Grace, mercy, and Christian perception of sin

One of the things that irks me about the modern necropolis (e.g. churchianity) is the reference to innocence and flawlessness — I’m looking at you MercyMe, although they are not the only Christian band to do this — in regard to being believers and children of God.

No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

The grace — unmerited favor — given to us is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Accepted grace given to us results in mercy — the just judgment of God against our sins does not count against us.

In other words, you’re guilty of sins. You deserve punishment for them. The verdict of  a Just and Righteous God against our sins is a guilty verdict. The wages of sin is death. However, by accepting the grace given to us by God, the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we obtain mercy where our sins are not eternally held against us.

This doesn’t make us innocent or flawless! We still sinned and by extension are guilty, and we still need to ask for forgiveness of our sin. What this means is that we are not condemned in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life [a]in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, [b]weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of [c]sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is [d]alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [e]through His Spirit who dwells in you.

The problem with doctrine and songs such as these is that they give us a false perception of grace and mercy.

If, by grace, we are innocent and flawless then there is no need to repent of our sins when we do them. There is no need for mercy because we are not guilty. However, we know that we are sinful and still make mistakes. We always need to be ready to apologize and repent of the sins that we commit, even though we are in Christ and desire to walk in obedience to His commands.

This is the true thrust of the Christian walk.

  • We still make mistakes, and we still need forgiveness. We need to be able to acknowledge when we sin and repent. Even though we are guilty and deserve punishment, we are not condemned to the punishment (e.g. wages of sin is death). And that is a reason for peace and joy in Christ.
  • We strive to set our minds on Christ so that we walk into completeness and perfection like God. We aim to continue to mature spiritually, so that we take off the old which is being corrupted by deceitful desires and put on the new in true righteousness and holiness. As we become more like Christ, we learn to more consistently Love one another like Jesus has loved us and resist/flee from temptation.

As you can see, it’s very easy for us to fall prey to ‘fast and loose’ theology, especially in modern Christian songs. By all accounts, MercyMe is one of the better bands out there in regard to adhering to sound doctrine, but even they make mistakes which can throw people off.

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30 Responses to Grace, mercy, and Christian perception of sin

  1. shredifier says:

    DEEP STRENGTH

    Is that how it is DS? We use the scriptures to rebuke and correct your false doctrines re- marriage is forever and you close the thread?
    This is your blog and you are free to run it how you want, but when you refuse correction you show your readers that you’re a coward who refuses to be corrected when others show you the scriptures that challenge your patently unbiblical doctrines

    And then you compound your error with this latest blog which teaches a subtle form of works righteousness and lordship salvation
    Seriously DS what is happening with you?

  2. @ shredifier

    I’m tired of hearing the same thing over and over that doesn’t address any of the points I make, except how fornication include adultery and putting away is divorce.

    As I said, if you want to make a case [on divorce], go for it on your own blog.

    And then you compound your error with this latest blog which teaches a subtle form of works righteousness and lordship salvation

    Not quite. There’s nowhere in this post where I said works made someone righteous.

  3. donalgraeme says:

    To throw in a bit of Catholic theology here…

    Purgatory (which is more of a process than a specific place, really) is the means by which you arrive before God as flawless. You aren’t flawless when you die. Even if you have confessed your sins, there is still some “stain” of the world upon you. Purgatory is the purging of that stain so that when you finally arrive before your Lord you are spotless/flawless.

  4. I heard that song. I promptly turned the radio off. “I can only Imagine” showed a significant lack of Spiritual Depth, but this song more or less cemented they’re out for their pocket books.

  5. @ LG

    Yeah, that was another blatant offender… feel good song.

    Isaiah 6 and Rev 4 tell us about it. Quake in fear at His holiness and realize how unholy we are.

  6. Robin Munn says:

    I believe the Scripture they’re referring to is 1 John 1:9. To put it in context, let’s look at 1 John 1:8-10:

    “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

    (Emphasis mine). The point is that we are not flawless in ourselves. But when we repent, God doesn’t just forgive our sin, he takes it away from us, having already put it onto Christ, who became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

    MercyMe just needed to mention repentance, and then their song wouldn’t have been too far off. I think they may have intended their line “The cross has made you flawless” to be talking about repentance, but that’s not how people are going to hear the line. Too many people aren’t hearing about confession and repentance in their churches, so MercyMe’s song will fail to accurately communicate the truth to those people.

