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