John McArthur

Free from Guilt

Questions and Answers from JM :
How far can a 'Christian' go on sinning?

I recently read a book about Christians and sin that began with an unusual account. The author of this book was acquainted with a pastor who had been sent to prison for robbing fourteen banks to finance his dalliances with prostitutes! The author was fully convinced the bank-robbing Lothario was a true Christian, and so he wrote a book to explore how such a thing could be possible.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think it is fair to raise the question of whether someone who regularly robs banks to pay for illicit sex is truly saved! That man's sin was secretly his lifestyle. There is every reason to believe that he would still be committing his crimes today if he had not been caught. Can we concede that this "so-called brother" is a genuine Christian, just because he was once an evangelical pastor?

True, we cannot judge the man's heart, but we must judge his behavior (1 Cor. 5:12). "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In those verses the apostle Paul was describing sins of chronic behavior, sins that color one's whole character. A predilection for such sins reflects an unregenerate heart. Paul reminded the Corinthians, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God" (v. 12, emphasis added).

But wait. Doesn't Scripture include examples of believers who committed gross sin? Didn't David commit murder and adultery and allow his sin to go unconfessed for at least a year? Wasn't Lot characterized by worldly compromise in the midst of heinous sin? Yes, those examples prove that genuine believers are capable of the worst imaginable sins. But David and Lot cannot be made to serve as examples of "carnal" believers, whose whole lifestyle and appetites are no different from unregenerate people.

David, for example, did repent thoroughly of his sin when Nathan confronted him, and he willingly accepted the Lord's discipline (2 Sam. 12:1-23). Psalm 51 is an expression of David's deep repentance at the end of this sordid episode in his life. The point, after all, is that this was merely one episode in David's life. He was certainly not predisposed to that kind of sin. In fact, 1 Kings 15:5 says, "David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite" (emphasis added).

Lot is a different case. Not much is known about him from the Old Testament account, but what is recorded about him is disappointing. He was a pathetic example of compromise and disobedience. On the eve of Sodom's destruction, when he should have fled the city, "he hesitated" (Gen. 19:16). The angelic messengers had to seize his hand and put him outside the city. Near the end of his life, his two daughters got him drunk and committed incest with him (Gen. 19:30-38). Lot certainly did seem to have a proclivity for sins of compromise and worldliness.

Yet the inspired New Testament writer tells us Lot was "oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds)" (2 Pet. 2:8). He hated sin and desired righteousness. He had respect for holy angels-evidence of his fear of God (Gen. 19:1-14). He obeyed God by not looking back at Sodom when God's judgment rained down (cf. v. 26).

Lot was certainly not "carnal" in the sense that he lacked spiritual desires. Though he lived in a wicked place, he was not wicked himself. His soul was "tormented," vexed, grieved, tortured with severe pain at the sight of the evil all around him. Evidently his conscience did not become seared; he "felt his righteous soul tormented day after day" with the evil deeds of those around him. Though he lived in Sodom, he never became a Sodomite. Those who use him as an illustration of someone who is saved but utterly carnal miss the point of 2 Peter 2:8.

What is the lesson of Lot's life as Peter saw it? Verse 9 sums it up: "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment."

In Lot's case, one means the Lord used to rescue him from temptation was severe chastisement. Lot lost his home; his wife was killed by divine judgment; and his own daughters disgraced and debased him. He paid a terrible price for his sin, being "tormented day after day." If Lot proves anything, it is that true believers cannot sin with impunity.

God always chastens and disciplines His children who sin. If they do not experience chastening, they are not truly His children, but spiritual bastards. Hebrews 12:7-8 explicitly states this: "What son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." The specific purpose for which He disciplines us is "for our good, that we may share His holiness" (Heb. 12:10).

All of that flies in the face of the notion that millions of Christians live in a state of unbroken carnality. If these people are true children of God, why are they not constantly under His discipline?

 As we have said, MacArthur is very slick. First he points out that Scripture emphatically says that certain types of behavior will keep you out of the Kingdom. (1Cor6:9-10, Gal5:19-21) AND that you can be known by the type of Fruit you are producing! (Although he's quick to point out that no one knows the heart) Then he raises the dilemma of 'Christians' in the Bible who fell into grievous sins, 'King David and Lot'. Now he has to suggest that Paul is only speaking of a 'Chronic' behavior of repeated offenses. Implying that a Real Christian can indeed commit Adultery and Murder and REMAIN in a State of Salvation, un-confessed, but under Divine Chastisement. But the Bible makes no such distinction, it simply says: 'If you DO these things, you will NOT inherit the Kingdom!' And John Clearly Points out that 'No Murder has Eternal life abiding in him', 1John3:15. Of course JM can't condone such sinful behavior, but at the same time his theology will not allow him to say that these people were in danger of losing their soul. He tried to discourage 'carnal' Christianity, but ends up supporting eternal security! WHY not rather use Joseph, Noah, Enoch as examples of Doing the Right thing if you want to promote obedience to the faith? JM's teaching only confuses the issue. How close is it to the horrible, blatant assumption that God will KILL a Sinning Saint and take him to heaven early for his grievous acts? Such men as David and Lot stand as DIRE warnings to the rest of us, NOT to Temp the Lord in like manner .....Remember Esau, Heb12:16-17, who went beyond Repentance, that it's possible to go too far.


