We must be careful not to confuse the righteousness of faith with the righteousness of a Christian life. The former is a gift of grace through the imputed righteousness of Christ making us right before God, the latter is the fruit or results of one who has been born-again, justified and adopted as God’s child. Paul writes to Titus, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11-12). While we must avoid the error of legalism, a system of belief that says one is justified (made right with God) by faith plus the merit of our own works which is an obedience-based acceptance, it is equally important that we avoid the error of antinomianism, a system of belief that says one doesn’t need to give any proof of a life of repentance and virtue as evidence of being justified, an obedience-free acceptance. The grace of God does not exclude the Christian from obedience to God’s moral commands. Instead, in the gospel, our new motive is to eagerly desire to live righteously so that obedience becomes the natural expression of our grateful hearts, an acceptance-based obedience. Only in the gospel can we actually give complete loyalty and obedience to Christ and live a life of faith expressing itself through love.
I have recently discovered a theologian who beautifully communicates this careful balance in his classic work, True Christianity. He was often referred to as “the second Luther” by his contemporaries and yet another well-known theologian called him, “the prophet of interior protestantism.” Johann Arndt (1555-1621) was the first Luther scholar to see that “justification by faith alone” does not preclude doing good works but actually unleashes good works in the Christian. He has said,
“Many think that theology is a mere science, or rhetoric, whereas it is a living experience and practice. Everyone now endeavors to be eminent and distinguished in the world, but no one is willing to learn to be devoted. Everyone now seeks out men of great learning, from whom one may learn the arts, languages, and wisdom, but no one is willing to learn, from our only teacher, Jesus Christ, meekness and sincere humility, although his holy, living example is the proper rule and directive for our life…Everyone wishes very much to be a servant of Christ, but no one wishes to be his follower… He who loves Christ will also love the example of his holy life, his humility, meekness, patience, suffering, shame, and contempt, even if the flesh suffers pain…True Christianity consists, not in words or in external show, but in living faith, from which arise righteous fruits, and all manner of Christian virtues, as from Christ himself.”
Arndt is regularly careful to avoid the errors of legalism and antinomianism. Here is an example:
“You must take care that you do not connect your works and the virtues that you have begun, or the gifts of the new life, with your justification before God, for none of man’s works, merit, gifts, or virtue, however lovely these may be, count for anything. Our justification depends on the exalted, perfect merit of Jesus Christ, received by faith…Take great care, therefore, not to confound the righteousness of faith with the righteousness of a Christian life, but make a clear distinction (between them), for here is the whole foundation of our Christian religion.”
The Gospel says that you are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted and significant in God‘s eyes through the merit of Jesus Christ. Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or any less. He loves you strictly by His grace given to you through Jesus. Encountering God‘s free and sovereign grace is supposed to lead us to an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a complete willingness to give everything to God who has given us everything in His Son.
Of course, free love and grace have led some to licentiousness (license to sin) assuming unearned acceptance gives a new freedom to do anything they want. Paul anticipated this question after explaining that we are justified (made right with God) not by our works but by grace through faith:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2).” He taught Titus, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12).” After 11 chapters of explaining the gratuitous nature of salvation and mercy He explains to the Romans, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship.” Similarly after 3 chapters of describing the work of Christ to call us into God’s family, Paul exhorts the Ephesians, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1).”
Recently I have been attempting to teach my daughter how to drive a car. I’ve found that one of the more important principles of driving is actually avoiding the ditches and staying on the road. But sometimes, because of our backgrounds, when we encounter the gospel and feel its freedom from rule-keeping, we can ride down the gospel road as if there is only one ditch. The ditch that we are most often aware of is the Legalism Ditch.
Legalism is a system of belief that says one is justified (made right with God) by faith plus the merit of our own works. Legalism is a works-based, conditional acceptance by God which, if fulfilled, places God in the position as the debtor, the one who owes. Legalism is mechanical because it will only do the absolute minimum of what is absolutely required. This leads to a joylessness in life where we perform burdensome duties as a down payment for heaven. But legalism will never get anyone into heaven because it is impossible to be good enough. It is Obedience-based Acceptance.
