6. We Cannot Go In Opposite Directions At The Same Time
I remember hearing a story about a boy, a new convert, who was asked how he was doing in his new Christian life. The boy replied that there were two dogs fighting inside him, a good dog and a bad dog. When asked, "which dog wins?" he replied, "The one I say 'sic 'em' to."
As long as we are in this world we are subject to temptations. But temptations are not sin. They are just the invitations to sin. Our moral character depends on whether we accept the invitations or reject them.
Because we are free moral agents we can choose and do choose an ultimate end. But while we embrace one supreme end or goal, we reject its opposite. We cannot choose both at the same time. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters..." (Matt. 6:24). The possibility of changing masters always exists, and the temptation to do so often exists, but we cannot serve both at the same time.
"Obedience cannot be partial in the sense that the subject ever does, or can, partly obey and partly disobey at the same time,
"If, for example, the soul chooses the highest well-being of God and the universe as an ultimate end, it cannot while it continues to choose that end use or choose the means to effect any other end.... The only possible choice inconsistent with this end is the choice of another ultimate end." 30
By "choice" is meant intelligent choice--choice under light. We all make a lot of ignorant mistakes, mistakes in areas where we do not yet have sufficient light. We can love God supremely and purely, and yet ignorantly do things that are not in His highest interest. But as we grow in grace and knowledge, we live for God more intelligently and effectively. And, it might be added, more happily.
We progress in obedience, not into obedience. Obedience must be with the whole heart--that is, it must be honest--or it is not obedience at all. If obedience is with the whole heart--that is, if it is honest--it is full obedience. But if it is not, it is not obedience. It is hypocrisy. Jesus said, "He that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matt. 12:30).
A person's ultimate goal is evidenced in the means he uses. No one can choose an ultimate end and at the same time knowingly choose means that work against that end and for the opposite end. The choice of an end necessitates the choice of the known means to that end.
When we knowingly use means to a particular end, that is the end we are really choosing. If we say that we are living in the Spirit but are deliberately living in the flesh, we deceive ourselves.
"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth" (1 John 1:6).
"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" (Rom. 8:5). "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:16,17).
How much dedication does love produce? It cannot produce an amount of dedication equal to God's real worth, because God's real worth is infinite. Remember, one's moral obligation goes only as far as one's light. That means, then, that our devotion to Jesus Christ depends on how real and precious He is to us. Love can do no more. Love will do no less. As Jesus becomes more real and precious to us, our devotion and dedication to Him will grow. The same is true of our service for others and our commitment to win the lost, etc.
Get close to God; get into His Word; "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields" (John 4:35). Give God a chance to make Himself more real to you and to show you the value of lost souls. Love will naturally produce the right amount of corresponding dedication. Wisdom will direct it according to a realistic understanding of our individual gifts, talents, time and opportunities.
Moral law does not require us to live on the verge of exhaustion. That is counter-productive. Moral law requires us to love God with all our heart and others as ourselves, including the expenditure of whatever strength, time, and resources that we honestly believe will do the most good in the long run.
On the other hand, we do not truly love God if we are not living up to our knowledge of what He deserves from us. That is selfishness, not love. The two do not mix.
So then, no one can be partly holy and partly sinful at the same time. Sin is a unit--the choice of self-gratification as the supreme pusuit of life, including the choice of all the known means to secure that end. Holiness or morality is also a unit--the choice of the highest well-being of God and of others as the supreme pursuit of life, including the choice of all the known means to secure that end.
To put it another way, moral action comes in two complete packages. Each package comes complete with a supreme end, plus the known means and actions to achieve that end. One package is labeled "love." The other is labeled "selfishness." The one is full obedience, the other is total disobedience.
The two systems are mutually exclusive and antagonistic. There is no mixing, no crossover, no coexistence between them.
The choice of the end determines the choice of the known means, and the choice of the known means reveals the end we are really living for. The heart determines the life, and the life reveals the heart.
