I understand--more than one might realize.
For it is only after really starting to get what the Gospel is all about that I can now look back and see where I was and how I preached a modern day type of Pharisaism.
Did I believe Jesus died for our sins? Absolutely.
Did I believe we were saved by grace through faith in Christ alone? Yep.
Did I believe that Jesus' death and resurrection were totally and completely sufficient for my salvation? Nope. I didn't. I believed there was still something I had to do. I had to maintain my salvation by living a life worthy of my justification. And I thought it my duty to inform others that they had to live such lives as well.
You see, I believed in the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, but I didn't believe that I was clothed in His righteousness. I didn't realize that not only did Jesus die the death I deserved, but He lived the life I was supposed to live. And since He fulfilled the Law, I am no longer under its discipline.
1) How in the world could I say such a thing? 2) Aren't we supposed to do good things? 3) Aren't we supposed to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God? 4) Aren't we supposed to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? 5) Aren't we supposed to strive for moral righteousness? 6) Won't we end up receiving God's wrath if we don't seek such things?
First (1), I didn't say such a thing. I'm parroting St. Paul. Galatians 3,
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Second, (2) yes, (3) yes, (4) yes, (5) yes, and (6) no.
But, you might point out to me, St. Paul says that we will endure God's wrath and will not inherit the Kingdom of God. He is straight forward in 1 Corinthians 6:
9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.First off, please note the sequence to which Paul addresses: These folks will not inherit the kingdom of God. Period. Short list. Followed by, "And this is what you used to be." Used to be. But because of God's grace. Because of Jesus life and death, you ARE NOW WASHED, SANCTIFIED, and JUSTIFIED. You are now no longer these things because you are looked at differently.
"But," you might say, "What if I still am greedy? (Anyone out there NOT want more money? If you want more money to live on, you are exhibiting greed, even if it is slight.) What if I still am an idolater? (If you love anything more than God at any point, you are an idolater. Most of us fit here easily.) What if I lust after another? (Most people still do this thereby breaking the Sixth Commandment and the direct teaching of Jesus.) Will I still inherit the kingdom of God, or am I on the outs? Do I still have my salvation, or have I lost it?"
Let's read verse 12 because it is vastly important. "12 ‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything."
The key word here, I think is dominated, or in the Greek: exousias. The word connotes power and authority. St. Paul says, basically, I will not come under the power of or be subject to the rule of anything--anything, that is, except Christ.
Paul is addressing the desire of one's heart, and all the things he lists in verses 9 and 10 have to do with the condition of one's heart. "You used to be these things," because these were the deepest desires of your heart. You wanted more money, more sex, more pleasure; these were your idols. These were your gods. But now, Christ reigns in your heart. These things might rear their ugly heads from time to time, but Christ now is your ruler--you are subject to and dominated by Him.
Paul echoes Jesus here. For Jesus explicitly talked about the nature of one's heart in regards to sin and salvation:
Matthew 5: 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
Now, we know an eye does not cause a person to sin. Neither does a hand. What causes the eye to look and the hand to grab? The condition of one's heart. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. But it is not the hand. It is not the eye. It is the heart. And lest you think I am simply explaining Jesus' words away, please note, He says so Himself a little later in the book of Matthew.
Matthew 15:18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’The deepest desire of your heart is that which dominates you. It is that which rules you. It is that which keeps you hungering after more and more and more. And, unless that deepest desire is Jesus, it will never, ever be satisfied. Never. For all eternity.
For this is the kicker to the whole deal. God loves you so much, He will allow you to pursue your deepest, heart's desire for eternity. If your desire is to be separated from Him, He will grant it. If your desire is to pursue sex for eternity, He will grant it. If your deepest desire is for money, He will grant it. Here's a frightening one: if your desire is to perfectly follow God's Laws so that you will not lose your salvation; God will grant this too. If you build your identity upon these things, God will see to it that these things are yours forever. And you will never, ever be satisfied. You will always be hungry. You will always need more and more and more. Forever.
This, my readers, is hell. Absolute hell. Read Dante's Inferno to get a little more insight if you choose.
And speaking of choice, this is how you can ultimately lose your salvation. Not by committing sins. Everyone sins. Day after day after day. No one perfectly follows the commands of Jesus or the Old Testament Laws. No one fulfills them. This why we are saved by grace. This is why our salvation is maintained by grace. Not by our own doing, but by Jesus' doing. And this is why we pursue Him; not the Law. For when He is our deepest heart's desire, our salvation is absolutely assured.