The other ditch of which we are often not aware is the Antinomianism Ditch.
Antinomianism is system of belief that says one does not need to give any proof of a life of repentance and virtue as evidence of being justified (made right with God). Antinomianism is a perversion of Paul’s teaching on grace and actually mocks the holiness of God and the spiritual law that He gives us as a guide to holy living. Antinomianism teaches that grace means that I am freed from morality and freed from adhering to any moral law leading many back into bondage to sin. Antinomianism rejects the very notion or expectation of obedience as legalistic. It is Obedience-free Acceptance.
But the Gospel Road teaches something different than Legalism and something other than Antinomianism. The Gospel is an Acceptance-based Obedience. This means that if I know that I’m loved apart from how I perform, I will give my all. Now because we are justified by Christ, we are free to fulfill the Law by Loving God, and Loving Others, though we won’t do this perfectly. In the gospel, our new motive is to want eagerly to live righteously so that obedience becomes a natural expression of our grateful hearts.
Martin Luther clarified the gospel road in this way,
“Whoever he be that is assuredly persuaded that Christ is his righteousness, doesn’t only cheerfully and gladly work well in his vocation…but submits to all manner of burdens and dangers in his present life, because he knows that this is the will of God, and that this obedience pleases him… No one should think we reject the importance of good works or of obeying the law. When we receive the Christian righteousness, we consequently can live a good life, naturally, out of gratitude.”
The Apostle Paul reminds us to work OUT our salvation with fear and trembling which is certainly not a working FOR our salvation but simply living it out (Phil. 2:12). This presents for us the Full Gospel teaching that Christ came to give His Life for us so that He could live His Life through us to the glory of the Father. One of my former seminary profs, Dr. Simon Kistemaker, rightly exhorts us in his commentary on 2 Peter, “Even though the initiative in salvation comes from God, he works out our sanctification by putting us to work.” We are rightly taught the doctrine of the full gospel when Ephesians 2:8,9 is taught with verse 10…
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Walking according to the Spirit is the grateful response of our hearts to the gospel as God’s Spirit operates in us to produce uncoerced virtue and spontaneous activity to glorify Him.
What are we to think about our Lord Jesus Christ attending a wedding reception, an event where excesses are common and at different times in history, clergy had even been forbidden to attend? Some are uncomfortable with such a scene and salve their consciences by fabricating a history of an early weakened fermentation. Even if there were grains of truth in the claims, drunkenness still existed and Christians were exhorted not to be drunk with wine and qualified elders were not to be drunkards (Cf. Eph. 5:18; 1 Tim. 3:1:3). It was later said of Jesus, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!‘ (Luke 7:33-34). At least during his public ministry as an adult, Jesus lived like the average person and did things according to the customs of his day. The custom of his day was that people commonly drank wine, so He drank wine and ate the foods he was offered. John the Baptist by contrast confined himself to a peculiar diet, and even abstained from ordinary food.
Calvin comments, “Those who think that the highest perfection consists in outward austerity (strictness) of life, and who pronounce it to be an angelical life …when a person will drink no wine ought to attend to this passage.” He argues that if the highest level of holiness is wrapped up in abstaining from wine, then principally, John the Baptist would have to rank higher than the Son of God. Of course, Jesus by His example gives us no license to indulge in luxuries nor does He grant permission to those who have been under the dominion of strong drink. While Christ accommodated himself to the usages of ordinary life, he always maintained a sobriety truly divine and He did not encourage excesses or unlawful behavior.
