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Why Halfway Christianity Will Not Work

To a correspondent asking why she was not able to inherit the righteousness promised by God, and why God describes such stern consequences for remaining in sins (such as gluttony). By Dean VanDruff.

The warnings of Jesus and scripture are meant to scare the hell out of us. <smiles> As you note, these are serious matters, and we must stop sinning.

The thing is... how?

Col 2:21-23 (NIV) "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Legalism will never work. In other words, focusing on not sinning may seems like progress, but it doesn't work.

What does work is life, and that more abundantly. Stoics and legalists always snap-back into sin, so that (as in the verse above) "such regulations... lack any value".

I think you know all this, but reminders can help when the lure of a worse sin than gluttony (legalism as a solution) looms as a temptation. It won't work. Settle that, then, and get to what does work.

2Pe 1:12 (NIV) So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.

So what does work?

Rom 8:13 (NIV) For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

God offers conditional life. The only way to get the life of God is to die, and die daily. We can say and think all sorts of things that sound like good alternatives to the gospel way of the cross, but such distractions may in fact make Him mad if we don't really follow Him.

There is only One Way to be saved, so we'd better get to it. Don't be fooled or beguiled by anything else; like the religious traditions of men, or your own habits (your own "way"), psychological mumbo-jumbo, drugs as the way to be saved, etc.

As long as you have any sense of indulging yourself (your flesh, and much beyond gluttony--which is only the most obvious symptom), sin will master you. It is no good saying, "Lord, Lord", and then actually being mastered by sin. Such is sure to make Jesus very mad, with all the warnings He has given over just this hypocrisy masquerading as "faith". Rather, we come to Him and ask for help, and He says, "Follow Me". Only the Gospel will save, and we must follow it (1Cr 15:1-4, 2Tm 2:8, Mt 16:24). "Take up your cross and follow me," He says.

Again, as long as there is even a sliver of hope in you that you will indulge sin again, you are dust. This, I offer, is the instrumental key. It is, again, the Only Way to be saved, and all else is a distraction. The apostle Peter sums it up this way:

1Pet 4:1-2 (NIV) Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Got that? Want to be "done with sin"? Legalism will not work. Suffering the death of your flesh will.

But what does this really mean in practice? It is a resolute decision to put flesh on the altar and keep it there till it stops moving, and then waiting three days for "life, and that more abundantly". It is a narrow path, and few will actually find it. God's condition for receiving new life isn't saying a little delusive catechism, it is not "saying" Lord, Lord; it is really following Him as Lord to life through death.

As in the verse above, if you count on pain as being part of the process, then you won't "reflex" back into flesh when the going gets tough. It is really that simple. God has laid out the path of life, and described the process along the way for us. But you, I suspect, have been conditioned over a lifetime of experience and poor council to have the opposite instinct.

The problem many would-be believers have is that they hear the gospel of life through death, decide to die to self and all that, and then religion and demons and self come along and say, "come down off that cross;" and "there is another way", and "OK, you tried, but it is not working or your friends have abandoned you or it really hurts to do this, and you gave it a good try. So it is now time to give it up!" And they / you do. Then, you think, "See, it did not work". But is this fair, have you really tried God's way?

Heb 12:4 (NIV) In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Giving up mid-crucifixion is a sure way to cross-wire your instincts. <sigh>

Ask God to give you another chance, and this time "set your face like flint" to the course of life set before you. When the flesh protests, if you "have the same attitude as Christ"--that to be saved means physical suffering--then the power of sin in you is completely flatlined. It really does work, and it is the only thing that does.

Heb 10:24 (NIV) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

What works? Well, you have "known" all along. It is offering up your oft-indulged flesh as a "living sacrifice". It is no good scrambling off of the altar once you crawl up there in the painful flames. If you do, you will be scalded and not saved, and come to the conclusion that "Christianity does not work". But it does work if your attitude is "like Christ Jesus Himself", rather than chasing after the latest counseling fad or pop-christian gimmick. Ask the Lord to give you "His attitude" by grace, so that you will be "like Him" in abundant life.

Rom 12:1b (NKJ) ...Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

Rom 12:1 (Phi) With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies as a living sacrifice...

Think of what this means. The verse is a scandal, really. It would have been very offensive to the religious Jew, who knew that such was "against the law". The animal must be killed first before being offered up. So then, what is depicted here is gruesome, tortuous. But it is our "reasonable service"! It is the only "intelligent" thing we can do if we have comprehended the gospel and decided to follow Jesus. Will it be painful? You bet. But our lives are toast anyway if we try to cling to them or indulge them. Give it up on the altar, rather, and get real new life, and that abundantly. This is what grace, real grace, will teach you to do: to truly follow Jesus in what works.

