework.
    It’s hard to imagine any Christian ever being depressed if he knows this stuff.”

    For me, knowing that God loves me, and that He wants to save me and the rest of the world, doesn’t really make the verses in Hebrews 10 easier. You see, I believe that God loves us. He loves us really much, so much that he gave his life for our sins. And this sacrifice was made for all people. So no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, you can come to God, and he can teach you a new way of living.

    Because God loves us so much, I believe He wants to set us free from sin. John writes that Jesus was revealed to take away sins. Cause when we sin, we hurt God, we hurt ourselves and we hurt the people around us. So because God is loving, he wants to get rid of sin. Not because he is mean, not because he is strict, but because he is love.

    When I first became a Christian, I was so amazed by God. Realizing I was a sinner, and realizing how destructive sin is, made me so grateful for the fact that God asks us to stop sinning. It made me grateful for the commandments that he has given, because I could see that the law of God is good. Living a sinless life, is living a loving life, and that was what I intended to do. I wanted to be free, and to serve God, cause he had freely forgiven me and showed me that his way is the best way – the most loving way.

    But then, after having experienced the grace and forgiveness of God, and having learned about what’s really good and loving, I found myself going back to old sinful ways of living. I found myself willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth. And I felt (and I guess I still feel) that I had failed big time. This is just not the plan that God have for the people that he has called! God calls us to live a free and loving life, and you can’t really be free and full of love, if your life is full of sin. At least that is what i find: love and sin just don’t go well together.

    And then Hebrews 10 tells me that there is no longer a sacrifice for sins, when you willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth. And that is exactly what I’ve done. And I do get depressed. Not because I don’t believe that God is a loving God, cause I believe He is. But because he is so loving, He wants to transform us, He wants to set us free, free from sin, and he gives us the example of Christ to follow, and the power of the spirit to strengthen us. But then it seems that he doesn’t take away our free will, cause I continue to willfully choose wrong…

    So then, when I continue to do evil, despite of having a picture of Jesus in my mind saying ”Please don’t Serina, it’s just not good for you!”, there is just no excuse. At least I can’t find any.
    And I find it really hard to call myself a Christian when I read the description of a life lived in the spirit and so on, cause it just doesn’t look like my life, at all.

    ”We’re children of God, not because of our doings, but because God simply hands us that privilege, that is, if we accept it. A few ambiguous verses in Mark and Hebrews could never rid the Bible of this wonderful truth.”

    Lars, It is not just some few verses in Mark and Hebrews that tells us that sinning intentionally is something that believers shouldn’t do. Here are a few examples:

    Numbers 15: 27 – 30: An individual who sins unintentionally shall present a female goat a year old for a sin-offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them—you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts the Lord, and shall be cut off from among the people.

    2. Peter 2. 20: For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

    1 John 3. 4 – 10: Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

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  3. Lars skriver:

    “He loves us really much, so much that he gave his life for our sins. And this sacrifice was made for all people. So no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, you can come to God, and he can teach you a new way of living.”

    It is indeed a privilege to know the new way of living. But he could’ve taught us that without the sacrifice, and if we make that–the new way of living–the gospel, we’re not really coming to terms with the implications of Christ’s substitutionary death, what it means for God and the universe. For instance, and this is only part of the story, the motivation for leading the new kind of living is grounded in the assurance of God’s forgiveness and the knowledge that God has accepted us even prior to our attempts at living this life. Otherwise, it cannot work. It is the hope of restoration and the gratefulness of his sacrifice–of course, such gratefullness comes from accepting the idea that this sacrifice indeed saves us–that enables us to carefully start walking in Jesus’ footsteps.

    Notice that at no point in the Bible are we promised that this will be possible at the moment of conversion or that God will transform us anytime before the final restoration. But on that day you will have that wish (which, indeed, you share with John) fulfilled. Notice the future tense: ‘What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.’ (1 John 3.2) That same event is the one that Paul is referring to when he writes: ‘ am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Philippi 1.6) You would’ve noticed my references to Paul and his continuing struggle with the law in his limbs — accordingly, this battle will be ended on that day when we’re given new bodies (not before): ‘We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.’ (1 Cor 15.51ff)

    So, it seems to me that the expectation that God will be done with this work in us right now is contradicting the greater eschatological scheme of things, and I can see how that can make one miserable, because it would suggest that God is not keeping his promise to “free us from sin” as you mentioned. But he will. :)

    Now, in order to respond directly to the texts you present, I would need to understand your interpretation of them to see how it differs from my own. Of course, in some of the cases I’m well aware of how some people read them.

    Concerning the passage from John, I’ve argued that a legalist interpretation of the text simply cannot (or rather, should not) be sustained on the basis of the whole letter–it just doesn’t fit into his explicitly stated purpose of writing. For further explanation of my view on this: http://dorlandmind.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/serie-for-at-vor-glde-kan-vre-fuldkommen/ (beware, it’s in Danish)

    I can see how Numbers 15 could present a problem if you mean to suggest that the Levitical system offered no sacrifice on part of “intentional” sins (whatever that covers), but I have a hard time believing that to have been the actual truth of how this worked in Israel. I also blogged a little about this earlier:

    http://dorlandmind.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/m-l-andreasen-and-the-willful-sins/

    I’m not suggesting that these ideas cannot be surrounded by texts from the Bible. I just don’t think such interpretations fit rationally into the larger picture of how God saves people. But I’m well aware that other very intelligent people believe it does, and this is, needless to say, just my personal opinion on what is the more reasonable interpretation.

  4. serina skriver:

    *Argh* I’m sitting here commenting back to you, thinking that: “oh, this is getting really long, I should make a copy of my comment”, but then answering myself that “No, its OK, I only have a few sentences left now”.. and then, 4 seconds later, I manage to delete the whole thing. And I’m just too frustrated to try and write it all over again.

    Just needed to share my frustration, to get a little sympathy ;)

  5. Lars skriver:

    I’m well aware that this doesn’t resolve the issue from your perspective, and I didn’t really expect it would.

  6. Scott Andersen skriver:

    I don’t think there’s a Christian alive who hasn’t struggled with these kinds of inner conflicts – I know I have and will. I have struggled with sin all my Christian life, and that is not just a few years. I want to live a perfect and holy life becasue I know that is ultimately the best life with the most blessings and fruit. Nevertheless, I still fall sometimes and my experience has shown me that the Lord always helps back up and allows me to be very close to him. He is truly a very loving and gracious Father. I believe very sincerely that the main problem we have as Christians is that we don’t adequately fortify or prepare ouselves against those times when the temptations come knocking. We sin, fall down, cry out to God, and don’t change. We don’t do those things that will make us less suseptable the next time around. We don’t worship God and pray continuosly, we don’t feed ourselves with his Word daily, we don’t avoid dangerous envoronments, etc. The key to not sinning, is to not wait until we’re on the edge before we try to strengthen our spiritual immune system – that is too late. We allow our hearts and minds to be fed with everything except that which will help us in the moment of crisis. Jesus told us how to pray, asking for daily bread and to be kept from temptation. The daily bread part shows us how often we need to raise our voices and hearts to the Lord concerning every component of that “Lord’s prayer”. Let us be filled with the Spirit daily and proclaim without ceasing how he has overcome sin in our lives on the cross already. These acts of faith will cause us to dwell in the safety of God’s sanctuary where nothing can touch us.
    Scott

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