Monday, May 03, 2021

Anonymous Asks (143)

“If Christians are forgiven, and they know they will be forgiven no matter what they do, why should they refrain from doing evil?”

Jesus warned his disciples from the very beginning of his ministry on earth to expect that there would be counterfeits among their number. The apostle John writes about what happened when Jesus began to perform miracles in Jerusalem at the Passover. He says, “Many believed in his name.” Then he adds this: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” Some of these “believers” were not genuine in their desire to associate themselves with him, and would later fall away.

Weeds and Wheat

Again, Jesus told his disciples the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a field full of both wheat and weeds growing side by side, and that these will not be distinguished from one another until the end of the age, when Christ comes to judge the world. Yet again, he told his followers there would be people who called him Lord and even did miracles in his name, but who were really “workers of lawlessness”. To these he will say, “I never knew you.”

The writers of the New Testament tell the same story as their Master. In fact, the “weeds” may even work their way into positions of religious responsibility. Paul wrote about men who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works”. He calls these people detestable, disobedient and unbelieving. John says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” Their problem is not a small one.

There are those who call themselves followers of Christ who are telling the truth, and those who are not. The latter may even be self-deceived. Nobody is more surprised to find out Jesus never knew them than those who have prophesied in his name. So then, not all self-professed “Christians” are truly Christian.

Love and Forgiveness

With this in mind, Jesus told a story about forgiveness in which he established this principle: that intense love for Christ is evidence of forgiveness. Anybody can make a credal confession. Anybody can join a church. But those who are truly forgiven by God have entered into an ongoing personal relationship with the One who made their forgiveness possible. In fact, the apostle Paul would later write, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.”

If love for Christ is the evidence we have been forgiven, then the absence of love for him argues strongly that we have not ever been forgiven at all. And if we love him, said Jesus, we will keep his commandments. And John writes, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Reasons to Question

If I tell you I love my wife and you subsequently see me passionately kissing my secretary, you might just have a legitimate reason to question my claim. Sure, it’s possible I have succumbed to an uncharacteristic moment of temptation, and that tomorrow I will realize my error, break off the affair, come clean and beg my wife for forgiveness.

It’s also distinctly possible I just don’t love my wife.

I might like her. I might think her an exceptional and admirable person. I might agree intellectually that marriage is a fine and worthy institution and that unfaithfulness is destructive to it. But if my claims to love my wife fall on deaf ears, I have only myself to blame for it. The evidence is not in my favor.

Christians refrain from doing evil not because we have the proverbial sword of Damocles swinging over our heads, but because we do not. What keeps us from doing evil is not fear but love. If we are still sinning, and sinning repeatedly, nobody has any reason to believe that we genuinely love Christ, and that we are actually his disciples.

Least of all ourselves.

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