Titus 2:11-12 (NIV) For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

It is not about suffering in itself. It is a right of passage, a key through a door. Jesus was no suffering stoic, being macho about the cross. He sweat blood and was most somber about the "cost". To be sure, for Him there was the outrageous pain AND our sin to bear, and for us it is just the pain. Plus, it is much easier for us since He went first and proved that it works, and we (may) have others in the chosen few in this religious age who go along with us in keeping step with the Gospel. But the point is that His focus was not on the sin, or the suffering. He just was resolved not to flinch or cave because of it. His focus, what He was fixated on, is clear.

Heb 12:2 (NIV) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

It was "for the joy" set before Him that He did it. In this, too, we must follow Him. Just dying to self is useless, if you just die. It is resurrection life, the new life, that we are hoping for, that makes it worth enduring all the pain and shame. If we don't get resurrection life on the other side, we "of all men are most to be pitied", for to even "try" it means risking all. But, believe me, the gospel really does work.

If there were another way to get better / be saved / stop sinning / have life (all the same things), then Jesus died for nothing. So give up on all else, and decide to truly follow Jesus in offering yourself a living sacrifice.

Heb 6:12 (NIV) ...Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

There are many "mere talkers and deceivers", but if you think Jesus is calling you as one of His chosen few, then close your ears to them (1Jn 3:10) and imitate those who really have the "mystery of godliness", the actual resurrection "life of Christ" in them.

Rom 12:1 (DVP) I plead with you, brothers, to see this clearly for the love of God. Offer up everything that you are to God to be burnt alive as a sacrifice, which is the only way He will ever accept you. This is a reasonable thing to do if you have really understood what God wants, and what pleases Him in worship.

2Cor 4:2-3 (Phi) ...We speak the plain truth and so commend ourselves to every mans conscience in the sight of God. If our gospel is "veiled", the veil must be in the minds of those who are spiritually dying.

1Cor 1:18 (NIV) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Sin that used to terrify and cow and condemn me has caused me, lately, to laugh. My besetting sin was lust, and when it would roll over me it seemed like I was powerless against it--and my instincts and experience agreed. Now, it just cracks me up. Those feelings come, and they are like water off a duck's back. It is funny to see such a powerful specter turn into a cartoonish joke. This is off in your future, but I will share the perspective that causes such mirth.

I remember being where you are, and wondering if the gospel would really work. I looked at my sin cravings and history, and then looked at God's power, and sort of saw them as semi-equals. The truth is, I sort of secretly figured my sin nature was too strong for God. What a hoot, eh? Deception seems so terrifyingly strong while it "has" us, and so silly afterwards.

1Jo 4:4 (NIV) ... The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

If God is greater than Satan (the principle context of the verse), then... is He greater than my propensity to sin? I once did not think so. I figured I was one twisted puppy, beyond His power to save. What arrogance, what conceit. My paltry flesh, a wisp that could be flicked away by Satan's finger, a fair match for God's power. Ha! What a joke.

Picture the contest: puny little me verses God, and place your bets. Think of it: the idea that my sin nature, my hankering to sin, is greater than God's power? Hilarious. Human arrogance knows no bounds, as is so prone to self-deception that is very funny indeed--even when it is you. There is no equal contest here; the only issue is if God is real in our lives. If He is in fact and truth, then the idea that He is going to fail is ridiculous. The only question is how hard will we make it on ourselves, how long will we continue to put up the Pee-Wee Herman feet shuffling act.

Jesus can really heal and save. But He won't do it unless we will follow Him. There is only One Way. That is the way the universe works. Try the Gospel way. You need not cave to sin if you know in advance how it tries to poke you in the ribs with pain as its principle trick. Experiencing pain in the flesh is part of the process, so stop being derailed by it. Scramble off the altar (one more time <sigh>) and you will have all the pain and none of what was promised. But stay on and see it through, and inherit what was promised.

Are we really believers in what works?

God likes the Gospel. It is one of His favorite things, His favorite melody, His overarching theme, what He thinks is really cool. It is nonsense to carnal men, but the very power of God to those who are being saved. It is oft fussed over in theory, like the tombs of the prophets decorated by the "Sons of Satan" in Jesus' day, but rarely tried. Will you, really?

It works.

Joh 11:40 (NIV) Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"


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