Disobedient Christians.

1 John 2.1-6.

I’ve known various Christians who get really outraged by the phrase “cheap grace.” Grace, they insist, isn’t cheap!

Well of course it isn’t. But “cheap grace” doesn’t mean we think grace is cheap; it means others treat it as cheap. They take God’s forgiveness for granted. They figure Jesus took out a trillion sins by his death… so what’s one more?

Heck, what’s a thousand more? God’s given us a blank check of forgiveness! We can sin ourselves raw, and he forgives all! So why go to all the bother of cleaning ourselves up and sinning no more? Self-discipline is so hard. Easier to just do as comes naturally—and remain the same bitter, selfish wankers we’ve always been.

But we’re forgiven just the same! And still go to heaven!

Hence the popular bumper sticker:

Or window sticker, or button, or hat, or T-shirt; found at many a Christian bookstore.

Now yes, this message can be used to describe just how expansive and generous God’s grace actually is. You don’t have to be perfect to come to Jesus. He came to treat the sick, not the healthy; Mk 2.17 he saves sinners, not paragons. Taken that way, it’s not a bad message.

But that’s definitely not the way Christians mean it. What we typically mean is, “Yes I’m an a--hole, but it’s okay if I’m an a--hole, because Christians don’t have to be perfect. It’s not a requirement.”

Yes it is a requirement. Stop sinning, dammit!

True, we don’t enter God’s kingdom by first becoming sinless and perfect. We get in through God’s grace. But the kingdom isn’t for sinners! It’s for people whom God makes sinless and perfect. He’s trying to transform us. And either we’re on board with his program… or we have no business calling ourselves Christian. Because we’re not.

Obviously I’m basing this rant on 1 John, so here’s the relevant bible quote:

1 John 2.1-6 KWL
1 My children, I write these things to you so you don’t sin!
And when anyone sins, we have a aide with the Father, Christ Jesus. He does right by us too.
2 Jesus is the solution for our sins.
And not only for our sins, but also for the whole world.
3 We know that we know Jesus this way: We keep his commands.
4 Saying we know Jesus and not keeping his commands:
It’s a lie, and there’s no truth found this way.
5 God’s love is truly completed by whoever might keep Jesus’s word.
We know we’re in God this way.
6 One who says they abide in Jesus is obligated to do this:
Just as Jesus walked, they themselves are to walk like this.

If a person’s not even trying to keep Jesus’s commands, they’re not Christian. They’re not “in God,” not in the light, have no relationship with him. Might think they have a relationship with him, ’cause they go to church and quote bible and said the sinner’s prayer once. But when they treat God’s safety net of forgiveness like a bounce house, they clearly don’t give a wet fart about Jesus. They’re not following him, trappings aside. Not Christian.

So if you’re not keeping Jesus’s commands, repent and start keeping ’em.

Stop exploiting God.

When Christians quote verse 1, they tend to skip the first line and jump straight to the second: When anyone sins, we have Jesus!

1 John 2.1 KWL
My children, I write these things to you so you don’t sin!
And when anyone sins, we have a aide with the Father, Christ Jesus. He does right by us too.

Which is understandable; it’s really good news. But back to the first line: John’s writing these things to his children (i.e. his students) so they don’t sin. Too many Christians in his church were likewise hopping on the cheap-grace bandwagon. They used a thousand loopholes, cop-outs, and misinterpretations to justify living in the dark.

Too many Christians talk about only having a contractual relationship with God. We have a covenant with him, they point out: We said the sinner’s prayer, and in exchange for believing Jesus saves us from sin and death, God has to take us into his kingdom. Has to. ’Cause he said he would. And since God never breaks his own word, we got him by his heavenly short hairs.

Yeah, they’re defining covenant wrong. They like to claim it means “an unbreakable contract”—if we violate its terms, it doesn’t void the covenant; God still holds up his end of it. But most contracts work like that: If you violate the terms of your credit cards, you still owe the bank money! If you defraud your business partners, you’re still partners… until you formally decide you’re not. A covenant is simply a formal relationship: You’re not just casual friends, but have bound yourselves together with various promises… and now you’re family. Like Jonathan and David. 1Sa 18.1-4 Like adoption.

Not that adopted kids don’t sometimes take their parents as much for granted as biological kids. And lots of us treat God like that. Like an indulgent father who lets us borrow the car… and for fun we speed, sideswipe bicyclists, pick up sketchy hitchhikers, and slam into things. And every time he bails us out of lockup, bribes the judge to look the other way, replaces the car, pats us on the head, and says, “Please drive the speed limit. Please stop plowing into convenience stores. Please. I love you.” Gee thanks, Dad; love you too. But tomorrow all his requests are totally forgotten, ’cause our buddies wanna go drag racing.

That’s not love. That’s exploitation.

Relationships involve give and take. But all our contractual understanding does is take. We do nothing but violate God, and he has to suck it up because he loves us so desperately. This turns him into a codependent, and us into his abusers. But we don’t realize we’re his abusers, ’cause we figure he’s almighty, so he can take it.

