Keeping The Unconditional Unconditional

Today, I accidently stumbled across what may have been the most passionate and inspiring gospel presentation I’ve ever heard However, there was one brief but critical problem with it. Toward the end of this impromptu explanation of the good news associated with Messiah’s death, burial, and resurrection; the speaker used the term “commitment,” in the sense of aligning the entirety of one’s life with the New Testament moral and ethical commands required of a disciple; a level of commitment which biblically speaking should be viewed as a lifelong sanctification process rather than an initial justification requirement. He spoke of commitment in this absolute sense as being inseparably connected to faith that relies, trusts, has confidence in, and ultimately depends upon Jesus’ person and work for forgiveness of sin and reception of eternal life.

Clearly the gospel is significantly more than a ticket of escape from divine wrath. It also includes the offer of the Spirit which enables entry into a new freshly enabled life intended to produce conformity to God’s will (cf. John chapters 3, 4, 14-16). However, this new quality of life is not a condition of salvation it’s a consequence of salvation. Plus, it’s through Jesus that we receive peace (Rom. 5:1), and it’s through Him that we also receive reconciliation (Rom. 5:11). So part of the gift the gospel offers is actually Messiah Himself, which Romans expresses in the image of being buried and raised with Him; an image which is expressed through the presence of the Spirit in my life (Rom. 6-8).

However, when people front-load the gospel in the sense of making the sanctification issue of commitment, (usually expressed in all or nothing rhetoric), the validating determiner of genuine saving faith, I become concerned. Such an approach is seriously problematic because the “Lordship” nuances in the way this model presents the gospel inevitably compromises the inherent unconditional nature of God’s grace.

Also, often in this discussion, terms like “cheap grace,” and easy-believism,” are pejoratively used to account for the fact many professed believers don’t seem to live much differently than unbelievers. It’s argued that a gospel presentation that doesn’t adequately confront an unbeliever with the life-style changes required to live in a manner that is pleasing in God’s sight is in effect facilitating a false profession.

It seems to me though that the primary reason the walk often doesn’t match the talk in the professing believing community, is because generally speaking the universal church has done a poor job of discipleship. And concerning discipleship, the older I get, the more value I see in the 1st century rabbinic model that Jesus employed; namely having people hang out with you as you do life. In that setting invaluable spiritual truths can be more naturally imparted because the instruction is taking place within the context of relational influence. However, such an approach to disciple making also requires a degree of transparency that can make us feel uncomfortable because we’re allowing people view us up close and personal.

Bottom Line: The “end game,” so to speak, with regard to salvation is not the cross, it’s glorification; deliverance from sin’s presence resulting in days without end in the presence of the true and living God! Until then, both commitment and re-commitment is par for the sanctification course; a course which according to Paul involves both effort and dependence on our part (cf. Col. 1:29). And also, until this future glorification is realized, the complimentary ministries of both evangelism and discipleship are best served by maintaining a clear distinction between what’s involved in becoming a believer and what’s involved in living like a believer. In that way the unconditional will be kept unconditional.

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