09 November 2010

Reflections on the Gospel, repentance, and two wrecked souls

by Dan Phillips


I just read a brief story on John Gardner III, who brutally murdered two teenage girls, and attacked a jogger. He is convicted and, on a plea bargain, will spend life in prison.

But note what Gardner says: he is an animal, he is the sort who should remain in prison for life, if released he would kill again, and he hopes he is himself killed during his term. That or he may kill himself.

Hunh. That's different.

It's different in that you don't usually seem to see killers so bluntly condemning themselves and their actions, and you certainly don't see them hoping to be put to death. I think of brutal murderess Karla Faye Tucker, who after conviction and sentencing to death made a credible profession of faith in Christ — and then began seeking to elude justice (seconded by Pat Robertson).

None of that for Gardner, and that's different.

Well, is it "different"? Not in the sense we've never heard anything like it.
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,  saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Horrible reading, and it's always puzzled me. The human psyche is a far scarier place than the "World's Scariest Places" lists we see each Halloween, and none scarier than Judas'.

In this narrative, Judas actually is more exercised about his sin than many professed Christians I've seen, over the decades. Think about it: Judas doesn't even need to be confronted. Judas sees his guilt, himself; he admits it, unprompted; he admits it specifically and publicly — and he even returns the fruits of his sin, rather than clinging to them and cherishing them...yet he is a hopelessly lost soul (John 17:12).

Christians, in dealing with themselves, often fall short even of this in dealing with their sin, savage anyone trying to point them to Christ and His Word, yet call it "repentance" and call it good enough.

So... how does Judas do all that, and it falls short of genuine saving repentance? I want to know... and I don't want to know.

But Gardner's words — and I haven't done an exhaustive study on him and his case — sure seem reminiscent. He confessed his crime, he admits his guilt, he is paying the price the court-system decreed... and he even wants to die for it, at someone's hands.

Yet in the words I've seen quoted, Gardner doesn't once locate his guilt specifically before God, and he doesn't deal with God on God's terms for it. It could even be an act — the words, the tears, everything.

But it is important to know that there is in Christ redemption and forgiveness and salvation even for such a one as John Gardner III. If Gardner comes to Christ, the Lord will not cast him out (John 6:37); if Gardner calls on the name of the Lord, he will be saved (Romans 10:13); if Gardner believes in Jesus, he will be counted righteous in God's eyes (Romans 3:21-28).

But at this point, Gardner's doing none of that.

Pray for John Gardner. Though he may cast light on Judas now, we have no dominical word telling us that he is without hope. Perhaps, unlike Judas, he will come to know God's forgiving grace.

And let us remember that we need that same grace not one atom less than John Gardner III.

Postscript: how one reacts to the above is revealing. In court, family members express hope or certainty that Gardner will burn in Hell forever. I know that many professed Christians would shrink back from my call to pray for this man, to hope for his redemption. Were he to profess Christ, many would be reluctant to believe his profession, almost hoping it to be false.

Further, many skeptics would mock at the whole thing. "So if this rapist/murderer just believes in Jesus, he'll go to Heaven and walk the golden streets, but if I live a moral life and don't agree with your religion, I'll burn in Hell?" The premise is that (selected) crimes against mankind are far, far worse than crimes against God.

So you see, this is yet another precise place where our inborn skewed priorities show themselves. We all choose our points of comparison very carefully and very wrongly, and end up not seeing just how desperately, how badly, we ourselves need the Gospel of pure grace through Christ alone, received by faith alone.

Is your Gospel that big? Does it reach that low?

You and I had better hope so.

Food for Christ-centered, Cross-centered reflection and self-examination.

Dan Phillips's signature

109 comments:

Chris Tolbert said...

Spot on DJP!

"And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away." - William Cowper

donsands said...

That's digging deep. I wish they would discuss truths like this on Christian radio, but so much in the main stream is shallow.

Thanks for the deep thoughts.

daniel vance said...

When I was in seminary our theology professor used to give us "case studies" in practical theology. He said they were always based on true stories. One example was that of an English man who murdered his girlfriend and mother. During his prison sentence he found the Lord. He became active in the prison ministry there. He was released early for good behavior or whatever the British equivalent is. His elders counseled him (against his desires) to pursue a pastoral calling. He was the valedictorian of his class. At which point he became an associate rector in his denomination. His service there was exemplary. When the time came for him to have his own flock, there was considerable concern voiced because of his past. At that point the professor asked us how we would handle the situation.

To my sorrowful amazement, in a class of 50 people or so, less than five said that the man ought to be ordained. Most offered arguments that it that ordaining such a man would be too impolitic and that women could never feel safe around him.

Mind you, this was at Columbia Biblical Seminary--an evangelical school--in a class where nearly all of the constituents were either already pastors or were training to become so.

All that is to say that I really enjoyed your post.

Stefan said...

There are some days I come here and...kabam...190-proof Gospel, like a roundhouse kick to the forehead.

olan strickland said...

Amen Dan! Worldly repentance is neither repentance toward God nor in harmony with the will of God (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Leaving out Gardner's crime against God for a moment, consider how it might be possible for an earthly court to justify him while that court remains just in the process. How could it be done?

Ma ~ said...

I always feel led to pray for these people..how glorified God would be in the salvation of the worst and most hardened of sinners.

Sheldon said...

"Is your Gospel that big? Does it reach that low?

You and I had better hope so."

If it isn't then it isn't any gospel at all and there is no hope for any of us.

DJP said...

Bingo.

Keith said...

"The premise is that (selected) crimes against mankind are far, far worse than crimes against God."

This is a great insight. Dead on, absolutely correct.

After sinning against everyone in sight, David said: "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment." Psalm 51:4 That is why he was forgiven, and Judas was not.

DJP said...

Right, Keith. That verse is almost a perfect karate-blow against the whole post-Genesis-3:5 human endeavor. Unbelievers rage against such moral irresponsibility and fecklessness on David's part, because their moral hierarchy is upside-down at best.

Daryl said...

You know, since coming to understand (in some measure) the doctrines of grace several years ago, 2 things have help me fast.

The first really is the knowledge that I, and John Gardner III are not different.

The second is that may salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.

I hate it really, but the thing that is the most painful to me is the knowledge of my depravity. I know what I am capable of, at least I think so, and it scares me. That fear drives me straight (on an angry road) to Christ.

I am so thankful that His grace reaches down as low as I am.

Allen said...

Absolutely outstanding post Dan. I shall include in my teachings on the Gospel.

Lynda O said...

I saw the two-hour Dateline show about this case recently. He pleaded guilty to both murders to avoid a trial and certain death penalty, a plea bargain agreement that he would accept a life term without parole and no right to appeal. It certainly seemed that he had at least some remorse, along with the naturally understandable desire to save his life -- life sentence instead of death penalty. I wasn't aware of his later remarks about hoping to be killed in prison.

