Amazing Grace: JMF’s Questions

grace2.jpgFrom a comment by JMF.

Hey Jay–

I’ve been holding in a couple questions waiting for you to settle from your vacation.  Alas, I start teaching a class this coming Wed. night and it is greatly based on The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace and Amazing Grace … so I am hoping to get some clarifications.   I’ve got other questions, but this is the primary one right now.

Being said, I’m on my 4th read of HSARG, and one question keeps jumping out at me.  If I understand you, you imply that since we’ll never give/evangelize/help the poor/etc. as well as Jesus, then we are sinning by omission.

Do I understand this correctly?  Can we say that not measuring up to Jesus in any regard would be sin?

You basically imply that we are in a perpetual state of sin … the difference is, we are saved.  And once saved, we can fall from losing faith, losing penitence, and trying to be justified by works.  So it seems your argument is that the reason one can live their entire life in doctrinal error — yet be penitent — and still be saved is because we perpetually sin.  Even if they weren’t in doctrinal error, they are in sin by not measuring up to Jesus.

Do I have the gist of this?

That being said, how do you back up with scripture that anything less than Jesus is sin?  Because I’ve never measured myself against Jesus–I’ve always measured myself against “the best that I can.” (which strangely sounds like justification by works).  Jesus is my example, but I can only do my best….that is simply all I am capable of.

Not measuring up to Jesus would mean EVERYTHING we do is sin, i.e. prayer, worship, singing, helping, etc.

So to me, it seems a lot hinges on the notion that Jesus is the standard, and all that is less is sin.

If you can think of any posts you’ve written on this, please show the link(s).

Thanks for your help, man.  I’ve gotten SO much out of your book(s).  You say you don’t know how much impact it will have had until God tells you some day…well let me tell you on my end, besides myself, I can tell you 10 people that are working their way out from legalism by Jesus using me to share with them this good news.  And I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to share it with 200 more people over this summer as I teach my class.  I hope God continues to bless you and yours!

Let me think. I wrote HSARG 20 years ago, you know. I’ve learned a little bit since then, so I’ve got to kind re-think this, you know. Okay. Let’s start with —

(Heb 4:15 ESV)  15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus was sinless. But maybe he did more than we’d have to do be sinless. Maybe he was super-sinless.

(1Pe 2:21-23 ESV)  21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Jesus is also said to be our example because he was sinless. But the emphasis here is on Jesus’ submission to suffering and trust in God.

(1Ti 1:16 ESV)  16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Again, Jesus is held out as an example to follow in patience, particularly patience in the sense of granting mercy.

(Joh 13:12-15 ESV)  12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

Jesus himself holds himself up as an example to be following in humble service for others. So it’s clear enough that Jesus is our example — not in being a sandaled, itenerant preacher, but in being a selfless, compassionate, servant to those he encountered. His ultimate example is on the cross —

(Phi 2:1-8 ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but made himself nothing [=kenosis], taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Paul famously offers Jesus’ kenosis — his self-emptying — as an example of how Christians should live. The result is that we should follow his example in our love, accord, and unity of mind, abandonment of rivalry and conceit, acceptance of humility, and concern for others.

Now, if we take this command seriously, then we should, first of all, spend more time honoring the martyrs among us — both in the early church and in the modern church. You see, the martyrs truly live this.

(Rev 2:10 NIV) Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Here’s the meaning of the KJV’s “faithful unto death.” If we truly understood faithfulness, we’d tell the stories of martyrs. We don’t, because we want to avoid the guilt we feel when we do.

So when I think of the standard that Jesus set, it’s obvious, I think, that had he turned from the cross, called 10,000 angels, and avoided the humiliation of crucifixion, he’d not be sinless. His sinlessness is shown by crucifixion. Thus,

(Gal 2:20 ESV) I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Rom 6:6-8 ESV) 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.  8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Our crucifixion with Christ (literally, co-crucifixion) means we enjoy the resurrection of Jesus but also take on the life of Jesus. “Christ … lives in me”! But his living with me is only fully realized to the extent I live as Jesus lived — and die as Jesus died.

So I think I stand by my original position. Jesus not only was sinless, his life is the very definition of sinlessness, because we are called, as Christians, to live as Jesus lived. The call is not about the incidentals — being single, jobless, etc. It’s about living in humble submission and service to others, showing compassion and love at every opportunity — and being so principled that we’d die rather than do otherwise.

Does that mean our worship is sinful, even when we get all five acts exactly right? Well, in a sense. After all, the Bible says to worship in “Spirit and in truth.” “Truth” is the good news about Jesus. The truth is who Jesus was and is and what he’s done for us. And who can measure up to such a standard?