  7. Robin Munn says:

    @donalgraeme –

    You’re probably better informed on Catholic theology than I am, so you’re probably a good person to ask. You said that according to the Catholic understanding, “[e]ven if you have confessed your sins, there is still some “stain” of the world upon you.” How does Catholic theology reconcile that idea with 1 John 1:9, which says that God cleanses us from all unrighteousness when we confess?

  8. donalgraeme says:

    Robin, my understanding, which I admit is still imperfect, is that does God does cleanse us of unrighteousness when we confess our sins. But it is not an instantaneous action, if you will. Rather, it is a process over time. The more we commit to living a righteous life, the faster this cleansing takes place. Those who truly turn to God speed this up greatly and (again, from my limited understanding) might have very little left after death (if any at all) to “clean.”

    Those in need of a lot of cleansing (the Corinthians, for example) will often lapse back into their sin. Cleansing that level of wrongdoing/unrighteousness is not easy, and takes time, and they hadn’t escaped the influences which would cause them to lapse. That is why St. Paul said to drive out the evil from their midst- it was interfering with their sanctification (cleansing).

    Not positive again, so will need to research it.

  9. donalgraeme says:

    A follow-up thought. It might well be that God doesn’t cleanse us immediately as an act of mercy. I imagine the process of suddenly being purged of all unrighteousness might be painful on the soul.

  10. @ donalgraeme

    A follow-up thought. It might well be that God doesn’t cleanse us immediately as an act of mercy. I imagine the process of suddenly being purged of all unrighteousness might be painful on the soul.

    Good point.

    Sanctification is a process. We have to active root out sins and corruption in our lives, and actively replace it with righteous thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

  11. @ Robin Munn

    Good find. I forgot about that one.

    In the end, it all boils down to repentance anyway. That’s the key.

  12. “I can only Imagine” isn’t Theologically incorrect, just kind of stupid on analysis. (Well, if we really wanted to be picky, “imagine” is the wrong word, it would be “conceive”. But that’s a hair I wouldn’t bother splitting.) The main thing is the completely lack of depth to the understanding of the presence of the Living God.

    The Bible makes pretty clear in that almost all cases, just the reflection of the presence of the Lord will have you burying your face in the ground as fast as humanely possible. But asking for that level of Spiritual Depth is pretty much impossible among most Christians.

  13. Robin Munn says:

    My biggest gripe against “I Can Only Imagine” is that it’s musically boring. The chorus spends pretty much all its time on the same note. The words are all right, if a bit shallow in depth of understanding (as Looking Glass correctly points out); the worst I can say is that they’re thin gruel. (As opposed to the rich meat of theology found in hymns like Before the Throne of God Above). But the tune! A good worship song should draw me into contemplation of the majesty of God, not threaten to put me to sleep.

  14. The current “Praise & Worship” music is written to be sung by the singer not the Church. That’s the structural problem with it. There is “music you listen to” and “music you sing as a chorus”. They’re different things.

    On the rare chance I have a reason to bring up the discussion, DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” is going to be the only *Album* from the 1980s through 2030s or so that will be remembered, among the Christian scene. It landed at a point where the musical quality (which is phenomenal) could match a cultural space enough that the reality of the Christian existence within a culture is honestly expressible. The sentiments that run throughout the album just aren’t acceptable to discuss, openly, among Christians anymore. As the nature of the conflict with the culture has changed.

    I bring that up because among the “sing in Church” music, I can’t think of anything post-1960 that’s going to stick around. So much of it is so very vapid, but that’s always true. The great age of hymn writing (1850-1930) really only produced a few that were worth much. Mostly because hymns need to be brutally honest, and that’s not a place most people can get to. (It’s very easy to not know that 1,000s of hymns were written back then. Lots and lots of them.) And the lack of quality is not to our collective credit.