At least one of the parents of the victims, the mother of the 15-year-old he killed, seemed to come to terms with it, and even met the man who murdered her daughter. She wanted to know the details of how the daughter had died, and remained calm through his telling of it. When afterwards he asked the mother if she hated him, she said no.

I certainly pray for the families of the victims, and the man himself, that God would give grace for forgiveness and true saving repentance.

DJP said...

He says over and over again that he's in misery, that he's tormented with the memories. The prosecutor doesn't buy a word of it, says it's all a sympathy-play. She says the real Gardner showed in his flash of visible rage when the jogger he attempted to rape asked him "How's the nose?"

Me, I'm glad not to have to know what's real and what isn't. God knows Gardner and us better than we know ourselves.

Chris said...

Murders are some of the most despicable people in my eyes and I often struggle with the thought of their forgiveness. I can't help, but to feel that there is "injustice" in their divine pardoning yet I am aware that when I feel this way I'm closer to understanding the scandalous nature of the Gospel. I pray the Lord mold me more and more to his grace and spirit because my personal anger reveals just how far I am.

DJP said...

PS to my last comment - her father was a champion kick-boxer, and she smashed Gardner in the nose as he attacked her. It's how she escaped.

olan strickland said...

It's interesting to me that no court on earth can justify capital offenders without commiting two injustices (Proverbs 17:15). This is why many rail against the Gospel and it is foolishness to them. However, they have forgotten the reason God can do it without commiting any injustice is because He has the power to raise from the dead the One who paid the penalty of the Law (as a substitute) but never once broke the Law. No court on earth can do that!

So yes, the Gospel is that big and does reach that low. Were God to save Gardner, God would still be just because His pardon of Gardner would be only on the Law-upholding basis of faith in the Penal-Substutionary work of Christ.

So when God sends a sinner to hell it is just and when God brings a sinner to heaven it is in a just manner.

DJP said...

Chris, very astute and exactly right.

Imagine the angelic host similarly recoiling in horror as God pardons and justifies us — except perhaps that they wouldn't, knowing the excellency of Christ and witnessing the triumph of His redemptive work.

Lynda O said...

PS to my last comment - her father was a champion kick-boxer, and she smashed Gardner in the nose as he attacked her. It's how she escaped.

Yes, fortunately for her sake, in God's providence, she knew some self-defense measures -- so after he first attacked her, she threw him off and then ran as fast as she could to get away. He certainly intended to kill her as he did the other two girls.

It's interesting with these mass murderers, there are a few potential victims that survive -- even Ted Bundy had one girl escape out of his car. We can't see the reasons why, only that it was God's time for the one to be killed and another to be spared.

Rob Bailey said...

Nathan, "You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword..." God, "I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart..."

Chris said...

I trusted Jesus and was saved before I had kids and so apart from my personal salvation experience the gospel and its implications of "forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32) remained more on the theoretical level. Not long afterward a personal friend of mine was stabbed to death by a home invader. His young kids become fatherless. Add to that the very possibility that my own kids are in harms way by the fact that they live in this evil world and then that's when I began to feel and understand how outrageous the Gospel was.

olan strickland said...

Dan,

I believe that wordly repentance is nothing short of an attempt at self-atonement as though being sorry is enough. It's the false notion that one can do something to nullify his crimes.

Should Gardner reform himself (or should any of us for that matter), would that atone for his or our crimes? No!

"Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone."

Steve B said...

"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, You 'fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." Matt 5:22

In God's eyes, I and this murderer are the same. It is only the redeeming blood of JESUS' that can make a difference.

So, it is impossible to live a "moral" life as some would protest. "Well, at least I'm not as bad as THAT guy."

Yeah, you are. WE ALL ARE.

A sobering but important reminder. Thanks, Dan.

David said...

Praise God.

yankeerev said...

My initial reaction is to be reminded of a Murderer whom God converted on the road to Damascus...I think he was the recipient of God's grace...and I also think that Angels were rejoicing...but he still maintained his sinfulness while rejoicing at being clothed by the righteousness of Christ.

RealityCheck said...

Wow… Sunday night my wife and I watched a taped 48 Hours on this guy and last night I did a bit of internet searching on him, and here he is on this blog.

I don’t want to derail the topic here Dan, but I do want people to consider a “justice” system that let this guy out early on a sentence (that was already shorter than it could have been) for a previous crime against a 13 year old girl.

I also found his tears compelling until they showed the clip of his anger towards the girl who got away. I believe he has some real regret (he said himself he doesn’t like the word remorse) but is telling the truth when he says he would kill again.

All things considered, especially when I consider the terror that he put those girls through before he took their lives, if I’m honest with you all, I have a very hard time praying for this guy.

O Pregador said...

Great post, thank you! "Father, save this dear soul, please. Give him faith and repentance to trust your Son, Jesus. Send someone his way to present the gospel and to live it before him also. May You be glorified forever and ever. Amen."

Terry Rayburn said...

Daryl wrote,

"I, and John Gardner III are not different."

Steve B wrote,

"'Well, at least I'm not as bad as THAT guy.' Yeah, you are. WE ALL ARE."

This common thought by born again believers is unbiblical and simply bad Anthropology.

Saints are *not* like Gardner. They have been given a new heart (per the new covenant), made a new creation, old things have passed away and new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17).

They have a new spirit which is made one with the Lord's Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), and their new spirit loves Christ and hates sin.

Why is this important?

Because if a saint thinks they are no different than an unregenerate person, they can't help but think that when they sin it is perfectly *natural*.

But it's not. It is *un-natural*. It goes against the very nature of the born-again one who has died to sin and been made alive in Christ.

That's Paul's very argument when theoretically asked, "Should we sin so that grace will abound?"

No! he says. How can you who have died to sin continue in it? Walk by the Spirit (the Holy Spirit as well as your own new spirit) and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

Of course the believer is theoretically capable of virtually any sin when walking by the flesh (though you'd be hard-pressed to find a Christian serial killer).

But Paul is so radical on the subject that he goes so far as to say in Rom. 7 that when he sins, "It is no longer I [that is his essential being, heart, spirit] who sins, but sin which is in me [in my members]".

Should we be proud then, that we are not like Gardner?

Of course not. "What do you have, O man, that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7)

All the credit, honor, praise, glory and thanks should continually go to the One Who has done it for us, and in us.

That's humility.

Humility is not denying that the Lord has made us different than Gardner.

DJP said...

Yep, RC; with that flash of anger, "penitent and broken and glad she survived" aren't the words that come to mind.

If you Google it, many sites claim to have a clip where he explains that reaction — but they're all empty, like the clip's been pulled.

DJP said...

