Well, in last week’s audio entitled “Help Me Help You!” we discussed how Christians have been struggling to live holy lives for centuries, pleading with God for the strength to help them overcome sin. We had a great time discussing how Christ has made us pure, so pure in fact that He KEEPS us pure in all things!
And you want to know what? This is the stuff that floats my boat! Now, for the past few weeks, we’ve been hovering around a statement Paul included in a letter he wrote to one of the few men he highly trusted with the message that God had entrusted to him. He wrote:
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure.
Now, I’m guessing that most Christians have already learned how to categorize “the pure” as referring to somebody other than themselves.
I mean, to be considered pure seems to be reserved for the few who have achieved a higher standard of purity in their lives than say, you or I … I mean, they must of really worked on it wouldn’t you think?
But then again, by what means of evaluation do we determine such a thing? Hasn’t the good news of Jesus made it abundantly clear that those who have received the grace of God are the clean, the righteous, the justified, the sanctified, the holy, the pure … and the undefiled? So, maybe it’s way past time we dumped that evaluation system by which we keep judging ourselves as being unworthy.
Do you mean the law?
Yes, that is EXACTLY what I mean Adam! One way or the other, we grew up learning to view all things according to our particular society’s standard of measurement. We have judged all things on a scale fitting somewhere within the framework between bad and good. But the concept of good within this system is bogus, for we have accepted the fact that it has been contaminated by evil to some degree. In the world we learned that nothing is pure … and the endless stream of laws, rules and principles is determined to root out and expose the evil in every good word and deed.
I want to draw our listeners’ attention to the simplicity of the statement, “To the pure, all things are pure”. What could this possibly mean? How could ALL things be pure in any sense? And if I am correct, it says that all things are pure to YOU who are in Christ.
And notice that it does not say all things can be VIEWED as pure, but that all things ARE pure. I point this out because of our tendency to negate this reality as if it was merely theoretical and not factual. But it is reality.
But Jim, while you and I claim this truth as being reality, some listeners might be asking themselves “well what about murder and lying and the act of stealing and other serious things like this? Are these kinds of activities “pure” to a believer as is stated in Titus 1:15?” I think when we think of “all things” being pure, we tend to see it as an impractical and unrelatable “truth” that is governed by rules and laws and, ESPECIALLY, limits. Do you see what I am getting at here?
Oh for sure, my brother, I certainly do. Let me tell you, I’ve had these same kind of objections thrown in my direction since I first started getting a hold of God’s grace through the death and resurrection of his son — or maybe I should say, since it first started getting a hold of me. And lest anyone get the idea that I’m this guy who doesn’t relate with the same kind of objections that everyone else seems to, let me set the record straight: I fully understand how impractical and unrelatable, as well as downright dangerous, a statement like “to the pure all things are pure” can sound.
Hey look, apart from the understanding and insight that my father gives me, I am the guy who nods his head in agreement at every single objection to every aspect of the grace of God in Jesus Christ as it’s been presented to me. And I’m not only referring to the aspects of grace that been made known to me through Bible study, but also to every facet of his grace that has been revealed through anything and everything throughout my life. The religious world may have manufactured a Jesus to fit within the confines of its perceptions, but I have known what it means to argue with the wisdom of his grace every time it exposed the lies behind the comfort zone of my own religious perceptions.
It’s funny, this “comfort zone” you refer to was the exact thing that God began to use to show me a contrast of what it meant to live according to the mind of man through my various church experiences. As I would visit church’s over the years, I would increasingly get the sense that whatever the particular limits that were being promoted there were, that they were serving as the official ‘safety nets’ for that particular club of Christians. By these limits and rules to God, they were in some way, at least in their minds, ..safe!
I’ve heard people refer to pain as something that lets them know they’re still alive. It seems that, for many people, pain can provide a measure of comfort. And for those who do everything possible to avoid pain, it does alert us to things that could really injure or even kill us. One way or the other, in this world, we did learn to live with fear, with guilt, and with shame for so long that I suspect we often feel lost without it. You know, like when a child has its blankee or its pacifier taken away. Displacement is hard to deal with on any level, and we just don’t like it.
Something tells me that most Christians have come to view grace as the blanket God has given his children to ease them into the harsh realities of what it means to follow Jesus, and that little by little, he has to wean them from its comforts. However, while his grace does bring much comfort in time of need, it continues to displace us from our own personal religious comfort zones. I suggest that we’ve misdiagnosed grace as representing the comfy blanket, when in fact, that prize goes to the religious substitutes of grace.
