Small Steps in Understanding Grace, Seminar #2
Review of First Seminar: What is a Christian?
First, let's review our first seminar for those who were not here. That topic was the question: What is a Christian? This seems simple, but most people who say they are Christians, aren't. We looked at the confusing passage where Jesus declared that to be his disciple one must deny oneself, pick up one's own cross, and follow him. We discussed the possible options. I had thought of four, but Kevin added a fifth. These five are:
1. Deny one's physical life and die physically—following Jesus to physical death on a cross.
2. Deny one's tendency to disobedience and die to unwillingness—following Jesus into willingness to always do what is right.
3. Deny one's tendency to rebellion and die to being uncommitted—following Jesus into commitment to always do what is right.
4. Deny one's human desires and die to having human desires—following Jesus in always having only God's desires.
5. Deny one's own righteousness as good and die to life and identity in personal righteousness—following Jesus into His righteousness, receiving a new identity as righteous in His work, and be given the call to proclaim as He did that righteousness is perfection.
The first four are in some way about behavior and in some way deny what it means to be human. My question was: Why can't following Jesus be about Jesus?
My conclusion was that being a Christian was all about God and His goodness. God is good and created the universe good. God allowed an intruder into the universe to be a voice distracting Adam and Eve away from dependence on God's goodness. They fell under the condemnation of their own conscience as well as under God's judgment. It is good for God to provide a good way of resolution for His fallen universe. The only good way honors both the call to the details of goodness and the call to be faithful to the details. Since goodness includes freedom from moral imperfection, and humans have no ability to be free from moral imperfection, the only good hope for humans is for them to be free from obligation to goodness. Since God is good, it naturally follows that He would in a good way free His creatures from the obligation to be faithful by carrying that burden Himself. This means that substitution is the only good way for Him to do this. Since God is good, He naturally will provide a good way for His image bearers to have a good relationship with Him. That good relationship is called being a Christian. The good way into becoming a Christian is personal and non-manipulative.
Jesus is the way, truth, life, peace, holiness, righteousness, redemption, light and more for a Christian. He is both the way into the new relationship and the way of life once in that new relationship. Since God is good, all of life is His responsibility to provide and maintain. Therefore, a Christian is a person who has a good relationship with God—a relationship that is good in all aspects. A Christian is alive in God's goodness—God's righteousness—God's faithfulness—and is free from the pressure of his own righteousness, his own faithfulness, and his own goodness. Again, God initiates and maintains this relationship. It is beautiful to be in a good relationship with God. So being a Christian is a real experience with God's goodness—a continuous experience of righteousness as perfection and as a gift. Aren't you glad that all the pressure is on Him?
TODAY'S TOPIC: WHAT IS SIN?
Our topic for today is the question: What is sin? We Christians have a good and simple way of defining sin. What have you heard or said? Sin is missing the mark. You may have even explained sin as an archery term for missing the target. Is it always obvious what sin is—what the target is that a person is not hitting? Since we Christians sometimes argue about sin, I suspect that this is not always obvious.
Satan is a Counterfeiter
We here all believe that Satan is our enemy and that he seeks to trick us into believing his lies. How does he trick us? Does he come right out and boldly declare that he is going to trick us? Does He tell us that stealing and murder are good things and that therefore we should do them as much as we want? If he operated this way, we would almost never buy his lies. In the real world he seeks to deceive us by first counterfeiting some point of God's goodness. Then he shows us the counterfeit in some deceitful way so that we will think that it is the real thing. Then, if we think it is real, we will operate in life as if it were real. Do you agree that life is a spiritual battle and that it is easy for us to get fooled by the world's counterfeits? Do you think that Satan desires us to be at least a little bit confused about everything?
Is There a Counterfeit of Sin?
