Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Knowing AND Following God’s Will

When a person knows God’s Word so that he also acknowledges and knows God’s will for himself, from whom does he need permission or approval before he actually follows it?

In similar fashion, how many people must he first convince to follow it with him, before he follows what he knows to be God’s will himself?


Hummie said...

Thought provoking post....I think this comes down to that other verse where it says we know what we should do, but we do not do it.

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Dear Hummie,

Yes, this certainly relates to Romans 7, but understood within the framework of 6-8.

For what St. Paul is addressing is the contrast of living according to the flesh versus living according to the spirit. The flesh seeks to be righteous through works of the flesh in seeking to fulfill the requirements of the Law. The spirit, regenerated through faith and Baptism, trusts in the merits of Christ, through whom the requirements of the Law are truly fulfilled for us and accounted to us by means of faith.

The person living by the spirit is led by the Holy Spirit. According to the spirit we acknowledge that nothing that we do by our own efforts (flesh) are ever truly in keeping with the requirements of the Law. Our regenerated spirit trusts not in the righteousness that comes through attempts at goodness through what we do, but trusts that Christ is our righteousness. Thus, when we face the dualism of simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner) our hearts turn from the desires of the sinner to the desires that God works in us.

St. Paul is not excusing sin, as he clearly declares in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

No, the person who is regenerated will not continue in sin. Yes, he will daily, hourly, even continually confess his own sinfulness and need of God’s forgiveness in Christ. He will continually look upon all of his own efforts as nothing but vile and repulsive refuse. He will continually recognize that according to his own nature he is opposed to and entirely unable to do what the inward man that is led by the Spirit desires.

But the regenerated man, the spirit, truly knows God’s will. That will is, first and foremost, to rely upon the mercy of God in Christ and to abide in His Communion. This being the case, the new man will flee that which he knows is contrary to God’s will and repent of those things that are not of God. But the person continues to experience the old sinful nature rising up within him, sometimes even yielding to the will of the flesh. Other times the old man is put down again. St. Paul wants us to know that this war that rages within us between flesh and spirit is something that we must endure until the incorruptible replaces the corruptible. Until then, our conscience is made good before God in connection with Baptism. We cling to God’s promise in Baptism as saving us in Christ, even as St. Paul declares in Rom. 7:24-25 (also 1 Peter 3:21)

“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

We do not have the power to prevent these fleshly thoughts, nor even to resist them. But the spirit, renewed in Christ through Baptism and kept in His Communion through the Holy Supper does. For that power is Christ Himself, dwelling in us though the Holy Spirit poured out to us in Baptism. Thus we hear in Rom. 8:16-17

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

Now, to the point of my challenge, when a person is in Christ and knows the will of God, how long can he knowingly remain in a situation that he knows is not of God and how long till he will respond to the spirit that hears the Spirit and follow the way that is of God?

This question is very different from the issue of continually being tempted by the old nature and yielding to it in the weakness of the flesh. This is a question of whether or not a person ever actually allows God to remove him from the life of sin in which he is in bondage. This is a matter of whether or not a person says, “I will someday let go of this thing to which I am clinging” or actually follows in the way in which this thing is not present. Does the person continue in the ways that are false, in communion with falsehood?

Can one who is in Christ continue both to be in Christ and in communion with darkness? Is this repentance? Is this following Christ?

Certainly no saint is free of the corruption of sin in the flesh until the end. However, all saints live in the freedom of confession and absolution through the promise of Baptism and the Holy Communion. But can a person confess his sins and remain in the way of that sin? The Scriptures declare that this is impenitence. This is hypocrisy. There is no absolution apart from repentance worked by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not allow a person to remain in a setting in which sin prevails. The Holy Spirit always calls the person to be separate from that setting and to be joined in communion with Christ. The person who is in Christ cannot resist the Spirit’s urgings for long.

Finally another question arises: What parts of the will of God are excluded from this? Are there areas of life where this does not apply?

For example, does this apply to knowingly violating traffic laws, such as the speed limit? Many who call themselves Christians purchase radar detectors. Is this something that a repentant person does? Does a person with a good conscience generated through Baptism immediately hit the brakes when noticing a Highway Patrol car?

Many also act as though this does not apply to the life of the Church. Many act as though it is possible to remain in communion with Christ in His body and to remain in a church body where it is known that God’s will is not truly practiced. Thus my original challenges press to this point.

When a person knows God’s Word so that he also acknowledges and knows God’s will for himself, so that he realizes that a church body is not willing to be conformed to what God has established for His Church, from whom does he need permission or approval before he actually follows God’s command to stop being in fellowship with such falsehood?

In similar fashion, how many people must he first convince to follow it with him, before he follows what he knows to be God’s will himself?

After all, if a person continues in the way of the flesh in matters of the Church, where the Spirit leads the spirit to true repentance, how will he not continue in the way of the flesh in the rest of his life?

Are there areas of life where repentance is merely an indication of good intentions? Is there a limit to what God accomplishes in a person through the repentance worked by the Holy Spirit? Are there areas where a true Christian, one who is truly united in Christ in the one true faith, will say to the Holy Spirit, “I’m not listening to You on this one,” or “Yes, yes, I know. I’ll deal with that one later.” or even, “Yes, I know that is not exactly the way God wants things to be, but isn’t it close enough? After all, no one is perfect and there is no perfect church.”?