How We Lost Power Over Sin As An Evidence of Salvation
Doctrines of theology are influenced by the times in which they evolve. Bible truths are given more importance depending on the perceived need of the moment. The hyper-grace message of the 20th century was largely the result of embarrassment over the Biblical teaching of Hell. Most evangelists and pastors since Billy Sunday are reluctant to teach that God will send a majority of mankind to eternal torture. (I'm sure we all, like Billy Graham, hope we don't fully understand Hell. But since Jesus spoke of Hell more than any other, should we do less? And since Jesus knew more about Hell than any other, (because He made it), we must accept His warnings and example without question.)
The adaptation and promotion of one Bible truth over another isn't unique to modern times. (See Decision Or Chosen for the biggest Bible dispute.) The doctrine of infant baptism was protected by Calvin at the expense of interpreting the events of Acts 19:5 as a baptism in the Holy Spirit instead of a re-baptism in water. 1 The practice of slavery in the New World was undoubtedly allowed because of a mistranslation of 1 Timothy 1:10 in the King James version.2
Bible Trojan Horses
There are several scriptures that seem to be at odds with the rest of the Bible. These "Trojan Horses" can be looked at as anomalies, left alone until God illuminates our understanding in the afterlife, or elevated to a prominence completely out of proportion to their purpose. One such anomaly is the scripture 1 Cor 15:29-30 "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?" This scripture has been the source of many heretical doctrines, completely out of sync with the rest of the accepted canon of scripture.
Another "Trojan Horse" is Rom 7:25. " I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." Up until this point, Paul seemed to be describing the state of an awakened sinner. But then, when he says "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord," it seems like he's saying this despicable condition is that of someone who is born again. If you look at all of Romans 6, he completely repudiates the notion that a Christian could serve two masters. " For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." Rom 6:14-15
Two Ways Of Interpreting Romans 7:14-7:25
Most theologians believe Paul was speaking of a born again individual in Romans 7:14-7:25. If this is the case, then the huge caveat described by Luther is necessary to understand how they can take this shocking position. "(Paul is) dealing with the Law as it applies the inner man and the will and not with respect to the works of the outer man...The apostle's method of speaking are contrary to the metaphysical or moral methods. For the apostle says what he does in order to indicate (or sound forth) that man rather than sin is taken away, for sin remains as a kind of relic, and man is purged from sin rather than the opposite...Thus it is obvious that the apostle means that sin is taken away by a spiritual means (that is, the will to commit sin is put to death.)...Hence blessed Augustine...says,"What are the Laws of God which He Himself has written in our hearts if they are not the very presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the finger of God and by whose presence love is shed abroad in our hearts? And this love is the fulfilling of the Law and the end of the commandment. "3 In other words, only by yielding to the Holy Spirit can the Christian not serve sin. He is powerless in his flesh to do otherwise. Sin will always have the capacity to rule a Christian if he doesn't yield to the Holy Spirit within. So according to Luther and most famous theologians, Romans 7:14-7:25 doesn't teach the Gnostic heresy of it's being acceptable to serve sin in the flesh while serving God in the spirit. Rather, it teaches that the flesh is incapable of serving God, so the Christian can only walk by the power of the Holy Spirit.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death...That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." Rom 8:1-11
The New Gnosticism
The reason Paul brought us through Romans 7 was to arrive at Romans 8. But many pastors teach a "carnal Christian" interpretation of Romans 7:25, like a dog returning to it's vomit. Unlike Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and all theologians before the 20th century, they don't teach the holistic salvation of Romans 6 and Romans 8, but teach a "sloppy agape" understanding of Romans 7. (For more on this subject, please see What's A Saint?) They teach exactly what Paul said "God forbid" to in Romans 6:15. The 20th century "forensic atonement" doctrine (without commensurate experiential salvation) is identical in its effect to the 1st century Gnostic heresy that a man could sin in his flesh while remaining pure in his spirit.
In commenting on this doctrine, J.I. Packer said, "The pastoral effect of this teaching can only be to produce what the Puritans called "Gospel hypocrites"persons who have been told that they are Christians, eternally secure, because they believe that Christ died for them, when their hearts are unchanged and they have no personal commitment to Christ at all. I know this, for I was just such a Gospel hypocrite for two years before God mercifully made me aware of my unconverted state." 4
Ernest Reisinger said, "As a result of this erroneous teaching many who regularly occupy our church pews on Sunday morning and fill our church rolls are strangers to true conversion. They are strangers to heart religion because they have never experienced the power of a changed life. They are not new creatures and for them old things have not passed away." 5
Eternal Security And "Sanctification"
During the Reformation, the
elevation of the Biblical concept now termed "eternal security"
was a necessary component in eliminating the need for the Catholic doctrine
of Purgatory. In the 20th century, the elevated "eternal
security" truth, in concert with the declining standard for what
was considered "Christian," gave cover for the elevation of
the Bible truth of "forensic" salvation. For the first time,
"forensic" salvation was separated from "experiential"
salvation, as though they were two different things. (The same way the
sovereignty of God and the free will of man are looked at as two different
truths instead of two parts of the same truth.) Repentance was seen by
many as simply "believing " in the substitution aspect of the
sacrifice of Christ only. This placed the "sanctification" aspect
of the sacrifice as a separate "grace", allowing for the "justification
for sin" error warned against by Paul in Romans 6:15. "What
then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?
