The Gospel Truth
“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.
You are already loved. Redemption is as certain as Christ’s resurrection. As heart change happens, so can our realization of the miracle that occurs. Jesus died in our place for our redemption. His blood was shed so that ours wouldn’t have to be. He endured the cross so that we wouldn’t have to pay the penalty for sin. Often, we stumble through life ignoring this miracle of redemption. Instead, we work for our own redemption. Before we know it, we’ve put God on the sidelines in the game we play of becoming a “better person.” Change is inevitable as the Holy Spirit is given room to transform us. Repenting to Jesus ignites the grace that God freely gives us. Our hearts are changed because God intends for us to become more like Jesus. Jesus is our redemption.
I recently heard a sermon (no, I won’t tell you who or even where) dealing with this issue that totally missed the point. Thinking he was preaching grace, what was actually communicated could hardly have been called “good news.” As one other hearer commented, “If that’s your gospel, your gospel sucks.”
Two verses come to mind:
For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son. John 3:!6
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10
In both verses, the order is important: First God loves; then He acts. In this we are redeemed—God’s love, mediated through Christ.
I really appreciate hearing from readers. Among other things, it confirms to me that the work (there’s a good reason why a book is often referred to as a “work”) was worth it. Also, recent comments from readers have confirmed my belief that we need to hear the gospel preached on a regular basis. One such message from last week:
What a message you have put back before us. It’s stunning to me how we give it up and how our systems somehow/often undermine the truth of this remarkable and irreplaceable grace. Only grace. Only grace. This Easter season has been so marked by your work – I am invited back into real truth but it’s like i need to be re-acquainted with it every day… almost every moment.
And, in a comment at the Internet Monk blog, Steve writes:
The Gospel Uncensored: How only grace leads to freedom, is a great little book which I would suggest people read at least once a year, if not more.
In our fallen, corrupt state, our human nature has a need to be self-reliant, to feel that we have earned what we receive. This is constantly trying to pull us away from the truth that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” This is one reason why we need to hear the Good News again and again.
Many pastors today feel a need to deliver an unending series of practical sermons on how to make our lives better, or how to be better at something, or how to serve better… None of this will lead us into freedom; in fact, rather than making our lives better, we just get loaded down with the weight of all of the stuff that we could be doing better.
Somebody preach the gospel. Don’t tell me what I need to do, tell me what Christ has done. Then, I’ll tell you what I want to do. Give me grace and freedom and love, and I’ll show you some good works.
In the post mentioned above, The Scariest Word of All, Jeff Dunn discusses why people are so afraid of grace, and mentions The Gospel Uncensored, saying “I highly recommend this book as a primer on grace.”
Get your copy today!
Michael Spencer was known as the Internet Monk—one of the early Christian bloggers. He died a year ago (April 5, 2010) of cancer. (He wasn’t a real monk—I think he was Southern Baptist…)
The blog carries on, occasionally reposting some classic Michael Spencer posts. Today, one of the current contributors, Jeff Dunn, creates a pseudo-interview with Spencer by using quotes from a few of his writings, on the topic of grace.
A small tidbit:
What you can do, not what God has done, is the great theme of most of what is published and recorded in the evangelical world. Grace writers and poets stand out like lighthouses in a sea of mediocre legalism and do-it-yourself religion. Grace is an endangered species, and we all need to celebrate and promote any writer who truly, passionately communicates grace. This isn’t a matter of theological labels. We can quibble about the footnotes some other time. No matter who they are, when they wrote or where you find them, applaud, buy and give away the grace writers and artists. The beauty of what they are saying needs to be heard in a church choking on legalism, moralism and timidity about the Gospel.
This is why we wrote The Gospel Uncensored.
Read the entire IM post here.
“Christianity is not the move from vice to virtue, but rather the move from virtue to grace.”
~ Gerhard Forde
Thanks to Steve at The Old Adam Lives! for the quote.
Bono (of U2 fame) on grace:
I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
From an interview, a portion of which is reproduced here.