The biggest problem with the notion that doctrinal purity is necessary for salvation — such things as the acts of worship and church organization — is that it takes the emphasis off Jesus and puts it on to our ability to logically discern God’s will. Study and orthodoxy trumps transformation into the image of Christ and orthopraxy.

(Gal 4:18-19 ESV)  18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you,  19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

The goal of Paul’s ministry is personal transformation into the image of Christ.

(Rom 8:29 ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

And one purpose of worship — preaching, singing, Eucharist, giving, praying — is to transform us into Christ’s image. We’ve not worshipped perfectly, therefore, until we’ve been fully transformed. And that won’t happen this side of the Eschaton!

That doesn’t mean that Christianity is futile!! It means we must rely on grace and yet continue to pursue holiness by pursuing Christ-like-ness. NOT so we can be saved, but because we’ve been saved and want to be just like our Rabbi. We want to be like Jesus because our struggles give joy to the Father and to each other — like a three-year old child putting on his father’s shoes, well knowing that his feet are too small, but knowing that he’s growing into big shoes, and anxious to be more and more like his father every day.

(2Co 3:17-18 ESV) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Finally, while I think being less perfect than Jesus is sin, that doesn’t mean every single thing we do is sin. After all, sometimes we do exactly what Jesus would have done.

Jesus was a finite being. He didn’t preach to everyone. He didn’t heal everyone. He had to take time off. He always obeyed, but he sometimes found it hard. He was fully human.


13 Responses

  1. In response to this quote:
    “If I understand you, you imply that since we’ll never give/evangelize/help the poor/etc. as well as Jesus, then we are sinning by omission.”

    Brethren, I hope you do consider that Americans are the richest people on Earth. This is an economic fact. Keep this in mind when you read what Jesus said about the “rich”.

    Then a man came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good deed should I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you want to enter into life, obey the commandments.” “Which commandments?” the man asked. Jesus said, “Never murder. Never commit adultery. Never steal. Never give false testimony. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The young man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments. What else do I need to do?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, sell what you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!” When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he owned a lot of property. Jesus said to his disciples, “I can guarantee this truth: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. I can guarantee again that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” He amazed his disciples more than ever when they heard this. “Then who can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them and said, “It is impossible for people to save themselves, but everything is possible for God.” Then Peter replied to him, “Look, we’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?” Jesus said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: When the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne in the world to come, you, my followers, will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who gave up homes, brothers or sisters, father, mother, children, or fields because of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. However, many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (Matthew 19:16-30 GW)

    This applies to ALL Americans, for even the poorest among us is richer than the average inhabitant of this earth.

    Its is not about “correct doctrine” as much as it is “correct actions in daily life” expressed because of a loyal personal relationship with Jesus (based on basic truth, of course)

    Are we all “going to Hell” even though our teachings are correct? Maybe, if our actions do not live out what we intellectually subscribe to.

    My brothers and sisters, what good does it do if someone claims to have faith but doesn’t do any good things? Can this kind of faith save him? Suppose a believer, whether a man or a woman, needs clothes or food and one of you tells that person, “God be with you! Stay warm, and make sure you eat enough.” If you don’t provide for that person’s physical needs, what good does it do? In the same way, faith by itself is dead if it doesn’t cause you to do any good things. Another person might say, “You have faith, but I do good things.” Show me your faith apart from the good things you do. I will show you my faith by the good things I do. You believe that there is one God. That’s fine! The demons also believe that, and they tremble with fear. You fool! Do you have to be shown that faith which does nothing is useless? Didn’t our ancestor Abraham receive God’s approval as a result of what he did when he offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice on the altar? You see that Abraham’s faith and what he did worked together. His faith was shown to be genuine by what he did. The Scripture passage came true. It says, “Abraham believed God, and that faith was regarded by God to be his approval of Abraham.” So Abraham was called God’s friend. You see that a person receives God’s approval because of what he does, not only because of what he believes.
    (James 2:14-24 GW)

    What do we do????

    Sell our fancy church buildings and feed the poor? Well that would be a good start… The church could meet in people’s homes instead, thus making it more “new testament”. And think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that would be available to use to do the really serve Jesus; no money wasted on salarys, buildings, etc.

    Now you may say that is ridiculous, yet there are millions of Christians that currently do that. And genuine christianity is growing in those fellowships, something that cannot be said about the institutionalized church .

  2. Suggest you review 2 Pt 1:4-11 & I Jn 1-5. An understanding of Romans & Galatians with respect to justification and righteousness versus rule/law keeping/self righteousness is paramount to understanding the questions you ask. You will find Leroy Garrett’s essays on available light of great interest. Blessings…Jim

  3. **I’ll respond to Jay’s post later.

