Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Forfeiting Grace to Embrace Sin

For this week's newspapers, I answered a reader question about how many sins it takes for a Christian to lose salvation:

Q:  How much sin can a person commit and still be accepted by God into eternal life at the final judgment?  How much sin should we on earth tolerate before we no longer consider a person a Christian? 

Peter once asked Jesus a question about how many times he should forgive a person who had sinned against him.  Thinking according to the Pharisees tradition of that time, Peter was expecting an answer in the single digits, perhaps seven.  Jesus answer, however, was “seventy times seven.” 

While Jesus’ answer to Peter deals with how many times people should forgive sins committed by and against one another, some of us, like Pastors or parents, are assigned the vocation to take concern over whether a person’s sins against God are forgiven and where the person stands in relation to God.  Even though not in a position of God-given authority over them, a Christian friend or neighbor might also be concerned over where a given person stands in relation to God’s forgiveness because they fear their neighbor may be in danger of suffering God’s eternal punishment for sin for themselves. 

It helps to begin with the fact that Jesus paid for all sin—“the sin of the world” as John says in his Gospel.  Those who rely on Him to forgive them receive His grace, and have no more penalty left to account for on their own.  However, as long as they live this side of the grave, they remain incapable of perfectly refraining from sin.  While we do not excuse sin or treat it lightly, we also acknowledge that this sin too is forgiven, and not merely the sin committed prior to trusting in Jesus. 

Some might wrongly conclude that this teaching of grace then frees a person to live in any way that seems appealing and act in any way which feels right.  St. Paul answers this question in his letter to the Romans, though, by responding to the question of “Should we sin more so that grace might abound?” with the strongest possible denial the Greek language has to offer—“Certainly not!” or “May it never be!” 

Having been forgiven, the Christian is called then to avoid sin and seek to live in agreement with God’s will—even though they continue to fail.  This is why many of our churches begin the week’s services with a Confession of Sins, after which the pastor proclaims God’s forgiveness once again to those who trust in Jesus.  When it comes to how many sins a person might commit before forfeiting salvation, it is not a matter of counting, but even for the Christian remains a matter of faith.  Those who trust in Jesus remain forgiven. 

However, there is a difference between one who commits sin and one who embraces it as a lifestyle or adopts it as an identity.  When those assigned the task of spiritual care examine those under our authority, this is what we consider:  What do they confess?  For those who acknowledge their sin and struggle against it, we act with compassion, pronouncing once again God’s grace to forgive their sin.  On the other hand when faced with those who love and embrace their sin or consider it a defining characteristic of their identity, we must pronounce God’s Law and warning instead, in hopes that they will return and be forgiven, because defending their sin contradicts their claim to trust in Jesus. 

While it remains solely the privilege of God Himself to know the contents of a person’s heart and the status of their soul, we here on earth can observe the words and actions of our neighbor and warn or encourage them with the applicable laws or promises which our Lord has given. 

No comments:

Post a Comment