I belong to a number of religious groups on Facebook, including liberal, evangelical, Lutheran, Anglican, and Orthodox. Plus, I have many friends with an even wider range of religious views. So, as I scroll through Facebook I am exposed to quite a variety of thoughts, opinions, and people posting questions to various groups.
One thing that I see over and over is a tendency for people to grab on to legalism the first chance they get. I can’t tell you how many posts I see a day where people are asking the question, “Is it okay for a Christian/Lutheran/Orthodox/whatever to _______?” Inevitably, the blank is filled in with something totally extraneous to the gospel.
There are a number of problems with a question like this, but I will focus on the fact that this question reveals a need to follow rules or to receive man’s approval to not follow rules. They are not asking about the ethics or morality of a certain action, they are just focused on keeping rules.
Remember Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” We were not set free to become slaves to insignificant rule-keeping. Martin Luther said (in German, of course), “Love God and do as you please.”
As we discuss in The Gospel Uncensored, people have a tendency to abandon grace at the drop of a hat for a number of complex reasons, just as the Galatians did, causing Paul to ask, “Are you so foolish?”
Whenever I see one of these posts, it makes me want to scream (or comment in caps) ARE YOU SO FOOLISH? But I’ve learned from experience that this does very little good. Change does not come from Facebook discussions, but by people sharing grace with those around them.
Be a grace-giver Be free, and set others free. For it is indeed for freedom that we have been set free.
Gerhard Ebeling wrote, “The failure to distinguish the law and the gospel always means the abandonment of the gospel.” What he meant was that a confusion of law and gospel (trying to “balance” them) is the main contributor to moralism in the church because the law gets softened into “helpful tips for practical living” instead of God’s unwavering demand for absolute perfection, while the gospel gets hardened into a set of moral and social demands we “must live out” instead of God’s unconditional declaration that “God justifies the ungodly.” As my friend and New Testament scholar Jono Linebaugh,says, “God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.” I think that there is a lot of mixed drinks being served in Evangelical and Reformed churches and if this is not corrected, it will usher in another generation of confusion as to what the gospel truly is. ~Tullian Tchividjian, in an interview with Matt Richard
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by – Graham Nash
This morning I read a post called Teach your children they are whole, that I just had to share, about what happens when children are taught a false gospel. I’d quote a section of it, but you really need to read the whole thing.
I hate to tell you this (it’s a figure of speech), but many Christians believe things that not only don’t make sense, they have no real Biblical basis. For example, the Western world is way more influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno than we know. Many of the concepts that form our worldview are actually based on works of fiction; some are just superstitions and folk tales.
While I often have disagreements with Michael Patton on theological issues, I do appreciate him and his willingness to think about things. His article Folk Theology: Twenty Urban Legends in Theology is well worth reading. Here’s one example that will have great importance for some people and how they view their relationship with God:
12. God cannot exist in the presence of sin
This is not true. Yes, the Bible says that God’s holiness will not allow Him to approve of evil (Hab. 1:13). However, God can most certainly exist in the presence of sin. After all, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, doesn’t he? Satan presented himself to God, didn’t he (Job 1:6)? Furthermore, and most importantly, the Second member of the Trinity lived among us, didn’t he (John 1:14)?
So, check out the list.
Okay, enough exclamation points and hype. For a long time I’ve promised to update the study guide, and I finally have. It is now available in PDF format here. It’s not an astounding change over the first Study Guide, but I have improved some of the study questions, based on my own experience leading a study of the book. Every time I look through a chapter, I come up with new questions and new ways to approach subjects, so the study guide is not the only way, or even the best way, to teach through the book. It will, however, hopefully give you a bit more to think about. And hey, it’s free!
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
I’ve written on Stephan Pastis’ work before; Pearls before Swine is my favorite comic strip, and I read it daily. Pastis typically displays what we might call “great acumen about human nature.” And he’s done it again here in the above (and below) strips.
It’s naïve Pig’s response that caught my eye. When asked why he’s excited, Chained-up Dog replies with tremendous enthusiasm, “New Chain!!” Pig’s right, being excited about a new chain is quite optimistic. In fact, it’s nothing to be excited about, because it’s not good news—the dog is still chained up. But, truth be told, don’t we all get excited about the new thing/behavior/rule/diet/routine that will be the key to real success, to us finally achieving control over our lives. It’s in our fallen nature to be oriented as such. I’ve seen this in my own life, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in your own. I’ve seen it in my tendency to be attracted to the newest diet craze (where are we now, gluten?) to my fruitless efforts to watch just one show at night (wait…how is it 12am?). I desperately try to control broken behavior with behavioral changes, and that is just switching out an old law for a new one; that’s not freedom and it’s certainly nothing to be excited about.