If we love God, truly love him, we can’t do him like that! We can’t justify our sick behavior by claiming he’s obligated himself to accept the short end of the deal, ’cause that’s just how grace works. It’s absolutely not how grace works.

Grace is a free gift. Gift, not obligation. God’s not forced to grant it. We haven’t forced him; he hasn’t forced himself; his love doesn’t irresistibly compel him. (If it did, he’d save everybody, like he wants to. 1Ti 2.4) He grants common grace, prevenient grace, to everybody: Everyone can come to him, ’cause he won’t turn us away, Jn 6.37 and he grants saving grace to those who do. Jn 1.12 But have those who exploit God’s grace truly come to him? Aren’t we demonstrating by our disobedience that we don’t really have any relationship with him?

See, those who are trying to not sin, trying to follow God, are clearly his. Jesus is here to help, and his forgiveness helps us out whenever we inevitably slip up. But those who aren’t trying: Jesus’s help isn’t yet for them. God’s forgiveness isn’t yet for them. They’re still in the dark. No Holy Spirit within, lighting ’em up. No real relationship with God. They’re not Christian. The behavior on the outside reflects the person inside. Mk 7.23

John knew Jesus personally, and knew what a legit relationship with Jesus entails: The Holy Spirit constantly takes us through a process of redefining and refining our lives to conform to Jesus’s will and teachings. The Spirit reminds us to follow Jesus. He regularly shows us practical ways to apply Jesus’s teachings. He corrects us when we go wrong. He points out relevant bible verses. He encourages us to do better, go farther, love more, grow a backbone, trust him more—and hey, don’t sweat the small stuff, ’cause grace.

Those who don’t really follow Jesus might know some of this stuff. Secondhand, though: They didn’t learn it by experience, but through sermons. Their “relationship” with Jesus is only memory verses, doctrines, enough Christianese for them to sound spiritual, and hypocrisy. They’ve never accepted a single challenge from the Holy Spirit. Why, he’d never challenge us to do such things; he’s a gentleman.

Saying we know Jesus but disobeying him: “It’s a lie, and there’s no truth found this way,” as John bluntly put it. How can Christianity be adequately expressed when we don’t follow Jesus? Well it can’t, and isn’t. Fake Christians provide pest-ridden fruit, and nothing in comparison with what God actually wants to achieve. Instead they offer sucky substitutes: Easy, casual practices. Warm fuzzy feelings of self-worth. “Prosperity,” comfort, and material riches, ’cause Jesus takes away all our problems. They don’t pick up any cross to follow him, Mt 16.24 they needn’t do self-control, Ga 5.23 and it’s all ease, wealth, happiness, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and unicorns.

And none of it real. It’s entirely phony. Most pagans can see right through this fraud, and think all Christians are self-deluded con artists like these phonies, and think God’s a fraud too. Phony Christianity turns good news into bad, religion into farce, and spreads darkness instead of light. Watch out for it!

Wanna know you’re saved? Follow Jesus.

Assurance is a big deal, and a real concern, for a lot of people: They wanna know they’re saved. Not just believe it really hard, as if wishing hard enough will make it real. (Although way too many people do actually believe they can do that. But let’s not go there today; it’ll turn into a crazy-long rant.) They want to believe… but they have doubts.

Which is understandable. Look at all the people who are neck-deep in other religions, and are entirely sure their religions are gonna save them. If Jesus is right… man are they boned. And if Jesus isn’t right, man are we boned.

So we’d kinda like some proof. Some evidence. Something other than happy thoughts. (Although, like I said, a lot of people are entirely sure happy thoughts work.)

Well, John pointed the way to it: When you obey Jesus, you know you’re saved.

1 John 2.3 KWL
We know that we know Jesus this way: We keep his commands.

No, not because obedience saves, ’cause it doesn’t. Grace saves. But obeying Jesus causes us to interact with Jesus. If we’re gonna obey successfully, we need the Spirit’s fruit and the Spirit’s power. We can’t do as Jesus does without the same Holy Spirit who guided and empowered Jesus on earth. And once you’ve had those God-experiences for yourself, you’re not gonna wonder any longer whether you’re saved. You’ll know you are.

Those who don’t follow Jesus, or who try to achieve the bare minimum but never ask the Holy Spirit for help—or worse, don’t even believe the Spirit does such things anymore—aren’t gonna have such God-experiences. They’re not gonna know they’re saved. They’re always gonna wonder. Or they’re gonna invent other proofs. Sometimes ridiculous ones, like when they psyche themselves into feeling something because they believe so hard. Or when they memorize the date they said the sinner’s prayer, as if God needs a proper time-stamp before he can let you into his kingdom.

And once they have those other false assurances, they’re gonna presume once saved always saved, and live lives of cheap grace. A disturbing number of ’em even insist we shouldn’t follow Jesus. “That’s legalism.” Or “We’re under grace now.” Or “You’re following the wrong dispensation.” Or “He doesn’t literally mean for us to obey these commands; they’re just ideals he means for us to uplift.” You know, cop-outs.

No no no. If you wanna know you’re saved, your proof is gonna come by following Jesus. By deep enough faith to really do as he said, and see what he’ll do in response. ’Cause he will act in response. Watch.