“Men trust to the grace and mercy of God, and look not after a change; and this holds many from embracing the gospel in the truth of it; from knowing Christ as the truth is in him. They hear they must be changed, which they are unwilling to. They believe that God is merciful, and that Christ died, &c. They snatch so much of the gospel, as may serve to build them up in self-love. So far they think all is well. But when they see such, grace as must teach them ‘to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,’ Titus ii. 12, and such grace as must change and alter them, this they cannot brook. They are content to go to heaven if they may have it in a way to hell; in maintaining their corruptions; being proud and covetous and worldly, as they are. This must not be. Of necessity there must be a change.” -Richard Sibbes, Glorious Freedom
“Undiluted grace and uncompromising obedience meet in the person of Jesus. He is always full of both.” -Rankin Wilbourne
Willard calls discipleship “The Great Omission” in the church today. He denounces American evangelicalism in particular for using grace to excuse discipleship and thereby eviscerating the gospel of its living content, the important call of “learning from [Jesus] how to live my life in the Kingdom of God now.” [From Willard, The Great Omission] Willard accuses the church of truncating the gospel, turning it into what he calls “a gospel of sin management.” He claims that we have reduced life with God to a “bar-code faith,” wherein simply by our verbal confession, we exchange our sins for Christ’s righteousness and thereby acquire our ticket for heaven when this life is over. For Willard, such a gross distortion allows us to miss Jesus entirely. “It is now understood to be part of the good news,” he laments, “that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian.” -Rankin Wilbourne
“A man in a small village once visited a priest. He asked him if he could confess his sin and if he could have absolution. “I stole three sacks of potatoes,” he said. The priest listened and talked about repentance and forgiveness. When the conversation was finished, the priest said, “I heard about the theft of those bags of potatoes, but I heard that it concerned only two, and you mentioned three.” “Yes,” said the man, “but tomorrow I will steal the third.” -Corrie Ten Boom, I Stand at the Door and Knock
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:
- 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.
- The ethic should not be preached/taught as a way of securing salvation before God.
- 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.
“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