Making the Cut: Does God Cut Off the Disobedient?

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There are four kinds of sermons or Bible studies I have heard over the years. Only two have the potential to do us much good, and only one is fully grounded in reality. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of each kind.

Sermon A

Here is truth.

Sermon B

Here is truth, go do something.

Sermon C

Here is truth, let God do something through you.

Sermon D

Here is truth, let God do something through you, or else.

What Should We Do with Truth?

As you can tell, I belong to an evangelical tradition that prizes truth and sound doctrine. Though we may squabble amongst ourselves over some of the details, we all value what God has to teach us. We read scripture, we pray, and we, hopefully, listen for the Holy Spirit’s leading.

However, sermon A simply aims to give us information. Certain traditions lean more toward this because they believe so strongly that God alone saves us. They’d say our goal is to change our minds and our actions will follow, and therefore new information is sufficient.

The preacher of Sermon B realizes that God’s desire is to change us into his kind of people, but it doesn’t point people to the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives. It skips to the results and forgets the process that brings them about.

That’s where Sermon C comes in. Jesus said to abide in him and we will bear much fruit. Sermon C tells us truth and connects us with God’s power for love, joy, and good works.

Our lives should change. Obedience is very important, but it’s not up to us to make it happen. The “work” we do as branches is abiding in Jesus, our vine. If we want to get results, we don’t focus on producing the results. We focus on the vine.

However, if we stop here, we have missed something key in passages such as John 15.

The Consequences of Disobedience

God’s love and grace is inexhaustible and given to us freely. God forgives and saves anyone who turns away from sin and calls out. However, the goal of saving us is to give us his love and joy, manifesting his coming Kingdom to others and sharing his love.

Obedience is essential. If we run off to do our own thing, there are consequences. At the start of John 15, Jesus mentions the “non-fruitful” branches being cut off—twice.

I’ve grown up in hell-fire fundamentalism. I’m turned off by preaching with threats or dramatic imploring to be saved from the fires of hell or whatever they call it these days.

I don’t like the idea of telling someone, “Resist God long enough and you’ll be cut off the vine! Don’t get mad at me. It’s in the Bible”

But then the words of Jesus are very tricky to preach. He doesn’t give us a chart or a formula for disobedience that tells us when someone will be cut off. He just says it could happen. God’s love is here for us to enjoy, but it can be resisted, ignored, and ultimately lost.

If not for the trauma of my fundamentalist past, I could accept that without too much fuss. This is far from the angry, vengeful God who is crouched behind a corner waiting for me to slip up. This is God the ignored lover who will let us go our own ways if we so choose.

A branch that refuses to be part of the vine will wither plenty on its own. The act of cutting it off is only a final formality. It’s not like God is chopping off partially healthy branches that simply need to be rehabilitated.

As we consider the love of God for us, I pray that we can see God’s generous, unearned, and inexhaustible grace for what it is. I pray that we can abide in the love that Jesus has for us and that our lives will bloom with the fruit of his love and goodness. And lastly, I pray that we’ll remember that there are consequences for persistent disobedience and resistance to this love.

May we be drawn to God by his love and arrive at a place where we can’t imagine another day without it.

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17 thoughts on “Making the Cut: Does God Cut Off the Disobedient?

  1. Kevin Bullock

    Ed, I have read and enjoyed your book coffeehouse theology some time ago. I am having a little trouble reconciling a couple of concepts your focusing on here though.

    You state quite correctly in my opinion that God’s grace is ” generous, unearned, and inexhaustible ”

    then go on to say “here are consequences for persistent disobedience and resistance”
    See my question? How is unearned Grace well…earned?
    I don’t find a passage that says “might” be saved “if”. I do find much scriptural support for walking in faith, taking on a new identity in Christ because of what he has done ….not what I have done. It is interesting that you mention fundamentalism. My whole understanding of fundamentalism from my Wesley Arminian background has been a works based desperate, graceless, religion that i cannot measure up to. I am tremendously grateful for the freedom I find in Jesus work on my behalf to live for him free from the bondage of sin and condemnation …note that does not cancel out conviction on the part of the Holy Spirit, i think that is an important point to distinguish. I do think it is tricky to preach about shipwrecking your faith precisely because scripture does not very clearly spell that concept out anywhere. Consequently I think if one is going to put the concept out that(to steal from a country song) “God could stop loving you today” it should be with heavy heavy qualifiers. Otherwise I think the risk of heaping condemnation on weaker brothers and sisters is high.I hope that by trying to “make the cut” others don’t fall into the desperate trap of outward appearing religion Jesus delivered me from.

