stpaul01I have been a Christian long enough to see two erroneous approaches to God that have been embraced by many fellow Christians. In fact, I would have to say that I myself have probably practiced both of these approaches to God.  The first is known as legalism. This is an approach to God that is based on merit. Likewise, it can be based on certain assumptions that one has particular inherent qualities about oneself that God admires and therefore God honors that person because of who that person is intrinsically. Therefore, this type of person makes one or two thinking errors: (1) I can do things that will make God love me because of what I have done. (2) I am inherently favored by God because of some status I have been given or I have obtained that is religious, ethnic, nationalistic, political, or socio-economic.

The second is known as antinomianism. It means “lawless”. The logic behind such an approach to God is that since God is a God of grace He does not care about my behavior and therefore since my behavior is no longer an issue I can live the life that I want to live while being comfortably religious. It is likewise based on a couple of thinking errors: (1) That grace is cheap (as Bonhoeffer noted) and that my moral behavior does not have any real meaning. (2) That Christian soteriology is simply about one’s eternal destination and that it has nothing to do with the quality of life one lives in the here and the now.

The Apostle Paul addresses the balance between legalism and antinomianism as new creation. To better understand the Pauline approach to new creation we should examine Ephesians 2:1-10 which I will quote here (ESV):

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

In vv. 1-3 the Apostle addresses the former life of the Christian. First, we were “dead” in trespasses and sin. Christian theologians have called this “total depravity”.  One that is dead cannot become alive again. One who is dead in spirit cannot choose to be alive in spirit. This is an act of God and God alone.

Second, this is the former life of the Christian since we “walked”–this is something in the past. The apostle uses the aorist tense which means that it is something that was once done sometime prior. Those things were “according to the era of this world”, “according to the ruler of the power of the air” (Satan), and it is the same one who now rules over those who disobey the gospel.

Third, Christians were once in this very state. We lived for those depraved desires inherent within our human existence. We were part of the “children that are by nature objects of wrath”.

In vv. 4-6 the Apostle reminds his readers of the transition that God made on their behalf. God is rich in mercy and God is great in love toward us. This was so even when we were “dead”. This echoes the statement made elsewhere that Christ died for us when we were still sinners. For those who struggle with the fear that God is not pleased with you as a Christian you must be reminded that God’s mercy and love reached you when you were dead in sin. If God loved you then God loves you now.

We have been made alive. It is true that our bodily resurrection is yet to occur, but the resurrection of our “inner person” has already occurred. In fact, according to v. 6 you, as a Christian, already have been raised up and you have already been seated with Christ in heavenly places!

A former professor of mine, Gary Tuck, loved this statement by the Apostle. He often reminded us that it is true that we are still sinful in our outer person and that our outer person has yet to be redeemed. Therefore we struggle to see what our inner person is like in the eyes of God because we only see how that filters through our sinful, earthly outer person. But God sees the you whom He has already redeemed. God is in the process of making you holistically who you are spiritually.

Again, this “raising up” and this “seating” is in the aorist tense meaning it has happened at sometime in the past. Contextually, this likely refers to the conversion described in the text. Therefore, when you were changed by God from dead to life you were already resurrected in your inner man and you already rule with Christ in your inner man. It is already but not yet. You are becoming what you already have been in God’s eyes!

Therefore, the Christian should not live under guilt or condemnation. If we feel convicted about wrong doing this is only the Holy Spirit prompting us to be who we already have become in the eyes of our Father. It is not a threat of retribution.  Since we are in Christ Jesus (a dative of sphere meaning we are in the realm ruled by Christ Jesus) we are saved now and we will be saved on that great day.

In v. 7 the Apostle says that this is so that God can show in the “coming ages” that God grace and kindness is toward us. We who are saved already experience this. We who are saved will only see it coming to fruition more and more as our full redemption draws nigh.

For those who struggle with legalistic approaches to God, or those who ignorantly think that God owed you your salvation because you are special, the Apostle reminds us all: “For grace you have been saved” (v. 8). Grace is defined by many as unmerited favor. I tend to like this definition. Grace is not grace if it is something earned. You have been freely given salvation!

This graceful salvation was not earned, nor bought, but accessed by means of faith. To have faith is not to do something to earn it; to have faith is to open one’s hand to receive what is free. It is to open one’s mouth to receive the refreshing water of heaven upon our sin-dried throat. We do not do anything. It is a gift of God!

The Apostle says in v. 9 that it is “not by works, so that no one can boast”. As he wrote elsewhere of Abraham (Rom. 4) if Abraham would have earned God’s favor it would have been by works and not promise. If this was so Abraham could boast that he had done that which made him deserving. But Paul reminds us that this is not so before God. God gives freely.

Now, the Apostle must address those who see this as a free pass on morality. The Apostle knows we can do nothing to become moral, but God has made us exactly that. God has made us new creatures. In v. 10 Paul calls us that which is made by God. He writes that we have been created (re-created?) in Christ. We are new beings.

The very truth that should keep us from guilt before God should drive us to live right before God. You are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, do not feel condemned. You are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, do not behave as if you are still dead to sin.

The critic will say, “I see Christians and Christians behave no different than others. How is a Christian a new creation in Christ”. This is the very critique made by the pluralist John Hick. It is ignorant. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity we should not see a grouchy Christian and a happy pagan and say, “See, God makes no difference. The Christian is unhappy and the pagan is happy”. In this scenario the Christian was a maid and the pagan was a wealthy man. Lewis said that what we must ask is how terribly sad would the woman be without the Holy Spirit and how much better may the man be with the Holy Spirit.

The difference is that in her inner person the Christian is seated with Christ in heavenly places waiting for her whole being to become what she already has been declared by God to be inside. The pagan is dead on the inside and it will one day be the same on the outside. We must see the fruits of the Spirit, yes, but this is not easily quantified moralism!

God is the one whom Paul said is working in us to will and do His good pleasure. We must realize this and we must simply let God do His thing. Therefore, do not be ashamed because you are already a child of God. Equally, do not behave like you are still dead to sin, because you are a new creation.