Are We “Sinners Saved by Grace” or “Formerly Sinners, But Now Saved by Grace”?

“Sinner” or “sinners” is used 67 times in the Bible and, in almost every case, sinners are contrasted with the righteous. An excellent example is Psalm 1:5: “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (KJV). Biblically, there are sinners and there are the righteous. God distinguishes between the two.

Nowadays, when we say, “We are just sinners saved by grace,” we are describing ourselves as sinners, something the Bible never does. In fact, 1 John 3:7 tells us that we only have the righteousness of Christ if we live righteously. The difference between those born of God and those not born of God is that those who are born of God practice righteousness, and those not born of God do not practice righteousness (1 Jn. 3:10). Just like in the Old Testament, there is a difference between the righteous and sinners.

This also tells us that “the righteous” are not those who never sin. There is no one who never sins (James 3:2; 1 Jn. 1:8-10). Nonetheless, there are those who are “the righteous,” and there are others with such a pattern of sin that the Bible calls them sinners. Just as you are not a plumber just because you have fixed a link under your sink once or twice, so “sinners” are not marked by an occasional sin but by a habit of sinning. In the same way, “the righteous” are marked by a habit of righteousness.

It sounds very humble to say, “We are just sinners saved by grace,” but not only does this warp the biblical meaning of the word “sinner,” but it degrades grace as well. The grace that bring us salvation teaches us not to sin! Or, as Titus 2:11-12 puts it, it teaches us “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.” Paul says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you because you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

As a matter of fact, it would be good to look at the context of Romans 6:14:

Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Also, do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace.
   What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be! Don’t you know that when you present yourselves as servants and obey someone, you are the servants of whomever you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were bondservants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were delivered. Being made free from sin, you became bondservants of righteousness.
   I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh, for as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to wickedness upon wickedness, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness for sanctification. For when you were servants of sin, you were free from righteousness. What fruit then did you have at that time in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin and having become servants of God, you have your fruit of sanctification and the result of eternal life. (Romans 6:11-22)

I left out Romans 6:23 because Reformation theology misinterprets it. I discuss it below.

Romans 6:11-22 tells us that if we have received grace, but we are still sinners, we are going to die because death is the fruit of sin. Grace, God’s favor, was given to us so that we would not sin.

Very similar words are said about walking in the Spirit versus walking in the flesh. Walk in the flesh, and you will die; walk in the Spirit, and you will reap eternal life (Rom. 8:12-13; Gal. 6:7-9). I beg of you, please pay no attention to those who tell you that this is physical death. Those who walk in the Spirit are going to die physically, just like those who walk in the flesh. Death and corruption are contrasted with eternal life in Galatians 6:7-8 and Romans 6:21-22. Paul did not change his mind about what death and what life he is talking about in Romans 8:12-13.

The simple conclusion I want you to draw is that grace frees from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Tit. 2:11), and re-creates us in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). You are only a sinner saved by grace in the sense that you used to be a sinner, but now you have been saved by grace.

Other Uses of “Sinner” in the New Testament

In Matthew 11:19, Jesus is called a friend of sinners. We must remember that he befriended sinners because he came to call them to repentance (Matt. 9:13).

In Luke 18:13, a tax collector beats his breast and asks God to be merciful to him because he is a sinner. Jesus said that this man went away justified. God has always been a merciful God, and those who come to him he has always abundantly pardoned (Isa. 55:7). Even during his time on earth, he wanted sinners to repent (Matt. 9:13). In Luke 18, the man was a publican, a tax collector. We know what Jesus wanted from publicans because in the very next chapter he encounters Zacchaeus, also a publican, and brings him to repentance.

These men from the Gospel period were experiencing God’s mercy because he has always been merciful. They were not experiencing God’s grace except when in direct contact with Jesus. Jesus would not bring the grace of God, God’s favor, to earth and for all men until the cross. As Paul put it, we “were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:9-10). Jesus provided transformation through his death and resurrection, not mercy. As said, God was always merciful. Jesus died to be Lord of both the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9); so that we would not live for ourselves, but for him (2 Cor. 5:15); to redeem us from all iniquity (Tit. 2:13); and to purchase a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14).

Romans 6:23

I did not include Romans 6:23 in the long quote above because so many evangelicals interpret it to contradict the rest of Romans 6. Throughout the chapter, Paul tells the Romans that they must take advantage of the fact that Jesus freed them from sin and yield their members (i.e., their arms, legs, tongue, etc.) to righteousness. If they obey sin, they will reap death; if they obey righteousness, they will reap life (v. 16; cf. Gal. 6:7-9).

The chapter leads up to a conclusion in verse 22 and a similar conclusion in verse 23. In verse 22, the “fruit” of being free from sin and serving God is sanctification, and the “result” of sanctification is eternal life. In a very similar way, verse 21 says that the “fruit” of sin is death. Yet in verse 23, death is “the wages” of sin, but eternal life is the “gift” of God.

Death is the fruit of sinning, and eternal life is the result of sanctification, which is the fruit of serving God. Why then is eternal life not “the wages” of holiness (=sanctification) as death is “the wages” of sin?