  15. Jacob says:

    It doesn’t look like DS is saying this is a “subtle form of works righteousness”. It looks like he’s saying what it actually is – righteousness in Jesus Christ by God’s grace, and an assurance of His loving rod in our daily battle against sin. He’s saying this is a work in progress than becomes more consistent as we mature in the faith and conform more to Christ.

    1 John 1:8-10 is a great reminder about what Jesus has done for us. It begins with repentance, as Robin has reminded us above. Christians still sin and still need to repent but they are assured of cleansing through confession and prayer. This is why it’s important to see the Christian life as a work in progress. Christians are saved, certainly, but who among them is fully in Heaven? Who in Christendom has confessed all of their sins? Who is assured they will sin no more?

    The promise of Jesus is that when we sin, whenever we sin, He cleanses us and makes us right with God.This is the assurance Christians have, that now and ever we can come before Him wrong and filthy, and Jesus will make us right and clean again. In Him, the saving work is done. In Him, our work is to mature in faith and do the good works we have been created to do (Eph 2:8-10).

    Salvation does not make us flawless. It gives those who are saved the right to be called children of God (John 1:12), who are then perfected in Christ Jesus. MercyMe should have made that clearer. Popular Christian songsters have it tough – every misstep can easily be baptized into susceptible Christian hearts elevated to a spiritual norm. Christians should pray for them.

  16. Jacob says:

    Sorry, italics should have ended after the word “whenever” in my comment above.

  17. Don Quixote says:

    Just curious about Romans 8:1 nearly all the modern translations don’t have the last bit:
    There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
    KJV
    Why was that phrase dropped from the modern translations? NASB, NIV, ESV etc

  18. Robin Munn says:

    It’s because of manuscript variations. For example, the ESV has a footnore in Romans 8:1 saying “Some manuscripts add who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit)“. What that means is that the ESV translation team looked at the Greek manuscripts that we know of, some of which included that part of the verse and some of which didn’t, and said “There are two possibilities. Either this part was in the original and was dropped (whether by accident or on purpose) by some later scribe who was copying them, and other manuscripts that copied from him of course didn’t include what he dropped. Or else this part was NOT in the original, and was added later on (either by accident* or on purpose). We believe, based on the evidence we can see, that the original did not contain this “extra” part of the verse. But in case we’re wrong, we’ll put the “extra” part in a footnote, so people can read both variations.”

    * How would something be added to a text by accident? Well, one possibility is that someone was writing notes in the margin (maybe preparing for a sermon). Many years later, someone else copied that manuscript, didn’t realize that those marginal notes were not part of the original (maybe the handwriting looked very similar), and included those marginal notes as part of the canonical text.

    For a great deal of background information on the various manuscripts and why the KJV picked one reading while modern translations picked another, http://www.bible-researcher.com/kutilek1.html is a pretty good starting point. Following his footnotes will give you a pretty solid grounding in understanding the issues around textual criticism. (“Textual criticism” is a term of art which means “Trying to figure out what the original text was, given the manuscripts that we have available”. It has nothing to do with “higher criticism”, which is an attempt to discredit the Bible based on pseudo-scholarly postmodernism.)

  19. Wanderer in the wilderness says:

    Hello Deep Strength, I’ve been reading your blog for almost two months now, and this is actually in reply to your position regarding marriage. I can fully see how your logic works, and I intend on praying further for God to show me if your interpretation is correct. I think it is possible. But if you are incorrect on this topic, it does not make you a heretic – maybe heterodox. There are far more significant doctrines which you would have to have wrong to qualify as a heretic. So everyone else, don’t start throwing the word “heretic” around so frivolously.

