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True Christianity

We have been discussing the doctrine of salvation. Last time we talked about repentance and conversion.

Before we jump into sanctification, we want to speak on what we are simply calling “True Christianity.” There is still bad thinking out there as to what it means to be converted-- i.e., what a saved Christian truly is, and supposed to do.

So this will be a shorter episode, but we want to address some common errors, and then talk about what true saving faith is to be and do.

We covered most of this in one form or another in our previous episodes, but it is part of our ST, and so we want to touch on it here as well.

True Christianity

Extremes to be avoided:

“Easy believism”

This is simply a reduction of the gospel in the extreme. It, like any error, is caused by taking a few passages and exalting them above all others and ignoring the totality of Scripture. There is often the idea of faith as an assent of the mind to certain truths, without having what the Reformers would call fiducia.

This is similar to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called, “cheap grace.” Simply put, it presumes on the grace of God. It sees no real need to put away sin, or follow the commands of Christ-- it is all under the blood.

Historically, you saw this in many Lutheran churches.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship).

Bonhoeffer, then, contrasted “cheap grace” with what he called a “costly grace.”

And costly grace, is true grace.

It is picking up on what Jesus said about how you must count the cost if you are to truly follow him. It will cost you much.

In fact, it can be summed up in self-denial for the sake  of Christ and the Gospel.

Now, that is not saying that you must do this in order to receive grace, but it is saying that true saving faith, which results from the grace of God, truly transforms a person’s mind, will, heart, desires, and goals.

It is a life that begins to look radically different than it did before, because they are putting away sin, and pursuing a life that looks, increasingly, like Jesus Christ.

The Christian life and existence is one of discipleship (lit. “follower”).

Jesus gave the mandate before He ascended. It was to be an ongoing reality in the Christian life.

Matt. 28:18-20 “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

We see this being played out in the early church.

Acts 11:26 - “and when [Barnabas] he had found him [Paul], he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

The point, here, is that the Scriptures describe the life of a Christian as something far greater than merely believing at a point in time in your life. There is to be an ever growing maturity through this process of discipleship.

“We accept church members on a profession of trust in Christ. Continuance in the word (teaching) proves the sincerity or insincerity of that profession. It is the acid test” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures).

“Carnal Christianity” is not ever to be thought of as normative or acceptable. To continue in this state would give reasonable cause to challenge one’s faith

1 Cor. 3:1-3 “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”

In fact, I would reject “Carnal Christianity” as a legitimate doctrine. There is no such thing.

Many have taken the doctrine to mean that it is possible to be a Christian, but you are just floating. But that is not Paul’s point. Paul’s point is that you are living in disobedience, and a true Christian will never remain there.

In fact, this doctrine has developed into this idea “making Jesus Lord.”

Many people will claim they believe in Jesus, but they have not yet made Him Lord in their life. This is bad thinking.

Jesus is already Lord; it is just a matter of whether a person will obey Him as such.

And the mark of a true Christian is that they do!

Listen from Gal. 5, as to how Paul views those who walk in the flesh (i.e., “live carnaly”).

Gal. 5:19-21 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

There are many passages in the NT like this that we could look at. But the point has been made.

It is important to understand the NT never speaks of “carnal Christians.” It speaks of obedience and disobedience; and the one who remains in disobedience proves themself not to be truly converted. And the one who puts away sin, and puts on holiness shows themself to be truly saved, and truly possessing the Spirit of God.


There is a real temptation to seek to be perfect (sinless) on this side of heaven. There are many who place the people of God back under the law in an effort to walk holy. Often it is unintentional, yet it is sadly common. There are some groups who argue for a form of perfectionism (e.g., Nazarenes).

