Why Grace Is More Liberating Than You Believe | Influence Podcast

“There is power available to you that can unlock your soul and all of its hidden longings,” writes John Lindell—“the buried hopes of the past, the strength needed for the moment, and the dreams for a beautiful future. That is the power of the best news: the gospel is able to change your life at this moment, even now.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk with John Lindell about this power, which is the power of God’s grace. Lindell is pastor of James River Church, a multisite congregation in Springfield, Missouri. He is devoted to seeing the local church thrive and standing boldly for the cause of Christ. Most recently, Lindell is also of Soul Set Free: Why Grace Is More Liberating than You Believe, just published by Charisma House.

If you’d like to listen to John Lindell’s thoughts about expository preaching, listen to Episode 97 of the Influence Podcast.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Confess Your Sins | Book Review

John Stott’s Confess Your Sins is a little gem of a book. Originally published in 1964, it has been reissued by Eerdmans. As far as I can tell, the only change to the original is that Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, come from the NIV (2011).

All Christians agree on three truths, which Stott names at the outset of the book: “the fact and guilt of sin, the possibility of forgiveness, and the need for confession” (emphasis in original). These three truths come together in 1 John 1:8–9:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

“So,” as Stott puts it, “the forgiveness of sins by God is made conditional upon the confession of sins by man.”

The crucial question that his book addresses — the question that divides Protestants from Catholics — is to whom we must confess. Over the course of five chapters, Stott argues that “confession must be made to the person against whom we have sinned and from whom we need and desire to receive forgiveness” (emphasis in original). Drawing on Scripture, Stott identifies three types of confession: “secret confession” to God, “private confession” to a person whom we have offended, and “public confession” when we have sinned against “a group of people, a community, or the whole local congregation.”

Stott further argues that “auricular confession,” i.e., the confession of sins to a priest, “is a practice to be deplored.” That’s a strong term, but Stott’s argument is both theological and practical in nature. “Confession is never to a third party,” he writes, “both because he has not been offended, and because he is not in a position to forgive the sin.”

Throughout the book, Stott makes his primary appeal to Scripture in support of his argument. However, he also appeals to church history, especially the history and theology of the Church of England. These appeals to church history — which include an appendix of several official Anglican statements on confession — may limit the appeal of the book to some readers.

On the other hand, given that 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, these appeals to the writings of English Reformers remind us of the evangelical character of the Church of England. That church produced George Whitefield and John Wesley, two evangelists whose ministries shaped — and continue to shape — evangelical Christianity throughout the world today, including global Pentecostalism. Perhaps we should learn from those who have gone before us in the faith, rather than eschewing history as irrelevant to contemporary concerns.

Stott concludes this book with twin appeals to take both confession and forgiveness of sin more seriously. “Christianity is a religion of forgiveness,” he writes. “God is willing to forgive sinners through Christ. We must forgive one another.” Our obligation to do so flows from the gospel itself. As Scripture says, “[forgive] each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).


Book Reviewed:
John Stott, Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017; orig. 1964).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review.

Sin, Jesus, and Us (1 John 3:4-10)

What is sin? What is Jesus’ relationship to sin? And what is ours?

First John 3:4-10 provides an answer to each of these questions.

First, what is sin? Verse 4 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” According to the Bible, God’s moral will is revealed in both nature (Romans 1:18-20) and Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Sin is the intentional disobedience of this divine will. It is acting contrary to both reason and revelation. Because the devil is the first and most notorious example of such disobedience, John considers all sinners to be of the devil’s party. According to verse 8, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” Sin is no trifling matter, then; at root it is anti-God behavior.

Second, what is Jesus’ relationship to sin? Verse 5 says, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” In terms of his person, Jesus is sinless. In terms of his work, he is the Savior of those who have sinned. Jesus’ person and work make him diametrically opposed to the devil. According to verse 8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” If the devil’s work is the cause of all the misery in the world, then Jesus’ work is the source of its blessedness.

Third, what is our relationship to sin? How we answer that question depends on what our relationship with Jesus is. So, verses 6-7 say, “No one who lives in him [that is, Jesus] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” And verses 9-10 add, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” Our relationship to sin is determined by whether we are “in him,” that is, saved by Jesus.