What odd bundles you have in your basket, Terry. Let someone echo Paul in advocating the remorseless mortification of sin, and you become incensed and call names. Let someone echo Paul that he is (present tense) the chief of sinners, and there you are again.

I don't get your system, I really don't.

Solameanie said...

Yep! And then some.

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

"I don't get your system, I really don't."

It's Pauline theology.

I don't get your complaint. In view of scriptural anthropology, do you think you are no different than Gardner?

Marie said...

I haven't heard of Gardner before this, but I've been thinking a lot about Judas, and the difference between him and Peter, over the last few months.

As Olan said, it comes down to the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. One drives us TO the Cross; the other makes us want to run AWAY from the Cross.

The Bible says Judas was remorseful; of course he regretted his actions. So did Peter. But just as there is a difference between regret, remorse and repentance (the first two have more to do with avoiding consequences of bad action; repentance is sincere sorrow over having grieved God), the reactions are different. When the tears dry, Peter is back with the other frightened disciples praying and hiding in the upper room. Judas despairs.

I think the key difference in someone who, like Gardner or Judas, and a repentant person is the element of despair. The shame is overwhelming, so in a way they seek an "escape" (even death) from the true horror of what they've done and who they are. That's the only way they can conceive of "atoning" for this guilt. They are still holding onto enough pride to keep them from throwing themselves on God's mercy. Always ironic how closely entwined pride and shame are.

The repentant one, like Peter, feels the shame shame but runs TO the only One Who can truly deal with it, and agrees with Him. What's always struck me as tragic about Judas is that is he had just run to Christ...even on the Cross, he could have been forgiven. It was despair that drove that final desperate act; repentance takes a humility that even the most shamed, debased murderer cannot grasp without the Holy Spirit.

I realize that's far longer of a ramble than it should be and you already all know this...just been pondering this very dilemna recently and this post brought it to the forefront.

Robert said...

Do you know what the difference between this guy and all of us is? God restrains us. Do any of us honestly think there isn't some part of us that just wants to satisfy all of our worldly desires and lusts? "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." (James 1:14-17)

Yes, we have responsibility, but our fallen nature is bent towards evil. Only God keeps us from fully acting upon our lusts for evil. This may be done through conscience or through reading the Bible and being convicted of sin or any means that He will use. I think most people like this guy have been turned over to their sin (as described in Romans 1:24-32). That doesn't mean we should not pray for them and preach the gospel to them. No sin is too great (as James says, if you broke one commandment, you've broken them all).

I think this is a wonderful continuation of sorts from the second greatest commandment post that Phil put up here yesterday. Now if only I can do this better!

RealityCheck said...

Yes Terry… I find your comments confusing as well. I admitted that I have a very hard time praying for this guy… but I know that it is because of a failing on my part. IOW, I “know” that from Gods perspective (and that’s the only one that matters) I’m just a sinner like Gardner is. While I may think of him as a monster, when it comes to sin, (from the perspective of a sinless being) I’m a monster too. IOW, as much as I have trouble praying for him (and quite honestly want him to go to hell… I’m being honest here gang) I “know” he and I (when it comes to sin) are not different at all.

I pray for a day when I am so over-whelmed by Jesus that a “Gardner” doesn’t get under my skin. Regrettably… I have a ways to go.

mwoods said...

I understand the perspective. Google David Baylor 2008 and you will find a quadruple murder in a paterson, NJ after hours club. the last victim was my neice, Tara Woods. To forgive him of such a heinous crime and to pray for his salvation is what the richness of the gospel is all about. to withold such is to cheapen the blood of the covenant whereby we are saved.

DJP said...

Yes, Terry, that's right. In the way I said it, and every other commenter said it, we are no different than Gardner. Exactly like Gardner, we are in need of the grace of God, have no hope but the grace of God, and would be in the same neighborhood even this moment but for the grace of God.

And no, as I observed, in those particulars, what is motivating you is not fully Pauline theology.

donsands said...

"I'm glad not to have to know what's real and what isn't. God knows Gardner and us better than we know ourselves." Dan



God will judge the secrets of our hearts on that day. That's a scary thought. Rom. 2:15-16

May the Lord give me much grace, so that I can cry out to Him for more grace. So that my wicked heart will be more sanctified and moulded into the image of Christ, for the glory of our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Robert said...

Terry,

In the eternal lens that God has, He can see us as glorified and free from sin. For us in space and time, we realize that we are covered by the blood and our sins are forgiven, but we are still sinning (Just like Paul in Romans 7). The difference is Romans 8:1 - "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Yes, we have the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can mortify sin. Yes, we are free from sin and slaves of Christ. But, we still sin. We're still in our fallen state. Until we're glorified, that is our lot. Thanks be to God for showering us with his mercy and grace because we surely do not deserve or earn any hint of salvation or forgiveness.

donsands said...

"To forgive him of such a heinous crime and to pray for his salvation is what the richness of the gospel is all about." mwoods

To pray is good and scriptural. To forgive is another question. A deeper subject.

Stefan said...

It's when I forget for even 5 minutes that I'm still a sinner (even though simultaneously declared righteous by the blood of Christ), that I begin floundering, and drifting onto the shoals of backsliding and complacency.

Yes, it is the flesh and the "old man" within us that sins—but it's still us. We are simul justus et peccator. I don't think a court of law would buy, "Sorry, your Honour, but it was my sin nature that did it."

A dear mentor and brother in Christ—whom God has used in so many ways to minister to me personally—said to me a few months ago, "You're not a sinner, you're a saint," while still acknowledging that yes, saints still sin.

Although he meant it as a helpful corrective for a newish believer, it had the unintended effect of giving me an excuse to take my own sin less seriously (all my sins past, present, and future are forgiven in Christ, after all!).

But as soon as I stop seeing myself as a sinner who is still in need of repentance and forgiveness (even while also a saint), then I become numb to the Holy Spirit's conviction of sin, stop humbling myself before God, and stop repenting and confessing my sins.

Stefan said...

...And just to be clear, I also repudiate "justification by fruits." We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, period, end of story.

But that doesn't negate our need to continue to humble ourselves, repent and confess our sins, seek God's face, and turn from our wicked ways on a regular basis.

Stefan said...

...And for our reading pleasure, the most grace-centered, Gospel-centered of all the Reformers, Luther hismelf, on the subject of our necessary attitude towards sin:

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said "Poenitentiam agite" ["Repent," Matthew 4:17] willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

Daryl said...

Terry,

I hear what you're saying and I've heard it many times before, but it sounds more Catholic than Christian.

You come dangerously close to saying that God infuses His grace into us, thereby changing us so that we are somehow clean enough to be saved.

I read that God saves me on Christ's account. Even that "Well done thou good and faithful servant" is a response to Christ's work on my behalf, not on my work because of Christ's work.