The good news is that the Gospel is not a new chain, a new law. It is a word of freedom, silencing the law and its tyranny in my life, in our lives.
Read the rest here.
Here’s some more good news from my blog, discussing Romans chapter 7:
The Plague of Sin
As I’ve said before, if you read through the Gospel of John, you see that Jesus consistently seems to treat sin as a disease, a plague on humanity. He never judges those afflicted by sin, but in pronouncing “Go and sin no more,” he sets people free from the bondage of sin. Who Jesus does condemn are those who by their legalism and condemnation perpetuates the plague.
Paul seems to be taking a similar position here; sin, like a virus, is waging war on our bodies (v. 21-23), and Paul himself does not appear to be free from this war going on within us. But, turn the page to Chapter 8, and my point above is affirmed: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
No liability. No guilt. No condemnation.
For the whole post, go here.
Tonite’s Bible Study focused on Chapter 6 of The Gospel Uncensored, which discusses the three reasons that Paul gives for being so sure that the gospel message that he preached was the only gospel message, and that anything else was not a mere variation, but the utter eradication of the real gospel. It was an interesting night, giving me an even better understanding of Paul’s argument presented in Galatians 2. As we processed this, I kept thinking of a quote I had recently read by Gerhard Forde (as quoted on the Mockingbird blog) that “sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification.”
I love it when synthesis and clarity happen — and especially when they happen to me.
So what does the gospel have to do with sanctification? A whole lot, actually. Many of us are used to thinking of the gospel as the message of salvation, and then the rest of the Bible kicks in to give us the practical teachings that will take us the rest of the way. However, Paul’s rhetorical question in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (ESV)” What Paul is getting at is that the gospel is not just for justification, it’s also the key to sanctification, “the art of getting used to justification.”
Paul’s 3-part argument
Paul begins his argument by appealing to a higher authority — the gospel came to him by direct revelation in the person of Jesus. However, knowing that revelation is subjective, his second point was that he submitted his revelation to the apostles, and after hearing Paul’s explanation of the gospel, they “added nothing.” If this weren’t enough, he put his gospel to the test by confronting Peter — not regarding an issue of salvation, although Peter’s actions had certain ramifications concerning the inclusion of the gentile Christians, but about an issue of daily life, dietary laws and who to sit with at dinner.
The issue with the Galatians, circumcision, was not an issue of salvation, but an issue of moving to the next level, or becoming more holy, as some might say. Paul’s point: adding any kind of rules or behavioral expectations to the work of Christ makes the work of Christ of no benefit. If you’re going to keep one iota of the law, you’re accountable for all of it. You can’t supplement the gospel, even when it comes to holiness.
Many of us are certain enough of our salvation, although there are those who do their best to undermine even that with questions like, “Do you have saving faith?” If that isn’t a question from hell, I don’t know what is. But, there are very many of us who at times wonder if we are doing enough or if we did more, would we get sanctified quicker?
If we take Forde’s definition, that question becomes nonsensical. If sanctification is really just us growing into our justification, or gaining understanding as to what being saved really means, then we can’t do anything to become more sanctified. The very act of trying to do more prevents us from grasping the reality of justification. In other words, adding human effort of any kind to the work that Christ has already accomplished hinders us from ever being certain that the gospel has any effect whatsoever.
Paul was certain — and, as he wrote in Romans, “not ashamed” — of the good news gospel that Jesus has justified us and that only by resting in that certainty will we become acclimated to the reality of our justification that we call sanctification. We are certainly justified by faith apart from works, and so are we being sanctified.
I’m certain of it.
We continue to receive reports of folks blessed by The Gospel Uncensored, both here and abroad, for which we are thankful.
Locally, we have heard of the book making inroads into a very law-based church, resulting in families deciding to leave that church. While I am not free to provide any further details, it is encouraging to know that the message of the Gospel is being spread through the book, bringing light into dark places.
We are also encouraged to hear that some individuals involved in prison ministry are having the book sent into the prisons (apparently they cannot bring the books in themselves, but can have them delivered there)!
And we have heard from folks who have chosen to use the book and the study guide (available for free download on this site or $0.99 at the Kindle Store) for Bible studies.
For that matter, I am starting my own study, beginning Oct. 27, going through the book. If you think of us, and those mentioned above, I am sure we would all appreciate your prayers. And if you’re in the Salem area and wish to join our study, please let me know.
This is, I believe, part 1 of 4 videos from the Publisher’s release event in Thailand.