Tuesday, March 8, 2016

“Professing” Christians—a Misnomer? (Meditation for Easter)

Many people think that if someone is not living like a Christian, perhaps they never were one. Even if they claimed to be a believer in the past, even if they used to display Christian virtues and disciplines, even if they talked about Christ to unbelievers. Some well-known Christian leaders try to tell us people who fall away only professed but did not possess Christ. And yet the Bible teaches that becoming a Christian is permanent! So which is it?

The key lies with the doctrines of justification and sanctification. Let me explain these big Bible words, which are important Bible themes.

Justification means God declaring a sinner righteous. Not because we deserve it, earn it, become worthy of it, or attempt to pay God back. But because of God’s Grace and Christ’s provision. Jesus was our sinless substitute, who paid our debt; took the penalty for our sins, which was death; and defeated spiritual and physical death by rising again. Because of this, we remember Good Friday and celebrate Easter.

Sanctification means holy living—being set apart from sin to God. Christians sometimes do well at this and sometimes fail. It depends on our choices. We can give in to temptation or resist it. We can yield to the desires of our flesh and mind or yield to the Spirit and conquer our thoughts. This is an ongoing battle, and we will never reach perfection in this life. Long ago I realized that the only sinless Christian is a dead one (because then we are with the Lord)! Nevertheless, God’s resources are available to us through the life of Christ, but we must appropriate them.

Therefore, justification is God’s gracious work. The only requirement for us is to believe it by faith. When we do this, God declares us righteous. However, sanctification is both God’s work and ours. According to Romans 8 and Galatians 5:16-26, the Holy Spirit leads willing Christians to resist sins and practice righteousness.[1] There is no limit to how long we are declared righteous, nor how completely, but we do limit ourselves in regard to living righteously. I hope you see the difference. Consider the following illustration.

Once we have our human parents’ DNA we never lose it, even if we disown them, change our name and refuse all contact. Admittedly that rarely happens, but it can. What happens quite often, however, is that children disobey their parents and experience guilt. They hide in their rooms and want to avoid contact. When their sin is revealed and confessed, and perhaps punished, fellowship is restored.

Likewise, once we are God’s child, we can never end the relationship even if we end our fellowship with Him by persistent sin or by denying God. (For excellent commentary on 2 Timothy 2:11-13, see soniclight.org, Study Notes, 2 Timothy, pages 22-23.) However we often sabotage our fellowship with God by disobedience, even for long periods of time. We are still justified, but we are not sanctified (holy) until we admit our sin (1 John 1:9), at which time God cleanses and restores us to fellowship.

In conclusion, there are two categories of believers. All who have believed in Christ for eternal life do possess eternal life, whether they "profess" it or not. The two categories of Christians are those who are in fellowship with Christ and those who are not in fellowship because of sin or carnality.

For a better and clearer explanation of these truths, see gracelife.org, Resources, GraceNotes, numbers 64, 28, 19, 9.

[1] Notice the context of the two NT verses that exhort us to be led by the Spirit. The context is not trying to discern God’s will re our daily decisions and future. Rather, the Spirit leads us to deny the flesh and engage in righteous behavior.

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