Sanctification

Learning from the Failure of a Leader (Tullian Tchividjian)

TTullianhe fallout of Tullian Tchividjian’s admission of an “inappropriate relationship” will sweep broadly through the Christian community.First, how does it impact the message of Free Grace? I’ll call Tchividjian “Free-Grace-ish,” as he seems to have moved substantially towards a free grace position, but may not be fully free-grace. His views recently led to a separation between him and the Gospel Coalition, as explained by Tim Keller and Don Carson:

It was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom.[1]

So, reformed theologians already have their eyes on him. As I write this, I have yet to see any article by a prominent reformed writer which connects his fall with “antinomianism” or his free-grace-ish views. I hope that trend continues. But it would not surprise me if rocks are thrown connecting his doctrinal convictions and this issue. A well-known Lordship author wrote some years ago when a Free-Grace pastor he knew fell to sexual immorality:

Was his theology an accommodation to his sinful lifestyle? It surely might have been. This much is certain: No-lordship theology [aka, Free Grace] would have a soothing effect on a professing Christian trying to rationalize their long-term immorality… Certainly preaching that constantly touts ‘grace’ but never features law could help someone like that find comfort while sinning.[2]

Such thinking has no room in the free-grace position. The issue is not faulty theology but faulty obedience (aka, yielding to sin). No theology prevents sinful choices; only faithful obedience relying on the power of the Spirit prevents it. No matter what system one accepts. For those of us in the Free-Grace camp, two issues: (1) Be alert to those who use faulty logic (the fallacy that correlation implies causation) to incorrectly conclude that the systemlead to the actions, and (2) teach and practice the truth that Free Grace theology should motivate towards righteousness, not lawlessness and licentiousness. Paul addresses this very issue:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2) 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom 6:15-16)

Second, this situation should remind Christian leaders of two important truths: (1) The failure of a leader causes greater repercussions than the failure of a “person in the pew.” The sin is not worse (infidelity is horrible no matter who is involved), however, because of the influence held by a leader, the ripple effects of his failure significantly harm the ministry he serves and those who choose to follow him. Leaders who fail cause greater damage to the cause of Christ and provide great fodder for critics precisely because they areleaders. (2) We are neither immune to temptation nor beyond its power. We must guard our walk and our lives carefully.

Third, when anyone falls, whether or not someone in our camp, all of us (not just leaders) should remember the warning Paul gave the Corinthians: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (1 Cor 10:12).” None of us can completely avoid temptation, however, we have the ability in Christ to resist it. We can look for “the way of escape” promised in 10:13; we can recognize the truth that we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:6); we can “walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16).

I don’t know what lies ahead for Tullian Tchividjian, his wife, his church, his future ministry. I do know it will not be easy. We can and should learn from this situation, but at the same time, pray for him, pray for his wife, pray for his family, pray for his church, pray for other who looked up to him as a leader. Pray that God will be glorified in the long haul through this trial, because “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).


     [1]http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/may/tim-keller-don-carson-explain-why-tullian-tchividjian-tgc.html, accessed June 25, 2105, emphasis added.
     [2]John F. MacArthur, Jr., Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 124.