    The way I can see it thus far:
    1) Jesus was replying to the pharisees regarding the Law. We are not under the old covenant but under the new. [Just placing this into proper context].
    2) there are verses which clearly state that a woman is joined to her husband until he physically dies (or she dies first).
    3) Outside of that mainstream interpretation of Matthew 5 (and Synoptic), There are no New Testament verses which SPECIFICALLY speak of any other cause for separation other than death, or an unbeliever leaving the marriage.
    4) And, there even seems evidence that sex = marriage. (1 Cor. 6:16). If this is correct, then EVERYONE you have sex with becomes spiritually joined to you. This would be incredibly dire if this is permanent. I firmly believe the power to separate this bond is in God’s hands alone.
    5) There are no New Testament verses which specifically state that God will un-join those who are “one flesh”. In order to teach that God will sever this spiritual link when two persons decide to divorce, you have to perform eisegesis. God COULD, but there is no proof that He does or will do.
    6) If every bond is permanent, then millions/billions of people are polygamists.
    7) This would invalidate the belief that non-virgins do not become joined to the husband they defraud. If sex = marriage then a woman would be married to every man she has ever slept with, not just the first man.

  20. Wanderer in the wilderness says:

    Sorry if you’re sick and tired of hearing about this. Not trying to be a nuisance.

  21. @ Wanderer

    If you want to post on it, post on it here.

    https://deepstrength.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/on-divorce-part-4/

    That’s where the whole case is made.

  22. Don Quixote says:

    Robin Munn says:
    October 17, 2016 at 4:38 am

    It’s because of manuscript variations. For example, the ESV has a footnore in Romans 8:1 saying “Some manuscripts add who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit)“. What that means is that the ESV translation team looked at the Greek manuscripts that we know of, some of which included that part of the verse and some of which didn’t, and said “There are two possibilities. Either this part was in the original and was dropped (whether by accident or on purpose) by some later scribe who was copying them, and other manuscripts that copied from him of course didn’t include what he dropped. Or else this part was NOT in the original, and was added later on (either by accident* or on purpose). We believe, based on the evidence we can see, that the original did not contain this “extra” part of the verse. But in case we’re wrong, we’ll put the “extra” part in a footnote, so people can read both variations.”

    * How would something be added to a text by accident? Well, one possibility is that someone was writing notes in the margin (maybe preparing for a sermon). Many years later, someone else copied that manuscript, didn’t realize that those marginal notes were not part of the original (maybe the handwriting looked very similar), and included those marginal notes as part of the canonical text.

    For a great deal of background information on the various manuscripts and why the KJV picked one reading while modern translations picked another, http://www.bible-researcher.com/kutilek1.html is a pretty good starting point. Following his footnotes will give you a pretty solid grounding in understanding the issues around textual criticism. (“Textual criticism” is a term of art which means “Trying to figure out what the original text was, given the manuscripts that we have available”. It has nothing to do with “higher criticism”, which is an attempt to discredit the Bible based on pseudo-scholarly postmodernism.)

    Thanks Robin, I thought it would have something to do with variations of manuscripts. I will look at the link. Thanks again.

  23. Pilgrim of the East says:

    As you can see, it is very easy to make case against biblically supported lyrics (eg. Hebrews 10:14) by choosing other part of Bible to make your point.

    That said I was kind of disappointed by this post, because it shows you approach other Christians apriori in a bad faith (otherwise you couldn’t had ignored all parts about being cleaned by Christ’s sacrifice)

  24. @ Pilgrim of the East

    As you can see, it is very easy to make case against biblically supported lyrics (eg. Hebrews 10:14) by choosing other part of Bible to make your point.

    Hebrews 10 is about how we need no other sacrifice, because of the sole sacrifice that Christ did.

    Yes, we have been sanctified by Christ’s sacrifice: when we repent of our former way of wife and obey His commands.

    That said I was kind of disappointed by this post, because it shows you approach other Christians apriori in a bad faith (otherwise you couldn’t had ignored all parts about being cleaned by Christ’s sacrifice)

    I disagree. There’s a lot of “pseudo-theology” in much of the Christian culture nowadays that infects people to their own demise. It’s good to point that out and say where it is wrong.

    My main point is that “repentance” is a key part of the whole process. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, by itself, does not make someone flawless. The Church has a BIG problem with lack of repentance, especially as it has been infected by much cultural wisdom.

    I concede that perhaps this was a questionable example.

  25. shredifier says:

    Deep Strength

    “Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, by itself, does not make someone flawless”……could you clarify if that is what you believe or were you quoting from someone else?