Throughout 1 John 3:4-10, John presents the spiritual life in stark, either-or terms. You are either a sinner or not. You are either the child of the devil or the child of God. We live in an easy-going age that is uncomfortable with such black-and-white thinking. Indeed, some people think that moral absolutism of this sort is a cause of great evil in the world. And perhaps it can be. (In the case of radical Islamist terrorists, it is.) But being “in Jesus” is not that kind of religion. It is, rather, a religion of love. Whoever does not love is of the devil’s party. Whoever loves, through Christ, is a child of God.

Liberator, Defender, Sacrifice (1 John 2:1-2)

Sin has a powerful grip on us humans, which we do not have the power to break free of. Only God has that kind of power. So how does he break the grip of sin on our lives? Answer: through the death of Jesus Christ.

We find a brief description of how God overcomes sin through Christ in 1 John 2:1-2:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

First, God announces his intention to overcome sin. When John says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin,” he is not merely stating his personal opinion. Rather, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he is proclaiming a truth of the gospel. Indeed, according to 1 John 3:8, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” But Christ’s appearing was also constructive. According to 1 John 5:18, “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God [that is, Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”

From all this mention of the devil, you might conclude that the problem of sin is a problem of victimization. We are innocents who have been enslaved by an evil power. That is part of the biblical message. But the Bible also uses a legal metaphor to describe the problem of sin. We are criminal defendants—victimizers—who are guilty as charged, and God is the Judge in whose hands our sentence rests. Building on this legal metaphor, John writes that Jesus is “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” Jesus Christ, in other words, is the advocate who makes the case for our innocence.

But how can Christ make a case for the innocence of his clients when they are patently guilty? It is here that John introduces a third metaphor, which is religious in nature. Jesus, he writes, is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” In the ancient world, religious worship often included the sacrifice of an animal. The worshiper laid his hand on the animal’s head, symbolically transferring his guilt to it, and then the animal was killed in ritual punishment for the person’s sins. John uses this metaphor to describe what Jesus actually did. Through his death on the cross, Christ exchanged his innocence for our guilt so that we might get out from under the grip of sin.

In summary, Jesus Christ is our Liberator, Defender, and Sacrifice. That is how God overcomes the power of sin in our lives.

Two Mistakes about Sin (1 John 1:8-10)

When it comes to the issue of ongoing sin in the life of the believer, Christians often make one of two mistakes: either they claim an easy victory over sin or they concede an early defeat to it. A careful reading of 1 John 1:8-10 is the cure for both mistakes.

In the history of Christian theology, people who claim an easy victory over sin have come to be known as perfectionists. They believe that God’s Word and Spirit are so powerfully at work in the life of the believer that he or she can attain sinlessness in this life. In 1 John 1:8-10, John refutes pretensions of perfection when he writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

John’s argument is two-fold: First, perfectionism contradicts the truth about ourselves. We are sinners. Whether atheists, agnostics, spiritual seekers, or mature believers, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” according to Romans 3:23. Human sinfulness is both a biblical assertion about us, as well as an empirically verifiable fact. But who are the “we” John is writing to? It is tempting to claim that they are unbelievers, but that temptation should be resisted. The context of these verses demands that “we” includes us. John is writing to Christians about their ongoing sin.

Second, perfectionism contradicts the truth about God. If we claim perfection in this life, then we make God a “liar” and “his word has no place in our lives.” In Romans 3:9-18, the Apostle Paul quotes a litany of divinely inspired prophecies about human sinfulness. And this litany is about both unbelievers and believers. “Are we any better?” Paul asks. “Not at all!” If God tells the truth, if his word is to have any place in our lives, then we Christians must acknowledge that we are sinners.

But if an easy victory over sin is impossible, should we concede an early defeat to it? I once had an extended conversation with a very thoughtful young man who, if I understood him correctly, doubted that believers could make any progress in holiness in this life. While we should not underestimate the powerful grip sin has on us, we also should not underestimate the far more powerful grip God has on us through his Son, Jesus Christ.

The solution to sin is not anxiously striving for perfection or guiltily wallowing in defeat. Rather, the way out is confession: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” How does he do this? According to 1 John 1:7, by “the blood of Jesus.”

More on how Jesus overcomes sin tomorrow.

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