Habitual Sin

I have come to the conclusion I am not "truly" saved.
I hope that rattles you. Let me explain why I have come to this conclusion: Traffic.
Yep, traffic.
You see, I consistently get irritated when other drivers fail to use their turn signals. I get a snarky attitude, and I often make some obnoxious comment about said driver (which does not please my wife, by the way).
I am stuck in habitual sin. Sure, I confess.... but then it pops up again. And again. And again. Probably has for decades. Even after deciding to write this post, fully aware of my tendency, I still responded poorly to traffic. While driving through a little town outside Seattle, it took us 30 minutes to go two blocks through two lights. My attitude was stinky, my comments were not kind. My wife was, rightfully, not pleased with me. And then again today, I gave a snide "gee, thanks" to someone who failed to use their blinker.
So here's my problem. As one well-known writer puts it, "The apostle John ... wrote an entire epistle about the marks of a true believer (1 John 5:13)... Scores of ... passages throughout the epistle confirm the same truth, that the one who is truly saved cannot continue in a pattern of unbroken sin (1 John 3:6-10)." Others use the term "habitual sin" rather than "unbroken sin", but the idea is the same.
Habitual sin means I'm not 'truly' saved. And I am a habitual sinner (at least behind the wheel).
Maybe I can read your mind at this point. "That's not really unbroken sin, Roger. You may slip into it again and again, but the pattern is broken. You probably even confessed it" Or, you may think "Really? You think that sin is serious enough to prove you are not 'truly saved'?" And, at this point in your reading, some of you might have already called me or texted me to straighten me out. But keep reading before you react!
Here's the truth. I do not believe what I said above about the consequences of habitual sin. I have no doubt that I am "truly saved". I think what the above writer and others like him say about habitual sin is wrong.
Think about how subjective and troubling the "habitual sin" or "unbroken sin" trap is. It is easy to look at someone else's life; it is tougher to look at my own. It is easy to think of "big" sins (like addiction to pornography); it is tougher to think of "little" sins (like attitudes towards obnoxious drivers - oops, there I go again). It becomes very subjective! And of course, how does one define "habitual"? What sins? How often? 
Over how much time (days, months, years)? I hope you get my point.  If habitual or unbroken sin of any kind means I never "truly believed" I have a problem and so do most of you (probably all of you). Maybe the sin is as "minor" as anger while driving. Maybe it's our attitude towards certain politicians (I told you this is a problem for most of us). Maybe it is as serious as addiction to something (coffee doesn't count). And if only certain kinds of habitual or unbroken sins cause the problem (instead of any habitual sin), I'm still in trouble, because I don't have a biblical list to differentiate which-sins-are-which. I only have the opinions of people.

Here's the whole truth: When I react poorly to another driver, my actions, words, and attitude are not the result of "walking in the light". They are not a reflection of following Jesus. They are, well, sinful! And I need to let God work on my heart so that the next time that guy fails to signal..... well, you get the idea.

I am saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. My security is based on the objective truth that Jesus died on the cross for my sin, was raised from the dead, and gives, as He promises, eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Thankfully, confirmation of my salvation is not based on how I respond to those drivers. Or on any other "habitual" or "unbroken" sin. Those sins are growth issues, not identity issues.  That's the beauty of grace. My confidence lies completely on what He has done for me, freely, as a gift. 

Why Teach Grace?

By Dr. Roger Fankhauser

Why proclaim grace?

“I must not be saved if I can’t beat this sin.” The person then walked away from their faith.
Someone else said, “I've lived way too many years of my life in bondage, conforming to religious rules instead of only looking to Christ... Some days I feel as if my heart will burst knowing how much God loves me. Some time ago, I started meeting with a group that, unfortunately, was a shame based group that doesn't practice or walk in grace. I feel like I've been saved all over again finding freedom in Christ as he is showing me truth in his word.

The subtle – or not-so-subtle – problem with any kind of performance based “Christianity” is that it is counterproductive. Instead of producing joy or producing “abundant” life, it produces guilt or unreasonable introspection. Instead of producing power for living, it knocks us down. Instead of producing hope, it produces despair. It doesn’t produce freedom, it produces bondage.

I know not everyone under this type of teaching ends up in the dumps. But it is far too common.

The first person above could well be a believer, one who has eternal life, but one needs help in dealing with an overpowering sin. He needs to see God’s incredible love for him; he needs to see that our relationship with God is based on the objective reality of who Jesus is and what He has done, not on the subjective basis of how well we live. He needs to better understand God’s grace for living. (I say “could well be a believer” only because I have not spoken to this person about what they believe. Others who know him said he has trusted Jesus for eternal life. But he’s been under teaching that says “if you habitually sin, you’re not really saved”).

The second person tasted grace. She and her family are now out from under bondage and enjoying God’s grace.

Don’t misunderstand; grace does not take sin lightly. It realizes the consequences of sin might be severe, but that sin does not mean I have lost my salvation or that I never “really” had it. Grace doesn’t minimize sin, it maximizes God’s love. Grace realizes that God loves us, when we sin and when we don’t. It is not an “excuse” for sin, but it helps us deal with sin the right way.

When we live under the grace of God, we experience freedom and life unlike anything else. Live it, teach it, and help others understand it. I wish we had more of the second story – someone who basks in God’s grace – and fewer of the first.