    [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”

    “May we be drawn to God by his love and arrive at a place where we can’t imagine another day without it.” Amen

    Keep walking, blessings brother.

    1. ed Post author

      Thanks for reading my book Kevin and for sharing your comment. I suppose my Wesleyan/Arminian tendencies are showing here. I firmly believe in the tension of God’s grace being unearned and given as a gift to us, but we can resist it. We can’t come to God but by his grace, but it seems quite clear in scripture that we can reject God’s offer of grace. That’s just the tension I have to accept as an Arminian, just as a Calvinist has to deal with the thought that God predestines some to hell. Either way you go, there are tough tensions to deal with. We don’t earn grace, but we can walk away from it. That doesn’t contradict Ephesians 2 so far as I can tell.

      If this helps, I’m trying to suggest that we need to mention that we can shipwreck our faith, that we can fall away, it is possible. But the moment we offer up a blueprint or plan or tell someone we know that he/she is cut off, we’ve failed. God draws us to himself through his love, but I can’t overlook the tough image in John 15 of an unfruitful, unfaithful branch being cut off one day, even if we don’t know how or when that “could” happen.

  2. Kevin Bullock

    “If this helps, I’m trying to suggest that we need to mention that we can shipwreck our faith, that we can fall away, it is possible. But the moment we offer up a blueprint or plan or tell someone we know that he/she is cut off, we’ve failed.”

    Agreed. I think Calvinists and Arminians can agree that there must be some evidence of an authentic salvation experience. I am not sure that is the issue as 1st John defines for us what that looks like. What we think about God, how that affects our relationship with the world and holding God’s word to be true. I see that as providing assurance to a believer rather than a guidebook of what one must do to stay saved.

    I used to read Olson alot, he introduced me to classical arminianism and theology really. I appreciated that he pointed out the weakness in both semi-pelagianism and high or supralapsarian calvinism in his interview.

    As far as “going on” is concerned i can’t think of a better subject to go on about than theology.:) I appreciate your willingness to bring these subjects up and discuss them. They need discussed imo. ..as iron sharpens iron.

  3. Micah Redding

    In general, I agree with the idea here, but this:

    “God’s love is here for us to enjoy, but it can be resisted, ignored, and ultimately lost.”

    Can we really lose God’s love? Isn’t a more biblical idea that love sometimes requires tough consequences?

    1. ed Post author

      I’m not sure I follow. What would you describe as the tough consequences? As I read this passage, it seems like the tough consequence is that resisting God’s love and not abiding in the “vine”long enough means that we are “cut off the vine.” I honestly don’t know what that looks like, but it sure sounds like being cut off is pretty bad! I’d love it if you could expand on your comment a bit.

  4. Micah Redding

    I understand where you’re coming from with this, and I may even be forcing a mixed metaphor here. Jesus is saying you can be “cut off”, but I would argue, not addressing larger theological points, such as “Does God love even the wicked?”

    The biblical answer, as far as I can see, is that God loves everyone without exception.

    Being “cut off” then refers not to God no longer loving us, but God turning us over to the bad consequences of life without him.

    1. ed Post author

      Gotcha. I agree. Thanks for clarifying.

      I think in this passage Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples, so the main issue I was addressing is the importance of obedience for disciples. There’s lots of biblical support behind what you have to say about God loving everyone and the fact that he lets us pursue our poor choices. I think I was just working with a more limited scope here if that makes sense.

      This also reminds me of that t-shirt at the now defunct Lark website: “Jesus loves you. But then, he loves everybody.” ;)

  5. Micah Redding

    Haha! Great tshirt.

