IV. The Gospel
A. The nature of grace
As simple a thing as the Gospel is, it is remarkable how easily
it becomes confused in the minds of both Christians and non-Christians.
For most, salvation and a proper relationship to God seem to
be bound up in attempts to be holy, to do good, to avoid evil
and thereby achieve either heaven, God's blessing, or the working
of miracles or some other desired action on the part of God.
Nothing could be further from the truth of the Gospel than to imagine that being good has anything to do with it. This can be made quite clear by looking at the life of Lot -- and then the New Testament comment on it. We begin with Genesis 19:
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.
"My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning."
"No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square."
But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom -- both young and old -- surrounded the house.
They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play judge! We'll treat you worse than them."
They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door with blindness so that they could not find the door.
The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here -- sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it."
So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, "Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!" But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished."
When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of hi wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, "Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"
But Lot said to them, "No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it -- it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared."
He said to him, "Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it." (That is why the town was called Zoar.)
By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah -- from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities -- and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot's wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.
Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.
One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father."
That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
The next day the older daughter said to the younger, "Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father."
So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)... (2 Peter 2:7-8)
2. Salvation by grace, through faith
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:20-21)
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:21-28)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing -- if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-5)
God looks down from heaven on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 53:2-3)
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure;
I am clean and without sin?" (Proverbs 20:9) There is not a righteous man on earth
who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:23)
B. What About Good Works?
A potential problem to this talk about grace arises when one looks at the law in the Old Testament and even more so when one notices the lists of what constitutes righteousness in say Ephesians 5:3-6:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure; No immoral, impure or greedy persons -- such a man is an idolater -- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
One might also bring to mind the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, who, because of lying about what they'd done with the money they'd received in the sale of their property dropped dead. Or look at the fate of the nameless man in Numbers 15:32-36:
While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then Yahweh said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as Yahweh commanded Moses.
This was in keeping with the clear statement of the law as recorded in Exodus 31:15:
For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to Yahweh. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.
Such strictness about details of the law makes one wonder what has become of grace, and whether the passages and concepts mentioned in the beginning of this discussion are even compatible or consistent with such harsh statements.
However, a hint that there is something we might be missing becomes apparent when we compare the man who broke the Sabbath or Ananias and Sapphira with David. The Bible is clear in stating, for instance in Leviticus 20:10 that:
If a man commits adultery with another man's wife -- with the wife of his neighbor -- both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
And Numbers 35:29-34:
These are to be legal requirements for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live.
Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murder only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.
Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow him to go back and live on his own land before the death of the high priest.
Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, Yahweh, dwell among the Israelites.
And yet David, guilty of adultery -- who then attempts in various ways to cover up the sin, culminating at last in the murder of the woman's husband -- is forgiven.
Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against Yahweh."
Nathan replied, "Yahweh has taken away your sin. You are not going to die." (2 Samuel 12:13)
David is not executed for his sin, though he has committed two that carry the death penalty.
Yet other people, similarly caught in a sin (for instance Achan in Joshua 7) suffer the ultimate penalty.
What is the cause for this seeming inconsistency?
The appearance of paradox in this discussion is no cause for alarm. On the contrary, it is cause for excitement, because the solving of paradox always results in a profound truth, that once grasped makes paradox dissolve into the illusion it always was to begin with.
In helping to solve the problem, an additional passage will be illustrative. 2 Chronicles 30:
Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to Yahweh, the God of Israel. The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. The decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to Yahweh the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in large numbers according to what was written....
The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but the people scorned and ridiculed them. Nevertheless, some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of Yahweh.
A very large crowd of people assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month. They removed the altars in Jerusalem and cleared away the incense altars and threw them into the Kidron Valley.
They slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priest and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of Yahweh. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests sprinkled the blood handed to them by the Levites. Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lams to Yahweh. Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying "May Yahweh, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God -- Yahweh, the God of his fathers -- even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary." And Yahweh heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
The Israelites who were present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests sang to Yahweh every day, accompanied by Yahweh's instruments of praise....
The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully....
There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.
Again, we see people who violated the law, yet God not only forgave them and accepted their worship, he even blessed them for it. All this, despite the fact that they weren't doing it right: it was the wrong month, they did it an extra week, and they weren't even "holy".
But this passage begins to clarify the nature of the human relationship to God. It is further clarified by the remarkable passage in Isaiah 1:10-20:
Hear the word of Yahweh,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
"The multitude of your sacrifices --
what are they to me?" says Yahweh.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals'
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to meet with me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations --
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals
and your appointed feasts my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
learn to do right!
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
Come now, let us reason together," says Yahweh
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow'
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword."
For the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.
This same sentiment is echoed in Jesus' words to the Pharisees, for instance in Matthew 23:23 where he says "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."
It is also clear from what he says in verses 27 and 28 of the same passage:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
In 1 Samuel, God tells the prophet, when he is trying to select the king of Israel, that "he looks on the heart, not the outward appearance." Likewise, the Bible says, "God weighs the hearts of men..."
With Paul, in Philippians 2 we can agree that we are "not yet perfect" and we will "press onward". While outwardly, and when measured against the perfection of God -- or even against the perfect lives of our critics -- we leave much to be desired, that is NOT what is important to God.
