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I use this newsletter to send Bible studies as much as once per week, sometimes less, but never more. See back issues.

Rebuilding the Foundations: Chapter 4

The Mercy of God

This is the only incomplete chapter, though there is more than enough here for you to get my point. This chapter was added after the rough draft of Rebuilding the Foundations was completed.

The teachings in this book are frightening, especially to those who have been taught that God does not care about Christians doing good works. Fear is not a bad thing. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10), and we are commanded to fear because of the coming judgment (1 Pet. 1:17).

God Does Not Require Sinless Perfection

Fear can lead to misunderstanding, though. It surprises me how often that people confuse righteousness with sinless perfection. Let me say in advance: I do not believe in sinless perfection, except from God. I will give a couple Bible verses for this, but first let me quote a prominent early Christian teacher. Clement of Alexandra was the teacher of new converts in Alexandria shortly before the turn of the third century (182 -202). In his book, The Instructor, he wrote:

Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless … He alone is sinless. … It is best, therefore, not to sin at all in any way, which we assert to be the prerogative of God alone; next to keep clear of voluntary transgressions, which is characteristic of the wise man; thirdly, not to fall into many involuntary offenses, which is peculiar to those who have been excellently trained. Not to continue long in sins, let that be ranked last. But this also is salutary to those who are called back to repentance, to renew the contest. (Bk. II, ch. 1)

The Bible, too, teaches that only God is sinless. James says that we all stumble in many ways (Jas. 3:2). John writes that if we say we have no sin or have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves and lying to God (1 Jn. 1:8,10). This does not change the fact that, just a few verses later, John says that we are Christians only if we keep Jesus' commands (1 Jn. 2:3-4). It does show us, however, that he did not mean sinless perfection.

There is a difference between a life of love and righteousness and a life of sin. John says the difference is something that can be seen (1 Jn. 3:10). The difference is not, however, complete perfection versus complete sinfulness. Christians, even the best of Christians, sometimes do sinful things. Sinners sometimes do good things, and some often do good things. We will go into this further in the chapter on judgment.

God Is Merciful

One of the foundational truths you must know if you are going to live out the scriptural teachings in this book is that God is merciful. He does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3:9); not even you. His mercy never runs out (Ps. 136, 26 times!). The prophet Ezekiel wrote:

If the wicked turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. (Ezek. 18:21-22)

The apostle John confirms this in the New Testament, saying, "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" (1 Jn. 1:7) and, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn. 1:9).

Before you go further in this book, spend some time feasting on the following passages. This is the God you serve, the one who is merciful to sinners, and whose grace frees from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:14).

The LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, "The LORD! The LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth, keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation." (Ex. 34:6-7)

The context of the Lord's pronouncement in Exodus 34 is that Moses was hidden in the cleft of a rock, and God made a physical appearance for Moses. God did not say anything else as he passed by, just that he was merciful, and that he would not clear the guilty.

The following line is written 26 times in Psalm 136: "His loving kindness endures forever."

This next verse, like 1 John 1:7-2:2, shows that keeping God's commands are not the same as sinless perfection. Even those who love him and keep his commandments need mercy.

"… and showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments." (Ex. 20:6)

Exodus 20:6 says that God shows mercy to those who love him and keep his commandments. If he has to show mercy to them, then he is not talking about sinless perfection when he says they keep his commandments. Instead, God promises not to impute sin to those who follow him wholeheartedly.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Ps. 32:1-2; Rom. 4:7-8)

The following verses give us a picture of how rich God's mercy is:

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isa. 55:7)
It is because of the LORD's loving kindnesses we are not consumed because his compassion doesn't fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22)

I still have to write a good ending to this chapter, but you should be well-equipped to go to chapter 5.

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