What happened to the Gospel of grace?

“It was all politics, wasn’t it? she asks me.

yes, I sez to her.

And so whoever won, that’s why we have what we have now?

Well, with a nod at the Reformation, I suppose so, yes.

She lies back down.  So it’s all made up, its an invention.

Yes, I sez, taking her in my arms.  And you know for the longest time it worked.”

~E. L. Doctorow

I cannot imagine, sitting here with cancer slowly eating me alive, to have my trusted pastor come into my hospital room and tell me that my faith is all made up, a legalistic lie that has been peddled to the nations for centuries.  More than at any time in my life, I need my faith in Christ’s power; it is knowing that there is a life beyond this one that keeps me going.  It is having confidence that there will be a time when this body will no longer know the pain of decay, and God will personally wipe away my tears (ESV Rev 21.4).

More than at any time in my life, I need my faith in Christ’s power; it is knowing that there is a life beyond this one that keeps me going.

This is why Christ was willing to pay the ultimate price, so that we could be assured of eternal life.  Yet, I look around me and I see the Church slamming the door on the lost.  I see self-righteousness running rampant and those who hunger and thirst are left unfed. I see the Church turning on its own members and tearing them apart for not adhering to a false Gospel created by the Enlightenment sprinkled with a dose of political philosophy and called the United States Constitution.  As society continues its rapid downward spiral, the harvest is ripe, yet so many are unwilling to work the field (ESV Lk 10.2).

Reading Doctorow’s City of God, I cannot help but be struck by the symbolism inherent in Reverend Thomas Pemberton’s visit to the terminal ward.  Here is a man who has devoted his life to preaching the good news; however, when he enters the hospital’s terminal ward he has absolutely nothing to offer.  As he enters one room, an angry man yells:

“You got medicine, Father? You gonna make me well? Then get…outta here…” (Doctorow 13).

When it comes to the Gospel that can set lives free, the only thing the postmodern Church has to offer is a set of rules, expectations, and, in many ways, a covenant of acceptable behaviors that must be adhered to in order to remain a member in good standing.  We have lost touch with the heart of the Gospel; that it is by grace through faith we are saved, not by works, and this…this is a beautiful gift from God (ESV Eph 2.8).  Today, the Church firmly believes that America needs to elect a Christian president who will legislate the moral law, and those who do not hold such a position are guilty of relativism.  I need to respectfully disagree with this position and provide a firm, biblical stance topexels-photo-52629 the contrary. Matthew 19:7 stands as case in point that this failure is not relativism but biblical. The Pharisees challenged Jesus with a universal statement that divorce has been granted for any and every reason (NIV Mt 19.3). Jesus did counter with the absolute standard of marriage joining one man and one woman into one flesh and the Pharisees cross-countered that Moses had allowed a man to issue a certificate of divorce. To this statement Jesus did agree although it had not been that way in the beginning (NIV Mt 19.8). What stands crucial to this statement is that Jesus acknowledged that divorce is lawful (in cases of adultery) on the grounds that man’s heart is hard (NIV Mt 19.8). This becomes the key to understanding the New Testament position of law and how it applies to those outside the faith.

Paul explains the danger inherent in bragging about the law and the consequences for those who do in Romans Chapter 2. Beginning in verse 17 Paul states the prideful condition of the Jews:

“If you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (NIV Ro 2.17-20).

After this declaration Paul further exposes the nature of their hearts as those who teach others yet do not respond to their own teachings for they steal, commit adultery, and rob temples (NIV Ro 2.21-22). It is easy to point out the moral failing of others through use of the law but when that law is held inward it becomes obvious that we who accuse are guilty of the same transgressions. Herein lies the danger of legislating God’s moral law; it becomes glaringly apparent to the lost the Church cannot to adhere to its own convictions; “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of” us (NIV Ro 2.23). The point of Paul’s message is that Judaism is not an outward religion, as circumcision represents, it is a faith that compels inward change. Paul brings this message clearly in the statement:

“No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Ro 2.29).

Legislating God’s moral code only forces outward obedience and breeds resentment, exposes hypocrisy, and leads those in their natural state to blasphemy God.

Scripture is also clear that the purpose of the moral is law is not to mete out penalty for failure to obey; rather its express purpose is to make man conscious of sin (NIV Ro 3.20). If man could be made righteous and holy under the law there would be no need for a savior, for works would be salvation in themselves; however, this is not what the law seeks to accomplish. Paul graphically describes the struggle with sin stating that the struggle begins when the mind is made aware of sin through the commandments. The heart knows God’s righteous command yet the mind does not allow compliance initiating a war between flesh and spirit relegating man to a prisoner of sin (NIV Ro 7.8-23): Therefore, it can again be concluded that the moral law is not a basis of human legislation for:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin” (NIV Ro 3.19-20).