Declared Righteous: What Actually Changes?

In its theological sense, justification is a forensic, or purely legal, term. It describes what God declares about the believer, not what He does to change the believer. In fact, justification effects no actual change whatsoever in the sinner's nature or character. Justification is a divine judicial edict. It changes our status only, but it carries ramifications that guarantee other changes will follow. Therefore, because of justification, believers not only are perfectly free from any charge of guilt (Romans 8:33) but also have the full merit of Christ reckoned to their personal account (Romans 5:17). Here are the forensic realities that flow out of justification.

 The Most effective method of explaining away the necessity of the Old man dying with Christ in Repentance, Rom6:4-6, is separating Justification from sanctification. The Bible DOES NOT disjoin them! (Acts26:18, 1Cor6:11) That way Real Obedience to Christ remains provisional. If God can Declare you Justified while you remain in a state of Sin (because He looks at Jesus instead of you) where is your motivation to Obey anything the Bible says? It's all optional! Christ stands as your Substitute and fulfills all your moral obligations to God. Certainly JM would insist that 'IF' you were really saved, you would Obey, but listen closely and the bottom line remains the same. 

How Justification and Sanctification Differ

Justification is distinct from sanctification because in justification God does not make the sinner righteous; He declares that person righteous (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). Notice how justification and sanctification are distinct from one another:

      Justification imputes Christ's righteousness to the sinner's account (Romans 4:11b); sanctification imparts righteousness to the sinner personally and practically (Romans 6:1-7; 8:11-14).

      Justification takes place outside sinners and changes their standing (Romans 5:1-2, sanctification is internal and changes the believer's state (Romans 6:19).

      Justification is an event, sanctification a process.

 Again they disconnect the Death of the Old Man with the act of Justification. In other words....FIRST you Get Saved in your sins! THEN God makes you Righteous! It has Nothing to do with you Repenting or obeying from your heart, getting clear of your sins or becoming Pure by faith. So you come out of yours sins 'gradually' process. NOT as Paul said in Rom6:6, as a once and for all, not to be repeated event that frees you from the Power and Corruption of sin. God only declares a person Righteous who has Stopped sinning and has been Crucified with Christ, Gal2:16-21. It happens simultaneously, it is NOT two separate acts. 


On Limited Atonement JM Says:

 We have learned, the doctrine of absolute inability means that people will only be saved if God saves them, and therefore salvation is based upon the decree of God, the sovereign doctrine of election.  No one could be saved unless God saved him and God saves those whom He chooses to save.  You cannot expect the sinner on his own, no matter how he's emotionally prodded or psychologically prodded, no matter how he's threatened, no matter what you say to him, on his own you cannot expect him to quote/unquote decide for Christ.  ...Number one, the atonement is limited.  And by atonement I mean the sacrifice of Christ by which He paid the penalty for sin.  The atonement is limited.  Now let's look at this at just some obvious passages.  Matthew 10...Matthew chapter 10 and I'm not going to wait for you, so you might want to write these down.  Matthew 10:28, we've got to go, verse 28, gird up your loins, here we go, Matthew 10:28, "Do not not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." That's also quoted in Luke 12 as we've been learning.  There is a hell and God is going to send people there.  That tells me the atonement is limited.  There is a hell and God is going to send people there. I don't have any problem at all saying the atonement is limited.  I don't have any problem at all saying how it's limited, it's limited to those who believe.  And I have no problem saying and those who believe are those whom God grants faith and therefore the atonement is limited because God limited it. It is also true that when Scripture speaks of divine love, the focus is usually on Godís eternal love toward the elect. Godís love for mankind reaches fruition in the election of those whom He saves. And not every aspect of divine love is extended to all sinners without exception. Otherwise, all would be elect, and all would ultimately be saved. Now, as you come to chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham as an illustration of that, He is an illustration of justification by faith. He is an illustration that men and women come into a right relationship to God through believing in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we've been learning that justification then, or God imputing to us His righteousness, God putting His righteousness to our account must be seen in two ways. First of all, it is a forensic declaration, that is a statement of God relative to judicial reality. By that I mean God says, in fact, we are legally righteous. The legal payment has been paid, the wages of sin is death, Christ died the death. If we are granted the appropriation of that death through faith then legally we are right with God, Payment has been made. That is what forensic means. It is a legal declaration. And so, we are legally pronounced just.

 Classic Augustinian Paganism! NO ONE among the early Saints taught a limited atonement. Christ's provided a means to the WHOLE WORLD and is Not willing ANY should Perish! (1John2:2, 2Pet3:9) Not merely an 'elect' few. Those chosen were those who believed and obeyed. (1Pet1:2) It couldn't be more clear! It's heathen fatalism to assume otherwise. And Matt10:28, as Proof of this limitation! Outrageous! Christ is speaking to His Disciples in this Chapter, sending them out to Preach the Gospel and telling them to endure to the end. Talk about stretching it. These preachers will say almost anything to twist the Word. Why preach the Gospel in such a System. God will secure the Salvation of the elect no matter what anyone does or does not do. How arrogant it is to assume that He needs your help These preachers should just hang up their Bibles and ride off into the sunset and Stop spreading these lies.