Saturday, November 01, 2014

What happens to a sinning Christian?

These seven penalties of sin are drawn from Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p 334, The Christian’s Sin.

In reading Systematic Theology I was struck by these seven losses presented by Chafer from 1 John. I should be clear that these losses can and do happen to the Christian, but that God has provided a steadfast and faithful way for the Christian to return to fellowship—the subject of my next question. I was amazed to see so much in this tiny book on the subject of walking with God, and what happens when we choose not to do so. I should have long ago seen them, as my favorite gospel is John, and there is so much in John about the believer and his Savior. 1 John continues those themes, emphasizing our walk with our Savior, and it helps me to remember that John was the closest friend to our Savior, and there was nothing more important to John, in his very long life, than his walk with his best friend. John has lots to tell us about walking with him, and in him, even when his visible presence is not there. What a constant ache in John’s heart must have been there with the physical loss of his friend! John learned the great comforting closeness that we can have with our Savior through the Spirit, and in his latter years, he gives us precious gems to aid us in our walk with the Savior.

I think it important to establish that these losses happen only to the believers; the non-believer is lost in his sin and blind to his plight. There is no restoration for the non-believer, but if he should believe, then he finds “all things new”, and as John elsewhere refers to him, is considered “born again”. Rather, these losses are for the disobedient Christian, which I all too often see, when we decide to turn away from God, and begin walking our own way, sometimes with our folly lasting years.

Indeed, as I have written frequently elsewhere, we have been given the very presence of God to dwell in our bodies, and there is every opportunity given us through the Spirit and the Word to live a life marked by our walk with God. First John also tells us, later in the book (5:8-12), that there are three testimonies on earth about the faithfulness and love of God for us, the blood which was shed in our behalf, the Spirit which is given us, and the Word, which is written to guide us through life. These three bear witness in the world, and help our faith to stand against the forces of the world. But what of the believer who quenches the Spirit with continued and persistent sin? What of the believer who avails himself not of the Word? What remains to such a believer? He has lost use of two of the three tools that God gives him to find a successful walk. He must surely be buffeted on every side, even as he would stand in his faith. His own body betrays him, and he does not seek the light, nor turn towards it, because his load of sin has covered him in darkness.

The first loss presented by John is found in 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” Thus, we have loss of light. I have been thinking a bit about Adam and Eve, and their parallels to this portion of scripture. Both Adam and Eve lost the light when they partook of the forbidden fruit. They covered themselves, evidently ashamed of their bodies, and they hid from God. They thus began the human race’s walk in darkness, no longer appreciating the walk with God. The Christian, forgiven of all his sin, has the opportunity to walk again with God himself, to be in the light for the first time since Adam. But, we Christians are given to much folly, and if we so choose, we are allowed to turn away from our God back to the darkness that we formerly knew.

The second loss is from 1:4, “ And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” But for the sinning Christian, a lack of the deep joy that is the hallmark of the Christian who is walking with his God, that lack of joy, is gone. The sinful Christian, remaining in his sin, quenches the Spirit, and sometimes gets in such desperate straits, that he hardly remembers his sonship. The Psalmist says, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” (32, KJV) The intense and wonderful joy of the Holy Spirit is utterly taken away when we pursue our folly. Remember that Adam and Eve lost their joy when they were cast utterly out of the garden, and walking with God was no longer possible.

Where is the joy of our church goers? If your church is anything like mine, there is a definite group of people who serve and are marked outwardly with that joy. I do not have to be around them long at all before I realize that they have something I want more of—they have the very peace and presence of God himself. They are models to me, images, if you will, of the very Savior they are following, and, oh, how I wish I could be more like them. But there is a great body of believers that I do not see being used of the Lord that way. Our church, and your church too, will never have revival until we together come to recognize our joy in God, that Christ has given us freedom from condemnation forever, and that we will spend all eternity with the living and loving God. Once we truly know that, joy will abound in our obedient walk with him.