    Yeah, sorry if I was being overly picky. This statement just popped out at me. We have to be careful we’re not too picky for Jesus, sometimes. :)

  6. John Nunnikhoven

    Part of the problem is that we conflate love and communion. Look at the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is obvious that he never lost his father’s love, but his actions certainly separated him from communion with his father for a period.

    Look at the overall sweep of the history of the people of Israel. A ever repeating cycle of disobedience, consequences including the withdrawal of the LORD’s presence, repentance, restoration, disobedience, …

    I know that there have been periods in my life where my sin interrupted my communion with the Lord, but repentance restored. He loves me, but I sure disappoint Him at times when I refuse to follow His Perfect Instructions for life in the Kingdom of God.

  7. Kevin Bullock

    I am still not making the connection. The story of the prodigal son is the basis for understanding prevenient grace or God’s first move towards us. If we believe that we are saved by faith through no work of our own as scripture teaches, this must be true.
    Everyone agrees except for pelagians that we are helpless and unable to come to God on our own. We are totally helpless without grace. So to say that the prodigal “came to his senses” on his own accord is to say that God the father was not drawing him to Himself.
    I think what we are conflating is the worth of our own actions.
    Much like this guy a few chapters after the prodigal “Luke 18:11 (Luke 18)

    The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed1 thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

    The pharisee in luke 18 also connected his good works with salvation rather than where works belong as a part of sanctification imo.
    Whether it be previenent or irrestible, God’s grace is dynamic and searching, not static.

    waddaya think?

    1. ed Post author

      I think you just called Jesus a Pelagian. :)

      “Luke 15:17
      “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”

      We’re dealing with big theological concepts and are limited by imperfect language to describe the saving work of God. These are mysteries that we see… in a mirror dimly. My guess is that we’re all agreed that God saves, we don’t bring anything to salvation, but you can’t read the OT or NT and come away without a sense that we are expected to take some initiative. We have to make choices, etc. I don’t know what that looks like “under the hood” theologically, and I’m honestly not worried about that too much. We just live in the tension of being saved by grace alone while also having to make choices each day to either obey or disobey, living with those consequences.

      I think we all agree on what’s under the hood, even if we don’t quite understand how it all works together.

  8. John Nunnikhoven

    Kevin, I think you are missing my point. Yes the parable does establish God’s prevenient grace, but Jesus’ parables always have multiple levels of instruction. This story show us that even while we are separated from the Lord, His love persists; “While he was still a long ways off, his father ran…”

    We see this demonstrated over and over again with the inmates and ex-inmates that we minister to. This cycle of obedience, falling away, consequences, repentance, restoration, obedience, falling away, … time after time. Three saints come to mind, blazing testimony to the transforming power of the Cross, now fallen away and trapped once again in addictions.

    My constant prayer is for the time of repentance to begin for each one. Are they saved? Absolutely! Have they fallen out of communion with the Lord? Absolutely! Is the grace of God sufficient to restore them? Absolutely! But they must accept the offer freely given.

  9. Kevin Bullock

    LOL! That heretic, what would He know?

    Yes, big theological concepts that are just a picture of what we believe to be true about God. Not God himself. It is an important enough picture that we want to try hard to present the real one.

    When you say initiative i am assuming you mean unto sanctification and not salvation. If that is what you mean then i would say when touched by Grace there will absolutely be a response and it will appear to be works but they will come out of a heart of gratitude and devotion not fear of rejection.

    Our heart and attitude should reflect the tax collector in Luke 18 rather than the Pharisee.
    A friend of mine compared our good deeds and attempts to please God to a child that brings their parent a clean glass of water with a muddy finger sticking in it. Even in our darkened understanding of love we would not reject that glass of water from a child that wanted to please us. How would that appear to a Father that is the Author of love?

    I think we are close to an agreement lol! Or we can find out together someday, i am not sure when we get to heaven if we are allowed to say “I told you so!”
    lol! just kidding. Have a great day.

  10. Kevin Bullock

    John, I will join you in praying for those three saints. I pray they find liberation from the chains of addiction and the condemnation that feeds their drive to use in the name of Jesus.

  11. daniel

    Please does that means that should a person realises he is cut off from God and he returns to God genuinely,God will refuse to forgive and restore Him?

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