    Hi Paul,

    I don’t think you were implying this, but neither Jay nor I are trying to find a bare minimum that we can do in this regard to still be saved. Rather, my question is asking about the fact that we’ll NEVER feed, clothe, help as good as Jesus–even in our finest moment–would this still be considered sin, since we are falling short?

    I’m not sure whether or not you’ve read Jay’s book in question, but my inquiry is much clearer in that context. In the part of the book where Jay discusses our sinfulness, he gives some good thoughts on the rich young ruler passage. Here is the link:

    I don’t think will link to the page, so it is on pg. 92. Actually, pg. 92 is where you’d want to start reading for the context (Part B). Jay starts with a parable of his own, and the rich young ruler story is within Jay’s parable on sinfulness. Well worth reading the couple pages.

    In fact, anyone wanting better context for this posting should read pages 92-97 on sinfulness.

  4. When Jesus called people, He said: “Follow me”. This means: Obey me, imitate me, go with me to where I am going, that is to the cross.

    When Paul said: “Be my imitators as I am Christ’s” (1Cor 11:1) he is saying the same, up to the same target: “Lay down your lives as a living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1+2) which – again – is the cross.

    It is about losing yor life in order to receive it eternally. And in this we become like Chist who died on the cross and rose again. On a day-to-day level this means self-denial; in extreme situations it does mean martyrdom.

    When we live that way, we are being conformed to Christ, which is a process (as Paul said in Phil 3) – but Paul would not have called that living in sin, just because we are not quite the way we should be. As long as we are moving in the right direction, this is called sanctification. I would not speak of Christians who purify their hearts and strive to live holy lives as sinners. This would not do justice to their zeal and love for Christ.

    On the other hand, we – who walk in the light – know very well how much is lacking. So we live in constant repentance – so repenetance is not a on-tiome-event, but a life style. And so no one who walks that way would speak proudly about his progress.

    But – as Paul demonstrates in the way he prays and gives thank for the churches – I’d rather look at the priogress with thankfulness to God than focus on what is still lacking.

    After all – and that’s my last thought to this – our Lord did not live a life that is completely beyond our capacities. If we say, we cannot live His way, we discourage ourselves and (as I believe) make Him a liar who said: “Follow me”.

    He limited Himself to a human being, which means:
    He was not stronger than we are
    He could be tempted and fall into sin (but he struggled against that with all His might, which we rather seldom do).
    He lived by the Holy Spirit, which we shall do also (so we have the same emporement to live His way).

    If I look at that I feel, I have no excuse when I sin. This puts me to shame, and were it not for God’s Grace and patience, I probably would give up. But again, I want to focus on Him, on all of His provisions and not speak about any Christian as if he/she (or I) were a poor helpless sinner who fails everyday, because he/she (or I) cannot live up to the Lord’s example. This would not be true, this would provide an excuse for my sins that Christ (I believe) would not accept.

    But I do see clearly, that God views this as a process, a quiestion of growth of becoming mature. Now, if He sees it this way, I need neither be impatient nor frustrated; but walk the way diligently, following Him. Not looking to the side, not looking back, not looking at my failures, but only looking at Christ.


  5. Jay,

    Does this mean that prior to Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were living as well as Christ did?


  6. JMF,

    I must have missed something… Thanks for pointing out what was meant. It just occurred to me that there were many that needed to be feed, clothed, etc that weren’t helped even during Jesus’ ministry. If they were all helped, it would have been recorded as such. As that is not why He came to Earth, that is only logical. However, saying “we’ll NEVER feed, clothe, help as good as Jesus–even in our finest moment–…” sounds like an excuse for not trying. Jesus expects us to do all of what we are able to do, with all the resources He has given us (see parable of Talents). He does expect us to sacrifice ourselves (and our goods etc) to do His will: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. ” (1 John 3:17-18 ESV)
    It is far better to be justified by the living Lord Jesus, than to seek to justify ourselves through intellectual argument. It comes down to this, if we don’t obey Him then we will be in big trouble in the end. Trying, even imperfectly, is better than not trying.

  7. […] Change the World, by James Davison Hunter: IntroductionRay Vander Laan's "Follow the Rabbi" lecturesAmazing Grace: JMF's QuestionsCommunion MeditationsOn Communion MeditationsAbout the AuthorThe Political Church: Should the Church […]

  8. Guy

    I just put up a response as a new post.

  9. This is just a hard concept for me because it is new to me. In the email you sent me you said, “Remember, Jesus was still human and needed sleep, etc. [paraphrase]” Okay. So here is what I am taking from this:

    1) I’ll never match up to Jesus (understood, no problems there)

    2) However, SINCE JESUS WAS HUMAN, whenever I am at “peak performance”, i.e. in the act giving to a poor person, no ulterior motives, not a work, no negative thoughts like, “he’ll just waste it”, etc…..then in that moment, I AM like Jesus. It is my absolute best as a human….as Jesus was a human, too.