Interestingly enough, that question was addressed more than 1500 years ago by a bishop named John and nicknamed “golden-tongue” (Gr., Chrysostom). John Chrysostom did a series of homilies on Romans, and he had this to say about Romans 6:23:

After speaking of the wages of sin, in the case of blessings, he has not kept to the same order, for he does not say, “the wages of good deeds,” but “the gift of God,” to show that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. (reference)

Now let’s not misinterpret John Chrysostom as well. Remember, Romans 6:1-22 is every bit as important as Romans 6:23. Romans 6:23 is important because it lets us know that even if eternal life is a reward for holiness (Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:8-9; Heb. 12:14), there is a difference between a reward and something that is earned. Chrysostom points out that it was God who freed us from the power of sin by grace (as Paul pointed out in Romans 6:14). We began in grace and we were sustained by grace (Rom. 5:1-2) so that holiness is the product of something God gave to us in the first place. So when we are rewarded for holiness with eternal life, it is not wages, but even the holiness itself was a gift of God’s grace. We were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10); there is no way we can call eternal life “wages” for our holiness.

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When Christians Conquered an Empire (in current English)

Tertullian’s Christians Conquer Empire reworded
This is a rewording of yesterday’s blog.

“To the Rulers of the Roman Empire:

“… If we are commanded to love our enemies, as I have pointed out earlier, whom do we Christians have to hate? If we are forbidden to retaliate when we are injured, lest we become as bad as those who injured us, then who can suffer injury at our hands? Think about how things are already. You often inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because you want to and partly in obedience to your laws. How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand and attacks us with stones and torches! …

“We are banded together and ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, yet what single case of revenge can you point to? You cannot, even though it would be easy, if we considered it right to repay evil for evil, to get plenty of vengeance in a single night with a torch or two.

“In fact, if we wanted to act like open enemies, instead of using sabotage for revenge, would we lack the strength to do so in either numbers or resources? We originated only recently, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places … tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. The fittest and most eager warriors would be people like us, people who gladly give ourselves to being slain by the sword. If our religion did not consider it better to be slain than to be slay, we would overwhelm you even if you had greater forces.

“Actually, we could overcome you even without weapons and without rising up in revolt. We could win the battle with you just by leaving your empire out of ill will. If such a multitude of people broke away from you and moved to a remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, good or bad, would cover the empire with shame! In our very leaving, vengeance would be inflicted! … You would have to seek subjects to govern! You would have more enemies than citizens remaining!

“Right now, it is the immense number of Christians that make your enemies so few. Almost all the inhabitants of your various cities are followers of Christ. Nonetheless, you choose to call us enemies of the human race rather than what we are: enemies of human error.

“In addition, who would deliver you from those secret enemies, the ones you cannot see? They are always busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health! Who would save you from the attacks of those spirits of evil that we cast out without asking for reward or wages. This alone would be revenge enough for us, that from now one we left you as the possession of unclean spirits. But instead of considering what you owe us for this important protection, and though we cause you no trouble whatsoever, and not even considering how necessary we are to your well-being, you prefer to consider us enemies. We are enemies, but we are not enemies of people, just enemies of human error.” (Tertullian, Apology37)

“But keep pressing forward with zeal, good presidents! You will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish. Kill us; torture us; condemn us; grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. That is why God allows us to suffer like this.

“Lately, though, you condemned a Christian woman to the leno rather than the leo (the pimp rather than the lion). By this, you prove that you know that a taint on our purity is more terrible than any punishment or death.

“Your cruelty does not do you any good, though. It is a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.

“Many of your writers encourage people to be courageous and bear pain and death. Cicero does so in The Tusculans; Seneca does in his Chances; Diogenes, Pyrrhus, and Callinicus do the same. Nonetheless, their words do not make as many disciples as the Christians because we do not teach by words, but by our deeds. The very “stubbornness” that your prosecutors complain about is how we teach others.

“Think about it. Who that thinks about our stubborn stand for Christ is not moved to find out the source of it? Who, after finding out why we are so stubborn for Christ, does not embrace our doctrines? And when they have embraced them, don’t all of them want to suffer in order to fully partake of God’s grace? They want to obtain complete forgiveness from God in exchange for their own blood! Martyrdom secures the remission of all offenses. This is why we give thanks, right on the spot, when we are sentenced! The divine and human are always opposed to each other; so, when we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by the Most High.” (Tertullian, Apology, ch. 50)

Addendum: Similar Quotes

Here are quotes quite similar to Tertullian’s above, from both earlier and around the same time period:

anonymous, Letter to Diognetus, ch. 7, c. AD 80-130:

Don’t you see [Christians] exposed to wild beasts for the purpose of persuading them to deny the Lord, yet they are not overcome? Don’t you see that the more of them that are punished, the greater the number of the rest becomes? This does not seem to be the work of man. This is the power of God. These are the evidences of his appearance.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 110, c. AD 155-165

Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus all over the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, crucified, thrown to wild beasts, chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; instead, the more such things happen, the more others—in even larger numbers—become faithful and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For if someone were to cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it would grow up again and yield other branches, flourishing and fruitful. Even so, the same thing happens with us.

Minucius Felix, The Octavius, c. AD 160-230

It’s a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone, and—triumphant and victorious—he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful.

