Ben Thinkin’ #4: Tolerating Sin, Heaven, And The Canon Of Scripture
David asks: “How much sin does God tolerate before Christians can lose their salvation?”
There is a great deal of confusion today as to what God expects of His children. One group argues, “So long as you love God, it does not matter how much sin is in your life. None of us are perfect – God accepts us just as we are.” Another group argues, “If you make a mistake, you have lost your salvation. God demands perfect obedience.” I believe both of these views are wrong, and either one will place your soul in jeopardy.
God does in fact demand that we obey the Gospel (2 Thess. 1:8) and that we keep His commandments to the best of our ability (John 14:15). Belief and obedience are inseparably connected (cf. John 3:35; 8:31-32), and there are in fact many things we cannot afford to be wrong about (cf. Acts 2:38; Rom. 16:17). And while we must be sincere in our belief, I do not believe sincerity is always enough (Matt. 7:21-23).
Yet at the same time, I know I can never earn my way into heaven (Eph. 2:8-9). I have at times allowed myself to sin (and I have promptly repented of those sins), and there are some things I am sure I am mistaken about. No matter how much I try, at the end of the day I will still be an unprofitable servant of Christ (Luke 17:10).
I believe the key to the question is found in 1 John 1:7, which says, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I can be saved despite my inability to keep God’s Law perfectly – so long as I am walking “in the light.” The blood of Christ continually cleanses me of my sins and shortcomings so long as I have obeyed the gospel and am diligently “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-21).
Going back to the question, I do not think God “tolerates” any conscious act of sin. How can I knowingly sin while “walking in the light”? Therefore I cannot live according to the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) or approve of sin (Rom. 1:21-32) and expect God to save me with cheap grace. God bought me at a high price (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20), therefore I must continually “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7) if I am to remain “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Anyone can do this so long as they love God with all of their being (Luke 10:27).
Hiram asks: “Does Revelation 21 & 22 present a vision of heaven, or is it a picture of Christ’s glorious church post-persecution?”
I believe it is both. Since the church is the redeemed, I believe Revelation 21 & 22 gives us a glimpse of the church after it has entered heaven.
I am unable to give thorough exegesis of these two chapters in only a few paragraphs. But the apostle John, in the previous chapters, has given us a glimpse at the spread of evil in the world and its looming judgment. And now Revelation 21 (and the closing words of chapter 22) is about the victory of Christ and the reward of His faithful followers. In this ancient prophetic vision, the old world has passed away and the glory and bliss of heaven is in view.
Guy N. Woods writes why he shares this view:
Evidence of this I believe to be decisive. (1) The Shekinah, or divine presence, hovered over the ark of the covenant in the earthly tabernacle. In the age to come, God will make His tabernacle among men and dwell with them (Rev. 21:3). (2) In that blessed land there will be no sorrow, no tears, no death, no weeping, no pain; God Himself will wipe all tears away (Rev. 21:4). Only when death is no more will this glorious state prevail. (3) Rivers of tears, bitter anguish and sorrow, lonely nights of pain, are often the lot of the Lord’s finest and thus the description cannot be of this age, and must therefore be of the next. There will be no night there, with its lonely shadows, no sea to separate, no gates to shut its inhabitants out of any portion of the celestial city. Only in heaven will these joys be experienced. (49)
Samuel asks: “Is there a way to establish the canonicity of the Scriptures using ONLY the Scriptures or must we rely on historical evidence as well?”
The word “canon” simply means to a measure or standard of acceptance. Therefore the canon of Scripture simply refers to the books that are considered divinely inspired (and thus should be viewed as ‘Scripture’). We can know about a book’s canonicity by the evidence given to us by God (Geisler 221). It is not man’s job to place a given book in the canon of Scripture; God has already established the canon – we simply must weigh the evidence.
There is a sense in which we can establish the canonicity of particular books of the Bible by only using other Scriptures. If an accepted book quotes another book, we may reasonably conclude that the inspired writer viewed the other author’s writings as having divine origin. For example, the New Testament references or points to every Old Testament book (with the exception of two). Additionally, we can trust that God’s providence will ensure that His Words will never be forgotten (Matt. 24:35; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
But any internal testimony of Scripture is insufficient to convince skeptics. To be totally secure in our faith of the Biblical canon, we need to look at the abundant historical evidence. Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27 demonstrate that the churches shared the apostle’s epistles, so we can study early Christian writings and observe what books were accepted and what books were rejected. Overwhelmingly, the Hebrew people in Old Testament times ultimately viewed the 39 books of the OT as inspired, and the early Christians in the first-third century times ultimately viewed the 27 books of the NT as inspired. There is remarkable consistency among the writers of the early church as to what was written by an apostle and what was not.
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Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press: Chicago, IL: 1986.
Woods, Guy N. Questions and Answers: FHU Open Forum, Volume 2. Gospel Advocate Company: Nashville, TN: 1986.