"Virtue consists in willing every good according to its perceived relative value, and...nothing short of this is virtue.... To talk, therefore, of a virtue...right in kind but deficient in degree is to talk sheer nonsense. It is the same absurdity as to talk of sinful holiness, an unjust justice, a wrong rightness, an impure purity, an imperfect perfection, a disobedient obedience." 31
Our whole moral obligation is to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves with all the light we have and can obtain. God requires nothing more than this; He can require no less. We can do no more; we can do no less and be Christians. It is that simple.
"But," someone might ask, "can my heart be right with God when I feel all these bad desires and emotions?" Finney comments regarding the Christian--
"Emotions contrary to his intentions may, by circumstances beyond his control, be brought to exist in his mind; yet, by willing to divert the attention from the objects that produce them, they can ordinarily be banished. If this is done as soon as...it can be, there is no sin. If it is not done as soon as...it can be,...the intention is not what it ought to be." 32
Emotional discipline is an important subject. The point to be emphasized here is that true religion, true morality, is not a matter of how we feel but of what we are living for.
The next question is a big one:
"Does a Christian cease to be a Christian whenever he commits a sin?
"I answer: whenever he sins, he must for the time being cease to be holy.... He must incur the penalty of the law of God. If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian the penalty is forever set aside, I reply that to abrogate [set aside] the penalty is to repeal the precept, for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys.... Until he repents he cannot be forgiven." 33
In two important ways a Christain who sins is different from the person who has never been saved.
First, a Christian who sins is under a covenant of chastisement (see Heb. 12:5-11). God has invested a tremendous amount of grace in that Christian, and He is not going to let him go without doing everything wisely possible to bring him to repentance.
My father never did spank the neighbors' kids. He was more concerned about how I turned out than how they turned out. That's because he was my father.
Our heavenly Father is the same way. First Corinthians 11:32 tell us that we are chastened of the Lord, so that we will not be condemned with the world.
But suppose that I am arrested for a crime, and my father is the judge. Can he justly suspend the sentence because I am his son? No, He cannot.
Second, a Christian who sins feels his broken fellowship with God, unlike the sinner who has never experienced real fellowship with God.
When I was growing up as a boy, if our neighbor, Mr. Mathis, was displeased with me, it didn't bother me very much. But if my father was displeased with me, it was a different matter. Real fellowship was broken. I couldn't stand it. I had to make it right.
Christian, if you sin, you know it. Your joy is gone. You miss that peace; oh, how you miss it! And that sweet fellowship and tender communion with your Father. How you long for it! Things are wrong between the Father and you, and you can't stand it. You have to make it right!
But if you refuse to make it right, if you go right on and harden your heart, crushing the tender feelings once so carefully nurtured--you will be lost.
You will not be able to say on that day, "But, Father, I was born again. I am your child." Sorrowfully, the Father will withdraw, having turned the judgment seat over to the Son (John 5:22), and you will have to receive your sentence from the nail-scarred hand of the One whose blood you refused for your cleansing, the One whom you crucified afresh and put to open shame.
"Can a man be born again and then unborn?
"I answer: ... None will maintain that there is anything impossible in this except it be those who hold to physical regeneration. If regeneration consists in a change in...the ultimate intention, as we shall see it does, it is plain that an individual can be born again and afterwards cease to be virtuous." 34
Most people who have difficulty understanding this point do so because, like Nicodemus, they fail to realize that the new birth is a moral change, not a physical or metaphysical change. The new birth is a change of the supreme object of pursuit in life, resulting in a complete revolution in all of life. Such a change does not necessitate a change of any "thing" down inside us. It is not a change in the essence of body, soul, or spirit. It is a change of ultimate choice; and, by its very nature, ultimate choice can be changed more than once.
"Can there be no such thing as weak faith, weak love, and weak repentance?
"I answer: if you mean comparatively weak,...yes. But if you mean weak in such a sense as to be sinful, no.
"Unbelief...is the rejection of truth perceived. Faith is the reception of truth perceived. Faith and unbelief then are opposite states of choice and can by no possibility coexist.
"Faith to be real must be equal to the light we have." 35
Our commitment to the truth can be no stronger than our grasp of the truth.
