Small Beginnings of True Obedience - Part 3

Small Beginnings of True Obedience - Part 3

Answering Several Objections

In Part one we introduced the topic, and Part two explored the biblical arguments that Christians have only a small beginning of true obedience in this life. In Part three we will address common biblical objections to this concept.

First, there are all of the passages that point out God’s grace in Christians, like Romans 15:14-15: “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (see also 1 Thess 1:2-5, 3:6). It is obvious that by “full of goodness” Paul does not mean that the Roman Christians were without sin (see previous section), just as his comment that they are “filled with all knowledge” does not mean that they have perfect knowledge (1 Cor 13:12). What he means is that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was truly sanctifying them and giving them the ability to provide God-glorifying counsel to one another. God’s work of sanctification in others should be celebrated and encouraged. There is a big difference between encouraging someone in the work that God is doing in them, and considering them as mostly righteous compared to God’s perfect standard (remember what happens when people encounter the holiness of God). Christians are not constantly being rebuked in the New Testament because God does not want us to rebuke every single sin we see (1 Pet 4:8). Furthermore, most sin is at the desire, thought, and motive level, so we cannot see it anyway.

            Secondly, what about texts that talk about God’s people walking blamelessly? Regarding Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke 1:6 says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” We must interpret Scripture with Scripture. We know that it does not mean that they were righteous compared to God’s perfect standard (Rom 3:10-12; Prov 20:9; 1 John 1:8; Rom 7:13-25). The righteousness which Luke mentions refers to the fact that they were trusting in the Messiah alone for their salvation, and they had real obedience brought about by the Spirit of God. They were not consistently walking in known unrepentant sin. They were blameless in the sense that they did not have any glaring and obvious unrepentant sin in the sight of others that would cause them to think that disobedience was the reason for Elizabeth’s barrenness.[1]

            This is similar to what 1 Timothy 3:2 means when it says that local church elders must be “above reproach.” It means church elders are not known by others for any pet sin that they knowingly coddle: they are not known as the town drunk (v.3), one incessantly controlled by money (v.3), someone who is constantly dealing with wild and out of control children (v.4), etc. Since Christianity is first and foremost about repentance and faith, the elders seek to be the chief-repenters (Col 2:6). Outsiders look at the man’s life and have a general respect for how he lives consistently with his profession that Christ is his Lord, Savior, and Treasure (v.7). In that sense, an elder is above the reproach from Christians and non-Christians. Paul is not using the phrase to claim that an elder must be above reproach in the sight of God. If he was, who could ever be an elder (Ps 130:3)?

            But what about Paul’s descriptions of his own godly behavior? Like when he tells the Thessalonians:

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers (1 Thess 2:9-10).

Here, and elsewhere, Paul is referring to his external conduct in relation to a specific situation. The Thessalonian Christians would have not been able to say that they saw Paul as a lazy man. Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 1:12 Paul says, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.” Paul is not making a statement about the measure of his “simplicity and godly sincerity” in comparison to God’s standard of perfection. He is stating that, by God’s grace, he had real and true care and love for the people he ministered to. Gloriously, this is now possible due to the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! Paul was not aware of anything glaringly wrong in how he conducted his ministry towards the Corinthians, but he realized that his own assessment was not the final say, since the Lord was the ultimate one who would bring motives to light and determine the level of his obedience (1 Cor 4:4-5).

Finally, what about the famous parable of the talents, where Jesus confirms that on the last day, the master will say to the faithful, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23)? Does this mean that the Christian attained to a place of having hardly any sin left? By no means. Jesus himself knew that no one is good except God alone (Luke 18:19). It means that in Christ, God is truly pleased with our Holy Spirit induced good works, so that from one perspective he can and will call us “good and faithful” on the last day. If a loving Father asks his two-year old son to clean up his filthy room, he is pleased with his son’s sincere effort, even though the room is not even close to being as clean as it could be. God our Father is so loving and kind; in Christ, he delights in us! Multiperspectivalism is essential here to maintain an accurate viewpoint.[2] Christians have real and true obedience that can be considered actual goodness compared to the complete sinfulness of their former life and compared to others around them (situational perspective). But, when considering the normative perspective of God’s perfect law and the existential perspective of knowing oneself truly and rightly, Christians must not think they are anywhere near the goodness of Jesus Christ.

In our final part, we will look at the practical implications of this concept. Why and how does it impact the way we live the Christian life?

-1689Society Contributor: David T

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[1] Sam Storms says: “I strongly suspect that Luke’s description of her as ‘blameless’ is designed to tell us that her barrenness was not due to sin (as over against what we read in Lev. 20:20-21 and 2 Sam. 6:23). Elizabeth is barren, no doubt, for the same reason the man in John 9 was born blind: ‘that the works of God might be displayed in him [her]’ (John 9:3).” “The Women of Christmas (1): Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-7, 24-25, 39-45, 57-66),” Sam Storms: Enjoying God, 2019, accessed January 14, 2019, https://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-women-of-christmas--1-:-elizabeth--luke-1:5-7--24-25--39-45--57-66-.

[2] See John Frame, Theology in Three Dimensions (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2017).


Small Beginnings of True Obedience - Part 4

Small Beginnings of True Obedience - Part 4

The Almost Christian Discovered - Book Review Intro

The Almost Christian Discovered - Book Review Intro