Thursday, January 21, 2010

I have two relationships with God.

Think of this post as functioning as 'part two' of Tuesdays post, "Does God withhold blessings from me when I sin?" On Tuesday I answered that question with a resounding "No!" God does not withhold blessings from us based on our behavior, because our behavior is not the foundation of our relationship with God. We have a relationship based on grace.

But there is another way to answer the question. And that would be, well.... yes. Because there are some blessings which I believe that God might temporarily withhold from a believer based on that believer persisting in a state of sin. To be sure, none of the blessings withheld would in any way affect the state of that believer's salvation. None of the things mentioned yesterday (justification, sanctification, union with Christ, adoption, etc) can ever be taken away or lost by a believer. But there are other blessings, such as a sense of God's presence or assurance of our own salvation which we can forfeit by living in sin.

Take for example Hebrews 12:5-10, which talks about the discipline of the Lord. Now, again, this discipline is a sign of his love. But this discipline might involve the removal of some of the benefits of walking with God.

For me, the key to understanding this was to realize that I have two relationships with God. I have both a legal and a personal relationship. The legal relationship is what I wrote about on Tuesday. I have been justified, united to Christ, adopted, and I belong to Christ. Nothing can ever change any of that. Those blessings are eternally secure, nothing can take them away. (Romans 8:31-39) But I also have a personal relationship. And like all personal relationships, this one can be hindered by a lack of communion.

Consider what question #81 of the Westminster Larger catechism is saying...

Question 81: Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?

Answer: Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.

In Q. 79, the catechism has just assured us that true believers, despite their sin, will not ultimately fall away from grace, they are secure in Christ. But now see what it says. Regarding our subjective sense of assurance, the catechism says that through "manifold distempers, sins, temptations and desertions" our sense of assurance of our salvation may be weakened.

Although our sins can never separate us from God (they've all already been forgiven!), they can fog up our personal relationship with our God. They can keep us from experiencing the full range of blessedness that we are meant to experience from walking with our faithful covenant savior.

I have two relationships with God. Both were begun purely by grace, and both are maintained by grace. But my personal relationship is maintained by the grace of God's spirit working in my life to produce obedience. The more I submit myself to this grace, the more I enjoy my relationship with God.

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