“And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” — I John 5:3,4
“I do not say this to condemn you.” II Cor. 7:3
Prefatory note: If you are an antinomian, I’m guessing you won’t appreciate this post. That said, I encourage you to read this brand new paper from my pastor, Antinomianism as a Theological Method, and then consider giving this post a chance.
Christian brothers and sisters who want to talk all the time about “radical grace”… now please don’t get me wrong.
I think I understand pretty well why you want to do what you do. Therefore, let me make some things very clear from the get-go:
- There are passages in the New Testament Epistles that almost always[i] encourage the Christian because they are about what God, in His great love, has done for us in the life of Jesus Christ. They are specifically constructed to give us this gift, help us remember and reflect on this gift, and tell us who we are by this gift, and we find ourselves, first and foremost, receiving or passively consenting to these truths in joy. I’m not going to deal with these “pure Gospel” passages.
- There are passages in the New Testament Epistles, even outside of Romans 1-3[ii], that tend to condemn us. They tell us as Christians to avoid sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, that we, since we remain sinners until we die (that’s why we die!), always continue to entertain at some level. As they tell us what not to do, they deal with God’s law. I’m also not dealing with these below.
- Regarding what I do deal with below, these passages tell us what to do (therefore they are also rightly called “law”). Please note that I am not saying that I am empowered by these words that follow. They, in fact, also at times bring a very strong sense of condemnation in me!
But you see, I do know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which does empower me. Which does motivate me. Which – since it has, thanks be to God, been driven into me like a nail – does change me from the inside out (Eph. 3:16, 2 Cor. 4:16).
This makes all the difference.
(speaking of exclamation points, in what follows, I removed lots of explanation points from my original draft. Feel free to add them yourselves!).
And I know that many of you “radical grace” persons also know this Gospel — this breath-taking-ly amazing good news. Jesus Christ has rescued us from this “passing-away” world, this “present age”, death, the devil, ourselves…. He has died for the sins of the whole world – even ours. Even mine. Through Him, we have been adopted into the family of God and are His own precious child.
Amazing! (I left that explanation point in)
And insofar as we are new in Christ, we are a new man. And qua new man, we know that these commands are exactly the kinds of word our flesh, our old man, our “old Adam,” needs.
We need to put that self that is dying, that false self — that being who clings to what Peter calls “the empty way of life” – down (see Gal. 5:16-17).
Me to – as an individual part of that body. It’s like Paul said in Gal. 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Mystery of mysteries. Grace of graces. I, like Paul, want to live in Christ to!
In His way.
As a new creation raised to new life who delights in His holy will! His lex aeterna.
For He is good and holy, and I want to be this to! Not so that I can be accepted before Him, but because He, through Christ’s blood and righteousness, has accepted me! As Christ was and is, so shall we be.[iii]
Therefore, that we may be His hands for the sake of all our neighbors whom He dearly loves, I give you these fine words that remind us who we are in Him – and who we are becoming… are to become.
And – of course – what He desires for our neighbor to become in Christ by faith as well.
(I’ve also italicized some of the parts that either explicitly or implicitly refer back to the Gospel which grounds all such exhortations)
10. II Thesalonians 3:7-10
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
Comment: OK, I’ll admit it. This comment encourages me because that last sentence gives me some “teeth” when it comes to dealing with my sometimes ungrateful and lazy children. Oh, and that describes me to sometimes, doesn’t it?
9. Philippians 2:14-16
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Comment: That first phrase really smacked me down the other day. Sometimes, I complain and grumble a lot, and that is clearly not an attractive quality. I like the idea of being able to leave that behind completely, and evidently, the watching world likes that idea as well. It’s encouraging to think that God knows this is hard for us, wants us to be honest, and yet will give us the hope and strength in Christ to make progress even now. Down old Adam! Shut up with your whining! The neighbor depends on your fearing and trembling! (see previous verse) I have all things in Christ!
8. I Thessalonians 4:10-12
…we urge you, brothers, to [love one another] more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
Comment: The idea of living quietly and working with one’s hands – to the end that one need not [overly] depend on others but rather give to others, no doubt helping them to do the same – is very appealing, is it not?
7. Philippians 4:4-8
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness[a] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Comment: I love that we are exhorted to not be anxious. Also that we are to think about all these good things that are worthy of praise – even in a fallen, sin-infected world! The Apostle Paul is someone who was clearly familiar with great and praiseworthy things in the Greco-Roman world, and we to can be encouraged to think about God’s goodness and providential working in our own cultural contexts.
6. 2 Timothy 2:24-26
24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Comment: How would I want others who are concerned that I am ignorant, blind, and misled to treat me? Like this. Hard words are more readily accepted in a relationship where you are convinced that the other person is not trying to “win” or use you – or worse – but to really help you.
5. 1 Peter 3:15-16
15 .…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Comment: I am glad that we are told to share the hope that we have in Christ with gentleness and respect. Thank God Jesus is God. I am also glad that we are told to defend our faith, because this implies that good reasons can be given to others, which in turn implies that God values the rational intellect in service to Him.
4. Ephesians 4:1-4
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Comment: We are told here to maintain, or keep, or treasure that unity that we are given by Christ and His Spirit (through His word). Contra the impressions given by many “ecumenical” Christians, we are not told to create unity in the church. It is a gift given to us in Christ, and Paul urges us to walk both from this gift and in this gift.
3. Romans 12:1-2
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Comment: In truth, the whole of what follows in Romans 12 is rather exhilarating. Check it out. Certainly, painting the picture it does, it gives us a glimpse of the kind of love and attitudes we will know in a perfect way in heaven. It sounds quite wonderful. That said, through the blood-bought forgiveness of Christ, we are blessed to receive – and live – a taste of this even now.
2. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Comment: Correct me if I am wrong, but this verse tells me, in part, that God actually enjoys listening to me – constantly. I get the impression He is even eager to hear from me – all the time. I am just not an annoyance to Him, like I might be with others. To say the least, I am not like that with my own kids.
1. Ephesians 4:32-5:1,2:
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Comment: If Matthew 18 is weighing you down, read it alongside this passage. We should forgive as He forgave and continues to forgive us, out of a kind and tender heart of compassion and loyalty – love!
And yes, there are many others that I wanted to include (passages like I Thes. 2:11-13, 5:15; Colossians 4:5-6; Philippians 2:1-2)…. But this is already long enough.
As Christians we don’t live by God’s law — we live by grace through faith in Christ. That said, it’s alright for you to highlight these beautiful commands in your Bibles! In fact, given their rich understanding of the pure Gospel, I submit that Lutheran Christians in particular have a lot to offer fellow believers when it comes to a deeper understanding of Bible passages like these.
What are your top ten encouraging law-sections from the epistles? Feel free to list them below.
[i] As Martin Luther points out in his Antinomian Disputations, sometimes even the good news that Jesus died for our sins can condemn us. Why? Because we recognize that if it were not for our sinfulness – and the actual sins that result from it – Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross. Some might even despair, thinking that their own sins are so great or grievous that they could not be forgiven by God. This to, of course, is the result of a sinful pride, and this is one reason why it is important to speak both of God’s law and His gospel – so the “gospel” doesn’t get “used up” as law so that it can’t serve as real good news.
[ii] Romans 1-3 is constructed specifically with the intent to condemn us by God’s law and “shut us up.” See in particular Romans 3:19-20.
[iii] See all of the passages about perfection/completion referred to in the first footnote of this post.