Uncovering Jesus' Free Grace message.

God Doesn’t Save Imaginary Sinners

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Downplaying sin goes hand in hand with downplaying grace.

I once listened to a Holiness preacher rail against sin. He that simply believing in Jesus wasn’t enough to go to heaven. You had to stop sinning. If you sinned, you couldn’t be with the Lord.

In a society that celebrates depravity and in churches where so many are “carnal,” many people would applaud that man for being “serious” about sin.

But was he?

If a preacher says you must stop sinning to go to heaven, it’s natural to ask how he is measuring up. When asked about the sins in his life, this preacher said he hadn’t committed murder, adultery, or theft since being sanctified. But when asked whether he had ever been jealous, lustful, or if he had loved God with all his heart, he brushed off those failings as mistakes due to his fallible nature and not willful sins.

Excuses, excuses.

When you preach that salvation depends on your behavior, you can’t be honest about your sinfulness. You’ll have to make excuses for it or explain it away as something other than sin. You must do that; otherwise, you’d despair of going to heaven.

By contrast, grace preachers can be honest about sin. God doesn't save imaginary sinners, but real ones. Knowing that God saves real sinners despite their sins, you can admit how badly you fall short of God’s standards. You don’t need to pretend to be good or say you only make “mistakes.” You can admit to being precisely the kind of ungodly sinner Jesus died for, whose only hope is grace.

In contrast to Holiness preachers, here’s what Martin Luther told his protégé, Philip Melanchthon:

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?” (see here).

I love when Luther writes, “No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.” That sounds like eternal security to me. If so, Luther is right. No sin can separate you from Christ, not even if you commit adultery thousands of times a day. Once saved, you’re secure forever, not because of anything you can do for the Lamb, but because of what the Lamb does for real sinners like you.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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