I spent a lot of time on this comment response, so I’m making it a post. You’ll have to figure out the comment I’m responding to. It concerns my post “He Who Fears God and Labors at Righteousness”.
I don’t say that Cornelius “deserved” the Holy Spirit or that he had the Holy Spirit. I am saying that God accepted him for his good works. That’s not an interpretation, that’s just a quote.
What does “accept” mean? Whatever it means, I suggest that it does not and cannot mean “condemned to hell.”
You asserted that I believe “We are forgiven, but we are also justified and sanctified by the Spirit of our God. We are taught the commandments of Jesus (Matt. 28:20), and we fulfill them (1 Jn. 2:3-4) because sin does not have power over us.” True enough.
I spent a number of years questioning my own salvation because of my temper and my lust. From what I could read in Scripture, I couldn’t see how I would be able to enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21,25; Eph. 5:5). Mind you, I was not physically committing adultery, but “looking on a woman to lust after her” seemed impossible for me to overcome.
Someone once said, “I will preach the Gospel truth even if that truth condemns me.”
I lived that way for years. My experience of God was very real. I had amazing experiences, amazing guidance, and I was growing in the knowledge of God and his ways, but I was easily thrown into lust and anger.
Over time, I grew desperate. The desperation was made worse by Jesus’ prayer in John 17. The world, Jesus suggested, would believe he was sent by God because of the unity of his disciples. I looked around and I saw no unity, no love between the brethren, no holiness. I used to ask Jesus in prayer why I should believe in him.
The fact was, I couldn’t help it. I did believe, and I was compelled to be deadly honest with what I saw in the Scriptures—even if it condemned me.
When I got hold of the early Christian writings, it didn’t help. They were stricter than me, not less strict. They emphasized obedience more than me, though they emphasized the mercy of God as well. It did help in that they seemed to have no problem testifying that as a group, they were sexually pure in their minds as well as in their bodies.
I had long periods of success with lust, keeping my eyes where they belonged and my thoughts where they belonged, followed by a flurry of giving in to lust in my thoughts. I only had so much success with my “outbursts of wrath.” (This lasted fifteen years.)
Only finally finding the church delivered me. I confessed my struggles and failures to the men, and I talked to my kids, my wife, and my friends every time I got angry. (I wasn’t violent, just vocally inexcusable.)
The Scriptures say that the church is part of the answer.
Exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest anyone be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:13)
The problem I have with backing off on my emphasis on the Gospel you described is that what I say is not just Scripturally verifiable, but it is the Gospel as taught consistently and without exception by the early churches before the great fall during Constantine’s reign.
If you think I don’t emphasize the forgiveness of sins enough, along with the Gospel that you say (accurately) that I teach, then who knows, maybe you’re right. My emphasis on mercy is a lot stronger in person, when people come to me for counsel. It is true that you cannot repent and be set free while you think God hates you, is against you, or is constantly mad at you. Well, I won’t say “cannot.” It’s a real hindrance, though.
There is a teaching I give occasionally called AGod Is Not Disappointed with You” to get people to understand that God is trying to get you from where you are to where he wants you. He is not deceived into thinking you are somewhere else along the path than where you are. He’s not shocked by your sin, confused by it, or grossed out by it. It’s exactly what he expects from you, and he wants to work with you right where you are.
It is while we were yet sinners that God gave his Son to die for us. He was not thinking, “Gosh, I sure hope they see this and stop their ridiculous, icky behavior.” He was saying, “Here is a reconciliation offer. You give up the life you’re living, enter my kingdom, and I’ll give you a much better life. I’ll even give you the Holy Spirit so that you are not a servant, but a Son, having my nature.”
Our response is, “How can I when I am unworthy to enter your house?”
His response is, “Old things have passed away; all things are new. Your sins are wiped out. Come on in.”
One last response:
You see a different emphasis on mercy in the Scriptures you listed (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18) and what I say. I don’t. Maybe I’m deceiving myself, and if someone besides you wants to back you up on that, I’ll listen, but I’m already trying to listen, so I would need some help following through if I’m wrong.
Acts 5:31 in particular seems to say exactly what I say. The requirement for forgiveness has always been repentance. Jesus didn’t have to die to obtain mercy from God for us. Ezekiel has three passages telling us that God was always merciful to the repentant, even before Jesus died.
I emphasize repentance because that is what was lacking. God’s mercy wasn’t lacking. Isaiah 55:7 tells us he had abundant pardon for the repentant even under the Old Covenant. Romans 3 tells us that repentance was beyond us. Romans 7 tells us the same thing, and Romans 8 tells us that Romans 7 is what he corrected.
I am well aware that we love him because he first loved us, but the love he showed to us in reconciling us to God requires us to repent. These two passages especially put incredible emphasis on that:
So God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18)
[I declared] that they should repent and turn to God and do works befitting repentance. (Acts 26:20)
That last one is a summation by Paul of what he was teaching. Repentance is the gift of God, and it allows forgiveness. I don’t know how to interpret the Scriptures any other way, and for centuries after the apostles, no one else in the church knew either.