Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The problem of "cheap law"

I once had a Christian leader tell me that the biggest issue in our churches today is a failure to preach obedience. Our churches, he told me, are full of people who are not living as if they are Christians. So they need for us to dogmatically and emphatically preach ethics and morality. And that was his response to my suggestion that our churches and pulpits need more gospel.

So the millenia-old debate continues. Here are some прогулка на теплоходе по Москве с ужином extended quotes from an excellent post on law vs. gospel by Tullian Tchividjian over at the Gospel Coalition's blog:

"Lawlessness and moral laxity happen, not when we hear too much grace, but when we hear too little of it."

"We’re being both theologically AND existentially simplistic and naive when we assume that simply telling people what they need to do has the power to make them want to do it. Telling people they need to change can’t change them; exhorting people to obey (which we should definitely do) doesn’t generate obedience. Even God’s command to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is not itself what causes actual love for him. What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us."

Quoting Jono Linebaugh: "'God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.'"

"Regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, like Paul in Romans 7, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not 'how much I’ve improved over the years', I realize that I’m a lot worse than I realize. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). No matter how decent I think I’m becoming–how much better I think I’m getting–when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, 'Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24).'"

"Grace, for many Christians, is the reduction of God’s expectations of us. Because of grace, we think, we just need to try hard. Grace becomes this law-cheapening agent, attempting to make the law easier to follow. 'Love the Lord with all your heart' becomes 'try to love God more than sports.' 'Be perfect' gets cheapened into 'do your best.'"

"It’s a low view of the law that produces legalism, since a low view of the law causes us to conclude we can do it—the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think the standards are attainable, the goals reachable, the demands doable. This means, contrary to what some Christians would have you believe, the biggest problem facing the church today is not 'cheap grace' but 'cheap law'—the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus."

The power of life transformation is not in the law. The only real help we can provide anyone who is beaten down and beset by sin is in the gospel. The only real help we can provide ourselves and our sheep day in and day out is in Christ and His Good News. We can't. He did. He does. He will. That's our hope. That's true help for moral ineptitude in the church.

Read the whole thing here: Acknowledging Failure IS A Virtue


Pastor Jack said...

Sinclair Ferguson's response to my question asked years ago at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was profound. The question was, “Should legalism be countered with a little antinomianism to bring it to a Biblical center, and should antinomianism be dealt with by a little legalism as a corrective?” His answer was, “No. They both have a common root error. They fail to comprehend the grace of God.” I asked the question, and I never forgot his answer! Factoring this into a high view of the law as presented in your blog post would lead me to modify Ferguson's answer as follows: "They fail to comprehend our desperate need for and absolute dependency on the grace of God." In other words, a high view of the law and a high view of grace go hand in hand. Does that make sense?