    3) BUT, I still would fall short it seems! Even in my mind’s purist moment, Jesus’ mind was purer. I could give any/everything I have to the poor (including my time), and it is still short of Jesus (he gives salvation).

    I guess what is giving me pause, Jay, it that you seem to stop short of saying we are in a state of perpetual sin. You seem to say we sin a heckuva lot more than what we’d like to think, but you stop short of continual sin.

    This may seem like a highly legalistic dialog. I don’t mean it that way–I am far from legalistic in my thinking (by COC measures). I’m just kinda hung up on this right now. Frankly, because one could hang many arguments on it.

    And it doesn’t change anything. We still fall from not being penitent. Therefore, if omitted sin is perpetual, that doesn’t give us carte blanche for an “anything goes” attitude. We are continually sinful; that doesn’t mean we stop trying, however.

    Anyway, my thoughts seem nonsensical as I re-read my post. I hope it doesn’t come out that way.

    I guess if I could summarize, I’d say that I’m not trying to justify being lazy. I’m not scared of the idea that we are in perpetual sin. Definitely an interesting concept that I’d not considered before reading HSARG.

    Thanks for taking the time to always respond, Jay. I was enjoying my “Question Of The Week” status for about three hours…and then I saw Guy had bumped me out. 🙂 Guy seems to win Question Of The Week a lot…I need to come up with some harder questions!

  10. …Maybe a better question is this: If we are NOT in perpetual sin, what does NOT sinning look like?

  11. JMF,

    Not sinning looks like Jesus — but in our own culture and place. And the “To Change the World” series I’m working on will address just that question.

    I would caution against perfectionism — feeling unworthy with anything short of perfection.

    I think we sometimes do things exactly right. But we are broken, and so we can’t keep it up for long. And we keep trying — and we really can do much better.

    Consider this for an analogy. Back when my health was better, I tried to play this sport called golf. I wasn’t very good at it, but I was assured that with practice, I would become much better. I was also assured that I’d never get it right. Even Jack Nicklaus (the Tiger Woods of the day) made bogeys and lost tournaments.

    But I was also told that every once in a while I’d hit a shot exactly right — and it would feel so good that I’d be hooked for life. And I thought this was absurd — until I hit one exactly right.

    Sometimes, when we really do what Jesus would have done, it feels incredible. Like the perfect golf shot, it feels simultaneously natural and strange and wonderful.

  12. a few (very) scattered thoughts:

    – if sin (hamartia) is “missing a mark” that was set for us, maybe there are two ways to look at it? 1) are we living like Jesus, or 2) has God predetermined in every situation which was the right choice for us. i think i see sin as both of these, in a way — though i lean far to the side of Jesus as our mark of what is true life.

    – i think the question “what would Jesus do?” is a little silly once you’re in a given situation. because we may not have prepared to do what Jesus did — making acting like Jesus pretty difficult. so in that situation, can you make a right choice (that is not sin and pleases God based on where you are) simply because your real sin was not allowing the Spirit to prepare you for that situation?

    – we like for sin to be black and white. but it’s not. i think i would argue, for instance, that rahab’s lie to protect the spies was the choice that would fit a mark set for her by God. she was called righteous for making that decision (i prefer it worded that she was called righteous for putting her faith in God and his people, but all the same…) i think she was right. to lie was right.

    – but i’m not sure how i feel about this idea that we’ll never do the good works that Jesus did, like he did. actually, i’m sure that i disagree — i’m just not sure whether i disagree on the individual or communal level, or both. Jesus is clear in john 14:12-13 that we will do greater things than he did (because he’s going to heaven to intercede for us — and the HS is coming).

    – i’m not sure exactly how to take that text, though. “greater things” could refer to quantity or quality — or both. i feel sure the body of Christ — with all its members — led by the Spirit will quantitatively do greater things than Jesus did on earth. but Jesus’ words seem to focus on the individual: “anyONE who has faith…”

    – mostly what i want to say, though, is this: regardless of that text and those words, i think it’s evident that we think of sin in too individualistic of hues. there is far too much in scripture of collective sin, and of us collectively being the body of Christ, for us to never talk about that. and to only focus on the individual. that is a result — i’m guessing — of a selfish american worldview.

  13. One thing I think is being understated here is the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Our conformity to the likeness of Christ is a God-process, not a human one, and certainly not an intermittent human one. Such an idea sounds like we are going through our lives whistling, and once in a while we hit the exact same note that the local symphony is playing. At that point, we consider ourselves in tune with the orchestra. Rather a random and human-centric approach, IMO.

    What’s that old saying, “even a blind pig finds a truffle once in a while”? Seems we are much more than that, by the work of the Spirit of God in us.

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