Paul was clear that there were 2 natures within him, so sure, in that way we're different. But my sin nature is still there and very
much active.

I was thinking exactly what Dan was thinking. If what you said is true, then Paul was wrong to say "to save sinners of whom I am chief". The should've said "to save sinners of whom I was chief."

But he didn't.

What Paul says there and in Romans 7 rings so true to my life, it's scary. I know my sin, I know how quick I am to anger (even though pretty much everyone who knows me never ever sees it).
I am capable of murder, I've felt it.

But by the grace of God I am what I am. And that is a sinner saved and restrained by grace.

Terry Rayburn said...

Robert wrote, "Terry....we still sin".

Of course we do. That's not the issue.

The issue is the new covenant, the new creation, the new heart, the new identity of saints who have more than just forgiveness, but changed hearts and lives.

At worst one could say my original comment was an off-the-subject side road -- that's never happened on Pyro before :)

But I find it fascinating that no one has dealt with a single Scripture I provided, nor disagreed with a single point I made in regard to the believer's new nature and identity in Christ.

This is elementary new covenant Pauline teaching, which I contend is greatly neglected.

Yet I sense some here fearfully holding up a metaphorical crucifix toward my face to ward off...what?! 2 Cor. 5:17?

Okay, so clarifications may be in order.

Dan says everyone who says they're like Gardner simply means we all need grace.

Nothing I said would argue against that.

But for those who MIGHT mean more than that, and not understand the monumental miracle that has been done within them to make them radically different than Gardner, well...I wrote what I wrote.

DJP said...

Perhaps nobody responds to them, Terry, because they're irrelevant to what we're all talking about?

Stefan said...

Terry:

Of course no one disagrees with you on the texts. We are new creatures in Christ—hallelujah! Our sins past, present, and future are forgiven onece and for all, in the blood of Christ—hallelujah!

And yet we are still sinners (1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 7). We are simul justus et peccator. Yes, the locus of sin may be the "old man," the flesh; but it's still us. I can only speak from personal experience, but as soon as I stop seeing myself as a sinner, but rather a "saint who happens to sin," then I start drifting and floundering, and losing sight of the Cross. I cease to become "repentant" (as an ongoing state of mind), but become numb to the ongoing reality of sin in my life.

Mr. Grace himself, Martin Luther, addressed this in his first four Theses (see my 9:20 a.m. comment above). So did John MacArthur, in that sermon you linked to last week (which was very helpful to me, though not in the way you evidently intended).

And again, to be clear, I completely repudiate the idea that we are justified by our fruits. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone—let the mountains and hills proclaim it!—but saved in spite of what? Ourselves!

Terry Rayburn said...

A quick word about Paul as "chief of sinners":

I'm appalled at how glibly that verse (1 Tim. 1:15) is used to deny so many other Scriptures.

When Paul said he is [present tense] the chief of sinners, he is merely reflecting again the horrors of his persecution of the Chruch before his conversion (which Jesus Himself said was actually persecuting Jesus).

It's as though I was high school State Record Holder in pole vaulting in 1968, and my record still stands.

I would rightly say, "I'm the State Champ in pole vaulting." No one would argue just because I used the present tense, because it's still my record.

Compare this with Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 15:9, "For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."

Taking one verse (1 Tim. 1:15) as proof that Saints are biblically called Sinners is bad exegesis, considering that SEVERAL verses directly CONTRAST believers with sinners (e.g., "while we WERE yet sinners" Rom. 5:8 -- do a word search on "sinner" and you will clearly see this contrast).

There are NO biblical verses in the new covenant epistles that give the identity of "sinner" to Christians.

(James 4:8 says "cleanse your hands you sinners", but I agree with MacArthur that this is a reference to unregenerate readers of James.)

Alas, I know that the idea is so ingrained in the Church that millions will continue to view themselves with the identity of Sinner.

I've even seen and heard MANY over the years say that they, not Paul, were *really* the chief of sinners (a direct contradiction, of course, to the inspired word of God).

Terry Rayburn said...

Daryl wrote, "it sounds more Catholic than Christian.

You come dangerously close to saying that God infuses His grace into us, thereby changing us so that we are somehow clean enough to be saved."

Yeah, me and Paul. O, brother!

Terry Rayburn said...

"Perhaps nobody responds to them, Terry, because they're irrelevant to what we're all talking about?"

Indeed. I'll try to stick to the topic better next time. Out.

Robert said...

Terry,

Do you not think that Paul gradually became closer and closer to realizing the depths of his sin as he walked closer and closer to God? He started off as least of apostles (1 Cor. 15:9), then least of the saints(Ephesians 3:8) and then, as he was closer to his death, he declared himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). To me, this seems to be a progression in his view of his sinfulness as he walked closer with God.

I personally think this should be the pattern for each of us as we grow in spiritual maturity. As we can get closer to seeing the true measure of the depths of our sin, we can get closer to understanding the true measure of the holiness of God. As John Newton approached his death, he said that he didn't know much, but that he did know two things: that he was a great sinner, and that he had a great Savior. I'm not sure that I feel this enough in my own life, although I think I get closer every day...by the power of the Spirit.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Further, many skeptics would mock at the whole thing. "So if this rapist/murderer just believes in Jesus, he'll go to Heaven and walk the golden streets, but if I live a moral life and don't agree with your religion, I'll burn in Hell?""

Has anyone ever been asked this question (or a reasonably close variant of it)?

How did you answer it?

Is it okay to answer it with a simple "Yes"?

Rachael Starke said...

I wonder with others if Gardner is not simply manifesting a very honest, but still very dead, response to his actions. He knows what he did is monstrous, he can't live with himself, and yet he is still unable to restrain the impulses that got him where he is (so that he is still enraged when taunted). He's utterly unable to stop.

That's exactly the right place for someone to be - aware of their inability to see, know or obey God. Most people don't even acknowledge that their sin is a problem. Gardner at least does that.

And as a mother of thee girls, I just have to give up a "You go girlfriend" to the jogger who defended herself. Awesome.

Pooka said...

John Owen, if I may bring up one who seems to be an authority on the subject of sin:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/mort.toc.html

And: I'm still a sinner. Without Christ I'm just as damned as this murderer.

Yeah, I'm praying for Mr. Gardner because my brand of sin is just different from his. The penalty is the same either way. The cure is the same too. Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

DJP said...

An aside:

I know what you meant, but if I predecease the Lord's return, I hope no one writes of me, "Dan Phillips, who was an authority on sin...."

In the unlikely event that anyone writes of me, anyway. And if anyone does, he'll probably write, "Phil Johnson, who...."

Pooka said...

Maybe had I put it as well versed in hamartiology? I'm not so proficient as I'd like to think in commenting.