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When Christians Conquered a Nation

This was written very close to the year 200, to the Roman emperors, who almost certainly never read it, but the words have been preserved. This is what conquest of an empire by real Christians looks like:

This is long, but so very much worth reading!! I have highlighted portions to make the whole easier to understand and read.

“If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands? In regard to this, recall your own experiences. How often you inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because it is your own inclination, and partly in obedience to the laws! How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand, and assails us with stones and flames! …

“Yet, banded together as we are, ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, what single case of revenge for injury are you able to point to, though, if it were held right among us to repay evil by evil, a single night with a torch or two could achieve an ample vengeance? …

“If we desired, indeed, to act the part of open enemies, not merely of secret avengers, would there be any lacking in strength, whether of numbers or resources? … We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. For what wars should we not be fit, not eager, even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slay? Without arms even, and raising no insurrectionary banner, but simply in enmity to you, we could carry on the contest with you by an ill-willed severance alone. For if such multitudes of men were to break away from you, and betake themselves to some remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, whatever sort they were, would cover the empire with shame; nay, in the very forsaking, vengeance would be inflicted. … You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining.

“For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ Yet you choose to call us enemies of the human race, rather than of human error.

Nay, who would deliver you from those secret foes, ever busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health? Who would save you, I mean, from the attacks of those spirits of evil, which without reward or hire we exorcise? This alone would be revenge enough for us, that you were henceforth left free to the possession of unclean spirits. But instead of taking into account what is due to us for the important protection we afford you, and though we are not merely no trouble to you, but in fact necessary to your well-being, you prefer to hold us enemies, as indeed we are, yet not of man, but rather of his error.” (Tertullian, Apology37)

“But go zealously on, good presidents, you will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish, kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. Therefore God suffers [allows] that we thus suffer; for but very lately, in condemning a Christian woman to the leno [pimp] rather than to the leo [lion] you made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed. Many of your writers exhort to the courageous bearing of pain and death, as Cicero in the Tusculans, as Seneca in his Chances, as Diogenes, Pyrrhus, Callinicus; and yet their words do not find so many disciples as Christians do, teachers not by words, but by their deeds. That very obstinacy [in the face of persecution] you rail against is the preceptress [expert teacher].

“For who that contemplates [our obstinacy in the face of persecution] is not excited to inquire what is at the bottom of it? who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines? and when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become partaker of the fulness of God’s grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood? For that secures the remission of all offences. On this account it is that we return thanks on the very spot for your sentences. As the divine and human are ever opposed to each other, when we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by the Highest. (Tertullian, Apology, ch. 50)”

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Gnosticism and Gnostic Beliefs

If you want to understand John’s Gospel and letters in the New Testament, you need to understand gnosticism. His Gospel and letters were written against gnostics, who were also called “docetists.” “Docetist” refers to the gnostic belief that all matter, everything physical, is evil and should never have happened. Only the spiritual world is real and good.

History of Gnosticism

Second-century Christians (e.g., Justin Martyr) tell us that Simon Magus, the magician from Acts 8, started gnosticism. Peter rebuked him and told him to repent (Acts 8:20-24), but he did not. Instead, he went back to astonishing people with his magic, but now he told them either that he was the Christ or that the Christ spirit had moved from Jesus to him. The point is, he was teaching that because Jesus died, he did not fulfill his mission. Simon told people Jesus’ mission had passed to him.

Simon eventually had a disciple named Menander. We also know there was a teacher named Carpocrates by the late first century that the apostle John had to deal with. Carpocrates had received Simon’s teaching, but all the gnostic teachers added to that teaching. In the late second century, Irenaeus reports of the gnostics, “Every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed “perfect,” who does not develop among them some mighty fictions” (Against Heresies, I:18:1).

Gnostic Beliefs

Irenaeus, who wrote the 5 books of Against Heresies right around A.D. 185, gives a thorough description of a set of heretics known as the Valentinians. He spoke with them and read writings from them to accurately determine their beliefs. He claimed he would do this “briefly,” but try reading the first two books of Against Heresies! I read them. They are long. It is interesting for a while, but it gets real tiring.

He does, though, give a brief overview at the beginning. By Irenaeus’ time the Valentinians were teaching that there was one unknowable God who had generated 30 “aeons,” which are spirits or emanations from God of some sort. The unknowable God is named Bythus, which means “depths” or “profundity” (profoundness). He sent forth Silence with the seed of all things in her, and she produced Word and Life. Word and Life produced the rest of the 30 aeons with names like Man, Church, Unity, Oneness, Wisdom, Faith, Love (Agape), Will, and even “Only-begotten” (Gr. monogenes). Basically, they took words used often in the preaching of real Christians and made separate “aeons” of them.

