Who deserves heaven? Do we, if we’re pretty good, or some especially godly people who have it all together spiritually? Perhaps some saints of old, such as Athanasius or Bede do, or at the very least, certainly Paul or Peter or John? While God expects us to obey Him as much as we understand how to at any given time, we really need to get to a point where we realize that absolutely none of us deserves heaven. While God does, and will yet in the future do, some really incredible things for those who belong to Christ, none of it is because of us, but because of Christ alone.
“And raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)
The Complete Word Study New Testament explains “The revivification of Christ, His assuming a new life, involves at the same time revivifying those that are His. It refers to the delivery from the state into which they have been brought by sin and which brought death to them.” The original word “…expresses not merely the similarity of the deliverance from the death of sin to new life in Christ, but it affirms that it is connected with Christ’s resurrection.” God has not only raised Christ from the dead, He has also in doing so raised us from spiritual death and given us new life through Him.
Furthermore, He allows us access to Himself through Christ. The word translated “sit together” means “to give a seat in company with,” or access to fellowship with; “heavenly places” refers to the spiritual realm. Through Christ, we can now approach God and are part of His kingdom!
Notwithstanding, we are still straddled by the limitations of this life and these bodies, not to mention Satan’s attempts to cause us to sin. Scripture tells us that we have “the mind of Christ”(I Corinthians 2:16b), but we do not have perfect knowledge (which is why we are commanded to “grow in the…knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” [2 Peter 3:18a]). We are susceptible to physical weakness, bad days, or simply being unprepared for something and thus being caught off guard. Because our behavior is typically based on our beliefs, it is imperative that we be grounded in what God says is true. Yet because we aren’t perfect, there might be times when our motive is good, but our application of it is faulty.
Because of all of this, the end result is that good intentions can go bad. Jesus told the mob that wanted to execute the woman caught in adultery, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7) These people meant well; they were attempting to enforce God’s Old Testament laws, but Jesus showed them God’s mercy. Saul persecuted the followers of Jesus before his conversion because of his great zeal for the purity of Judaism, but he was sorely misguided and did great harm. Yet these people were not Christians. Can a Christian act like that?
One would hope not, but the truth remains that even those who love God are vulnerable to mistakes, not only in understanding and interpretation, but also due to our individual personalities. More gentle souls among us might interpret our bent as weakness and resolve to intentionally not back down when challenged, being harsher than the situation calls for. Those tending toward more severe behavior might intentionally overlook disobedience when what is called for is discipline and consequences. We all struggle with who we are and how to best apply our knowledge of God’s principles, unfortunately failing at times.
Years ago our Precept Bible group studied the book of Romans. We found ourselves in a quandary when we got to Romans 7:15-24, because we didn’t want to believe Paul was describing the behavior of a born again Christian. Yet I have come to believe that this is exactly what he is doing:
“For what I am doing; I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind…O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We truly do not want to sin yet sometimes end up doing just that.
We get the answer to this dilemma in the subsequent verses: “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 [not habitually, mind you–there are verses that specifically warn of intentional sin–but simply by virtue of the fact that we are human]. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 7:25-8:1) My job is to obey God as best as I know how and trust that because of Christ God forgives the evil I unintentionally am guilty of.
I John 1:6-2:12 further tells us:
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world…I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.”
While God expects me to walk in the light–to live the way He wants me to as best as I understand it according to the Bible–forgiveness is because of Jesus, and only because of Jesus.
Help us be instruments of real righteousness, not instruments of wickedness; help our understanding of good truly line up with what You say is good. Please forgive us the same as we forgive those who sin against us, because of Jesus, when we fail You. In His name. Amen.