If Satan wants us to be confused about everything, then do you think he would seek to counterfeit bad things, too, like laziness, legalism, worldliness, or sin? In other words, is there counterfeit sin that we need to be alert to avoid? This seems a little strange at first, but if Satan wants us to be confused, then he would want us to be confused about what is bad, too. If there is a counterfeit sin, then we should evaluate what we think or hear about the target. Does Satan have a counterfeit target that he wants us to focus on? If so, how can we discern it? First, we need to remember that a counterfeit looks very much like the real thing. Therefore, counterfeit sin looks very much like real sin.
A Counterfeit has no authority
The difference between a counterfeit and the real thing is authority. US dollars are backed by the authority of the US government. We properly trust these dollars for financial transactions. In the past some counterfeit dollars looked exactly like the real ones, but they were still illegal because they had no authority. But some people were tricked to trust them.
God's ways are backed by His authority. Satan's counterfeits have only an appearance of authority. Satan seeks to fool us into trusting that his counterfeit is the real thing. If we trust that it is real, then we will embrace it as a good way to function in life. At first glance a counterfeit seems good, but upon close inspection it can be seen as a forgery.
Fortunately, my illustration breaks down at the right place. Currency is physical and thus counterfeits can be made that have an identical appearance to authorized currency. In such a case there is no way to detect bogus bills. The government has to work hard to stop the production of perfect imitations. Satan's counterfeits are not physical; they are about ways of thinking about life. Therefore, his counterfeit is always detectable upon close inspection.
It is not good to be tricked or intimidated by counterfeits. Therefore, it is not good to stay naive about Satan's tricks. The way to not be tricked is 1) to become very familiar with the simplicity of God's goodness, and 2) to learn God's mark that is on all his ways and that is missing from every counterfeit.
What is that mark?
Satan Counterfeits Goodness
How many of you have heard or thought that Satan wants you to do evil things, such as stealing, murder, hatred, gossip, slander, or envy? When we think this way, we have already been tricked to look at the symptoms of a problem and not at its cause. Satan and the world preach not that a person should do evil, but that a person should do good. God also calls us to do good. If God and Satan both call us to do what is good, then doesn't that leave us stuck in the middle of the war between them? It is not good for God to leave us stuck like this. Therefore, there must be a good way forward in discerning the difference between God's voice and Satan's voice. The door into understanding the difference begins with understanding that Satan counterfeits goodness. This is a huge step forward because Satan seeks to hide the fact that he is a counterfeiter. He wants us to think of him as a promoter of evil thinking and behavior. Mormons have told me that Satan would never entice a person to do what is good. This is in their Book of Mormon. I see in the Bible that Satan always starts with some point of God's goodness, then twists it subtly so that we think that it is still good, so that we might swallow his twisted version of goodness. The second important and critical step is to notice how he counterfeits goodness.
Satan's Counterfeit is Simple...Always Simple
Satan simply removes God's identifying mark. All of God's ways contain that mark and all counterfeits lack that mark. In a sense, Satan is always missing the mark as he hates God's mark and seeks to hide and deny God's mark. In First John 3:8 we read that Satan has been sinning from the beginning. This means that he has been missing the mark from the beginning. We Christians teach that Satan is always seeking to get us to miss the mark. In our archery illustration, and at first glance, Satan's target is identical to God's target except for God's identifying mark of authority. It seems that Satan wants to trick us to shoot at his target instead of God's. But reality is simpler and more subtle. Paul declares that we are transformed by the renewing of the mind. Therefore, Satan's real strategy is to stand beside God's target and point at it in such a way that distracts us from noticing God's mark on the target. The mark is there, but it is easily overlooked. I am convinced that Satan's total strategy is to get us to get so focused on various parts of God's target that we don't notice God's mark. And when we do that, we are in his trap. We all are called to become experts at noticing and remembering God's mark on the target.
The target is God's vision for us of what is good in life in thought, word, and deed. So, in a humorous sense, we Christians sin and miss the mark that we are trying to hit—we have bad thoughts or behavior—because we are missing (lacking) awareness of God's mark on the target. We miss the mark because we don't have God's mark in view. God's mark is God's authority. It is a declaration that goodness is all or nothing—that it is good to do individual good things, but it is never good to miss any good thing—that only perfect goodness counts—that only moral perfection is good. This is what Satan seeks to distract us from.