Irenaeus’ description of the gnostic system is sometimes called slander by those who want to revive gnosticism, but I have verified his descriptions in gnostic works like Pistis Sophia (The Faith of Wisdom) and The Apocryphon of John (roughly, The Hidden Teaching of John). Their teaching goes like this:

The thirty aeons were in a place called the “Plethora” (fullness). They were unable to know Bythus, the one true God, because he is unknowable. This really bothered Wisdom, so she left the Plethora to go search for him. She still could not find him, so she wept great tears that created a being called the Demiurge. The Apocryphon of John describes the event this way:

Something imperfect came out of her, different in appearance from her. … She gave rise to a misshapen being unlike herself. Sophia saw what her desire produced. It changed into the form of a dragon with a lion’s head and [its] eyes flashed thunderbolts. … Sophia surrounded him with a brilliant cloud … so that no one would see it. She named him Yaldabaoth. … Yaldabaoth united with the thoughtlessness within him. He begot ruling authorities. (reference)

Irenaeus describes it this way:

But others of them fabulously describe the passion and restoration of Sophia as follows: They say that she, having engaged in an impossible and impracticable attempt, brought forth an amorphous substance, such as her female nature enabled her to produce. When she looked upon it, her first feeling was one of grief, on account of the imperfection of its generation, and then of fear lest this should end her own existence. Next she lost, as it were, all command of herself, and was in the greatest perplexity while endeavouring to discover the cause of all this, and in what way she might conceal what had happened. (Against Heresies I:2:3)

As you can see, little difference here between the two descriptions.

Yaldabaoth, also known as “The Demiurge,” created the physical world. He did not know his mother, Sophia, nor the aeons of the fullness, nor the true God. Not knowing that, he thought he himself was God and created the world. This was a mistake, thus the whole physical creation is evil. So gnosticism begins with the idea that these aeons came to earth to rescue humans, who have some spirit in them. This is what became of Simon Magus’ idea that the Christ spirit, now aeon, had come to earth to save man, but left Jesus when he died.

Oh, and of course they accuse the Christian God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the God of Israel, of being this false god, the Demiurge.

Salvation and Sanctication in the Gnostic System

Salvation, in the gnostic system, comes from knowledge. The Greek word gnosis means knowledge, and that is where we get “gnostic” from. (In the Greek word, gnosis, the “g” is pronounced; in the English word, gnostic, it is not pronounced.) To be saved, you need to know all these things so that you can enter the Pleroma, the Fullness, after you die.

As far as behavior, gnostic teaching varied. The gnostics that the apostle John dealt with were teaching that since all matter, all the creation of The Demiurge, is evil, it does not matter what you do with you body. The behavior of your body does not affect your spirit, which is the only thing that will be saved. It will be saved by knowledge, not by good behavior.

There were at least two more ways of salvation in gnostic teaching that I remember from Irenaeus’ books. Remember, a good gnostic teacher has to invent new teachings almost every day, so there were a lot of systems by the time Irenaeus was writing, more than a century after Simon Magus started the religion.

One system taught that there were people who were almost pure spirit. It did not matter what they did with their body. They were “the perfect,” and they would be saved no matter what they did. Obviously, these were the gnostics. Other people were part spirit and part animal (flesh). They had to live righteously to be saved. Those were the Christians. Then there were people who were pure animal; there was no saving them.

Another system taught that because only spirit is good, to do anything to please the flesh was bad. They lived ascetic lives with lots of fasting and no sex. At least that was the goal.

The Apostle John and the Gnostics

John wrote both his Gospel and letters with the gnostics in mind. His letter is the most obvious, as he argues that Jesus is eternal life (1 Jn. 1:1-4) and that real Christians don’t hide in darkness, but proclaim their teachings and live their lives “in the light” (1 Jn. 1:6-7), keep Jesus’ commandments (1 Jn. 2:3-4), love one another (1 Jn. 4:7-8), and confess that Jesus is Christ and came in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2-3). These are things the gnostics did not do. In the Gospel, the first chapter refers to Jesus as the Word, as Life, as Light, as becoming flesh, and as the only-begotten of God. These are all names of the supposed aeons.

The gnostics did not admit Simon Magus as their founder. Instead, they claimed to have received secret teaching from an apostle or companion of the Lord. They claimed that Jesus taught these things only privately, and that the Christians knew only his public teaching, which was for the masses. Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, and John himself (thus The Apocryphon of John) were all sources the various gnostic sects claimed.

Thus, one of the purposes of John’s Gospel was to give his apostolic testimony against them. He lived longer than all the other apostles, with Christians in Asia Minor testifying that he lived into the times of the Emperor Trajan, who reigned from A.D. 98-117 (Eusebius, Church History III:23). Apparently gnostics were already using his name by then.

What Happened to the Gnostics

The gnostics and their bizarre religion died out long ago, though they have influenced other religions after them.

An early bishop of Antioch, Paul’s home church, wrote against the gnostics in his letters, written in either A.D. 107 or 116. It is clear in his letters that gnostics had infiltrated the churches in his time. It is possible this was only around the area of Ephesus, where John spent the end of his life (see (Eusebius, Church History III:23) again). His letters are known for promoting a strong “clergy,” the bishop, elders, and deacons, in those churches. I argue that Ignatius only emphasized the authority of the church leadership because gnostics were opening schools for Christians, teaching them gnosticism, and baptizing them into their false faith. Ignatius argues throughout his letters to the churches, and only in the ones in the area of Ephesus, that the must not do any teaching, baptizing, or taking communion without the bishop’s permission.

During the period from 70 to 150 years later, several writers wrote against the gnostics. It is clear in their writings that the gnostics were spreading outside the church. While some Christians did defect to them, returning later in repentance to report their wicked practices, the gnostics had to create their own churches rather than hiding out within the church as John and Ignatius had to deal with.

