We have noted that reconciliation between God and sinful individuals has both a human side and a divine side. Conversion is man’s part in reconciliation. Though God, by His grace, leads people to repentance and faith, it is our responsibility to repent and believe. Regeneration is God’s part in reconciliation. He justifies and renews the repentant sinner.
The same cooperation is required in the relationship that follows reconciliation. We are called to trust, love and obey Jesus after we are reconciled to God through Him. We covered this in the previous post. But we are not expected to do this without God’s continuing grace. In the next two posts we want to look at the two primary ways God supports our daily walk with Jesus.
Are You Nervous Yet?
10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
– John 15:10 NKJV
3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
– 1 John 2:3-4 NKJV
In the last post we concluded by talking about the requirement to obey Jesus. We pointed out that John 15:10 teaches that those who do not walk in obedience to Jesus Christ will be cut off from Him and the eternal life that is in Him. And 1 John 2:3-4 tells us that those who do not obey God through Christ do not know God. When the God fearing Christian reads such verses he trembles at God’s word. He begins to look at his life and judge it according to such divine declarations. And since the weakness of the humble Christian is never hidden from his conscience, the trembling begins. This is a good sign, for God delights in those who tremble at His word (Isaiah 66:5).
1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
– 1 John 2:1-2 NKJV
It is right for us to have sensitive hearts to the warnings of God’s word. But we must make sure that we are understanding God’s warnings accurately so that we are not driven to despair. 1 John 2:3-4 says that those who are not living in obedience to God are deceived if they imagine that they know God. Many read this warning to mean “perfect” obedience. But this is not what God is communicating in that passage. The context confirms this.
In 1 John 2:1 the apostle John tells us that it is not God’s will for Christians to transgress God’s law (i.e. sin). In fact, one of the reasons John is writing the epistle is so God’s people will understand that they should not sin. Christ did not come to destroy God’s law, but fulfill it. He did not come to save us in our sin, but from our sin. The Christian life is not a life of willful rebellion against the will of God. John wants this to be abundantly clear.
On the other hand, John does not want his readers, including us, to imagine that the Christian life is a life of perfect obedience without any room for human weakness. So in 1 John 2:1 he also writes to comfort believers with the phrase, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate.” We are not supposed to live lives that accept sin, but neither are we to imagine that we are not weak individuals in a sinful and tempting world. It is possible for a Christian to transgress against God’s law and yet not lose fellowship with Jesus nor the eternal life that is within Him. If a child of God sins, Jesus is still their divine Advocate and Intercessor before the throne of God. What a great consolation; God does not expect perfection, but has made provision for it.
The Ever-Living Advocate
25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
– Romans 4:25 NKJV
23 Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
– Hebrews 7:23-25 NKJV
Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins. His blood covers our sins and makes us acceptable to God. But if Jesus had died without being risen from the dead His sacrifice would have saved no one. The obedient sacrifice that is so pleasing to God must be presented before Him.
This is exactly what happened when God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand. God received the sacrifice of Christ; it is a well pleasing and fragrant aroma to Him (Ephesians 5:2). And since Jesus has risen, never to die again, He can always present that sacrifice before the Father. Since the sacrifice is not merely a transaction that happened in the past, but an ever present reality which is always visible to the Father, and always pleasing in His sight, it is always effective for those that avail themselves of its power. As Paul puts it in Romans 4:25, Jesus was “raised for our justification.” Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us! He is our ever-living Advocate!
Grace & Mercy
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
– Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV
9 “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
– Matthew 6:9-13 NKJV
Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. And that prayer included not only a prayer for the grace we need to defeat temptation and live victorious and obedient lives. But it also included a prayer for mercy and forgiveness. We are to pray this prayer daily as shown by the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That is quite an encouraging little detail. This means that indeed God’s mercy is new every morning to His children. We can come to the throne of grace daily and find not only empowering grace, but also gracious mercy. Forgiveness is available to the Christian who stumbles in sin.
13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. 14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. 17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, 18 To such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
– Psalm 103:13-18 NKJV
7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
– Romans 2:7 NKJV
So which is it? Are Christians expected to live in obedience to Christ, or are they prone to weakness and stumbling? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” We are given the grace we need to overcome and live in victory, but when we fall short we are still the children of God.
This conclusion makes it seem like those who make a practice of willful rebellion can claim to be genuinely Christians. To such a claim we would quote 1 John 2:3-4. And after quoting such verses others would boldly proclaim that true Christians never sin. To which we would reply with 1 John 2:1-2. There is a pit to be avoided on each side of the narrow road. Rebellion on the left and despair on the right!
Let’s consider the balance that we see so beautifully displayed in Psalm 103:13-18. God pities His children and acknowledges that they are made of dust. He knows their weaknesses and has therefore provided a perfect High Priest that always lives to make intercession for them. But who are those whom He pities? It is those who fear Him, who keep His covenant and obey His commands.
The fact that He shows them mercy and pity means this does not mean perfect obedience. But this mercy is not given to the presumptuous, but to those who fear and tremble at His word. Though they do not walk in perfect obedience, they are described as “those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7). And though their weakness is ever before their conscience, their loyalty to God’s covenant and their devotion to Jesus Christ is always on display. So how can we sum up the balance that we find between God’s mercy towards His people and His demand for obedience? God does not expect perfection from His children. And God will not accept open rebels as His children.
The Judgment to Come
12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,
– Hebrews 3:12-14 NKJV
14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
– James 1:14-15 NKJV
5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds“: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness–indignation and wrath,
– Romans 2:5-8 NKJV
So where is the line between God not expecting perfection but not accepting rebellion? Ultimately this is what Judgment Day will tell us. But until then we can simply cling to Christ trusting in His mercy towards our stumbling and seeking for His overcoming grace, both of which are dispensed from His throne of grace. The simple fact is that we must abide in Jesus, loving Him and obeying His commands. And when we fall, instead of running from Him, we must quickly run to Him, trusting in His mercy and grace.
We have noted before that salvation in the New Covenant is relational, not transactional. In light of that, let me share an analogy that might be helpful. Imagine a husband and wife getting into an argument. The moment they argue they are not automatically divorced. Even if they remain angry and sleep in separate rooms for a few days, this does not mean they are divorced. But the longer such a situation continues, the more likely the marriage is to end in divorce. They must humble themselves quickly and reconcile as soon as possible to avoid the possibility of divorce.
In the same way, when we sin, we must not refuse to humble ourselves before God. One sin, or even several, does not automatically and immediately separate us from Christ. But continuing in unrepentant sin will lead to a hard and unbelieving heart which will cause us to walk away from Christ (Hebrews 3:12-14). Transgression will not immediately lead to death for the true believer, because they have an Advocate. But if the transgression turns into a habit, and the habit turns into a perpetual attitude of rebellion, then death is inevitable. So we must not insist on finding out where the line is, but we must stay as far from it as possible. We do not have to sin, but if we sin, we must come boldly to the throne of Grace for mercy and grace. We can come boldly because God has invited us and Christ is there ready to pour out His grace and forgiveness.