Jim, totally hear ya on this. We have grown up in this world always expecting that the training wheels are coming off soon, that we at some point will be on our own to gut things out. I think that is how we think of grace. It is this ‘crutch’ that some need more than others to get TO the doing of good things for Christ. Once we are good enough to stand on our own merits and efforts, then we simply don’t need Christ to hand hold anymore. The comfy blanket you refer to is actually not grace at all, for it is only a worldly, human copy of the One who holds all things together by the power of His might, yes, Christ Jesus.
So Jim, any personal examples of this for you?
For me, I reacted against God’s grace in thousands of ways. I mean, the very absurdity of a God who would forgive my enemies when I myself felt judgment? Yeah, yeah, I loved the stories where the bad guy experienced enough disaster in his life that moved him to humbly come to a God who was more than willing to forgive (like the Prodigal Son), but I would get very indignant if my parents let my own brother off the hook for some comparatively slight offense. Why? Well, because he did it to me!
After all, why should my brother not experience the same kind of consequences as well as the disapproval that I felt from the whole world? Why wasn’t my brother expected to do what was expected of me? Even though I don’t remember having verbalized my reactions as such, I can remember wondering why Jesus told those blasted stories where people like my brother received a forgiveness that was denied to people like me. And you know what? That’s just one aspect of my reactions to God’s grace. And I am continually confronted with its absurdity. Grace … a warm, fuzzy blanket of comfort? I think not!
Yeah, I am sure that Christ’s answers [full of grace] to the Pharisees did NOT seem like comfort at all to them! And yet, for those trained by it, it produced a life of peace and joy later on.
Doctrinal comfort…limits to god’s grace..these were supposed to be the warm fuzzies by which we had things in common. Outward stuff.
Let me just throw out a consideration regarding modern evangelism right at this point. When I heard someone tell me something remotely similar to this during a witnessing encounter, I had been taught to diagnose the other person as obviously “unsaved” because he or she believed in “works for salvation.”
Yeah, yeah, I know … somebody just saw a red flag in what I said here and instantly pegged me as teaching that it doesn’t make any difference whether we believe in works for salvation or not. Really? If that’s you, then you might want to turn your buzzword filtering system off long enough to actually listen. The real issue in what I’m addressing is that we want to be able to correctly assess a person’s condition so that we can approach him or her with the appropriate agenda, either for “salvation” or for “discipleship.” What if this whole approach is a big reason as to why so many people who have been raised under it keep doubting their salvation every time God reveals another hidden “work” in their life?
Do you have an example of what you mean by “hidden work”?
I’m talking about the things we as believers keep running into as we learn more and more about our feeble attempts do that which only God can do in us. I mean, every time we’ve come to the realization that we were trying to live the Christian life by our own steam, we discover yet another “work” we were holding onto. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard some precious brothers and sisters testify as to how God had revealed this futility in their lives.
I’m wondering how many of you realize that your own arguments with God’s grace is the same basic fleshly reaction Paul repeatedly posed in his letter to the Romans when he posed the question:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
And for any of you who haven’t caught onto what I’m saying about this, I’ll repeat it as often as I feel it’s necessary, because it needs to be understood that Paul was not asking the question as if it was a legitimate grace question, but, rather, he was asking the very question he knew most of them had been spinning their wheels over.
And don’t let the language of the question throw you off, either, because I could just as easily reword it a few different ways that would say the same thing. The problem is that we’ve learned to ignore the implied tone of the questions. Instead of asking “What shall we say then?” with the right inflection, the question could be posed with just one word. And we hear this question all the time: “What?” And you know what? Most of you picked up the exact meaning immediately, didn’t you? Let it get handed down for hundreds of years to a foreign culture and I’ll bet they could come up with a few meanings that would miss its simplicity … even in context.
Jim this SO wonderfully stated! I mean how many of us have heard that exact, same voice in our heads saying things like “what?!” and didn’t recognize it as being the EXACT same voice that Paul earmarked in his explanation of the natural legal mind of man?? Many of us strive inwardly, knowing that the voices match but, are often too scared to match them up!! For we are afraid that God is simply bound by the limits we were taught to assume. Limits to His grace.
That’s irony for you. The wisdom of man overlooks that which is the same because the words are different, and yet it also forces two opposing voices together because some of the same words are used.