After those “apologies,” or defenses of the faith, written against the gnostics from around A.D. 170 to 250, we hear little to nothing about the gnostics in Christian writings.

More Information

I wrote articles on Gnosticism and Gnostic Beliefs at

You might also want to know that despite the claims of modern gnostics, neither the gnostic gospels nor even the biblical canon were discussed at the Council of Nicea.

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Past Tense Salvation by Faith and Future Tense Judgment by Works

In the comments of my video on 2 Peter 1:3-11, I wrote this.

I just don’t get you guys. You wrote, “To clarify, faith grants us salvation.” That is not clarification. Did you watch the video? Do you know that James said that we are justified by works and not faith only? You would “clarify” things by saying “faith grants us salvation”? That is not clarifying, that is ignoring 2 Peter 1:3-11. It is ignoring James 2:24.

You also wrote, “If you’re saying that faith does not get us to heaven, then I must disagree.” Of course. Your tradition, like Floyd Barackman’s tradition, teaches you to ignore the plain meaning of 2 Peter 1:3-11. Of course you must disagree.

You have Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8 and several other Pauline statements that salvation is through faith apart from works. I have a great explanation for those that does not twist anything. They are all PAST TENSE; every one of them. We were (past tense) saved from our slavery to sin because of faith and faith only. Our slavery to sin was the ONLY problem in the Old Testament. The judgment was not a problem. The judgment was always just and always by works. The righteous live, the wicked perish. God doesn’t want the wicked to perish, so if they stop their wickedness, he will forget it and reward them for the righteousness they did afterward. That is an Old Testament promise (Ezek. 18:20-30). That judgment is just. Jesus did not die to change the judgment, but to change us so that we would not be wicked. Now we can arrive righteous at that just judgment of God.

This is written all over the New Testament. Those who patiently do good will receive eternal life (Rom. 2:6-7). Those who sow to the Spirit so that they don’t grow weary in doing good will inherit eternal life (Gal. 6:8-9). Paul says not to be deceived about that last point (Gal. 6:7). Unclean, immoral, and greedy men, Christians or not, will have NO INHERITANCE (“not any”) in the kingdom of God and Christ (Eph. 5:5); instead, if they behave like the sons of disobedience, they will receive the judgment of the sons of disobedience (Eph. 5:6). Those who have done good will be resurrected to life, and those who have done evil will be resurrected to condemnation (Jn. 5:28-29). When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will receive the deeds done in the body, WHETHER GOOD OR BAD (2 Cor. 5:10).

All those references to being judged by works are in the future tense. Yes, we “WERE RECONCILED” to God by Jesus’ death, and now we “SHALL BE” saved from wrath by his life (Rom. 5:9-10). Combined with all those other passages I pointed out, Paul is telling us that now that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared for us to walk in” (Eph. 2:10), we better do them. We can do them by letting his life live through us and by sowing to and walking by the Spirit (Gal. 2:20; 5:16; 5:24; 6:8-9).

This all fits the plain meaning of Paul’s words with no twisting whatsoever, and boom(!), what do you know? It exactly matches James’ words in James 2. No twisting needed. We can say with James that we are justified by works and not faith only because faith brought the grace (Eph. 2:8; Rom. 5:2) which freed us from slavery to sin (Rom. 6:14, also rest of chapter), taught us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Tit. 2:11-12), and made us a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:13-14). We can also understand why Peter said that now that we have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:4), we must diligently add to our faith (2 Pet. 1:5-7), because by diligently adding those 7 things to our faith, we will make our calling and election sure and get an abundant entrance into Jesus’ kingdom (2 Pet. 1:8-11).

You cited a modern authority, raised and trained in Reformation tradition. I know this because you can’t get faith alone from the Bible because the only occurrence of the words “faith alone” in the Bible is in James 2:24, which says “not by faith alone.”

I am going to cite you a better authority. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was appointed to his position by the apostle John. Well, probably, but if not, then he was appointed by the bishop who was appointed by the apostle John. He wrote, in chapter 1 of the only epistle that we have from him, “into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that ‘by grace ye are saved, not of works,’ but by the will of God through Jesus Christ” (ref). In chapter 2 of the same epistle, he wrote, “He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, etc.” (ref). Saved by faith, present tense, judged by works, future tense.

He knew what I now know because of him and others from the second century, salvation by faith alone refers to being delivered from slavery to sin. We are only delivered from punishment for sin because we stop sinning (every page of the New Testament). And because we are no longer slaves to sin, we do his will and walk in his commandments (Polycarp), and we have confidence at the judgment because we live like him in this world (John, 1 Jn. 4:17).

See also Jesus Died for Aphesis.

Posted in Bible, Dealing with Scripture Honestly, Evangelicals, Gospel, Modern Doctrines, Verses Evangelicals Ignore | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Answering the Verses Evangelicals Throw at Me: Hebrews 9:22

By now all my readers know that I disagree with a good portion of evangelical tradition. I am not bashful about writing against those traditions. When I do so, I expect evangelicals to look at the verses and explanations I give, then provide a reasonable reply. My expectation is usually dashed to the ground, but occasionally I get a Berean (Acts 17:10-11).

