Yesterday, I quoted Philip Yancey at length, and asked how his concerns that the Church dispense grace and Paul’s admonition to “judge those within the church” could both be addressed.
First, here are some more salient bits from Yancey’s amazing book:
- “You can know the law by heart without knowing the heart of it” (195)
- “The proof of spiritual maturity is not how “pure” you are but awareness of your impurity. That very awareness opens the door to grace” (198)
- “Forgiveness is our problem, not God’s. What we have to go through to commit sin distances us from God – we change in the very act of rebellion – and there is no guarantee we will ever come back. You ask me about forgiveness now [as in: “Will God forgive me for what I’m about to do, namely leave my wife for another”], but will you even want it later, especially if it involves repentance?” (180)
- “The solution of sin is not to impose an ever-stricter code of behavior. It is to know God.” (210)
And yet, all this said, let’s get real about what Paul speaks of.
Without a doubt, we need Christians to be zealous for the Law of God, for by faith, we uphold the Law – even as we are not under it. We need Christians who are eager to flee from sin and temptation, and who are eager to share the Gospel and do good works. We need Christians who, in their heart of hearts, are eager to be corrected – for old attitudes and behaviors to give way, and for new ways of being and doing to be realized, imagined, and put into practice (“actualized”). We need Christians, who, for the sake of their neighbor, are eager that there even be no appearance of unrighteousness – and are eager to be corrected even here! And we need Christians who do all of this because of the great joy and love that wells up from within them – so that those who call them “prudes”, “Pharisees”, or “Puritans” will clearly be seen to be speaking slander (I Peter 3:15). And we need preachers who are bold enough to say this – to do “tough love” this way – and can take the flack for being “legalistic”.
And yes, at bottom, we do not need more rules, but we need to know God better (see Ephesians 1: 15-23, and 3:14-21). This is the answer.
Objection 1: “Don’t tell me I’m getting better every day in every way – I’m not.” No, you are – although it is good that you yourself don’t see it when you look inside. Paul tells Timothy we should be eager for everyone to “see our progress”, and we are to imitate Paul, as he says. Progress? Yes. Without a doubt. When you look inside your own heart, you rightly see only your sin, but in faith, you believe by the grace of God that He is doing good work in you – that though you are a sinner-saint, saint is your true and ultimate identity (Jesus is only the friend of sinners, who are saints with in, with, and through Him), and you really are growing in grace. If you don’t believe this is true, you are not trusting God’s promises – period. Repent. Certainly, this struggle against sin won’t stop until the grave, but to deny that there are ever “victories” in the Christian life is nonsense. It is un-Christian/Lutheran.
Objection 2: “But aren’t most pastors already doing this? Should you not be putting the best construction on everything?” No and yes. Regarding the “yes” (the rationale for the “no” will become clear as we go on in this series), it is well said. But consider this analogy: when you notice a young woman who gets 2 black eyes over the course of a few months, you are negligent if you do not challenge her when she insists she keeps falling. Likewise, when you excuse the couple who lives together, consoling yourself that you have told them “Well, just as long as you realize that God’s ideal is marriage and you guys should not have sexual relations”, you need a reality check. No, you should be praying earnestly that they would flee both temptation and the appearances of evil – that they might not cause their brother to stumble (and these are not even indifferent matters). And not only this, but you should take action to have them get married (offer to do it right then and there) or separate from one another right away – not necessarily for their own salvation’s sake (this to could be a danger to if they really are tempted, and give in repeatedly such that they eventually no have a desire to ask God for forgiveness for what has become a common practice for them) but so that they do not make either weak believers or non-Christians think that living together just like a married couple would is OK. Even if some really can embrace chastity in such an arrangement, others may not be able to imagine this.
To be continued….