The third loss is evident in the latter part of verse three, “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” The question might come at this point asking if fellowship with God is really affected by our sin, but coupled with verse six, it is plain that our fellowship with God is shipwrecked with our persistent sin. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” The apostle John, with the full inspiration of the Holy Spirit, states that we are liars if it be that we walk in darkness and yet claim to have fellowship with him. As I already pointed out, when Adam and Eve sinned, their walk with God was forgotten. Don Francisco has a lovely song entitled, “Adam, Where Are You?” that beautifully depicts this loss of fellowship. Capturing the somber mood of the fall, Francisco would remind us of that horrible loss, a walk with the living God. One of the darkest pages of Christian history is found in the Christian leader who is caught in persistent and unrepentant sin. How can they possibly be teaching in any Godly fashion while in open sin? Many a leader has suffered irrecoverably from not keeping a short account of repentance before God.

The fourth loss is grievous—it is losing the sense of being loved by God. For me, one of the greatest daily experiences is the sense of God being in me, and my life working out for his purpose. I sense his love, except when I am in continuing sin. Then all sense of being personally loved by God is gone—I lose that sense of God being in me and with me. I know that he loves me still, but that awareness becomes more remote, and not on a personal level. This loss is told in 2:15 and 16, “ Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” A corollary is that one who is consumed by the lusts of the world also loses his recognition of the lostness of those who are around him. I think this happens because we are no longer looking at our world through our Father’s eyes; instead we are looking through our own selfish eyes, and we have not one whit of ability to appreciate what being lost is all about. Did not Adam and Eve show their loss by hiding from the only one who could, and eventually did redeem them?

The fifth loss of the believer is that of peace. According to 1 John 3:9, “ No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (NIV). Many Christians, infants, never grow because of lack of church habits, or lack of Bible teaching, but those who never grow seem always to be in a level of frustration that is unknown in the deep walk with God. Imagine the anguish of the righteous soul, made righteous by the Son, but living with the warfare of constant chosen sin. Peace? It does not seem likely. Their spirits are in constant battle with their flesh, but they have a difference from those who walk with God. They are choosing to stay in that which they know is wrong. Peace is not possible for the Christian continuing in his sin.

The sixth loss that comes from continued willful sin is that we lose confidence in prayer. In 3:21 and 22, it says, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” (NIV). If our hearts are condemning us, John reminds us that God is always greater than that condemnation. But while our hearts are condemning us—that is while we know we are in sin, then we cannot come to God expecting that he will answer. At those times, prayer will resound back to us as an echo, ringing again and again with its sounds, but we will have no confidence of God’s hearing us. This is a main reason why we often see great prayers start off with confession—it takes a clean heart to be assured of God’s attentive ear.

The final loss is grievous. It is found in 2:28, “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (NIV). If we do not continue in him, we are in sin. There are only two courses here. Though there are many shades of gray that we find in our world, it comes down to two choices, either we are choosing something sinful, or we are continuing in him. Chafer points out that we are to have boldness at the coming of Christ (1 John 4:17), if indeed we are continuing in Him, but where will our boldness be if we are ashamed of the way that we have been walking? At best, we will be like the prodigal son, returning to his father utterly ashamed of what he has done. There is an utter and complete contrast between the shame of sinning Christian and the confidence of the Christian walking with his God.

With all these losses listed in 1 John, the believer might tend to be downcast, especially if he is wise in understanding his own heart. He might well think that it is his due to suffer these losses on a continuing revolving pattern, but such is not the life that God has planned for us. John the Apostle, the friend of Jesus, the one among us, perhaps, who most wanted to maintain fellowship with his Lord, tells us of a sure way to mitigate, if not outright prevent, these losses from happening. In my next piece, I will be presenting the teaching of John about how the Christian is supposed to handle his sinful heart.

Summary of Losses due to sin:
1. 1 John 1:6 The believer is turned to darkness.
2. 1 John 1:4 The believer loses his joy.
3. 1 John 1:3, 6,7 The believer loses his fellowship with God.
4. 1 John 2:5, 15-17 The believer loses his sense of being loved by God.
5. 1 John 3:4-10 The believer loses his peace.
6. 1 John 3:19-22 The believer loses his confidence in prayer.
7. 1 John 2:28 The believer loses his confidence at the coming of Christ.

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