Probably not so hot at staying on topic either, but my 2 cents.

EITHER WAY: This was yet another awesome, humbling article and was instrumental in showing me a side of me that often wishes the Gospel was just "me" sized and not big enough for some of "them".

donsands said...

Terry,
1st Tim. 1:15 is what it is.

And as you said Paul would make statements like this else where:

"To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things," Eph. 3:8-9

It's Paul sharing his heart, and perhaps reflecting on what he wrote to the church in Rome in chapter 7 of his epistle. Martin Luther nailed it down for us with his phrase: "simul justus et peccator", which he comes to grips with through Romans 7.

"It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." 1 Timothy 1:15-17

And we shall disagree on this until we die, or the Lord comes. But it's always good to see you still arguing your interpretation with love for your brethren.

Rachael Starke said...

Without Christ I'm just as damned as this murderer.

That's the difference between the regenerate and un-.

It's whether we have Him, or not.

Some need Christ, and do not (yet) have Him, with all of the eternal consequences that ensue.

Others need Christ, and, by faith, through the awakening of the Holy Spirit, have Him, and all that having Him entails.

But everyone needs Him, and the forgiveness that only He can grant.

David Rudd said...

This was really good, Dan. Your reminder about our own selves was the icing on an already pretty good cake.

Morris Brooks said...

But, but, but.....my sins aren't as bad as his, or her's, or your's.

joel said...

To quote from the post - 'So... how does Judas do all that, and it falls short of genuine saving repentance?'

Maybe, because repentance/remorse can't save anyone. God would not be just if He forgave someone just because they were remorseful.

trogdor said...

"Imagine the angelic host similarly recoiling in horror as God pardons and justifies us — except perhaps that they wouldn't, knowing the excellency of Christ and witnessing the triumph of His redemptive work."

I may be wrong, but I think this is what Peter is getting at here:

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." (1 Peter 1:10-12)

How unbelievably amazing is this salvation Christ has granted us? The angels in heaven are fascinated by it, and long to understand God redeeming and forgiving and adopting sinners like us. They may not fully understand, but they do know it's worthy of neverending praise.

joel said...

"Indeed. I'll try to stick to the topic better next time. Out."
I think that Dan meant that your comments and references are actually not relevant to your argument. I can think of two reasons why they have no bearing on our standing in Christ.

Firstly, you could be Lilly white sinless now and for the rest of eternity and you would still be condemned before God. This is because you would still be guilty of your past sins, one murder makes you a murder. Now you might say- Christ has washed us and made us guiltless of those sins now we are pure before him. But we still have sin, which leads to the second point. If God is cleaning us up so that we can stand before him worthy of his salvation then God must have an accommodating view of sin. That is, if your standing before God has anything to do with your goodness, innate or infused, then you have created a god in your mind that is comfortable with your sin. That is a violation of the second commandment, the creation of a false god.

joel said...

My last comment was directed at Terry.

Jacob said...

Good post, DJP, and that's how i see it (i.e., the availability of repentance and salvation) too.

aztexan said...

Crappy feelings of self-loathing, disgust, emptiness, melancholy and the like are NOT remorse, much less are they repentance. The kinds of emotions this guy claims to feel most likely have little to do with what he did and very much to do with what he is. It's called "the human condition."

Being a living, breathing sack of evil, a fountain of super-concentrated vileness, is -- shocker -- quite unpleasant for most of us, sooner or later.

"I'm really a pretty sick, worthless excuse for a human being; and, y'know, that's darn depressing. Woe is me."
is by no means synonymous with,
"Here I tremble, the enemy of the thrice-holy God, a rotten, dead sinner in need of the only Savior."

Something to chew on. Yes, I'm cynical; someone has to be that guy.

JeffMcK said...

Your co-blogger, Mr. Johnson linked a sermon Spurgeon titled "Particular Redemption" where C.H. eloquently describes my sin of which I take too little notice and puts it on par with Mr. Gardner's.

I completely understand and relate too closely to most people's view of a man like Gardner and admittedly want to wish the same things upon him. But, that would just satisfy my own version of "right" and "wrong" which is pointless and useless.

If Gardner is without hope, then so am I.

I appreciate you and others that make me see what the gospel challenges us with and compel me to follow my Lord, even when I'd rather not. I certainly need it.

JeffMcK said...

On Nov 6th, your co-blogger, Mr. Johnson, linked a sermon Spurgeon titled "Particular Redemption" where C.H. eloquently describes my sin, of which I take too little notice, and puts it on par with Mr. Gardner's.

I completely understand and relate too closely to most people's view of a man like Gardner and admittedly want to wish the same things upon him. But, that would just satisfy my own version of "right" and "wrong" which is pointless and useless.

If Gardner is without hope, then so am I.

I appreciate you and others that make me see what the gospel challenges us with and compel me to follow my Lord, even when I'd rather not. I certainly need it.

RealityCheck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RealityCheck said...

Terry,

When I read 1 John 3:15 it is pretty clear to me that God considers hate the same as murder and in Matthew 5:28 lust the same as adultery.

Now, there is no question that we as Christians are forgiven if we do these things. But certainly you are not suggesting that these things are no longer sins if we do them just because we are Christians?

So then, if we (as Christians) still do these things (and they are still sins) how much are we really that different from the murdering rapist John Gardner?

Steve B said...

kind of late in the thread for a reply, but (Terry) my comment was intended towards those (unsaved) who insist that since I've lived a "pretty good life" that God shouldn't really have a problem with me when I get to the pearly gates. "It's not like I ever killed anybody."

Whereas, the view Jesus provides us that there are no venial vs. mortal sins. One sin bears the same penalty as another. A hateful thought is as condemning as a blood-covered knife in someone's heart.

As Christians, there is (to me) a danger in a fully sanctified self-perception. Paul himself said "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on..."

We risk facing a complacency which might rob us of that total reliance on God. If I hold on to that view that I am every day a sinner, redeemed only by the love of Christ, that it is only God's nature now in me not my sinner's heart that can show love, then, to me, that is the Biblical view.

It also helps us maintain that empathy towards those who have yet to be saved, in that we never forget what it was like to be one of them. "But for the grace of God..."

There is a difference between living in humility, submission, and appreciation, versus living with continual guilt and self-flagellation. I do agree that we are freed from the latter by our Salvation, but cannot forget or diminish the former because of any freedom from sin.

thelightheartedcalvinist.com said...

See this video from the sentencing of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway - he can take all the verbal abuse thrown until one grandfatherly type stands there and says, "I forgive you." (go to 2:50) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM0C-oKscmU

Evil cannot deal with the Gospel and its fruit.

Is it easy? No. But My wife and I did the same thing at the sentencing of the man who killed our son. Only by the Spirit can we do such and praise Him that we can - and must.