Every time we read references to God and Law in the Bible we instinctively jump to the conclusion that God relies on it to get us to obey. Even Paul’s talk of submitting to governing authorities and how it was all set up by God [just as the Law was too], we get all shamed out over the assumption that we are simply bad people and need stuff like this to keep us in check. We are intimidated to think that we are free from even the natural laws laid down for man, but that we are apprehended by Love in it’s stead.
That’s for sure. The funny thing is that we have established so many Biblical and theological conundrums for ourselves that cause a lot of fear. I mean, if Paul was demanding that believers have to follow the letter of the law of the land, then how did they ever rationalize many of the things they themselves did not follow?
So, back to the question that Paul posed in his letter. “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” would sound more like: “So, you’re trying to tell me that grace makes it okay to sin?” Why do so few realize that the question Paul posed in Romans 6:1 is a regurgitation of the previously mentioned false claim he brought up earlier in the letter?
And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.
What about that odd phrase at the end: “Their condemnation is just.” Was Paul suggesting that anyone who slandered him in this way deserved to go to hell?
No wonder so many people wrongly perceive Paul as having been so geared toward throwing temper tantrums. This stupid idea has more to do with our systematized perceptions. First, you might want to note that Paul never once mentioned the word “hell” in any of his letters (although the NET version manages to sneak in one illegitimate reference in Galatians). However, he definitely refers to condemnation/judgment quite a few times, but what could a hell-conscious perception teach us about what Paul may have meant about condemnation when he seemed to leave it out of the equation?
But no, Paul meant nothing close to our ridiculous ideas when he wrote that statement. “Their condemnation” refers to the bondage of their defiled consciences. Compare this with how John wrote about the condemnation of those who reject the light, which is that they would not and could not come to the light because it would expose their evil deeds. Paul made actually made a rather simple statement in the words “Their condemnation is just,” and it is that those who wrongfully slandered Paul were acting according to their defiled and twisted perceptions, which is the very thing he was telling Titus when he wrote:
…but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.
Simply stated, they project their own defiled consciences upon those they instruct.
You see, the reactions to God’s grace in Christ that come out of the defiled mind are the same questions that most of us have been trying to get a handle on for most of our lives. Why? Because we think grace is somehow supposed to make sense. But it’s not just grace that we’re trying to rationalize, it is the very reasoning of God himself that we’ve been hoping to make sense of. Consider the following:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Jim it seems that man’s attempt at gaining a purity before God has ALWAYS been there since the very beginning. I mean why should it change now? Why wouldn’t all our objections reflect that very same thing?
And what about those harsh statements in the Old Testament scriptures — things like the following:
“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.
I mean, if God had any real purity to him, would he have taken credit for the destruction that came upon Israel through Nebuchadnezzar?
So, when we balk at the proposition that all things have been made pure to those who are pure — that is, to us who are in Christ — we’re really reacting against the wisdom that simply won’t fit into our carefully-arranged belief-structures. And yes, I’m referring to the wisdom of God. For the fact is that no matter how we’ve managed to accept the revealed truth of God as found in the Bible, or even that which shows itself in the world around us, there are some very basic objections regarding the so-called purity of God that we’ve had to stifle in order to keep our “spirituality” in check.
Jim are you referring to the wisdom that Paul referred to that was hidden from man since the beginning of creation? The very same wisdom referred to way back in the old testament as being not in man’s thoughts?
Yeah, men have figured that just because they teach and quote selections from the Bible, or maybe because they’ve approached truth systematically, that they can get a handle on God’s wisdom. But God is not found in any avenue of man’s reasoning. The examples of this abound.
But our history has been rewritten in Christ!!
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure Titus 1:15
Do you remember the theme of Ecclesiastes?
There is nothing new under the sun!
We still quote that as if it is part of our history. But our history in Christ is not found under the sun … it is from heaven, from the spirit of the living God, whose existence is not dependent upon the natural world.
- We were in darkness, now we are in Light.
- We were dead in sins, now we are alive to God through Christ.
- We were opposed to righteousness, now we are righteousness.
- We were unbelieving, now we are believers through HIM.
- We were impure, now we have been made pure.
Because our history has been rewritten in Christ are things are pure to us. The whole evil world has been made to be our training camp in which He causes all things to work together for our good. Our whole history, whether we have considered it good or bad, has really been for us the very experiencing of the life of God for He has shown Himself to us in countless ways. Every hurt is turned into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings to us. Every kindness we have experienced in the world, though perverted by sin, is to us the goodness of our Father. Every expression of love through a father is to us the voice of our Father in heaven saying,
You are my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased! Matthew 3:17
My friends, He has made all things new … and there is no sin in the place we really live.