Written by Dawn Rutan
A presidential candidate has been reported as saying he is a Christian but doesn’t ask God for forgiveness. No doubt there is a faulty understanding of what it means to be a Christian. This is the heresy of antinomianism that the Apostle John was addressing in his first letter:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10 ESV).
But I wonder if that same misunderstanding tends to creep into the thoughts of established Christians at times. We talk about accepting Christ or inviting Him into our hearts. We may refer to an initial confession and repentance at the time of conversion, but sometimes that’s the last we hear about confession. Have you ever been in a church service (maybe even “revival”), and when the hymn of invitation comes, no one ever goes forward to pray? If someone does go forward, there may be some raised eyebrows as people wonder what’s going on. The implication is that only the unconverted or backsliders need to confess. I love some of the hymns in the invitation section of the hymnal; however, some convey the message that after conversion a person will never again need to confess.
The March 2016 issue of Christianity Today includes an interview with Fleming Rutledge in which she states: “American Christianity, as Richard Neibuhr pointed out long ago, has tended to preach a gospel without judgment and a Christ without a cross. This is an old problem. We want to be happy. We want to be positive. We want to overlook the almost unbelievable problems we face today.” She indicates that we are inclined to gloss over the Crucifixion and jump right to the Resurrection. We want the Good News of salvation without ever hearing the bad news of our sinfulness.
Martin Luther said in his 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” A life lived without confession and repentance is a life devoid of God’s forgiveness. The idea that one can be a Christian without ever asking for forgiveness is part of a greater deception that says, “It doesn’t matter how I act or what I say. My faith is private.”
Luther went on to say that faith is, “a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever…Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!” (Introduction to Romans).
A living and active faith will be one of continual repentance, but it will also be made evident by the good fruit produced by God’s work in and through us. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? …So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14, 17). If one claims to have faith without having either repentance or good works, he is deceiving himself and one day will be called to account. We can only pray that such people will see the error of their ways before it’s too late.
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels”(Mark 8:36-38).
© 2016 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.