Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why Sin Is A Problem? (and the heresy of meriting salvation)

The usual answer to the question of why sin is a problem is to turn to Isaiah 59:1-2 and read:
See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (NRSV).
The context of the above passage is rampant social injustice and economic hardship. The people were praying for better times but God was not listening because they were unrepentant of their sins. The prophet even lists the real problem sins: violence, lying, unjust courtroom activity and civil laws that are impossible for regular people to follow (Isaiah 59:3-8).

The passage still applies generally to the problem of sin in the Christian age; but the connection may not be so obvious if we are aware of the context. I am thus motivated to examine the problem of sin in a New Testament context.

Spiritual death is the dreadful consequence of sin. Romans 6:23 says
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The death spoken of by Paul is not physical death but spiritual death. Common sense makes that point because some very righteous people die at very young ages while some vile sinners live to ripe old ages. Paul is talking about a kind of death that is the opposite of resurrection (that follows physical death, Romans 6:5).

James says the result of sin is death:
… when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:15)
And Revelation 21:8 makes a clear connection that the death we most want to avoid is the one that results from sin:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Sin will keep us out of heaven. The reason to obey the gospel is because we practice sin. We need to deal with sin! Obedience, while not meritorious of forgiveness of sin, is a condition
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9, emphasis mine)
Subtopic: Does the requirement of obedience mean salvation is earned?

The first act of obedience is belief. That is, to have faith. Faith is more than verbalizing the words, “I believe in Jesus.” It is belief that results in action. I give you The Blind Beggar in Luke 18:35-43. He heard that Jesus was passing by and he called to Jesus for mercy. He called so vigorously that the people who were with Jesus became annoyed. Jesus healed the man, saying, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 18:42). How did the blind man’s faith save him? Did he do a great and difficult task? No. Did he do anything? Yes. He called, vigorously, to Jesus.

Did his calling to Jesus merit his salvation? No. However, it was a condition for his salvation. If the man had believed in Jesus’ ability to save him and yet he never called out, he would have remained blind. See? Faith that saves is faith that acts.

The Roman jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:28-31). John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.”

If you believe Jesus can save you from the Second Death (Revelation 21:8) and you turn to him for that salvation and you are willing to obey in whatever way necessary to obtain that salvation, that’s saving faith.

Reprinted in part from the Safford church of Christ bulletin, January 5, 2014

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