Goodness is a seamless whole. James declares that if a person does everything good and misses just one point, then he is guilty of wrecking everything. Satan continually tells you to do good things, but he never says that you have to be perfect. He even declares that we shouldn't worry about being perfect.
What is the The Mark?
God always declares that the mark that is to be hit is perfect goodness in all its individual points and in its wholeness. Satan always declares that the mark to be hit is some individual good thing. Individual good points are good, but wholeness of goodness is good too. Wholeness is the key ingredient to goodness. Satan never mentions the wholeness of goodness except to belittle it. When we neglect to consider the wholeness of goodness we are not walking in God's authority. And to not walk in God's authority is sin—missing the mark.
Jesus Died to Free Us from Sin—Two Kinds of Sin and Two Surprises
The New Testament states in various ways that a Christian is free from sin. John even declares that a Christian cannot sin. How is this possible since Christians do bad things every day? To avoid serious confusion, it is critical that we embrace John's teaching in 1John 5:16 that there are two kinds of sin: sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death. What is the difference?
Jesus did not die to make us robots. He died to set us free from both types of sin. But this freedom is about Him and not about us. This is a very difficult thing to grasp: your freedom from sin is not about you.
Every person is born in sin, which means that we all are born under the obligation to do what is good or face eternal consequences. It also means that we are born addicted to finding some goodness in ourselves rather than in our creator. Jesus died the death we deserve in order to offer us a new kind of relationship with God—one where we are dead to our identity in personal righteousness and alive in Christ's righteousness. Sin is violation of the law and every Christian is dead to the law. This means that every Christian has diplomatic immunity, which is freedom from obligation to keep the law.
So, in one sense a Christian can't sin because God can't count a Christian's sins. Jesus has died the death we deserve and if we are in Christ, then His death is ours, and His life is ours, too. It is not that we can't do bad things but that God counts our badness against Christ. This is the first type of sin and the first surprise.
In another sense, Christians do sin; we do bad things. The surprise is that the only reason we do them is because we forget our freedom. In Christ we are free to do as many bad things as we want, and we do as many bad things as we want. But when we remember the cost and meaning of our freedom in Christ, then we don't do bad things. You do bad things because you are not thinking about the wholeness of goodness and Jesus' good sacrifice that bought your freedom. And when you are not seeing this for yourself then you certainly are not seeing it for others. If you doubt me, then try an experiment. The next time you find yourself upset at someone, ask yourself what you are thinking about. You will discover that you are not thinking about God's perfection and Christ's sin-bearing love at the cross. Guaranteed. This is the second type of sin and the second surprise.
Good Works Flow Naturally
Life is simple. We are too weak to resist God's goodness. When we think about goodness rightly, then goodness flows out of us naturally, and we don't forget to do any good works. James 1:25 declares this clearly. The goodness in our hearts sweeps us along into good works WHEN—and only when—we are properly focused on goodness. Doing good works is not about us but about His goodness in us.
Christianity is not just a way to get to heaven, it is a new way of life based on Christ's faithfulness. We get into Christ by resting in His faithfulness—by being satisfied with His goodness. It is good to always be satisfied with His faithfulness, and so it is no surprise that we Christians are called to always find our satisfaction there. When we do that, we are free from sins of thought, word, and deed. If God is your satisfaction, why go back to seeking satisfaction in imperfect human performance—yours, mine, or anyone's? This is your temptation.
Have you noticed that you have only one temptation? But Satan counterfeits that one in order to trick you into fighting the wrong battle. Temptation is an upcoming topic.
Thank the Father often that
Thank the Father often that
- He is fully satisfied with the finished work of Christ.
- Good works overflow naturally out of a vision of His goodness.
- Comparison to Christ's perfection is the only good way to evaluate life.
- Christ has already put away all sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Pray this often for yourself and often for other saints who come to mind—especially for those who rub you the wrong way.