If your upbringing was anything like mine—going to church with your family and attending a private Christian school—this week’s title probably sounds borderline blasphemous. Well, stay with me for a moment, because realizing how misguided I had been about this topic was one of the best things to ever happen to me.
Last week, we talked about a passage from ancient manuscripts that talks about God foreknowing and predestining those of us who are willing to heed His call. But we also mentioned something else that I want to really focus on today. This was that those of us who are predestined are also justified—meaning that we are declared right and righteous, even in the midst of sin!
In the whole of my childhood and through all my time in school, I never heard anyone really explain this. In fact, when it did come up, they seemed to intentionally brush past it or tell me that it didn’t mean what it sounded like. The revelation that changed my life was that it does mean what it sounds like, and those of us who are committed to Jesus, to love, are not only forgiven but declared innocent and righteous from the beginning of time.
So given that, let me ask you another provocative question: can someone who is right with God do anything they want? Is it even possible for them to do wrong?
On the surface it seems like a dumb question, doesn’t it? How could you ever claim that a person can literally do no wrong? And yet I believe that the answer is yes. I believe that as long as you are truly right with God, your intention will be aligned to His. Of course, you are still human and still capable of mistakes, but not only are these mistakes covered by grace, God promises to make them work out for the best, as if you had done the right thing!
But what about intentional sin? I would say that if you make the decision to intentionally do something you know is wrong, you’re already out of alignment with God, prior to actually making that decision. In that way, you could think of temptation as having two steps. First, it has to get you to disengage from God, and then it can begin to lure you into itself.
But even then, we are not held responsible for our sin. I need to draw a distinction here between responsibility and accountability. We are held accountable for our actions by the laws of this world. If you murder someone, to use an extreme example, the fact that you may be living in grace does not and should not prevent you from going to jail. Actions still have consequences, but this is chiefly a matter of the physical world.
Think of the word “responsible” being split into “able to respond.” God acknowledges that humans cannot live up to his standards: “All have sinned and fallen short,” say the ancient manuscripts. Especially given last week’s discussion on predestination and the enormous power over our actions wielded by the unconscious mind, I think it’s fair to say that we’re not always fully in control of ourselves. We are not always “able to respond.” I don’t say this to excuse myself, or anyone, from their behavior, but to urge you not to judge. Only God knows a person’s heart, and their actions may not match it.
One last thought for this week. Some of the greatest temptation in my life have come through boredom, and I think this is because you can’t have temptation—or faith—without time. Anyone can do the right thing for a moment. Or to put it another way, if Jesus himself, who died on the cross for your sins, was in the room with you right now, would temptation even occur to you?
The thing to remember is that we are only required to live one moment at a time. I think most of the trouble we get into starts with focusing too much on either the future or the past. We start to think about all the hard things ahead of us until we want just a little something to get us through the next thirty minutes. But when the next thirty minutes are your goal, it gets easier.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!