Among professed Christians it can be fashionable to glory in the immensity of one’s sins, to celebrate a God who takes us as we are and continues to take us as we are without any sort of improvement or consistency in moral conduct. This particular false gospel has been so prevalent that those who follow this easy believism are often labeled by the term ‘ragamuffin .’ Given the fact that people tend to conflate two distinct aspects of justification, though, it is little surprise that those who are sensitive to their own fallen condition before God, even after conversion, would glory in a merciful God and would be tempted to denigrate the requirement on ongoing virtuous conduct as a condition of ongoing justification. Likewise, the apparent contradiction in the doctrine of justification occurs because of a conflation between initial justification and ongoing justification, upon which there are different grounds.
As I would like to speak about ongoing justification, in an immensely practical way, relating to a sermon yesterday from the pastor of my local congregation, it would be worthwhile to make clear what I am talking about to avoid unnecessary confusion. The two-part justification process can be best understood when we understand our place before God. As a result of our sins, we all begin our walk with God as death row inmates (Romans 3:23, 6:23). No good deeds that we do can do away with our sinful deeds. No matter if we are 90% or 95% or 99.9999% obedient to God’s ways, the justice of God requires death as a payment for any sin, and so we are dependent on God’s mercy for initial justification as there is no way for us to earn the eternal life that we seek. Yet once we are released by God’s mercy and grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are on the streets again, as it were, and our continued freedom from death and other judgment depends on our ongoing obedience to God’s way. If we continue to be deadbeat ragamuffins after our initial salvation, we will continue to show up in God’s court under judgment over and over again, and we will find ourselves faced with increasingly unsympathetic judgment to our continued failure to walk in ongoing obedience to God’s ways. This is not to say that we will not need to be forgiven from time to time when we do err, nor does it mean that sometimes our ways in general may not require others to go beyond their comfort zone, lest we be continually misinterpreted, but it does mean that if we want ongoing relationships to go well with God or with anyone else, we will need to show an ongoing record of love and respect and outgoing concern and goodness towards others.
The ongoing aspect of practical righteousness as the requirement for ongoing justification is sufficiently obvious that it ought to require little commentary, given that is found in scripture from beginning to end. Here is a small sample of many such examples:
Genesis 5:21-24: ” Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”
Genesis 17:1: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”
Genesis 48:15: “And he blessed Joseph, and said: “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day,”
Exodus 18:20: “And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.”
Deuteronomy 5:33: “You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.”
1 Samuel 2:30: “Therefore the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the Lord says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.”
1 Kings 6:12: “Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David.”
Isaiah 2:3: “Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Mark 2:9: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?”
John 8:12: “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.””
Romans 13:13: “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.”
1 Peter 4:3: “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”
1 John 1:6-7: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.””
Revelation 21:24: “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.”
From this we may see that the duty to walk in God’s ways for believers has remained consistent from the beginning of scripture to its end. It was true of Enoch and the patriarchs, it was commanded by God through Moses to the people of Israel during their sojourn in the wilderness, it was spoken by God through prophets to the people of Israel, it was spoken of by Jesus and commanded by the apostles to the church of God through Paul, Peter, and John. There is no disagreement. Those who are delivered by God from evil and brought into His family are to walk according to His ways and not walk according to the wicked patterns of behavior of the evil. What could be more clear than this? Let us remember as well that these are not a few isolated examples of scriptures, but rather a somewhat random but representative selection taken from every part of the scriptures, as it is a point of continual importance. Clearly, when the same message is given over and over again by such a diverse group of godly writers, we ought to pay attention to the need to walk in a godly fashion.
Why is it so important? If God is loving and merciful, why is it important that we walk in a godly fashion in the first place, if God has the power to forgive and a clear desire to be gracious and patient and tender and merciful towards us? Why would it be wrong for us to take advantage of this kindhearted and gentle nature to live as we want and not walk according to God’s ways, which are demanding and difficult and not according to our nature and habits? There are at least several interrelated reasons for which we ought to delight in walking according to God’s ways and not our own. For one, our own ways naturally tend to lead ultimately in death, and in the meantime to a lot of suffering and anguish for ourselves and those around us, including those we love and care about. Why would we want to live according to ways that will ultimately destroy us and everything we hold dear and everything that makes life worth living in the first place? When we reflect on the fact that God takes us from the horror and shame of our origins and seeks to put us into His family for an eternity of love and joy and glory, why would we not wish to adopt the ways of our adoptive families, even if it is a struggle to overcome our patterns of habits of thought that we have acquired from the times of darkness in our lives? Likewise, seeing as we have a God who wishes to honor us, why should we not wish to honor Him and our brothers and sisters as best as we are able, knowing that if we are named as being members of His family that our conduct in this life either gives honor and glory and praise to our Father from the lips and pens and hearts of those we interact with, or it brings shame and dishonor to the one who was so gracious and merciful to us? If we were truly the children of God, would we not be horrified at being or placing a stumbling block in the walk of others that trips them should they attempt to follow God? There is no license to be a ragamuffin in any of this.
Let us finish by speaking not merely about our walk with God but about our walk with others. Do we not all desire to have lasting friendships and marriages, relationships with other people based on mutual love and respect and outgoing tender concern? This longing is incompatible with being a ragamuffin as some wicked people are. Let us say, for instance, that we are people with deep struggles in our lives, who wrestle mightily against literal or figurative demons, and yet we long for the love and respect of those around us anyway, despite our immense difficulties? What are the conditions by which we may expect these entirely proper longings to be fulfilled over the long term? Even if others are sympathetic to our struggles and prone to view us favorably and graciously, would we not expect that they would demand of us, over the long term, that we take such actions as are within our power to walk in a straight, godly, and honorable fashion? If someone struggles with alcoholism, we would expect that a lasting friendship with such a person would require that they take steps to minimize the power of alcohol over their behavior, that they would not go out to bars or drinking parties, and they would seek people to hold them accountable to a standard of sobriety. We may not expect or require perfection, but we would expect to see a pattern of righteous and honorable living as evidence that they were struggling and wrestling with their difficulties to the best of their abilities, and willing to accept the support and encouragement of others who likewise wished for them to live successfully. And so it is with our walk with others with all of our other struggles. If we desire to be in the kingdom of God, or desire to have lasting and loving relationships of any kind, we cannot be ragamuffins. We must instead walk as all believers in history have walked, in the light, according to the ways of God, seeking to be merciful to others as God has been merciful to us, and also seeking to demonstrate in our behavior the noble character of our Father and Elder Brother, who have delivered us from the wickedness of this present age. So let us walk in the light, and so let us be fit examples of the way that we have chosen, so that others may follow us as we follow God and Jesus Christ, and not take their righteous and holy name in vain through our wayward and ungodly ragamuffin conduct.
 See, for example: