Do you recall the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery ( John 8)? Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in their attempt to trick him into validating their actions against the woman, under the Jewish law. Foiling their plan, he then relents from accusing the woman, and graciously dismisses her with these parting words. ” Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11) Having rescued her from a fate of certain death, he gives her a second chance, challenging her to abandon her immoral life–becoming a new person.
However, imagine if you will, that Jesus comes along the next day and finds the same woman caught in adultery again. It seems that ‘getting off the hook’ so easily has given her a new sense of freedom from legal guilt; she quickly forgets the mercy obtained from the Lord and falls straight back into her old ways. Could she so readily expect the Lord’s defence and mercy this time around? Would he stand up for her in the presence of her accusers again; telling her to go on and sin no more–once again?
Yes, we know Jesus is merciful and forgiving, but does that mercy continue to extend to those who take his gift forgiveness with frivolous abandon or treat his grace with willful contempt?
There seems to be the trend among contemporary first world evangelical Christians that Jesus doesn’t take morality too seriously. These so-called believers who readily embrace Jesus’ forgiveness, but casually walk in moral disobedience without a thought to the necessary moral consequences that accompany the divine bestowal of grace. Yes, they will confess their sins at church on Sunday, but no sooner had they walked out the door, they fall back into their old ways and live like the rest of the pagan world–practically denying Jesus through moral complicity with the world.
I want to suggest, however, that when Jesus calls someone to turn from their life of sin and follow him; the expectation is that they will leave their old life once and for all and never go back. The account of the adulterous woman infers this, and the next verse following the woman’s acquittal, Jesus validates it, ‘Then Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”‘ (John 8:12)
So what is wrong with contemporary Christianity? When do so many Christians live in a constant state of moral failure, feigning penitence Sunday by Sunday, but so readily returning to their life of ‘adultery with the world’ (idolatry, sexual immorality, self indulgent pleasure seeking, greed, envy, etc.) during the week? Is the problem simply bad morality?
Or, could the problem be the Protestant/Evangelical version of the gospel that these people have put their trust in, is actually wrong?
When the gospel in it’s entirety is presented as, ‘Come as you are, trust in Jesus and he will forgive all your sins; he will justify you–see you as sinless’, it is little wonder that people so readily embrace it–it costs nothing to receive and demands nothing in response. It seems that such a gospel is readily presented on account of churches’ readiness to win ‘numbers of converts’ and in their eagerness to win the lost they compromise the very message that could save them.
Moreover, there seems to be little challenge for deep soul searching over the gravity of one’s sin before a holy and righteous God, no need to understand the full implications of what faith in Jesus actually entails (namely moral obedience), and no attempt to treat with special reverence the sacrament of baptism and its supreme instrumentality in signifying the devotional ‘point-of-no-return’ in the Christian conversion experience. In short, there is a real deficiency of the apostolic maxim, ‘Repent and be Baptized for the forgiveness of sins’!
The fact is, most Christian converts are actually sold a lemon; a version of the gospel that sets them up for failure. They are not presented with the full gospel, and not informed of the full implications of putting truly their lives in Jesus’ hands–with consequences relating to this present time and the eternal judgment seat of Christ.
Indeed, what contemporary expressions of the gospel lack is a clear explication of the nature of the believer’s ‘true’ relationship with Christ as they embrace his offer of salvation. There is a grave need for new Christians to understand that Jesus did not just die to acquit the penalty of their past sin, but ‘through faith’ the believer died with him breaking the power of sin, too! When, the apostle Paul, in explaining the gospel to the Galatians, exclaimed, ‘ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal 2:20), he clearly had in mind a new kind of life, a life free from the controlling power sin–the life with the possibility of real liberty from the old sin nature.
Expanding on this Galatians idea in Romans 6, Paul further suggests that a life moral ignorance or wanton disregard for God’s moral will is grossly inconsistent with the believer’s new justified state, ‘ What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?’ (Rom 6:1-2) Dying to sin, is relating to what he spoke about in the Galatians 2:20, regarding being united with Christ through his crucifixion. And the key to conceptualizing this union with Christ is water baptism, as the very next verse in Romans 6 suggests, ‘ Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?’ (Rom 6:3)
This is why I believe that a converted believers consensual baptism and a public declaration of their new allegiance to and union with Christ is so important for establishing that ‘point-of-no-return’ for their new life ‘in Christ’. Baptism powerfully symbolizes a radical break from the old life of sin, and the new marriage to Christ. Now united with Christ (in the power of the Holy Spirit) the believer is able to go on and live a life free from the power of sin; free from being controlled by old lusts, addictions and habits; a life like Christ–in Christ!
Moreover, this union with Christ, demonstrated by baptism, implies a necessary decoupling from old unions or previous sinful alliances with the world. Again, the apostle Paul offers support in this regard, in his Galatians letter, ‘I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.‘ (Gal 6:14) Just as being crucified with Christ implies moral union with Christ, it simultaneously implies moral disassociation with the world and all the previous moral allegiances with it. In Christ, the Christian is now dead to the world–its lusts, its desires, its ambitions, its priorities, and its hopes.
From a practical point of view, then, this notion implores the Christian believer to radically take active steps to disassociate from any: Old habit, alliance, addiction, peer group, or information source that might potentially corrupt their new allegiance to Christ. So serious is this matter that the apostle Paul strongly charges Christians to flee from immorality, as one might flee from an erupting volcano or raging forest fire.
Therefore, in light of this, we need a fresh appreciation of the full gospel that sets believers up to succeed morally. It is my hope that Christian leaders, pastors, teachers, and evangelists will set aside their desires for making quick converts, and rather seek to win committed converts–those willing to abandon all for Christ. Powerful gospel truths need to be boldly proclaimed: The righteousness of God needs to be elevated, the sinfulness of sin needs to be exposed, the wonder and necessity of justification (being set right) by faith , and the great liberating truth that through union with Christ the power of sin can be overcome, and the consequences of all of this before the judgment seat of Christ need to be highlighted–with great fervor. And all this, of course, through the anointed presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Yes, we need to hear again a gospel that delivers from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the presence of sin; a gospel that calls the believer to a life of holiness, a gospel that glorifies the holy God who saves them– a gospel of substance and hope. Through such a gospel the Christian believer need not live in perpetual moral failure, but can live a life of moral freedom and obedient joyful service to their lord and savior, Jesus Christ!
Yes, it is possible!