Jeremy said...

Someone may have posted this already, but it almost seems to me that Judas and John Gardner III were wanting to be punished by man (even by themselves), that somehow that punishment would serve to rid them of the guilt they bore. Kind of like self-salvation through self-atonement.

DJP said...

Interesting thought, J.

ZSB said...

Great post as always, Dan. But I have to say: I often chuckle when I read "Judas hanged himself." Not because he was a worse sinner than I, but because it reminds me that St. Luke went out of his way to give us the epilogue about Judas's bloated body falling from its noose and EXPLODING, sending his guts all over the place. Early Church equivalent of the bad guy finally getting thrown from a skyscraper at the end of Die Hard...

RealityCheck said...

I was thinking about Gardner today on my walk and wondering what his fate will be. Will he kill himself? Will some other inmate get him? Or will he seek true forgiveness? I couldn’t confidently place a bet on one more than another.

This led me to thoughts of Judas. If anyone should have known where to go for forgiveness it was one who spent three years with Jesus. Think about that… three years physically with Jesus and yet… zippo… Judas didn’t get it. Then I thought, wait a minute, unless he was one of the elect he couldn’t get it… could he? Doesn't John 17:2 indicate that what Judas did... he had to do?

This led me back to Gardner. Dan says, “Pray for John Gardner”. Why? I’m not trying to be difficult here and I’m certainly not trying to start a debate on election. The bible says it, I believe it and that settles it. I am however trying to understand what praying for Gardner actually accomplishes if, like Judas, and all of us for that matter, the die has already been cast.

Oh, and I have thought about what it does for me to pray for Gardner. Just thinking about him since yesterday has made me more aware of what a wretched sinner I am. It’s the, what good does it do Gardner, that I’m puzzling over.

joel said...

Our prayers don't change the will of God, our prayers are the will of God.

DJP said...

I'm glad Joel commented, reminding me I'd meant to respond to RC.

RC, think of it: if election is a reason not to pray for lost folks, then predestination/providence is a reason not to pray about anything.

Think about it: Unbeliever X, let's say, is a reprobate, not among the elect. My prayers won't change that fact. He will continue in sin, he will not believe, no created thing can make him believe.

Keep thinking: if it's God's will that I get a good parking place, I will; if it isn't, I won't. If it's His will that my child recover from this illness, he will; if it isn't, he won't. If it's His will that I get this job/catch a trout/come home to an intact family/take the next breath I will, and if it isn't, I won't.

Yet we do pray, must pray, are commanded to pray. And when we pray, things ALWAYS happen, because ALL believers' prayers ALWAYS are answered.

So why do we pray? Because (A) God tells us to, (B) we believe Him, and (C) WE don't know what's going to happen, but (D) God does, and prayers are part of His means in carrying out His will.

Hope that helps.

Susan said...

Dan said: The human psyche is a far scarier place than the "World's Scariest Places" lists we see each Halloween, and none scarier than Judas'.

Agreed, Dan. I once said to a friend (maybe 2), "If you lived inside my head, you'd be screaming to get out." My heart is so hardened by sin so many times that I see my own sins as pecadillos (sorry, Mr. Pecadillo Johnson) while others' faults as monstrous grievances.

At the same time, I am horrified by Gardner's crimes. I agree with him--he should be locked up for life if he cannot control his impulses. And all the serials like Gardner that are still at large should have their noses smashed (if not worse) by victims who can defend themselves. Yet I also know that outward punishment does not bring about repentance (think Pharaoh's hardened heart despite the plagues). Only Christ can change hearts.

mennoknight said...

Good thoughts DJP.

RealityCheck said...

Dan,

I’m not saying election is a reason not to pray. I would never say that. Just the fact that we are told to pray, even if I don’t fully understand it, is enough for me to do it… or at least plan to do it.

I’m also not talking about any of the other things you mentioned (and didn’t mention) that I believe can be impacted by prayer, although I don’t believe are impacted as much as some think they are.

I am talking about one, very specific, area of prayer here… praying that John Gardner “will come to know God's forgiving grace”. I think my (our) praying could have an effect on when he accepts Christ (assuming he is one of the elect) and that could have a positive ripple effect. Even if he is not one of the elect our praying for him can be a testimony to others. I also, certainly believe, our praying for him can bring us closer to God. So… there are plenty of reasons to pray for him.

However, I don’t believe praying for his salvation will have one iota of impact on rather he is saved or not.

BTW Dan, I’m not trying to be difficult here at all. You started your reply to me with, “RC, think…” and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Thanks for your feedback, it is helpful and always appreciated.

DJP said...

RC, you don't seem to see that I did answer your question. I take that from you basically rewording yourself: "I don’t believe praying for his salvation will have one iota of impact on rather he is saved or not." So what did I say, in response to that?

Jim Pemberton said...

Regarding Paul, he may not have cast a stone, but he was at least as guilty as if he had because he led others to murder. Yet he was changed by God to endure much suffering on account of the gospel. He started many churches, wrote inspired scripture and spoke in tongues more than anyone else in Corinth.

The point with his contrition versus his theology of justification is precisely that the recognition of his sin is necessarily a part of his absolute cleansing of it. It's the juxtaposition of pursuing accurate theology and being utterly devoted to Christ.

As such, it is a godly yearning to see such men as John Gardner III become a brother in Christ for it is those who have been forgiven much who know the cost of their sin the clearest.

RealityCheck said...

Dan,

“you don't seem to see that I did answer your question… So what did I say, in response to that?

That, "when we pray, things ALWAYS happen, because ALL believers' prayers ALWAYS are answered." because God says to do it (and if we believe Him we will) and because he uses means (like us) to carry out His sovereign plan.

To which I would say… what ALWAYS happens isn’t (can’t be for that matter) someone getting saved who wasn’t going to get saved already.

That that answer we ALWAYS get, may be (and almost always is) greater understanding of Gods ways but won’t be (cannot be), “yes my child, I will save that person who I had planned not to save”.

I hear what you’re saying Dan. I read (and re-read) your response to me. I read the post from 2008 that you linked to and I even read the one it linked to from 2006. You have answered my question. You have confirmed (and added to) all the reasons I know I (we) need to pray.

But… and you knew it was coming… what you didn’t do (because you can’t do it) is tell me how my praying for Gardner will have any impact on his salvation… because it can’t… it just can’t. If it could… who (not Who) would be in charge?

DJP said...

If you had understood my answer, then you would understand that you do not know what you keep saying that you do know.

RealityCheck said...

Dan,

“If you had understood my answer, then you would understand that you do not know what you keep saying that you do know.”

Actually, I think I would.

