Friday, April 23, 2010

Am I Enough? (Part 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 of this miniseries I've sought to show how our attempts to answer the question of whether we are enough are works-righteousness, and how the gospel frees us from such a hopeless situation. The question before us now is "where does that leave us?" Since our justification is no longer based on obedience to the law, should we now just cease worrying about obedience? Paul deals with this question in Romans 6:

"Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" - Romans 5:21-6:2

In short, Paul's answer is "no." We should not now neglect obedience to God. Actually, it's because of this salvation, because we've died to sin, that we should not continue in it. God still calls us to live lives of holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) and faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

Now as I type that I sense I will get two different responses. I sense this because I've had both responses at various points in my life:

1. Dang, more requirements, more burden. I thought this law stuff was over! Can't we just leave our message at grace and not talk about our response?

2. Go get 'em Mike! So many people out there just think God is going to forgive them but they're still a bunch of sinning idiots. I'm sick of hearing about mercy and love, condemn me and the rest of these idiots already!

In theological terms, (1) is called an antinomian, and (2) is called a legalist. My brief description and response:

1. Antinomianism basically defines any belief system that teaches that its adherents have no duty to follow some moral standard. For those of you with this response, I feel you. I think we feel our burden lifted in knowing that Jesus paid for our sins, but then we get hit with more commands and the burden comes back. It'd be easier to just punt the law, stick to what Jesus did, and not it let it change our lives. Nonetheless, we see this is not the Biblical picture.

2. Legalism basically defines any belief system that teaches that its adherents must obey the law to be declared righteous. This obviously fails to produce an actual righteousness by the test of Galatians 3:10. Most of the people I describe in (2) realize this and would bawk at my suggestion that they might be legalists. But I again do this one from experience. I find often times my anger at others' lack of holiness is because I feel like I'm working hard and I deserve a better reward than they, so if I see both of us getting saved it makes me angry. On a deeper level, I think I also hate myself so much that condemnation comes more naturally than grace. You telling me I suck makes sense because I feel worthless, you telling me God loves me anyway sounds like sugarcoated nonsense, a result of the positive thinking movement. Nonetheless, God says He loves me while I suck (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10).

I believe the gospel destroys both of these wrong ways of thinking. In (1), the problem is we feel extra burden when more commands come in. But because Jesus took our curse, there should not be any burden in any command we receive (1 John 5:3-5). Since we no longer need to obey perfectly to earn God's favor, we can obey out of joyful gratitude (cf. Psalm 1: "his delight is in the law of the Lord"). To fix our thinking in (1), we actually just need to believe the gospel more so that new commands no longer feel like a burden that needs to be resisted, but rather the good will of a loving father that can be joyfully accepted.

In (2) we feel like we deserve a reward for our efforts that others should not get if their efforts don't measure up. We're saying "since God's love is something I earn by what I do, you shouldn't get it if you don't do it." Again, the solution is that in the gospel God's love is not something we earn; He gives it freely. If He gave His love to us who did not deserve it, then surely we have no reason to oppose His giving it to others. Realizing this also humbles us as we see that no matter how much we think we can do, it would be never be enough to earn God's favor. Only Jesus can do that for us. To fix our thinking (2), we need to believe the gospel more so that we see our relationship with God as a gift of His grace, and can rejoice with God as His grace is extended to others rather than get angry because those people aren't trying as hard as we think we are.

On the other hand, some of those in (2) are there because they feel so worthless that condemnation is more natural than grace. The solution here? You guessed it. When we view ourselves as too worthless to receive God's love and grace, we say two awfully wrong things at minimum: 1. We have higher standards than God. God may be willing to love us as sinners, but our standards are so high we won't let ourselves be loved as the sinners we know we are. 2. God is not free to do as He pleases. God must play be my rules. I say He can't love me because I suck, therefore that's the way it has to be. But here's the reality in the gospel: God is way holier than we are and He has still chosen to love us and send His son to pay the penalty for our sins. I say God can't love me because I suck, God says He loves me because I suck. So to fix my thinking in (2), I need to believe God's love for me in the gospel.

In light of the gospel we don't need to be antinomians or legalists. Instead we can try to obey God's will, try hard in sports, work hard in school, and pursue women in the way God intended us to. Since we don't need to feel like we are enough in these areas, we don't have to get out of them for fear of failure and we don't have to pursue them the wrong way to make sure we feel like we are enough. We can pursue them in their proper place out of joyful gratitude for what God has done for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment