out of the frying pan…
from the Mormon hymn, "If You Could Hie to Kolob"
In the context of the last post, "orthodoxy" was idenified with "right belief" and "true theology," and this group of terms (used identically on this blog) are distinguished from (though never to be separated from) "orthopraxy," or "right action." It was last asserted that right action flows out of right belief for it is by faith alone in Christ alone that we are made pure by God and "to the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:5 NASB).
Usually when we think of "sin," we think of sinful actions that we perform- words and deeds that are obviously wrong and thus contrary to the character of God. But these sinful actions are, in the final analysis, the fruit of wrong belief. Wrong belief is, in biblical terms, unbelief for belief in God as revealed by His Word is the only belief that counts. And the root of all sin is unbelief, as Martin Luther noted in his lectures on Genesis (LW 1:162; WA 42:121):
Therefore the root and source of sin is unbelief and turning away from God, just as, on the other hand, the source and root of righteousness is faith.
Each Christian has been granted true belief by God (see Ephesians 2:8-10), but even our true belief will always be mixed with unbelief in this life.
And so this is why the development of right theology is crucial- and not only in our own lives, but for the lives of those we impact each day.
For unbelief is sin, and sin is never satisfied, but always seeks to lead us into greater error. As John Owen wrote in his great work on sanctification, The Mortification of Sin:
Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins. The apostle tells us what the works and fruits of it are, Gal. 5:19-21, "The works of the flesh are manifest, which are, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like." You know what it did in David and sundry others. Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head. Men may come to that, that sin may not be heard speaking a scandalous word in their hearts, -- that is, provoking to any great sin with scandal in its mouth; but yet every rise of lust, might it have its course, would come to the height of villainy: it is like the grave, that is never satisfied. And herein lies no small share of the deceitfulness of sin, by which it prevails to the hardening of men, and so to their ruin, Heb. 3:13, -- it is modest, as it were, in its first motions and proposals, but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presseth on to some farther degrees in the same kind. This new acting and pressing forward makes the soul take little notice of what an entrance to a falling off from God is already made; it thinks all is indifferent well if there be no farther progress; and so far as the gospel requireth, -- so far it is hardened: but sin is still pressing forward, and that because it hath no bounds but utter relinquishment of God and opposition to him; that it proceeds towards its height by degrees, making good the ground it hath got by hardness, is not from its nature, but its deceitfulness. Now nothing can prevent this but mortification; that withers the root and strikes at the head of sin every hour, so that whatever it aims at it is crossed in. There is not the best saint in the world but, if he should give over this duty, would fall into as many cursed sins as ever any did of his kind. [emphases added]
And so it is a principle that wrong belief if left unchecked will lead to greater unbelief. This is true for individuals and for groups. Jesus points to this fact when confronting the Pharisees, saying,
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:15 NASB)
And also the Apostle Paul:
But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (II Timothy 3:13 NASB)
We see this principle at work in the issue of the idol of 'free-will' as mentioned before, for it is this wrong belief that is so seemingly harmless but has played a major part in errors such as:
1. The Roman Catholic notion of sacerdotalism, which undermines the Bible teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
2. The American church-growth seeker-sensitive movement, which undermines the Bible teaching of radical depravity (the utter sinfulness of Fallen Man) and undermines the sufficiency of God's Word to offer a model on which to organize a particular Church congregation.
3. 'Open Theism,' which exalts the Will of Fallen Man and belittles the God of the Bible by undermining the omniscience and omnipotence of God.
4. Mormonism too holds 'free-will' as a foundational doctrine, teaching that by making right choices, men can not only gain salvation, but attain the status of gods: hence the reason for the citation of the Mormon hymn at the head of this post.
In answer to this YOU must practice the Reformation principle of "semper reformanda"- YOU MUST ALWAYS be checking your beliefs by God's Word and YOU MUST CHANGE your beliefs when you discover your error-- as must we all-- following the example of the Apostle, who declared,
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, (II Corinthians 10:5 NASB).
[This article is edited from a blogpost originally published on 7/1/05.]