Antinomianism and Free Grace Theology

By Dr. Roger Fankhauser, FGA Executive Council member and the pastor of Burleson Bible Church in Burleson, Texas.  Dr. Fankhauser can be reached at rsfankhauser@bellsouth.net. Antinomianism.

A fancy word meaning “lawless”.

Many who don’t get the free grace message accuse us of practicing and teaching antinomianism. They think – wrongly – that the free grace message is light on sin and light on obedience. The author of a recent best-selling book describes the message that he alleges some present this way: “We have been told all that is required is a one-time decision, maybe even mere intellectual assent to Jesus, but after that we need not worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory. We have a ticket to heaven, and we can live however we want on earth. Our sin will be tolerated along the way….” Another well-known author put it this way: “What is no-Lordship theology (the author’s name for free grace theology) but the teaching that those who died to sin can indeed live in it?”

So, let me interview myself (yeah, I know that’s weird) and clarify what I really believe and teach:

Q: Does free grace teach that sin will be tolerated along the way?

A: Absolutely not. Sin is serious; it is an affront to God (Ps. 51:4). It has serious consequences.

Q: What kind of consequences?

A: For the believer who sins, consequences can include physical issues (e.g., sexually transmitted disease), relational issues (e.g., loss of trust from someone we hurt), loss of reward (2 Cor. 5:10), guilt and shame, loss of the experience of “abundant life” (John 10:10), discipline from God (Heb. 12:5-7), and perhaps even physical death (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:28-30).

Q: But doesn’t habitual sin in someone’s life mean they aren’t really saved?

A: That’s a loaded question. How do we define “habitual” biblically? We can’t. So, if that’s the scale to evaluate one’s salvation, we’re left in an arbitrary mess. It leaves us in the position of evaluating our standing before God based on the subjective evaluation of my life rather than the objective person and work of Jesus.

Q: So what would you tell the person in “habitual” sin?

A: I don’t want to assume someone is a Christian just because they say they are. I want to find out why they think they are a Christian. The issue isn’t what we say, what we think, even what we pray. The issue is in whom do we believe? It might well be they didn’t understand the gospel and are not, in fact, Christians. But let’s assume they are. In that case, I’d try to find out why they choose to live in sin. They could give a thousand different reasons, ranging from “I just want to” to “I’m stuck and don’t know how to get out”. Then, depending on the answer, I might talk about the consequences of their choices, and I would definitely try to help them see the way out (Gal. 6:1-2).

Q: What about discipleship? Is it optional? I know one writer who thinks the grace position promotes discipleship only for “the higher level Christian”?

A: No, discipleship is not optional. Obedience is not optional. We are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12). God expects all of us to live a life following Jesus. Having said that, failure to follow Jesus as His disciple does not prove we were never a believer. It simply proves we are disobedient believers. Discipleship is not optional if we want to live life the way God desires, if we want to grow, if we want to glorify Him, if we want to hear “well done”.

Q: Maybe some people think the cost of following Jesus is too high. How do you respond to that?

A: Following Jesus may very well cost us a great deal in this life. Jesus said the world hated Him; we shouldn’t be surprised if it hates us. Or, maybe, like Moses, who must choose “to endure ill-treatment with the people of God” rather than “enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). However, when we look at the big picture, the long term benefit of following Him far outweighs the temporal costs. Even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2).

Q: Has anyone accused you of watering down God’s Word because of the free grace message?

A: Yep! Someone said I wasn’t serious enough about the warnings in Scripture. He said some of the warnings sound like a Christian could “go to hell” for a reason. But Paul faced the same accusation (Rom. 6:1).

Q: So what would you tell other free-grace proponents to say in their ministry?

A: First, keep the gospel message simple, clear, and correct (faith alone in Christ alone). Don’t muddle the basic message. Second, clearly teach the seriousness of sin, the warnings directed to disobedient Christians, and the consequences of sin. Third, teach that our security in Christ rests on the objective work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not on the subjective evaluation of our faithfulness. And fourth, continually call people to “walk in a manner worthy”. Help them to see that God desires – and expects – this of His people.

Q: Thanks, me, for the interview!

A: You’re welcome, me!

Antinomian? Not at all. Sin is serious and the call to follow Jesus is real.