I think you’re saying that God is sovereign but somehow (beyond our understanding) we (our prayers) have some impact on someone’s salvation (even though we can’t know how). If that is what you’re saying… I have no choice but to disagree because I believe we can know that that can not be true. For if it is true, then we as fallen human beings would have a say in who gets saved and doesn’t.

Now, if you’re saying something else… then please clarify what it is.

BTW, I’ll be away from my computer for a few hours so if you want to take more than 3 minutes to respond… I’d appreciate it. ;-)

DJP said...

You are right where my first response already answered your question. You just keep repeating it. To answer you, I'd just keep repeating my answer. Which, since it's still up there, I won't.

Robert said...

RC,

God didn't just predetermine the salvation of people, but He also predestined the means to bring about that salvation. Our prayers might be a part of that...we can't know if he is elect or not. I think the point is that we can become hypercalvinist in a sense if we say that our prayers have no effect. We don't know how God answers all of our different prayers until He does. God knows, but we don't.

Or I could be wayyyyyy off base. Just felt the need to throw my two cents in.

DJP said...

No, you're there.

If there's no point praying for X's salvation, because God has already elected or reprobated, then there is no sense praying for anything, because God has already determined what will happen in every situation, from the greatest to the least.

Yet we know that there is sense, for the reason you state.

RealityCheck said...

“If there's no point praying for X's salvation, because God has already elected or reprobated, then there is no sense praying for anything”

How does that figure? One has to do with something… election… that is a done deal and the other has to do with all sorts of things that are not a done deal. You keep tying my questioning of praying for someone’s salvation in with all other prayer despite the fact that I have repeatedly separated them. Is there a reason you keep lumping them together? Do you have to make me a hyper-Calvinist in order to answer what I’m saying?

RealityCheck said...

Robert,

“God didn't just predetermine the salvation of people, but He also predestined the means to bring about that salvation.”

Yes... no doubt.

“Our prayers might be a part of that”

Hmmm, and if they are, how that is possible without taking away from God’s sovereignty is what I’m fussing about.

Michele Rayburn said...

Terry said:
I've even seen and heard MANY over the years say that they, not Paul, were *really* the chief of sinners (a direct contradiction, of course, to the inspired word of God).

Terry,
It seems like everybody wants to be a Chief (of sinners), but nobody wants to be an Indian (a saint)!

There is Pauline theology, and then there is "Christine" theology, that is "Christine O'Donnell theology", which says "I am you!"

"I am you", "Christine theology" works when speaking on a worldly level: "I'm an average American, and so are you."

But "I am you", "Christine theology", doesn't work when speaking on a spiritual level about Christians, once they are born again, and are new creations in Christ. Now it's, "Praise God! I am no longer you."

What I am in my new regenerate spirit is who I *really* am. When I sin, it is not me (that is, in my new spirit), it is "sin in me", as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:17:

"But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

And Romans 7:18 goes on to say, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells...".


Reality Check said:
But certainly you are not suggesting that these things are no longer sins if we do them just because we are Christians?

It doesn't mean that when I sin, it is not sin. It simply means that it is "sin in me", in my flesh, and it is my flesh warring against the new me, warring against my new regenerate spirit.

You asked, "How are we different from the murdering rapist John Gardner?"

We are different in our spirit.

I think the point that Terry is really trying to make is that to the extent that we acknowledge, understand, reckon, and appropriate our new identity in Christ as born again new creations, alive to God and dead to sin (Romans 6), and now saints, we will have the strength in our new spirit to walk by the spirit, as the Apostle Paul so often instructs us to do.

That's the reason for making the distinction that "I am not John Gardner".

But to the extent that we instead focus on "our old man" who "was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with" (Romans 6:6), and call ourselves something that we are not, "sinners" (defined as one who practices sin as an ongoing lifestyle), to that extent we will live somewhat defeated lives, struggling with sin more than we should have to, like the double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways.

I know that I am not what I used to be before I was radically saved 31 years ago this month.

And John Gardner, if he comes to know the Lord five minutes before he dies, like the thief on the cross, he will find himself with Christ in great glory in Heaven.

And at that point, the point at which John should trust in the Lord, I can then say that John Gardner is now just like me.

RealityCheck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trogdor said...

I was looking at Romans 10 last night for another comment, and realized that it might apply to this latter-thread discussion as well. 10:1 starts us off with:

"Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved."

Now there are three ways we can go with this.

1) Paul didn't believe God was sovereign in election/salvation. There are actually some who hold to this position, and while their arguments are kinda cute and funny, and their zealous attempts to avoid the obvious are awe-inspiring, we're trying to be serious here.

2) Paul prayed this in spite of God's sovereignty in election/salvation. As if he was saying, "Yeah, even though I just wrote Romans 9, so obviously I know that this prayer for my lost countrymen is a total waste of time and energy, I'm going to do it anyway. It has no effect and is truly in all aspects a total waste, but I do it anyway."

Somehow Paul doesn't strike me as the type to do things which contradict his theology, so he knows in advance will epic fail. Which leaves me with...

3) Paul prays this because God is sovereign in election/salvation. In other words, this prayer for the salvation of his lost countrymen is the natural result of his theology of election.

I'ma go with option 3. Similar to how Jesus commands us to pray for daily provision (Mat 6:11) just a few words before telling us that God sovereignly controls even the tiniest aspects of the world, providentially cares for the most insignificant parts of creation, and knows our needs even before we do (6:25ff, 10:29-30; cf John 15:16).

What Paul and Jesus lead us to do is not to axe "Why should we pray for things over which God is sovereign?", but to pray for it because God is sovereign over it.

Robert said...

I'm going to piggy-back on trogdor's comment and say that this also helps us to evangelize better in two ways:

1) We realize that God is sovereign and that we don't save...we pray for salvation of the lost because we are dependent upon God to do the work.

2) It keeps us focused on God, realizing that He has chosen the elect. We have no control over who is elect, and that should make us want to present the gospel to every person in the world. And, just as we know that God has chosen to work through us preaching the gospel, He also works through our prayer. Not in a fashion where our prayer has the power, but where prayer is where we make our petitions known to Him. He has already planned for our petitions and how He will answer them, but that has no effect on whether or not we pray.

We're dealing with the difference of God's perspective and ours here. It is like how free will and God's sovereignty/election come together. I can't wrap my head around that totally, but I know it is true. God chose me before the beginning of time, but I have the responsibility to repent, believe, and follow Jesus as Lord.

DJP said...

Sorry that you feel that way, Reality Check, and that you feel your last is an appropriate comment.

Regardless, your question has been answered several times, by me and others. Trogdor and Robert have just reworded my answer yet again.

So within yourself you have options as to how and whether you'll receive and deal with what's been given you here without cost to you. Meanwhile, in the thread, we need to move on, without further rewordings of the already-answered question or smears of those who've tried to help you.

Scottj said...

