Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Walk in Christ, walk in forgiveness

Col. 2:6-15 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, [7] rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
[8] See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. [9] For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, [10] and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. [11] In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, [12] having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. [13] And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. [15] He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” So walk in him. Today it is popular to talk about progressive sanctification as a walk. Maybe I should explain that. Progressive sanctification is a Wesleyan doctrine that says every day of our Christian life we should be getting better and better as Christians, and sinning less and less. Most “evangelical” churches in America fall into this trap. I put evangelical in the quotations because there is usually nothing evangelical, gospel oriented about them, they normally have law and gospel hopelessly confused. But the idea behind progressive sanctification is that you can actually attain, and are required to attain 100% sanctification before you die. (At least that is the way Wesley first put it forward in “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”.) First you hear the Gospel, your sins are forgiven, and then you commit yourself to Christ, perhaps even by being baptized to show your commitment. But then you are responsible to continue in the faith, and you do that by slowly, or perhaps quickly, cleaning up your life.
Now that you are a Christian you are expected to quit cussing, smoking, dating girls who chew, or wear tight fitting jeans, not to mention drinking. Generally fun is frowned upon. I think somewhere along the line the Christian life got confused with the stoic life. But in any case most of these churches major in minors when it comes to sin. They start to water down the Biblical doctrines of sin, and actually call things sin that are not sin, and ignore others that are altogether. Promiscuity becomes such a topic of taboo, the kids are hardly warned against it.
Generally you are expected to conform to these things though, and this is considered your walk. Walking in Jesus is effectively reduced to being able to quit smoking. (Ignoring the fact that many do so without Christ, and many in Christ see no need, nor desire to quit.) So when we read “so walk in him”, our temptation is to read this doctrine of progressive sanctification into those words. But what do they really mean? What did Paul mean when he wrote those?
The answer to those questions has to be found in the text itself. Paul doesn’t say these words in a vacuous sound bite, but in the midst of a letter where he explains what he means. By walking in Christ, he does not at all mean progressively working toward the perfect life, but living the forgiven life. “As you received Christ, so walk in him.” These words can be turned around, so walk in Christ, the way you received him. You received him in forgiveness, don’t let go of forgiveness. The explanation that follows these words reemphasises that. Don’t fall from the faith, hold fast to forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a onetime thing but an everyday thing, an every moment thing. You may be able to give up a few of the gross and manifest sins. We all suffer temptation to various sins, and should work to better ourselves in those places. But we will never reach perfection. This is the problem the perfectionist, the progressive sanctificationist will dwell on the law and lose sight of forgiveness. This is why the walk cannot be equated with progressive sanctification, the kicking the habit of a few petty vices that may actually be good for you to kick. We dare not, though, loose sight of forgiveness. For it is forgiveness that builds us up in him, and establishes us in the faith, just as you were taught. So see to it that you are not held captive by philosophy (Stoicism in the guise of Christianity for instance,) and empty deceit according to human tradition, according to elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Walk in Christ, walk in forgiveness, it is our only righteousness.

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

"Walk in forgiveness."

That is something that I can TRY to do...by His grace and mercy.

And all my efforts to do so...are forgiven!