July 7 – The Unholy Christian

July 7 – The Unholy Christian

Matthew 7:16-23

“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:16-23)

In God’s project of making unholy people holy, we might ask, how may the believer experience freedom from sinful thoughts and actions? Why is it that the average Christian is not very saintly, does not reflect the character of Christ very clearly, lives much like any morally upright but unbelieving neighbor, and also relies on basically the same resources as those neighbors?

Scripture recognizes a basic difference among Christians. It distinguishes between carnal (“of the flesh”) Christians, who behave like unconverted people, and spiritual Christians, whose life is dominated by the Spirit of God (I Cor. 3:1-3). All Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), but some Christians are “filled with the Spirit.” The Bible speaks both of immature Christians and of mature Christians (Hebrews 5:11-6:3). More than exhibiting simply a difference in degree of growth, Christians’ lives manifest qualitative differences: some Christians have a life pattern of defeat, whereas others have a life pattern of spiritual success.

A student once asked me, “How can you be ‘carnal’?” An interesting question! Did he mean, “How long can you live in sin without losing your salvation?” Or did he mean, “How long can you live in sin before you prove that you never were really in the family of God?” Or was he hoping that one could choose the low road and follow it all the way safely home? The question perplexes sincere believers, fascinates theologians, and divides Christendom. But Scripture does not favor us with a consideration of that question. Though the issue of eternal security is important, I am emboldened by the biblical approach to the problem of the sinning Christian to suggest that for pastoral (or evangelistic) purposes, in seeking to rescue the helpless person mired in the bog of subnormal Christian experience, it may be legitimate to by-pass the question, at least for the time being.

The Bible consistently deals with people where they are and only rarely answers the theoretical problems that plague us. For example, to fearful saints who desperately want to please God, Scripture gives an abundance of reassurance. No power can ever separate them from God (John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39), and they will surely complete their course successfully by His grace (Phil. 1:6). But to those who continually and deliberately reject the known will of God, Scripture gives, not reassurance but fearful warnings.

Read Matthew 7:16-23 and 1 John 3:6, 8, 10, 14…”By their fruit you will recognize them…..No one who lives in him keeps on sinning….. These passages and many others[42] show clearly the position that Scripture takes in addressing the sinner: repentance is the only option.

But how does one reconcile the two lines of teaching? Are church members living in sin saved, or are they lost? Have they been saved? Will they prove to have been saved? Have they lost their salvation? I have opinions – even convictions – about the theological answers to some of those questions, but since the Holy Spirit did not feel it necessary to answer them directly in Scripture, I feel under no compulsion to do so in the context of addressing professing Christians who are living in sin. Rather than attempting to play God and answer the question they raise, I can with confidence answer the basic question that ought to be asked: what must I do to be saved? Whatever standing people may have before God (which is unknown to me), if they are not now in a right relationship with God, they need to be. If they continue to reject the known will of God and are comfortable in that condition, I can assure them on the authority of God’s Word that they have no biblical basis for any assurance of salvation. Their only option is repentance. Just as a lost person can do right (Acts 10:4, 35) but cannot consistently choose to do right (Romans 8:7-8), so a saved person can do wrong (James 3:2, I John 1:8) but cannot consistently choose to do wrong (I John 3). Which is true of you? What will you do?

[42] Matthew 23; 25:31-46; John 15:2, 6; Hebrews 3:6-19; 6:1-8; 10:26-31

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