As a foundation for my following deliberations, I’d like to adduce the following verses.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Prv 3:5-8 ESV)
We may not believe that God always caresses His children. His permanent, perfect, and satisfying love is only for those who have repented of all their sins, that is, those who have “been perfected in love.” (1 Jn 4:18) In all other cases of not-yet-mature Christians, Jesus Christ is a chastener who also punishes sin if we remain in an unrepentant condition although He warned us to return to Him. For it is written,
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:15-20 – ESV)
Christianity today is the lukewarm church in Laodicea of which Christ spoke of here. Sin is serious!! We must not take sin lightly. Sin is the reason that we experience sickness, pain, losses, trials, affliction, and death. Otherwise, we would still live in paradise.
I decided to start with a quote which reads,
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
And now I dare to introduce you to a God who is both loving AND wrathful (regarding the unrepentant sinner). Let us look at different biblical examples where God showed us that He had always been the same God (Heb 13:8) – here regarding OT vs. NT – who punished ongoing sin with sickness…or even death.
Dipping into the healing at the pool of Bethesda where Jesus proved to be God who alone can forgive our sins, we see that He healed an invalid who had been sick for thirty-eight years (cf. Jn 5:1-17). We do not know what happened after that miraculous healing since we do not know either whether the man’s heart had been changed too, but we hear Jesus warning him,
“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (Jn 5:14)
We hear almost the same words when Jesus saved an adulterous woman from being stoned because of her sin,
“[…] and from now on sin no more.” (Jn 8:11 ESV)
What can happen if someone has been forgiven, has been saved, has been healed by God, yet keeps on sinning despite that severe warning? What could be worse than suffering from an infirmity for thirty-eight years?
Let’s read the whole story about that frightening event.
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” (Acts 5:1-11 ESV)
“YOU HAVE NOT LIED TO MAN BUT TO GOD!”
Do we see the Christ-likeness of Peter in this passage? It was Christ Himself who spoke through Peter. Christ who judged and condemned “a simple little lie” – as some people might say. “Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” And thus she died also.
Do we believe that such power of God shown through His servants/disciples/prophets still exists? Or do we rather cling to an “appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5)?
If a believer is truly called by Jesus to follow Him by taking up his cross daily, and to walk as Jesus did (1 Jn 2:6), this believer will also receive the power to bind and to loose, as Jesus said here,
“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18 ESV)
That does not mean at all that these disciples could decide whether or not to forgive sins of others committed against them. Quite the contrary! Their Christ-likeness springs from having achieved the goal of which Paul had said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20 ESV). Thus they are always able to turn the other cheek to their offenders.
If such servants of the Lord open their mouth, they do speak the words of God, and no longer their own, since their self was indeed buried with Christ in His death. Therefore, they are dead to sin because they
“[…] know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” (1 Jn 5:18 – KJV).
I chose the older King James Version here because I believe that modern translations with that more liberal wording “does not keep on sinning” instead of “sins not” got it wrong. Even the newer German Luther Bible from 1984 reads it the way the older translations from 1545 and 1912 also did, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin” (that is my own literal translation from the German text (*). Traditionally, KJV and Luther’s Bible rather often parallel each other.
Translating from (old) German into modern English, for instance, often takes the edge off from Luther’s originally very powerful German language which he used in his translation. Although Luther made mistakes in his life – as we all did (cf. 1 Jn 1:10) – of which he later repented, I am convinced that he received his Bible translation on the same level as Paul received the gospel (Gal 1:11-12) and John the revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1).
Why do I believe that?
God always uses these persons who no longer rely on their own understanding. As soon as a believer is completely empty of his own self-efforts to be something before men or to do something “for God” on his own but relies on Christ’s power alone, only then Christ can use him in a way that is fully pleasing to God (Col 1:10). It is stated that Luther had been desperate, hidden inside that castle („Wartburg‟) where he came to the end of himself. He faced so many different possibilities to translate the Bible, mostly from Greek, yet also from the Latin Vulgate and some Middle High German translations which already existed at that time, that he prayed to God that He’d help him to choose the proper words.
As a last point, I would like to point to the importance of continuous prayer (1 Thes 5:17). I do not believe that anyone could ever get such a revelation from God nor will men ever be able to live in God’s presence for all their lifetime without ever seeking Him. Of course, prayer without ceasing is a gift from God because no human being is able to pray day and night unless the Lord gave them the spiritual power to do it. And thus – by such prayer – we become able to continually abide in Christ so that the power of sin will be destroyed – completely. Although the flesh remains sinful (Rom 7) and “the body is dead because of sin” (Rom 8:10), the desires of the flesh will be crucified (Gal 5:24) and will have no dominion over those who live under grace (Rom 6:14), i.e., under “the law of the Spirit” ((Rom 8:2) which is LOVE.
(*) German (Deutsch): „Wir wissen, dass, wer von Gott geboren ist, der sündigt nicht.‟