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First let me say a few words to those of you who feel like I may seem a little caustic and rough around the edges; especially in comparison to the average "religious" people you know.
I admit, as I get a little older, I have become a cynic. Or perhaps a better term would be a realist.
I have seen from my own personal experience how fake and phony christian people can be. I have often been a fake and a phony myself. We pile on so many masks that we barely recognize ourself at times. How can we expect others to see what a real christian is, and what the Gospel truly means, if we are always putting on an act?
The Apostle Paul said that he shared his very self with the people of Thessalonica. Paul realized that if his humanity was veiled from their eyes, he would have a much harder time reaching them. Jesus in His incarnation, became fully man, as well as being fully God. Our humanity is not a bad thing. It is through our weakness that God's strength is made manifest.
In some christian circles, primarily charismatic/pentecostal ones, it seems as if they are trying to pretend that the doctrine of original sin doen't exist. Total depravity means just that, TOTAL DEPRAVITY. Every aspect of the human experience on earth is tainted and affected by our sinful inclinations.
Do you know why most people reject Christianity and refuse to become Christians? It isn't because they don't believe the facts concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; it's because they have been led to believe that christianity is nothing more than a system of behavior.
The atonement, the blood sacrifice on our behalf, the forgiveness of our sins; it all becomes obscured by the unrealistic code of ethics that nonbelievers have been duped into believing makes up the essence of christianity.
They think it's all about living a certain way. Following the "house rules".And they believe it because well meaning but immature and doctrinally illiterate christians have taught them so.
The typical American church goer, who does little if any of his or her own theological study, and basically lives from sermon to sermon, Sunday to Sunday; has the same view of salvation that the average non church goer has; and that is the American folk religion: "God helps those who help themselves".
Or the grade on the curve theory: my good works on one side of the scale, my bad deeds on the other, and a fraction more on either side tips me into heaven or hell.
Notice the "I" centeredness of these systems. My work. I pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I keep repenting. I rededicate. I do this, that, or the other. It's all internal; just "me and God". Gnosticism revisited.
America's rebellion against high church and denominationalism has helped us to forget that the most important tenets of christianity have to do with things that happened externally.
Christ died for my sins at a particular time in a particular place. We recieve a righteousness imputed from outside of ourselves. What Luther called an "alien righteosness".
The idea that I can make myself presentable before God, the perfectionism taught by such luminaries as Wesley, Finney, and most pentecostals and charismatics today; is much more in line with Roman Catholocism than classical protestantism.
We fail to grasp the fact that God is perfectly holy.
(1 John 1:5)
A perfectly holy God demands perfect holiness to enter Heaven. The whole debate of the reformation was about how I, an obviously sinful creature, even in my regenerate state, can be made right and acceptable before a perfectly holy God.
When we think that our own holiness or purity is keeping us in right standing with God, we are sadly deceived. Hence, the debate with Rome over "impartation" and "imputation". Does God "declare me righteous" by imputing Christs' righteousness to my account by virtue of His perfect obedience and shed blood on my behalf, or does He "impart" the grace to me to help me "become" righteous enough to stand before Him, as I work for Him in christian service?
Obviously the former has to be true. Regeneration does not perfectly purify us in a practical sense. Rome, seeing the still sinning state of the believer, came up with the doctrine of purgatory. They realized we still neded a "purging" of our sins, even after conversion. To Rome, and all of her unwitting accomplices, sanctification accomplishes justification.
The doctrine of impartation amounts to no more than trying to keep the law, which the scripture says is impossible. The Bible says that the law was our "schoolmaster", or the tutor that would lead us to Christ. The laws' harsh demands show us our need for a saviour.
If we could keep the law, why the sacrifice of Christ?
When Luther rediscovered and trumpeted the Pauline doctrine of imputed righteousness, or justification by grace through faith; most, like Finney considered it a "legal fiction". It seems too good to be true. But this view takes a low view of God and exposes an exalted view of the ability of man to save himself.
Usually, peoples' problem with imputed righteousness has to do with a denial of original sin. If you have a problem wth Adams' sin being "imputed" to the human race; and God holding us guilty and accountable for that sin, then you will most likely have a problem with Christs' perfect obedience being reckoned to you.
This article is a long winded way of saying that we're all rotten and sinful before God.
He is pure. He is holy. He is gracious and forgiving and has taken the initiative and all steps necessary to secure our salvation. God is a good God.
The good works that we do in His name should spring forth from a heart of gratitude for His amazing grace; not as a way of securing His favor or our salvation.
(My testimony of sorts...