It’s not “about us,” except for when God says it is…

I was thinking today about how theological slogans can become abused to the point of becoming untrue. Today, I was thinking about the criticism that the mere preaching/teaching of the ethical sections of Scripture automatically means making Christianity “about us.”

In the broader history of Reformed theology that viewpoint is called antinomianism, and has never actually been countenanced in the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

But it did get me thinking about what needs to be present in a sermon or lecture to avoid a legitimate charge of making Christianity “about us.” Here’s me taking a stab at it:

  1. The lecture/sermon needs to connect the ethical teaching to the Gospel, wherein the Gospel is shown to be the source of strength that enables us to obey the ethic.
  2. The ethic should not be preached/taught as a way of securing salvation before God.
  3. More subtly, when our hang-ups about making Christianity “about us” lead us to the place where we won’t let God in his word address us about ethical questions that he wants to talk to us about, we actually have made Christianity about us. Why? Because that means God’s revelation speaks to an issue, but we are forbidding that teaching to be given because of an irrational fear in our hearts. In that moment, the fear (about Christianity being “about us”) has become the real God in our heart, and the true God has been forced to be its servant.

Grace Changes the Heart, Or Else It Isn’t Good News

“What is the alternative to obedience and holiness of life? It is no treat to be forgiven adultery, and yet remain adulterous. It is no glory to God to forgive anger, and yet leave a person irritable, explosive, and self-righteous. It is no honor to the gospel if anxiety can be forgiven, yet someone remains a nervous wreck. It is no advance for God’s kingdom to forgive self-centered people, if they do not learn how to consider the interests of others. It does no good to the world or the church if a forgiven warmaker does not learn how to become a practical peacemaker. Grace takes a lazy, selfish, thieving person, and pushes him in the direction of becoming hard-working and generous. God will remake a liar into an honest man and a shrewish complainer into a kind, constructive woman. These are long journeys, but the direction of grace is towards obedience to God’s law of love. None of these changes mean perfection until Jesus returns. You will always need mercies to be renewed every morning. But there is substantial healing amid the ongoing struggle. It isn’t always dramatic. Small choices count. But the Spirit will produce his fruit in us, and biblical counseling serves such practical changes.” -David Powlison

God’s Law, as a Covenant of Works, Is Not to be a Rule of Life to the Believer

“The truth is, Nomista [this is the name of a character in The Marrow of Modern Divinity], the law of the Ten Commandments, as it is the matter of the law of works, ought not to be a rule of life to a believer.” -Thomas Boston

BTW NOTE: What Boston means is that Christians are not to look at the Ten Commandment as a means of earning God’s favor. If they did look at the Ten Commandments that way, they would be looking at it as ‘a law of works.’ Boston will make the argument that Christians should look at the Ten Commandments as the law of Christ, that is a response to the favor God has given in Jesus.

Perennial Dangers

“Both legalism and antinomianism are perennial dangers for the church and for individual Christians. When we begin to think of the Christian life primarily as a list of “do’s” and “don’ts,” we are under the sway of legalism. When we begin to think that it is okay for us to go ahead and sin, because God will forgive us anyway, we are feeling the temptation of antinomianism.” -Phil Ryken, introduction to The Marrow of Modern Divinity