Doing good is the result of God's activity in a life, not the magnate that draws God into a life. Goodness is an effect, not a cause, and in any case is no proof of anything (the Pharisees, after all, were very good.)
Further hints about how to solve our paradox come from Romans 14, where we learn the interesting lesson that what is good and right for one person may very easily be a sin in the life of someone else. What I praise God for can condemn another individual.
So, where does grace fit, where does living righteously come in? How does good deeds and condemnation and even death for evil deeds meet up and join happily, hand in hand, with the unmerited favor of the free gift of God. How can a reprobate like Samson or Lot be called righteous while a guy picking up sticks on Saturday gets stoned to death at the command of God? How is it that David gets to live, remains king of Israel, and is in the lineage of Christ after committing adultery and murder, while Ananias and Sapphira die for telling a half truth?
If we look back at the list of bad things not to do in Ephesians and the good things we should be doing, the context is important. Remember, Paul begins his letter with the following:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will -- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment -- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you head the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession -- to the praise of his glory.
Later in 2:10, he says that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." The goodness that comes out of the Christian is the work of God, not the work of the Christian. Notice, in his list of things they aren't to be doing, he constantly makes statements like "we are all members of one body." (4:25) and "forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (4:32) "dearly loved children" (5:1). And then at the end of his list he comments "Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." (5:15-17).
In Hebrews 6:4-9 and Hebrews 10:26-39 and John 15 we find passages that seem to suggest that how we live will determine whether or not we get to be with God. However, I think there are several questionable assumptions that need to be dispensed with and once dispensed with, again the true nature of the passages in question comes clear.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-9)
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
"He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him." (Hebrews 10:26-39)
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself' it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:1-6)
Now, notice 1 Corinthians 3:10-15:
By grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Therefore Hebrews 12:4-13 comes into play:
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
"My son, do not make light
of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover , we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
So we see the role discipline has in the life of a believer. It has always been the same, and so the Christian, like the believer in the Old Testament, belongs to God, and God is going to do whatever it takes, whether it is having us swallowed by a giant fish or merely having a prophet tell us a story and then point his finger and say "you are the man" to lead us to do those "good works he has prepared for us to do." And sometimes, for the sake of ourselves, and more like those around us, he has to kill us.
The passages in Hebrews 6 and 10 and John 15 have sometimes been misinterpreted as referring to eternal judgment, even by those who believe strongly in salvation by grace apart from works. However, as should be clear now from 1 Corinthians and Hebrews 12, they instead speak only of the sort of disciplining those who are redeemed can undergo, sometimes even of the extreme variety, as suffered by Ananaias and Sapphira. The passages of Hebrews and John refer to fire in the sense of discipline, and do not speak at all of eternal realities. The ultimate judgment of Hebrews 10 is of course death, as is clear from Hebrews 10:28-29. That Christians are in view in the passage, and therefore individuals that God considers righteous, is clear from verse 30, which indicates that those to be judged are "his people".
Hence too, the interesting passage in Ezekiel 33:10-20 (see also Ezekiel 18, esp. 21-32). The righteous man and the wicked man are identical in this: if the righteous man sins, he is wicked, but if the wicked man repents he is righteous. Therefore, righteousness is the result of repentance. If the righteous man fails to repent then he will die, ala the individual in Hebrews 6 and 10. But if he does, then he is no longer on the road to death.
We conclude and solve the paradox completely now, and the nail in its coffin comes with 1 John 1:5-2:11 and 3:16-24 and 5:1-5 and 5:13:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command; to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Likewise the well-known John 3:16 says that "whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
The simple question comes up then. If you have eternal life, if you cannot perish, then how could you ever lose it. If you could lose it, it would hardly be eternal, would it? And since God gave it to you when you were still a sinner (see Romans 5:8) then why do we ever imagine that keeping it has anything at all to do with our own actions? Such concerns are absurd.
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)
Considering the passage in Ephesians 5, also compare it to Romans 6. The nature of both passages is simply that Paul is reminding the believers that they are now under grace, not under law, and that because they are Christ's they no longer have to behave as they did as unbelievers. They have been set free from that slavery. See also Romans 8 in this same light.
Notice if the Christian does insist on living as if he were an unbeliever, he will die (Romans 8:13). But repentance clears that burden and then LIFE goes on.
In all judgments expressed against individuals and peoples, in all condemnation, there is the chance of life through repentance, whether the stipulation mentions it or not. We see it in David. He was guilty of adultery and murder, yet he was not executed. He repented, and therefore death was not necessary. Nineveh was going to be destroyed in forty days (Jonah 3:4), yet the people repented and God spared them, even though the warning itself did not hold out any hope.
Repentance and restoration are always possible, because as God said in Ezekiel 33:10-11:
Son of man, say to the house of Israel, "This is what you are saying: 'Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?'"
Say to them, "As surely as I live, declared the Lord Yahweh, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?"
To summarize: there are no good people; only God is good. Our righteousness and acceptability to God are entirely up to God himself. The work of Christ on the cross cleanses us from all iniquity and in him we become righteous. Apart from him, we are nothing. There is nothing more to be done to be in God's good graces. Jesus took care of it all; we do good things simply because He makes us (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, with Paul, we have nothing to boast of except the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14)
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