Paul further states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, all are sold as a slave to sin and that the commands bring death (NIV Ro 3.23, 7.11, 14).   If this be true then anyone who invokes the law and demands its full enforcement also heaps the penalty of law upon them in keeping with the law. Jesus speaks of the danger inherent in demanding full enforcement of the law upon others in his warning, “Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others you will be judged, and the measure you use will be measured to you” (NIV Mt 7.1). Matthew 23 outlines the dangers in invoking the law and making others subject to its provisions when those doing the enforcing fail to adhere to all its tenets. Jesus’ seven woes state that those who do this:

  1. Shut the kingdom in men’s faces

  2. Do all to make converts then make them twice as much a son of hell

  3. Teach that swearing by the temple means nothing but when one swears by the offering it becomes binding

  4. That even though a tenth of precious belongings may be offered justice, mercy, and faithfulness are neglected

  5. The outside appears clean but the inside is full of filth and decay

  6. Those who appear righteous are indeed internally filled with greed and indulgence

  7. By decorating the tombs of the prophets testifies against those who do by admitting to be a descendant of those who murdered them

It is not the job of a fully devoted follower of Christ to heap judgment on the lost; instead it is the call of every believer to cleanse the internal places to become holy and blameless before God.

Peter makes several convicting statements regarding the propensity to judge that are followed up by Paul’s explanation of who should and should not be judged. Peter states that when it comes to suffering it should not be as “a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (NIV 1 Pe 4.15). The purpose of this is that judgment is to begin with the family of God reminding us that if it begins with those who call on his name how much worse is the situation for those who do not yet believe; a question which raises the even more chilling question, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner” (NIV 1 Pe 4.17-18).

In order for that judgment to begin with the family of God, believers need to hold one another accountable for their actions and purge any habitual sin from among the members.

In order for that judgment to begin with the family of God, believers need to hold one another accountable for their actions and purge any habitual sin from among the members. If there are those in fellowship actively and unapologetically engaging in sin Paul states that the action of the body should be to “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (NIV 1 Co 5.5). This is the appropriate use of the moral law in standing firm on what God cherishes and the standard that he calls his people to adhere to, and the key is that this discipline be enforced on those who are called by his name for it is our job to judge those inside the church (NIV 1 Co 5.11, 12). However Paul quantifies this command to judge and specifically states, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (NIV 1 Co 5.12).

As followers of Christ we are specifically called to go and make disciples of all nations, baptize, and instruct (NIV Mt 28.19). This is something that is not possible by legislative enforcement of an unregenerate heart for legislative compulsion will only embitter them. Jesus says,

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (NIV Mt 9.16-17).

To pour the commands of God into an unregenerate heart is to cause them to explode under the pressure. First we must lovingly seek to convert them to Christ, have them put on the new man, and then pour the requirements of the law into them so both their souls and the law will be preserved.

In conclusion it is biblically defensible that morality should not be legislatively enforced via human law because:

1. all have sinned, 2. to do so places all under law, 3. man is in natural rebellion against God and even though regenerated still fights the battle between flesh and spirit, and 4. imposing the law on a select few to legislate compliance results in all being judged under the law because all transgress its requirements.

This position will cause increase in bitterness, rage, and rebellion by the unregenerate against the things of God and also neglects the gift from God to every man of free will and liberty of conscience. Through the enforcement of God’s moral law via human legislation man usurps God’s authority and places himself in the seat of judgment reserved for God alone.

For several years now I have been convicted that the current tone of the church toward the legislation of morality has been in opposition to God’s desires and he has been urging me to step forward and be vocal in calling his people back to him. He is the only righteous one and as a result is the only one who can justly hold all people into account.

We are to focus on being his hands and feet and keeping in the forefront of our minds that Jesus spent his time loving the lost into the kingdom and condemning the religious community for not doing the same.

As His workers it is our job to make disciples and bring them safely into the fold of Christ and this is not to be accomplished by legislating compliance, rather it is by getting down and dirty and loving the sinner despite the sin. We are not called to hold the lost in account for habitual sin, that is reserved for God. We are to focus on being his hands and feet and keeping in the forefront of our minds that Jesus spent his time loving the lost into the kingdom and condemning the religious community for not doing the same. We have become modern day Pharisees and as a result we are slamming the Kingdom of Christ in men’s faces and preventing them from the opportunity to voluntarily yield their lives to Christ. Each one of us have been allowed that blessing so who are we to take it away from others?

Works Cited

Biblegateway. Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles. 2001. Web. 20 August 2016.

Doctorow, E.L. The City of God. New York: Penguin. 2001. Print.

Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, New International Version. Richard L. Pratt Ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2003. Print.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s