If I am looking for Bereans, those who will honestly examine the Scriptures, then I need to be one.

There are verses that evangelicals throw at me after reading what I write. I admit to using “throw” pejoratively. When I give a verse in answer to an argument, I am prepared to examine that verse with my opponent and hopefully discuss it reasonably to achieve a consensus on what it says. Most of the time evangelicals throw verses at me like a monkey or chimpanzee throws poop at spectators. Monkeys don’t want to discuss anything. They want the spectators, the ones that are bothering them, to go away. If an evangelical sticks around to discuss the verses he brought up, I am happy to say he or she “presented” verses rather than throwing them at me. Usually, the verses are just thrown. No subsequent discussion is expected or wanted.

Hebrews 9:22

One verse that has been validly presented to me is Hebrews 9:22:

According to the law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission. (WEB)

I argue that God forgives sin without sacrifice. I teach that God forgave sins and was marvelously merciful before Jesus died, and there was no change in his mercy after Jesus died. Hebrews 9:22 begs to differ.

It may beg, but I am not going to allow it to differ.

Hebrews 9:22 is not talking about sins being “forgiven.” It is talking about sins being “released.” The word translated remission in the World English Bible is the Greek aphesis. I wrote a post on aphesis last January.

Aphesis primarily means “release” (reference). Jesus said that he came to bring aphesis to the captive and brokenhearted in Luke 4:18. It is not forgiveness that captives need, but release. Aphesis can mean forgiveness, but that is only a secondary meaning.

The writer of Hebrews is not giving an opinion in Hebrews 9:22. He is stating something he sees as a fact. His “according to the law” tells us that he has looked at the Old Testament sacrifices, and he concludes that “release” always requires blood.

We can know what release he is talking about. As I said last year, “I want to remind everyone, all the time, that the Greek word aphesis was used to translated the Hebrew word for ‘Jubilee’ (Lev. 25) and the Hebrew word for ‘scapegoat’ (Lev. 16). It is also used to translate the release of debts that happened every seven years in Israel (Deut. 15).”

“Aphesis is far more than forgiveness. It is a return to our true home in the kingdom of God (Jubilee); it is the release of all our debts (the 7-year release); and it is the sending of our sins far from us (the scapegoat).”

Jesus died for aphesis. That is true. His blood was shed for aphesis (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). When Jesus lifted the cup at the last supper, he said his blood was shed for everyone for the aphesis of sins (Matt. 26:28).

As said, aphesis is much more than forgiveness.

Forgiveness happens throughout the Old Testament without blood. In fact, after David sinned, he said, “For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. O God, you will not despise a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:16-17). God has always forgiven those who repent, with or without sacrifice. As David said, his desire is a broken and contrite heart, not sacrifice.

One of the most astonishing passages in the Old Testament along these lines is Jeremiah 7:22-23.

For I didn’t speak to your fathers or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, “Listen to my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. Walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.”

The astonishing thing about this passage is that God did talk to Israel about sacrifices when they came out of Egypt (e.g., Ex. 20:24; 22:20; 23:18). The point being made, of course, is that God did not want sacrifices, he wanted obedience. This is why Samuel said, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). Hosea adds, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6).

God forgives sin without sacrifice. Aphesis, complete release, required blood because it pre-figured the blood of Christ which would bring us aphesis, release from slavery to sin.

As far as the purpose of Jesus’ death, a slow and honest read of Romans 6 through 8 and Titus 2 will produce very accurate atonement theology.

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The Sound of Silence

When my son began singing Tim Hawkins, parody, “The Sound of Starbucks,” faint memories of a childhood melody crept into my brain. “The Sound of Silence” were the only words I remembered. Out of curiosity, I looked up the lyrics on YouTube. (The link is the cover by Disturbed.)

The song became known all over the world. I am certain tens of thousands of people gave thought to the words. Paul Simon, the writer, put the meaning simply: “The song is about the inability to communicate.” It is interesting that he also said he was trying to mimic Bob Dylan when he wrote the song (reference).

Simon understates the song’s meaning, or at least its impact. The combination of the haunting melody with the vision the lyrics describe is powerful.

Like some other secular creations, Christians would do well to learn from this song. In Simon’s vision, cold and quiet darkness is “disturbed” by a burst of light and noise. There are neon lights, lots of people, and lots of talking and singing, but as to the things that matter to these people? Nothing. The light and noise cover up what is really going on inside. In the midst of the flashes, parties, and noise, there is a deep silence crying out for attention … healing … truth … meaning.

You and I both know that happens in our churches … in us. Lights flash on stages. Singers sing powerful songs, and speakers deliver powerful messages, but beneath the noise, there is the sound of silence. We are promised that Jesus knows, Jesus hears, Jesus comforts. Jesus, we are promised, will pierce the sound of silence and touch our deep hurts.

That’s all true, but it is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that we are Jesus’ voice to bring comfort and understanding, his eyes to love and settle, his arms to pour out compassion, both to each other and to the world.

Who is answering your deep questions? When you don’t have the answers, who is telling you everything is alright? You don’t need answers, you need love. If you have someone to lean on, someone to face the darkness with you, then the answers, the future, are not so important. If you can say what you want to say without being condemned or, better yet, to be valued for asking the hard questions, then the love will be better than the answers.