In the 20th century, Romans 7:25 was used to teach that Christians could sin and still remain spiritually clean. What Paul had taught to emphasize the utter dependence of the Christian on the Holy Spirit, modern theologians turned into a justification for sin. This wresting of Scripture enabled the redefining of what was "normal" Christian behavior, thus eliminating one of the two primary yardsticks for evaluating whether a person is saved.
Evolving Evangelical Theology
100 years ago, pastors and evangelists had the two yardsticks
of "power over sin" and " the workings of the Holy Spirit"
to evaluate whether a person was saved. Today, few Evangelical ministers
rely on these two evidences in counseling church members. After 100 years
of evolving modern evangelical theology, the question of whether someone
is able to resist sin is considered a psychological problem, not a salvation
problem. Thus the power over sin, the most visible evidence of salvation,
("..by their fruits ye shall know them",
Matthew 7:20) has been almost eliminated. All theologians before
the 20th century recognized an individual's ability to overcome sin as
the best evidence of salvation. Now there was only one primary
evidence left...The workings of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit Workings Eliminated As An Evidence of Salvation
Now, more times than not, Christian counselors are purposely ignorant of the wealth of Biblical insight on the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Christian. The Reformers recognized the workings of the Holy Spirit as the way a person is saved and changed from glory to glory. Modern evangelical Christianity has largely cut itself off from this foundational truth of the Gospel. Christian counselors utilizes psychological tools because they forsook the Holy Spirit, God's Doctor of mental health.
Holistic Salvation Administered through The Holy Spirit
The book of Acts refers to the Acts of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is implemented in the world and in the heart of man only by the Holy Spirit. God has given us the means to complete wholeness only through the Holy Spirit. It is in Him we find mental health by being born of the Spirit (John 3:5), Being quickened by the Spirit (John 6:63), being guided by the Spirit (John 16:13), by walking after the Spirit (Romans 8:1), by minding the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5), by being led of the Spirit (Romans 8:14), by being adopted in the Spirit (Romans 8:15), by receiving the witness of the Spirit (Romans 8:16), by having the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23), by receiving the help of the Spirit (Romans 8:26), by understanding the intercession of the Spirit (Romans 8:27), by understanding the things of God through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14), by being the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), by being washed and sanctified by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11), by being one with God in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17), by being made to drink into the Spirit (2 Corinthians 12:13), by experiencing the liberty of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17), by being changed from glory to glory by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18), by experiencing in our heart the earnest of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:5), by experiencing the Spirit crying "Abba, Father" in our hearts (Galatians 4:6), by experiencing in the Spirit the hope of righteousness by faith (Galatians 5:5), by experiencing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), by living by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), by sewing to the Spirit (Galatians 6:8), by reaping life everlasting from the Spirit (Galatians 6:8), by being sealed with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), by having access to God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18), by being made into a suitable house for God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22), by being strengthened in the inner man by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16), by being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), by understanding and using the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), by praying and supplication in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), by experiencing the supply of the Spirit (Phillipians 1:19), by experiencing fellowship of the Spirit (Phillipians 2:1), by worshiping God in the Spirit (Phillipians 3:3), by exhibiting love in the Spirit (Collosians 1:8), by obeying the truth through the Spirit (1 Peter 1:22), by knowing God abides inside by the Spirit (1 John 3:24), by knowing we dwell in God, and He in us because we have the Spirit (1 John 4:13).
"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Jer 2:13
By eliminating the two evidences of salvation, the power over sin and the workings of the Holy Spirit, modern theology has painted us into a corner. Not only have we redefined salvation as a gift that has no experiential effect on the majority of "Christians," but worse, we have no ability to call seekers out of sin or ask them to examine themselves in the light of scripture as to whether they have the Holy Spirit within them. It's a catch 22 that prevents an ailing church from diagnosing itself.
"Jesus said unto them,
If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore
your sin remaineth." John 9:41
How We Lost The Workings Of The Holy Spirit as an Evidence Of Salvation
Bill Bright was the most influential modern theologian to elevate forensic salvation at the expense of experiential, or holistic salvation. After almost a half century of service to God, he realized the vast majority of the people who "got saved" through his ministry acted no differently than heathen. But unlike Dawson Trotman and Billy Graham, he never considered follow-up to be a solution to the problem. Trotman gave up trying to get "decisions" without discipleship because he realized he was doing more damage than good. Graham made it clear to Pastors involved with his crusades that without their follow-up, the entire enterprise could do little more than stir human emotion. Bright saw the damage caused by modern evangelism, but did nothing to stop it. At the end of his life, he admitted that he was wrong for not emphasizing the reality of Hell, 6 but apparently didn't acknowledge his theology as largely responsible for the deplorable condition of the vast majority of "Christians" who were "saved" by his ministry.
In the next chapter, we'll examine how Evangelical Christianity was Blinded By The Bright.