For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13)
If legalism is misdirected zeal for God, to the exclusion of love and mercy, nominalism is apathy toward God to the exclusion of zeal. In these last days, as sin compounds and all that is evil is called good, nominalism renders faith ineffective, incapacitated and lulls us into a false sense of security.
The Gospel’s message is not one sentence – it never has been. It is not John 3:16 alone, then taken out of context, in segregation from all other Scripture. That is exactly what the Devil attempted with Christ (Matthew 4:6). Scripture interweaves an intricate tapestry that portrays a progressive unfolding message. Moses knew more of God’s ways than Abraham. Christ’s instruction to the twelve took three full years, morning till night. If Galatians was removed from the Bible what would become of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22)? The Biblical canon is one book and sixty six concurrently. It is therefore to be read contextually – all of it.
Reading Scripture out of context can produce false gospels that bear no resemblance to the original message. In effect, it is the same as removing one image from the tapestry then presenting it as the total design. Scripture does not function in this manner.
Paul’s message of the Gospel was far from nominal, nor was his life. Whilst he is the advocate of saved through faith, he continually exhorts his flock to love in action – the outward working of true faith. How often Ephesians 2:10 is conveniently omitted when verses 8-9 are quoted? Being recreated to do good works does not suit my lifestyle, therefore, Ephesians 2:8-9 is more comfortable, “I am saved by faith not by works!” This can incubate apathetic selfishness. Also termed Nominalism.
Romans 8 stands in contrast to nominal faith (which is actually no faith at all James 2:17). If you continue to live by the sinful nature you will die. It is that simple. The reference here is to eternal death, for obviously all eventually die. Yet we are cautioned to seek the narrow path which leads to eternal life. Those that continued in the sinful nature represent the broad road leading to death. Proclaiming ‘Christ died for my sins’ to the exclusion of ‘Christ died to free me from my sin’ is a dangerous gospel. Out of context it is the subtle detour to nominalism.
If you have indeed received the Spirit of God the sinful ways of your flesh (your body) will be put to death. In other words you will not continue sinning (1 John 3:6). If this is not occurring then something is seriously amiss. Across the centuries millions of sinful men and women found freedom from sin through Christ. Their testimony is one of astounding change to their character.
Take for example John Newton – the composer of Amazing Grace. The world’s best loved hymn. Prior to salvation John the composer was John the rapist, murderer, drunkard and slave trader. Even his sinful industry colleagues despised his diabolical behavior. Yet when finally submitting to the Lord (after two nominal and backslidden attempts) he was transformed. His old way of life was gone. The new had come, the sinful nature was destroyed. He did not continue in sin excusing such with “We are all sinners and Christ died for my sin”. That message is not the Gospel.
The power of the Gospel is in allowing the Spirit of Christ to crucify your sin. Dying to sin for you no longer live to it. Continuing in sin, in one form or another, will reap you its rewards – death. Rather, be a slave to righteousness. Be set free from sin. Christ died for your sin yes; however, never forget He also died to set you free from sin.
When an alcoholic abstains from alcohol he experiences a traumatic withdrawal. There is no avoidance of such. When a grossly obese human being decides to shun gluttony the process is painful. In both instances giving up sin induces suffering as we deny ourselves. It is never a nominal faith that perseveres. Rather, self controlled (Gal 5:22), disciplined perseverance carries us through the suffering (Romans 5:3-4). It is here where Christ’s Spirit partners with us to fight the good fight. It’s a passionate, fiery faith that overcomes. In contrast, Christ solemnly warns the ‘luke warm’ – careful you will be rejected (Rev 3:16).