Our faith cannot go beyond our light. Our faith is weak if we do not know the Word of God. Our love for Jesus is weak if we do not allow Him to become as real to us as He wants to be. Our burden for lost souls will not be as great as it should be unless we "look on the fields" (John 4:35). A person's repentance and faith will be weak if he does not see clearly the guilt of his sin and the power of Christ to save him.
But in all of these cases the faith, love and repentance are real. The weak Christian does not have much light, but he (or she) is living up to all the light possessed. There is no rejection of light, because that would be no faith, love, or repentance at all.
As light grows, so will the believer. As he feeds on the Word of God, his faith grows. As the Holy Spirit makes Jesus more real and precious, his love for his Savior grows. This is progress in holiness, but not progress into holiness.
"The theory of the mixed character of moral actions is an eminently dangerous theory, as it leads its advocates to suppose that...there is some holiness in them while they are in the known commission of sin.
"It leads its advocates to place the standard of conversion or regeneration exceedingly low.... There can scarcely be a more dangerous error than to say, that while we are conscious of present sin, we are or can be in a state of acceptance with God.
"The only sense in which obedience to moral law can be partial is that obedience may be intermittent. That is, the subject may sometimes obey and at other times disobey.... These may succeed each other an indefinite number of times, but coexist they plainly cannot." 36
Nobody has to sin. Victory over sin is the norm for the Christian. In fact, to be a Christian means to be in victory over sin: "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not..." (1 John 5:18). That is, he does not practice sin. "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).
This does not mean that the Christian is not capable of sinning. Christ is able to keep us from sinning if we allow Him to do so. But if we do sin, He is there as our merciful High Priest to forgive us if we repent and trust Him (see 1 John 2:1).
But, what about the Christian who does sin? Is he lost because of that one sin? Will one sin send him to hell?
For one thing, true Christians do not sin as much or as often as some people might think. The idea that we believers "sin every day" is just not true.
Honest mistakes, errors in judgment, temptations, moods--these are not sin.
We must be careful not to use the term "sin" lightly by applying it to things that are not violations of moral law. If we apply the term to things that are not really sin, we obscure the serious meaning of the word and trivialize sin.
Sin is a deliberate choice to disobey God. That is not the believer's choice.
Christians are walking in the light. Now, believer X might have more light than believer Y. But believer X has no right to say that believer Y is sinning just because he is not living up to his (X's) light.
Light can be imparted, but it cannot be imposed. The attempt to impose light leads to legalism. Light is imparted only when the believer is led to see it for himself or herself.
The effort to impose light is a violation of the believer's liberty in Christ. Christian liberty is the privilege to live honestly in Christ in all the light one has without the imposition of external legal restrictions. But Christian liberty is not the right to violate the light one has, or to refuse further light.
Now, it often happens that when the believer suddenly draws closer to God, the greatly increased awareness of God's holiness (light) reveals areas of his own life that need major improvement. Suddenly he realizes that certain previous behavior does not glorify God, and also that there are certain things he should be doing for His glory that he has not been doing. When that happens, he might say, "How ignorant I was!" or, "I didn't realize that!" But if he was living up to all the light he had at the time, he cannot truly say, "I was sinning."
So, Christians do not sin as much or as often as is sometimes supposed. Christians do not need to be kept under self-condemnation to be kept humble. Rather, Christians need to know that they are victorious in Christ, and that nothing less than present victory over sin constitutes real Christian experience.
It is amazing how victorious Christians become when they believe that they are victorious in Christ. There is no eternal security in defeat. Expecting defeat produces no assurance, but expecting victory in Christ does.
Still there are times when Christians do sin. Here is where 1 John 2:1 comes in: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
If the Christian's sin does not bring condemnation, he would not need the Advocate. He would not need forgiveness. The very fact that he needs forgiveness indicates that he is under condemnation if he sins.
If God can justly overlook one sin, why not two? ten? a hundred? No, God does not operate His moral government that way. If He did, the Bible's oft-repeated warnings to Christians would be meaningless.
Grace is not the careless overlooking of sin. It is the forgiveness of repented sin. Only if we confess our sins are we forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9).