  26. @ shredifier

    Per Jesus:

    Matthew 6:9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day [e]our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from [f]evil. [g][For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

    14 For if you forgive [h]others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive [i]others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

    Basically, repentance is integral to the Christian faith.

    The cross, by itself, does nothing. We have to acknowledge that we have sinned, accept that Jesus payed the penalty of our sins on the cross, and repent,… before we are forgiven of our sins.

    Those who do not accept the cross and repent are not forgiven. Those who don’t forgive others are not forgiven.

  27. shredifier says:

    Deep Strength

    Did you fail to see Hebrews 10:14 where it says that through the ONE sacrifice of Christ I have been perfected forever. …there is no need to add works to our salvation or to mistakenly think that we need to “repent” in order to get forgiveness for our sins

    Believing that repentance is an integral part of our Christian faith is a very common error that MANY teachers of the bible get into if they don’t rightly divide the word of God, let me explain:

    You do realize that Jesus was speaking to pork abstaining, sabbath observing, torah keeping JEWS when he was teaching on any topic, like Matthew 6 for e.g
    This is why it is so dangerous doctrinally to take our proof texts from the gospels
    Do I reject Jesus’s words then? Nope, not at all, I’m just careful that I don’t mix the gospel of God’s grace which was kept secret from the world and that includes the Jews, until it was revealed first to the apostle Paul, and the gospel of the kingdom which was preached during Jesus’s earthly ministry……under THAT dispensation you had to forgive others in order to get saved just like you said when you quoted Matthew 6, in THAT dispensation you weren’t made perfect, this of course is contrasted with the good news of the gospel that Paul preached which is we’re saved by grace without works or the deeds of the law
    In Jonah 3:10 we see that God calls repentance a WORK…..but Paul says we’re saved NOT by works, the only way you can harmonize those 2 conflicting verses is to understand that repentance is not needed for salvation this side of the cross
    This is why I asked you if you believe that we are flawless /perfect now or is it something we have to strive for

  28. @ shredifier

    You’re misunderstanding my post, but I can see why that is the case.

    Good works show that we have been changed. If there are Christians who don’t display good works, it’s questionable that they’re Christians. Works are not required salvation, but they are evidence of salvation as they show we are following Christ.

    Likewise, we repent of our sins AFTER we are saved because we acknowledge that on this earth we still mistakes and need God’s grace and mercy. It’s not required *for* salvation (if we are already sealed with the Holy Spirit), but it is evidence of our salvation much like good works. Paul himself frequently discusses his sinful past with a repentant heart even though he was already in Christ.

  29. Colossians 1:21-22 says, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”
    Ephesians 1:34 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.”
    I think this is what MercyMe is referring to in Flawless. While I would totally agree that repentance is essential to salvation (“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation,” 2 Corinthians 7:10), and I believe that it’s very, very sad that the church has drifted so far from preaching the cross and the blood and repentance, I think MercyMe is directing this song toward people who are already Christians. For example, at the end of the song, they sing, “The day you called His name, He made you flawless.” The actual message isn’t, I don’t think, forgiveness without repentance. (They’re not saying “the cross saves you whether you repent or not.”) They’re saying, “Christians, stop trying to earn your salvation! Don’t you see that FROM THE MOMENT YOU REPENTED, Jesus’s imputed righteousness made you holy and blameless in God’s sight?”
    As I see it, the point isn’t that there’s no need to repent (as it’s directed to those who’ve already repented and are still striving to be perfect on their own). I think the point they’re trying to make is that for the Christian, the cross is enough to make us perfect in God’s sight. (Incidentally, the next to song on the album that Flawless is on is called “Finish What He Started” and is about the sanctification process, based off the verse Philippians 1:6. So I’m guessing they’re not claiming that Christians are literally perfect on earth the moment they trust Jesus, either.)
    To close, I will quote Oswald Chambers: “We are meant to be perfect as He was perfect. Not by striving and effort, but by the impartation of that which is Perfect.” I think this sums up pretty well what MercyMe was intending with Flawless. That Christians should stop striving because Jesus’s work on the cross was enough to justify us before God (assuming we have repented and accepted His gift).

  30. @ Makenna

    Thanks for the explanation. That could certainly be the case.

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