I’m serious—some people will absolutely hate this book.
When Ken began preaching the sermon series that inspired The Gospel Uncensored, word spread. Soon, there were beaten-down and abused people everywhere. We had perhaps the most messed-up church in town, but only because that’s the kind of people the Gospel draws.
Many pastors hated it, because the Gospel is by nature subversive. Man-made constructs are no match for real truth—which is why many churches avoid the Gospel like the plague, opting instead for a sin-management approach. Pastors also hate to lose members; when people discover they’ve been abused or manipulated (or simply led astray), they either cause a bit stink, or they leave. Either way, it’s not good for church business.
The book should have the same effect.
Who will love this book
“A man must completely despair of himself in order to become fit to obtain the grace of Christ.” ~Martin Luther
The “messed-up” people of the world—those who know they are failures, who know they can’t measure up to any kind of religious standards—love the Gospel. It is music to their ears, and food for their souls. It was the ragamuffins who followed Jesus and clung to his every word. Peter put it this way: “Where else would we go? Only you have the words of life.”
It is for these people—among whom I count myself—this book was written. We not only love this gospel, we need it, desperately.
Who will hate the book
However, those who think they can work to achieve some measure of spiritual success—or even to earn their salvation—will hate the book. The gospel pulls the rug out from under their ability to achieve anything on their own.
Religion, as we have been told, is a crutch. In reality, religion is not a crutch, it is, if you will, a purported “stairway to heaven.” It is the Gospel that is a crutch. Seriously. To admit that you need grace is to admit that you are a cripple, unable to walk on your own. People will either embrace and lean on the crutch, or hate it.
Who else will hate the book
Many pastors and leaders will also hate this book, because it pulls the rug out from under their sin-management control structures. It is impossible to control grace. Grace is messy. Sins that are hidden by sin-management techniques become suddenly visible. And, perhaps what’s worse is that without the sin-management structures in place, we have to trust God. And, if a pastor or leader is honest, they will tell you that trusting God is often a terrifying proposition. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”
I will also acknowledge that there are those who simply disagree with our exegesis, and I’m okay with that. Paul pointed out that we will have disagreements, and that through disagreements the truth is made clear (1 Cor. 11:19). As the book itself discusses, Paul contended with Peter over the “grace vs works” issue, and Paul prevailed. It seems to me that Paul is so clear in his explanation of the gospel in Galatians that I fail to see how anyone could get a different meaning from it, but people apparently do.
So, I have to admit that I could be wrong on some points, though I don’t think I am. As Martin Luther also said,
I shall never be a heretic; I may err in dispute, but I do not wish to decide anything finally; on the other hand, I am not bound by the opinions of men.
I am as certain about the Gospel as I can be.
Hot or cold
I have said half-jokingly that the best advertising I could get is for some famous pastor to absolutely hate the book. To me, the wort possible thing would be for people to find the book boring or inconsequential. As Jesus put it, “I”d rather have you cold or hot.” If someone could read the book and go, “so what?”, then I would feel like we haven’t stated the Gospel clearly enough.
So far, the people I’ve heard from all love the book. However, as odd as this sounds, I’d love to hear that it’s hated as well, just so I know that we’ve done our job.
Here’s an interesting question: What do you want from Christianity?
A long time ago I heard someone describing becoming a Christian as an act of “enlightened self-interest,” where we are motivated by what we hope to get out of it rather than a commitment to serve God and others. Looking at the Gospels, it seems that Jesus never turned people away for wanting something from him; in fact, it was those who didn’t want anything from him that he turned away. Even Peter’s great statement of faith, “where else would we go? Only you have the words of life” (John 6:68), speaks of Peter’s need for these words of life. So, this enlightened self-interest does not appear to be a bad thing.
Considering this, plus the fact that Christianity has, at least for many people in the west, become a consumerist endeavor—one in which we pick churches and even religions on what we perceive we need—then the obvious question becomes, “what do you want from Christianity?”