The Confident Christian
6/10/14 at 08:21 PM 28 Comments

Adultery and Misunderstanding God’s Forgiveness

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The Huffington Post[1] reported on a new religious survey conducted by Ashley Madison (a website devoted to connecting married people who want to have affairs, with the website’s registered tagline being: “Life is short. Have an affair”) that found the vast majority of its users claimed to be Christian. The full results were:

  • Evangelical 25.1%
  • Catholic 22.75%
  • Protestant 22.7%
  • Agnostic 2%
  • Mormon 1.6%
  • Muslim 1.5%
  • Jewish 1.4%
  • Atheist 1.4%
  • Jehovah’s Witness 0.5%
  • Hinduism 0.3%

Why the inordinately high number of supposed Christians involved in affairs? Dr. Eric Anderson, a sociologist at the University of Winchester in England who is quoted in the article, offered this explanation: "People who have faith often use it as an outlet for forgiveness so they're more likely to cheat and less likely to feel guilty."

As Christians, what are we to make of this?

“Many will say to Me on that day…”

On the surface, it certainly is depressing to see 70+% of the respondents indicate they’re Christ-followers. If I was an atheist, I’d be tempted to respond, “And you say we can’t live moral lives without God…?!”[2]

However, let’s understand a few things about the report. First, if the majority of respondents are U.S. based, then it is a fair bet we are dealing with cultural Christianity and those who may have been brought up in a Christian environment and identify with Christianity, but are actually not truly born again. Having been a cultural Christian myself long ago, I still shudder when I remember Jesus’ words to such people: “Many will say to me on that day [judgment day], ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22–23).

Next, we have no way via the article of validating Dr. Anderson’s conjecture behind the supposed rationale for those committing adultery (e.g. is he citing scientific studies, etc.) Perhaps those betraying their spouses feel little to no remorse whatsoever and the forgiveness aspect doesn’t enter the picture at all because they aren’t truly Christians and don’t have the Holy Spirit convicting them.

But these things said, let’s not run away from what’s being conveyed in this survey, nor the supplied explanation for the behavior. While I have little doubt that anyone intentionally committing adultery because they think they have God’s safety net of forgiveness in place is likely not born again, I have to say I have seen some of this thinking in the Church today, and it is deadly.

A Big Word and a Big Problem

There are various strains of it that can be found throughout the history of the Church. You can find it in some Greek philosophy, in Gnostic teaching, and some believe it was practiced by the Nicolaitans that are mentioned in the book of Revelation.

Antinomianism[3] is a big word, which literally means “against the law”. With respect to Christianity, it refers to the belief that Christians have no obligation to keep the moral Law of God because salvation is obtained through faith alone (sola fide) and by God’s grace.

It’s sometimes casually referred to as “cheap grace” in that while it cost Christ everything, salvation costs the person nothing. No repentance, no change of moral behavior, no need to deny oneself of anything where salvation is concerned.

If such thinking is on the mind of the Ashley Madison survey respondents, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The Theological Antidote

Too few in the Church today have a strong, Biblical theology and a correct view of salvation. It is a lack of right theology that leads to wrongheadedness where things like cheap-grace thinking are concerned.

Regarding salvation, there are typically three “formulas” that are put forward as being correct with respect to how a person becomes a Christian.[4] For most Catholics, some Christian cults, as well as various other religions, the salvific equation is:

Faith + Works = Salvation

Faith is part of a person’s salvation, but works still plays a role in achieving it. Most evangelical Christians would disagree with this definition, and propose the following:

Faith = Salvation

As tempting as it is to use this formula, I would ask you to consider that it is incorrect, incomplete, and actually antinomian. There is more to salvation than simply repeating some incantation and that being the end of the story. Instead, I would argue the following definition is correct for salvation in Christianity:

Faith = Salvation + Works

Some will immediately accuse me of a works-salvation approach with this position, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that salvation is delivered (Eph. 2:8-9). Instead, by adding “works” to the other side of the equation we are signifying an evidence of salvation, but not a cause of salvation.

To put it the way the Reformers did, we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone.

This theological truth decimates the antinomian mindset and rightly highlights the two-fold aspect of sanctification in the life of a Christian: we are immediately declared holy and a saint because of Christ’s work on the cross, but we also are gradually brought closer to the likeness of Christ through an inward call to obedience that occurs when God replaces our heart of stone (Ezek. 36:26) and gifts us with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) who empowers us to live a righteous life.[5]

While there are many verses highlighting that the evidence of true, saving faith is a progressively sanctified life (or “holy affections” as theologian Jonathan Edwards put it[6]), no one more explicitly confirms this fact than James, who says: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).

In a similar vein, Paul warns about those who “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him” (Titus 1:16) with the writer of Hebrews illustrating the same truth when he writes, “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7–8).

Putting as succinctly as I know how, we can sum up Scripture’s truth on this matter by saying “No fruit, no salvation” (Matthew 7:16–17).

A Warning to the Ashley Madison’s

Theologian and pastor John Piper tells the story of a woman who heard a message he delivered on the perseverance of the saints (which says a Christian can never lose their salvation). She came to him and admitted that she was in an adulterous affair, but because she was saved, she intended to continue in her sin without worry over losing her salvation.

Piper’s reply to her was direct and rare in our current sugar-coated, seeker-friendly church climate: “God will damn you to Hell if you continue in your sin.”[7]

God warns the Ashley Madison’s of this world that their conscious-free continuation in sin is a red flag that they have failed the test of salvation (2 Cor. 3:5; 2 Pet. 1:10) and are violating Scripture’s direct pronouncement: “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15).

It’s my prayer that antinomian thinking is eradicated from the Church and that none reading this falls short of true saving faith. Instead, I hope that each one of us finds within them these characteristics written by theologian Arthur Pink who describes how a person can know that they belong to Christ: “by the marks of the new nature within me, a love for God, an appetite for spiritual things, a longing for holiness, a seeking after conformity to Christ. . . .by the resistance which the new nature makes to the old, causing me to hate sin and loathe myself for it. . . .by avoiding everything which is condemned by God's Word and by sincerely repenting of and humbly confessing every transgression.”[8]

[2] This is actually a wrong interpretation of the Christian’s moral argument for God that says, without God, there is no foundation for objective moral values and duties. It never says that atheists can’t lead moral lives.

[4] For a detailed explanation of each, download R. C. Sproul’s podcast entitled “Saving Faith”.

[5] A righteous life that is obviously not free of sin (e.g. Romans 7) but does desire to keep the Law of God.

[6] See Edward’s work A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.

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