Dan--This post (the main one, not the comments) is possibly one of the most edifying posts I've ever read. Thank you.

donsands said...

"What I am in my new regenerate spirit is who I *really* am. When I sin, it is not me (that is, in my new spirit), it is "sin in me", as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:17"

"When I sin, it is not me"?

He later says: "So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."

Paul says, "I myself".

That should be clear enough, isn't it.

What does Paul feel, and think, when he writes these words?:

"To me, though I AM the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things," Eph. 3:8-9
It reminds me of Daniel's prayer, when he also repented for the sins of Israel.

Jim Pemberton said...

Donsands, that's a good point of theological tension. I believe Paul is making a distinction between behavior and identity. The human will is not monolithic, but a conglomeration of inclinations. Paul is casting his identity, and greatest desire, on those inclinations that follow the will of God and he polarizes himself - that is, sets his true identity in Christ apart from that which he is dead to - through the humility of recognizing the part of him that yet sins that he might mortify it.

Michele Rayburn said...

Hi Don,

You said,
"When I sin, it is not me"?

So, what do we do with this verse in Romans 7:17?:

"But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

Paul clarifies it, to answer your question, with this next verse in Romans 7:18:

"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells...".

Paul is making a distinction between "I" ("the one who wills to do good" Rom.7:21) and "my flesh" ("in me, that is, in my flesh" Rom.7:18.)

You said:
He later says: "So then, I *myself* serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."

Exactly. "*I myself* serve the law of God with my mind..."

but

"...with *my flesh* I serve the law of sin." (Rom.7:25)

Not only does Paul say, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Romans 7:17, "But now it is *no longer I who do it*, but *sin* that dwells in me."

but Paul goes on to say in Romans 7:20:

"Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

Now, there are two "I"'s here:

1) "I do what I will not to do"

and

2) "it is *no longer* I who do it"

Go back to #1:

1) I (my flesh) do what I ("the one who wills to do good") will not to do.

and

Go back to #2:

2)...it is no longer I "(the one who wills to do good") who do it.

Then who "in the flesh" is doing the things I will not to do? (Rom.7:20)

Paul gives us the answer twice:

Romans 7:17 and 7:20 "...it is no longer I who do it, but *sin* that dwells in me."


Paul then reveals to us some of the mystery behind this. He gives us the reason for this:

Romans 7:21, "I find then *a law*, that evil is present with me, *the one who wills to do good."

And then Paul presents the conflict once again, of the "flesh warring against our mind":

Romans 7:22, "For I delight in the law of God according to *the inward man*...

Romans 7:23, "...BUT, I see *another law in my members*, [my flesh] warring against *the law of my mind*, and bringing me into captivity to *the law of sin which is in my members."

Paul then makes this conclusion in Romans 7:25:

"So then, *with the mind* I myself serve the law of God, *but* *with the flesh* the law of sin."

So, as we see in Romans 7:23, there is a war between "the law of my mind" and "the law of sin which is in my members [my flesh]".

There is a war between "I", "the one who wills to do good", and "my flesh".

continued....

Michele Rayburn said...

continue....


In Conclusion: The Law of Sin vs. The Law of God

1) The Law of Sin

Paul says in Rom.7:17,20 "sin...dwells in me", and in Rom.7:18 "in my flesh, nothing good dwells", and in Rom.7:21 "evil is present *with* me".

And Paul wraps it up by saying in Rom.7:25 "with the flesh [I serve] the law of sin." ("I" in this verse does not refer to "the one who wills to do good" but to that part of me which is unrenewed, unregenerated, that is, "my flesh")

2) The Law of God

Paul says in Rom.7:12 "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good".

And he says in Rom.7:14 "the law [of God] is spiritual".

In Rom.7:22, he says, "I delight in the law of God according to the inward man." ("the inward man", as opposed to "the [outward] flesh")

And in Rom.7:23, Paul refers to "the law of my mind".

And Paul wraps it up in Rom.7:25 by saying, "with the mind I myself serve the law of God."

As opposed to the flesh, which cannot be "renewed", the Scriptures say that we can be "transformed by the renewing of our mind". And it is with our mind that we "serve the law of God".

It is with our flesh that we serve the law of sin. (Rom.7:25)

Hope this helps.

donsands said...

"with the flesh [I serve] the law of sin." ("I" in this verse does not refer to "the one who wills to do good" -Michele

Sure it does. It refers to me, a sinner saved by grace, and righteous in His sight. Hallelujah!

We will disagree until the Lord comes back, or we die.

Hope that helps.

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:18-19

have a blessed Lord's day in His grace and joy!

bpshirley said...

Hey DJP,
Thanks for this post. I read it after watching part of an old tv interview of Jeffrey Dahmer. He professed to be saved by the Lord Jesus.
I struggle with thoughts about how the Lord (for a time) allows such evil, and had just come to the place of realizing, again, that my wicked thoughts are just as heinous as J.D.'s sins. Praise the Lord for his great love and mercy!
Someone else has already quoted the hymn, Rock of Ages...

"Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die."

Aaron said...

The whole question of Salvation for the most wicked is intresting. Another example that comes to mind is that of "the son of Sam" David Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer. I have actually had a friend of mine who was raised seventh Day Adventest say that Dahmer would never be accepted into Heaven becuese he's murderer personbally I look at it all and think "who are any of us to think where better then anybody else."

Honestlly if God's able to save "bad people" that's his perogitive who am I to question His Grace

RealityCheck said...

I had an unexpected guest for the weekend… guilt! Guilt dogged me everywhere I went and no matter what I did mentally to try and satisfy it, it wouldn’t let up. Last week I was unsatisfied with an answer Dan gave me, not because it wasn’t a good one, but because I wanted more. I then confused my want with some deficiency on Dan’s part and questioned his desire to learn more. How ridiculous. Anyone who has spent any time reading the things Dan has written either here on Pyro or at his own blog knows how much he desires to know the things of God. I blew it and I’m sorry.

I have removed the idiotic remark and want to say to you personally and publicly Dan… I’m sorry and I hope you can forgive me.

DJP said...

Oh, goodness -- no problem, RC. It's all good, bro.

Robert said...

I guess you could say you had a reality check. (Yes, poor attempt at corny humor to lighten things up)

RealityCheck said...

The funny (sad?) thing about that Robert is that when I picked the name RealityCheck I actually thought I was the one that had something to say. Little did I know how many times I would be the one checking my own reality.

If this keeps up I’ll trade the name in for something more appropriate like… CrowEater.

Robert said...

RC,

I can only speak for myself and say I've been in the same place myself. I'm thankful that I see the grace of God reflected from our brothers in Christ on here as they deal with my idiotic remarks and my ramblings off-topic. It reminds me of how only God (through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit) separates me from doing what John Gardner III did (or even worse).