“The doctrine of perfectionism is not always stated in precisely the same terms by its adherents. The definition of Webster’s Dictionary is probably fair to all parties: “The doctrine that a state of freedom from sin is attainable in earthly life.” Some perfectionists limit this freedom to wilful sin. Others limit the freedom from sin, which they conceive of as attainable in this life, to freedom from known sin, excluding sins of ignorance either on the ground that they are not sin, or that they cannot in any case be included in the realm of perfection. Some believe the sin nature itself is eradicated. An examination of the Scriptures will not only sustain the fundamental elements of the doctrine of the sin nature itself, but it will make clear that the doctrine of perfectionism is not taught in the Bible at all as it is held by its advocates” (John Walvoord, The Holy Spirit).

Although the reality of salvation is full and complete, this does not mean that sin is not still present within the believer. We have been saved from the penalty of sin and are being saved from the power of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin in the end. But as most things in the bible, it is a process. 1 John 1:8-10 makes it clear that sin will be present with the believer and that God has made provisions for it.

There are many passages that speak of the presence of sin in the believer.

- Rom. 7-8

- Philippians 3:12-14

"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:12-14)

There are many passages that speak of growth and maturity.

- Romans 12:1-2

- 2 Cor. 3:18

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

-Eph. 4:23

- Col. 3:10

"have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him..."

- 1 Pet. 2:1-2

- 2 Pet. 3:18

Every Christian must remember that they are responsible to grow in grace and knowledge. There is never a sense in the scripture that one can excuse himself of remaining sin simply by blaming God’s sovereignty as allowing it. At the same time, the believer must always be cognizant of the fact that he is utterly dependent upon the continuing presence of God and His grace (Gal. 3:3, Phil. 2:12-13).

"Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3)

Discipleship -- the reality of the Christian life.

The definitive passage is Matt. 28:19-20.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The main command -- “Make disciples.”

The process -- 3 participles (“going, baptizing, teaching”).

“Going” shows this is a proactive, conintinal state of every believer.

“Baptizing” is the initial work of discipleship.

“Teaching” is the ongoing work of discipleship.

The scope -- “all nations.”

The promise and provision -- Jesus says, having all authority (v.18), “I will be with you…”

What is discipleship, specifically? (Adapted from James Garrett’s ST).

“Akoloutheo” ἀκολουθέω

This word simply means to follow after something or someone. It is figuratively used of discipleship, where you are committed to following after another’s life and teaching.

Matt. 19:21 - “Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

Mk. 2:14 - “As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him.”

John 10:4-5 “"When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. "A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers."

This “following” is far more than a casual acquaintance. Never will you find the command to follow as a mere suggestion; rather, it is a total act of following. It is in many ways merely a continuation of repentance and faith, where the mind and life is redirected Christward and continues to be so. It is intensely personal.

Listen to the intensity and radical nature, then, of what it means to be a disciple (lit. follow) Jesus:

Mk. 8:34 - “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Matt. 10: 34-38 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. "For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

Discipleship as learning.

The primary word used is “mathetes,” which means to be a pupil or apprentice. The life of true discipleship is constantly to be studying and learning from their master. So the believer is to be studying our Lord and His Word.

- Matt. 28:19-20

- Luke 11:1

Discipleship as discipline.

- We are to live under the yoke of our Lord (Matt. 11:28-30).

- We are to continue in Christ’s Word (John 8:31).

- We are to bear much fruit (John 15:8).

- We are accountable to one another (Matt. 18:15-17).

- We are accountable to our Lord (Heb. 12:5-11).

Discipleship as Cross-bearer.

Matt. 10:21-25 "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. "But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. "It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!”


So there is a lot here.

The basic point to understand is that the Christian life can never be reduced to “I made profession or stated a prayer.”

The Christian is always moving, changing, growing, and conforming-- and specifically, toward the person of Jesus Christ.

As we said, the bible is clear that this does not mean perfection. But it does mean process -- we are always in the process of growing up into holiness.

A person who is not, is only moving backwards.

And ultimately, if they do not repent and start becoming like the person of Jesus it should be a warning sign that they are not truly converted.

So since the genuine believer is always in the process of becoming more like Christ, it is to that topic to which we will turn next time, Lord-willing-- namely, this very important doctrine of sanctification.


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