But remember, the moral momentum of the believer is in the opposite direction of sin. He is not "prone to wander." To conquer the Christian, temptation has to overcome the strong moral and spiritual momentum of the believer's light, his love for God, his regard for God's honor and for eternal values, his faith in Christ's keeping power, the arsenal of Scripture hidden in his heart, the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, plus a host of other positive influences--all combined together!
Even if temptation can concentrate its appeal on one point strongly enough to overcome such a moral momentum and such spiritual resources, usually it is able to succeed only briefly. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, and feeling deeply his broken fellowship with God, the sinning believer flees quickly to his Savior and is immediately and fully restored.
Let us return to Mr. Finney and listen to what he has to say about "entire obedience."
"The government of God accepts nothing as virtue but obedience to the law of God.
"This...is generally denied. Indeed, probably nine-tenths of the nominal church deny it.... They maintain that there is much virtue in the world, and yet that there is no one who ever for a moment obeys the law of God; that all Christians are virtuous...and yet not one on earth obeys the moral law of God." 37
By "law" Finney is not referring to the law of Moses or to any body of external regulations. He means the moral law--the law of love. The law of faith has not abolished moral law. Some seem to suppose that because Christians are not under the Law of Moses, we are therefore not under moral law or moral obligation. But every moral agent is obligated to love God supremely and others as himself, and that obligation is moral law. It is the law of faith, the law of love.
Moral law in itself is not a set of legal enactments. No legislature can pass or repeal moral law, because moral law is made up of principles, not regulations. The principles were there before the regulations were, and the regulations were formed to give expression to moral law within the framework of society.
Moral law was present before the Ten Commandments were given as an expression of moral law within society.
Cain never heard of the Ten Commandments; but when he killed Abel, his brother, he knew he had violated moral law. So the moral law was in existence before the law of Moses, and it is still in existence today. The law of Moses was replaced by the law of faith so far as believers are concerned, for the very reason that the law of faith secures obedience to the moral law whereas the law of Moses did not.
Love replaces legislation because love succeeds where legislation failed.
The repeal of the legislation did not mean the repeal of moral law. Personal obedience to moral law, the law of love, is still required of all moral agents.
"A common idea seems to be that a kind of obedience is rendered to God by Christians which is true religion, and which, after all comes indefinitely short of full or entire obedience at any moment...that they are justified by grace, not in the sense that they are made really and personally righteous by grace, but that grace pardons and accepts...them...in the present commission of an indefinite amount of sin.
"What is this, but pardoning present and pertinacious rebellion! Receiving to favor a God-defrauding wretch!... Yes, this must be if it be true that Christians are justified without present full obedience.
"That surely must be a doctrine of devils that represents God as receiving to favor a rebel who has one hand filled with weapons against his throne.
"To ask for pardon while we do not repent and cease from sin is a gross insult to God.
"Does the Bible recognize the pardon of present sin...? Let the passage be found, if it can, where sin is represented as pardoned or pardonable unless repented of and fully forsaken. No such passage can be found.
"The very beginning of true religion in the soul implies the renunciation of all sin. Sin ceases where holiness begins. Now, how great and ruinous must that error be, that teaches us to hope for heaven while living in conscious sin,...that justification is conditioned upon a faith that does not purify the heart of the believer.
"Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation and must repent...or be lost." 38
So it is clear that moral action is a unit. It is impossible to obey and to disobey at the same time. Obedience and disobedience do not mix. Either we obey or we do not obey. There are no half-Christians.
Just as the tributaries of a river system all flow to one end, so the intelligent choices of the heart all flow to one end--the object of ultimate choice.
No wonder salvation is such a radical change. It is like reversing the flow of an entire river system, turning it completely over so as to flow in the opposite direction.
When the object of ultimate choice--what the person is ultimately living for--is reversed, the whole life is revolutionized. New life and new motives produce new interests, desires, experiences and relationships.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17).
When Christ comes in to take His rightful place on the throne of the heart, self comes down to its proper position. The love of God replaces selfishness. Light replaces darkness. Peace replaces turmoil. Holiness replaces sin.
No wonder the Bible calls it a new birth, regeneration, a new life. Have you experienced it? Have you made the choice?
If not, the Savior is waiting now to come into your heart. He said, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him..."(Rev. 3:20).