Paul Simon’s “Sound of Silence” is a witness against the way society drowns out the deep, important, and beautiful things of life with lights and noise. Let’s not be guilty of the same in the church.

An Appeal

I talk about deep things and answer hard questions with people in my circle. We tend to think pastors have the answer, and sometimes they do. The truth is, though, that you and your brothers and sisters have the answer. I am not telling you to stay away from Sunday morning. I have two worship meetings I go to every week where the noise of worship helps me address the deep things lurking in my own silence. I give those things to God, and his presence washes and strengthens me. Afterward, though, I speak the truth with those who love me, and they tell me the truth. They love me, encourage me, and pray for me, and I do the same for them. Above all, we avoid “talking without speaking” and “hearing without listening” (lyrics from “The Sound of Silence”).

Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst” (Matt. 18:20). He did not say that so we could construct a theology of church and church discipline. He was promising that we can find answers. In 1 John 2:26-27, every “you” is plural. God promises “us” in those verses that we can come together and the Holy Spirit will give us everything we need, and it will be true. When the apostle John writes about “truth,” as he does so much, he is not talking about facts. Truth is a person (Jn. 14:6). Truth never talks without speaking, nor does he hear without listening. He hears our cry even when we don’t have the right words to say, and he speaks with an “anointing” that goes in us like a seed (1 Jn. 2:27; James 1:18-22).

What you need more than a good sermon is the anointing, given by Jesus to “us.” We need to add “y’all” or “you guys” to our Bible translations. That anointing will save us from talking without speaking and hearing without listening.

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The Steadfast and Trustworthy Love of God

Job 9:32-35 (NIV):

[God] is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

My initial reaction to this was, “Just wait, Job; just wait. Your Mediator is coming” (1 Tim. 2:5).

Then I thought about what this suggests about God. The fact is, even under the Old Covenant, God calls humans to reason with him and come away washed white as snow! (Isa. 1:16-20). Later, when Job does get to confront God, without a mediator, yes, God frightens Job with terror, but concludes by justifying him. In chapter 42, Job—in terror—repents in dust and ashes (though he did not have to go get dust and ashes; he was already in the ashes.) God says no more to him, but rebukes his “comforters” and tells them Job has said what is right.

The point is that Job had audience with God without a mediator and came away justified. He got what God offers in Isaiah 1:16-19. Later, God used Job (along with Noah and Daniel) as an example of righteousness (Ezek. 14:14,20).

I am not saying that we do not need a Mediator. I run to that Mediator because I want to be among the saved who know the truth (1 Tim. 2:4-5). I have confident access to the throne of grace because of faith in the Mediator (Eph. 3:12; Heb. 4:16). When I am there, he is always at my side (1 Jn. 2:1-2).

What I am saying is that God’s character is often misrepresented. He is portrayed as unmerciful and harsh under the Old Covenant when, in fact, the Bible teaches from the beginning that he is merciful and kind, punishing only the guilty (Ex. 34:6-7). This is every bit as true under the New Covenant (Gal. 6:7-8). Even as Jeremiah mourned the just and forewarned destruction of Jerusalem, he announced, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).

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The Gospel Story As Told by the Primitive Churches and As Told Today

Two Stories: One is the Gospel tale as it was told in the second and third centuries (as best I can tell it). The second is the Gospel tale, or one version of it, as it is taught in the U.S. today.

I changed the first line of story #1. Apparently, any suggestion that the Garden of Eden might be a parable makes story #1 unreadable. Story #1 does not require the Garden of Eden to be a myth.

Story #1

Whether it is historical or not, the Garden of Eden is an explanation of our reality. Though humans could simply obey God and live in joyful relationship and prosperity with him, they consistently choose to determine right and wrong for themselves. Walking away from God, the only source of true life, they received the result of their choice: spiritual death. No longer attached to God, spiritual forces of wickedness took them over (Eph. 2:1-3). Humans cannot free themselves from this slavery, nor can they see it despite all the wickedness that surrounds us (2 Cor. 4:4).

God is and always has been a merciful God, quick to forgive everyone except those who stubbornly persist in their evil ways (Ex. 34:6-7; Ezek. 18:20-30). God chose his own nation through whom he would show his love and his remarkable way of life to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, that nation, too, chose to persist in its evil ways. No matter how hard God tried and whether he showed kindness or anger, they persisted in evil (Rom. 2-3). While this was no surprise to God, it was and continues to be a surprise to humans (Rom. 7). That long period of forbearing evil (Rom. 3:25) and winking at sin (Acts 17:30) was not so God could find out we are slaves to sin. God always knew, but humans needed long example to convince us that we are slaves. God was always hoping, and asking, that we humans would reject our self-rule and return to joyful relationship with him (Isa. 1:16-20; Jer. 7:21-24; Micah 6:8).

God’s nation kept rejecting all his messengers and messages, so the world did not get to hear of the mercy of God (Eph. 2:12). Finally, God sent his Son. His Son came to the earth, lived the way a human should live, in fellowship with God (John 5:19), then gave his life as a ransom for the human race, buying their freedom from spiritual wickedness and slavery to sin with his own life, his own blood (Matt. 10:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:6).

