We’re often told that Christians shouldn’t beat themselves up for their sins and yet so many do it. Maybe that’s because the advice has been understated. Maybe we should go one step further to say that Christians mustn’t beat themselves up for their sins.
I’m reading Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life for the umpteenth time. This quote reminded me today why this book is a classic:
What then of our attitude to Satan? This is important, for he accuses us not only before God but in our own conscience also. “You have sinned, and you keep on sinning. You are weak, and God can have nothing more to do with you.” This is his argument. And our temptation is to look within and in self-defense to try to find in ourselves, in our feelings or our behavior, some ground for believing that Satan is wrong. Alternatively we are tempted to admit our helplessness and, going to the other extreme, to yield to depression and despair. Thus, accusation becomes one of the greatest and most effective of Satan’s weapons. He points to our sins and seeks to charge us with them before God; and if we accept his accusations, we go down immediately.
Now the reason why we so readily accept his accusations is that we are still hoping to have some righteousness of our own. The ground of our expectation is wrong. Satan has succeeded in making us look in the wrong direction.
Our salvation lies in looking away to the Lord Jesus and in seeing that the blood of the Lamb has met the whole situation created by our sins and has answered it. That is the sure foundation on which we stand. Never should we try to answer Satan with our good conduct but always with the blood.
A Faith That Works is an examination of the gospel as the tangible power of God to save. Many Christians would be hard pressed to articulate exactly in what way the gospel had affected them. The absence of demonstrable change has become so prevalent that we’ve actually found a biblical basis to explain it. This excerpt from what may or may not be chapter 2 of the book dismantles that basis to make way for the legitimate work of God.
I can think of no better evidence to support my case that the gospel of the western church has been rendered inert through mishandling than the prevalence of the belief that Paul meant to describe the normal Christian life in Romans 7. I can’t count the number of times a Christian has told me something like, “Yeah, we’re forgiven by grace but we’re still going to sin every day. I know I’m not as strong as Paul and he had things he couldn’t get over either. Just look at Romans 7.”
Really? Is that the best that the power of God can do? If faith in Christ left Paul “dead” and “wretched,” then what in the “H-E-double-hockey-sticks” did it do for him!?
Far from commiserating with faltering disciples, Paul wrote Romans 7 to depict the state of existence that the gospel saved him from. Through his attempts to conform to an external standard of righteousness, he became as “dead in transgressions and sins” as the pagan recipients of the Ephesian letter had been.
Compare the description from Ephesians 2:1-3 of their pre Christian state with his condition described in Romans 7:
● Paul and the Ephesians had both been dead in sin.
○ “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” (Eph. 2:1)
○ “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” (Rom. 7:9-10)
● Paul and the Ephesians had both been in bondage to evil desires.
○ “…in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph. 2:2-3a)
○ “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:14-15)
● Paul and the Ephesians both had natures that were hostile to God.
○ “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3b)
○ “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)
If we agree that Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the lost state and then say that Romans 7 describes the common Christian experience, then we imply that the gospel produces no significant practical results. If we’ve come to identify a Romans 7 experience as the result of the gospel, then it’s no wonder there’s so little difference between the lives of Christians and nonbelievers. No wonder so few churchgoers evangelize. No wonder so many kids raised in church leave the faith.
We’re told that Donald Trump is a “baby Christian” and that we should not judge him. A person needn’t have a particular understanding of “Christianese” nor must they attain some sort of religious performance before I’ll acknowledge them as a brother in Christ. We are all in process. And yet I can’t accept that Donald Trump is a Christian for the simple reason that he has never disavowed his former life. In other words, I see no evidence of repentance from him. Ezekiel gives a hallmark of those who are born again:
Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. – Ezekiel 36:31
For comparison, let’s consider another wealthy, scandalous man. Perhaps you remember Zacchaeus from Luke 19. He was a rich man who had acquired his wealth by betraying his own people to the Roman Empire as a publican. Those who held this office were hated not only because of their disloyalty to the people to God but also because they used their protected status to extort additional funds from the populace for their own personal benefit. Zacchaeus had gotten rich on the backs of honest hard working citizens and everybody knew it. But Jesus didn’t scorn and exclude him like the rest of the Jewish people in Jericho had. Instead, Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. Zacchaeus gladly welcomed him.
Christ’s willingness to share a meal with Zacchaeus wasn’t an affirmation that the man was saved, though. Instead, it was an invitation to repentance. Zacchaeus understood and responded with these words,
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” -Luke 19:8
This is what repentance looks like. In the presence of Christ, Zacchaeus saw his greed as the soul destroying disease it had been and he came to loathe himself for it. He couldn’t remain the same. Christ saw this change of heart and declared that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ household. Zacchaeus was saved before he did anything, but not before he repented. One might say that our love for sin is the very thing we need saving from and that coming to loathe ourselves for our sin is the very essence of salvation. By this definition, can we say that Donald Trump is saved?
You might be voting for him because of his professed stance on a particular issue, but please don’t fall under the delusion that his man represents Christ in any way. I don’t mean to be judgmental. I’m just concerned that some religious leaders’ attempts to baptize his reputation will further water down what it means to be a “Christian.”