Of course, the spirits of wickedness knew they could simply enslave mankind again, and they rejoiced at the capture of God’s only-begotten Son, through whom God had created the earth in the beginning. What they did not realize is that the Son of God would tear apart the shackles of death, “bind the strong man,” and plunder the domain of wickedness (Mark 3:27; 1 Cor. 2:8).

Having risen from the dead, he offers to all who will come to him the freedom that he bought and fought for. Once again, through the Son, we can have fellowship and friendship with both God and his Son, resulting in everlasting life (Jn. 17:3; 2 Cor. 5:14-21).

This new relationship with God is not as easy as it was for Adam and Eve. We are not in the garden, but we in are a world enslaved to sin because many still reject both the Son and fellowship with the Father. Because the followers of the Son are in fellowship with God and are more powerful than the spirits of wickedness, they fight off the attempts to enslave them. Because God is love, they love, and they fight to bring others under the dominion of the Son who sets humans free.

They will continue to do so until the time of opportunity is ended. Then all who have made their way into the kingdom of the Son will shine forever, while all who rejected him and chose disobedience to God will be destroyed along with the spirits of wickedness who kept them captive.

Story #2

The story of Adam and Eve is history. God told Adam not to eat from the tree of good and evil, but the devil tricked Eve into talking Adam into eating it. God, worried that Adam and Eve might eat from the tree of life and become immortal, barred the passage to the garden they lived in. Now it is no longer visible or maybe even submerged under the earth.

God cannot bear any disobedience at all. He never forgives anyone even the slightest sin because he is too holy and just. Anyone who disobeys in any way must die (Hab. 2:13? James 2:10? Ezek. 18:20, but note vv. 21-30). God does not want to kill humans. Even though he must kill humans because he is so holy and just that he cannot forgive sins, he really wants to forgive sins, so he allows humans to kill animals so they don’t have to be killed. In fact, when Adam and Eve sinned, God killed animals in their place and gave them the animal skins as clothes.

Even then, God is not really accepting their sacrifice, nor is he simply showing mercy when the Old Testament says he shows mercy. Instead, he is looking forward to the eventual death of his Son in the place of all humans because that is what actually allows him to forgive. This must be why King David said God doesn’t want sacrifices but a repentant heart (Ps. 51:16) and why God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6, a verse Jesus quoted in Matthew 9:13)

Humans continued to sin, and God kept allowing them to kill animals in their place. Adam’s son, Cain, did not understand this, so he offered grains to God as a sacrifice. Plant life can’t atone for human life, so God rejected Cain’s sacrifice. Cain got mad and killed his brother because his brother offered an animal sacrifice. God let Cain go anyway. He even stamped Cain with a stamp on his forehead so that people would not kill him.*

* The real story is that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because he was evil, and Abel’s was accepted because he was righteous (Gen. 4:7; 1 Jn. 3:12).

God eventually took for himself a nation, and though they had sacrifices to cover their sins, they were so evil God overthrew them despite their sacrifices. Then, finally, when the time was right (Gal 4:4), God sent his Son, through whom he created the universe, to be the ultimate sacrifice. The Son never committed a sin, and he was divine, and therefore he was qualified to be the one great sacrifice that would allow God to forgive all the sins of mankind once and forever.

After paying for all sins with his life, the Son rose from the grave, and everyone who believes that he died for their sins will have their sins forgiven no matter what they do.


Which story do you think is more biblical?

Posted in Evangelicals, Gospel, History, Modern Doctrines, Protestants | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Leaving Nominalism Behind: How to Become a Disciple

This was shared 7 times on Facebook. That’s a lot for me. I thought I would share it here too.

I got an email today from a man who wants to stop living a nominal Christian life, and his initial efforts are being discouraged by his wife and church. I wrote this to him:

I do not have a rebuke for you; I have a plan for you. It would help to know where you live. If you are in the United States, then you have options.

I am going to tell you what I tell a lot of other people. It doesn’t matter all that much what you do on Sunday morning. If you find a great church service to attend, that is awesome, but if you don’t, no matter. According to the Bible (Hebrews 10:24-25), the real essence of Christian fellowship is getting to know one another, provoking each other to love and good works, and encouraging one another. You can do that on any day of the week; you just have to find people to do it with.

The Bible says, “Pursue faith, love, peace, and righteousness along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). Your job is to find people who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. God will help you find them. Pray and ask him.

Your wife may not like it, but you cannot let that deter you. You also cannot let her opposition get you angry. We are called to lead our wives. That is LEAD, not RULE. Lead good; rule bad. Leading means you set an example for her to follow, both in your fellowship and in your love and patience toward her. As you find people to pursue faith, love, righteousness, and peace with, ask them to pray for you to be the best husband that has ever existed. Love your wife; cherish her; speak kindly to her even when she opposes you. Set an example of godliness and love that cannot be spoken against.

That is my suggested plan. I can also give you some Bible study suggestions if you want, but the most important thing is that you start reading your Bible. If it is hard to find time, use your breaks at work. There are lots of Bible study plans online or in Bible apps for your phone.

So, feel free to write back. I will be praying for you.

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