Christ was never interested in an outward form of spirituality and was insistent that it’s not what a person takes into his mouth that defiles him but what comes out of his heart (Cf. Matt. 15:11). The Apostle Paul exclaimed that his boast was the testimony of his conscience in that he behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity by the grace of God and that he was concerned that the some were being led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (Cf. 2 Cor. 1:12 ; 11:2-4). In other words, neither Christ nor the Apostle Paul gave us any room to create a Christian spirituality that was defined by what we ate or drank but instead modeled a spirituality of love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith (1Tim. 1:5). Abstaining from one practice or another is not what counts, but instead what counts is faith working itself out through love (Cf. Gal. 5:6). When it came to drinking, Jesus encouraged a moderate and contextual use of his created gifts.
What a startling statement it was! Jesus sat was with His twelve best friends in the world. They had been together for three years, they ate together, they slept together, they walked mile after mile together. They sat under His teaching, saw Him perform countless miracles and were so excited about being a part of His Future Kingdom that they argued about who among them would be the greatest in it. They knew Jesus and they knew each other. And once again they came together for an evening meal, relaxing together at the table and eating when the words came out of Jesus’ mouth, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”
His words were puzzling, cryptic, surprising and even shocking. Yet they knew that His words were always True, so they began to weep. How could it be that one of this inner-circle would betray their Lord, their Savior, their Friend? After initial abhorrence and disgust at the idea they moved with eagerness to clear themselves of suspicion, to judge their own consciences and defend themselves declaring, “Surely Not I?” One by one each man declared his innocence; thoughts of betrayal were far from their hearts. Even Judas spoke up saying, “Surely Not I?” The disciples were often in the position of overestimating themselves and failing to see their capacity for rebellion and betrayal. In fact, later in the evening they would all abandon Him.
I remember when I was a new believer attending a holiday conference for college students when a speaker asked a section of 100 students to stand and then preceded to ask 50 of the number to sit back down. He then made a startling prediction, “In ten years, half of the 100 will no longer be walking with the Lord!” His prediction was not based on any specific knowledge of the sample group, but on anecdotal evidence of working with young people who declared themselves to be “on fire for Jesus” in their youth but later would show no evidence that they ever truly believed. Ironically, the thoughts that penetrated my mind and heart on that evening were “Surely Not I?” Then looking at my friends and thinking, “Surely not them either, right?”
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” A regular call to look within ourselves to discover Christ and Faith is not a harmful thing for the Christian to do. Jesus makes this startling prediction of his closest friends, “One of you will betray me,” because He knows they have overestimated their commitment to Him, that their faith is not mature and their foundations will soon be rocked. He wants all of them to do a heart inventory and by doing so reminds His disciples and us that we are chosen but we are not choice. He wants us all to see our capacity for rebellion and to see our great need for His grace and mercy. He wants us to ask ourselves, “Are we following Him because the crowd follows Him?” and “Are we following Him because of the nice gifts He provides.” If we follow Him because of the crowd or the gifts, it is likely that one day we will walk away from Him. There will come a time in our earthly lives when we feel alone in our faith and the crowd is not following. There will also come a time when His gifts momentarily cease, when our faith will be tested with the question, “Do I love the Giver or do I love the Gifts?”
Most evangelicals underestimate the meaning, power and purpose of the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle Paul calls the Supper, a koinonia in the body and blood of Christ, a communion by intimate participation (1Cor. 10:14-16). Our partaking of Christ is described in the Supper as “eating” and “drinking” so that we’d never think that the life that we receive form Him is received by mere knowledge. And Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life, to teach us not only that salvation for us rests on faith in his death and resurrection, but also that, by true partaking of him, his life passes into us and is made ours just as bread when taken as food imparts vigor to the body.
Christ presents to us a sign and symbol of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper which He wants for us to intimately experience, to show us that we partake of Him with our whole being, not just believe in Him with our heads. But many today have so little regard for signs that we have a tendency to divorce them from their mysteries. The only question we ask is: “Is it Christ’s body and blood physically or is it just bread and wine?” But there is much more meaning between those questions. A Sign or symbol can be REAL even if it doesn’t transform in essence. When we partake of the Lord’s supper, we mysteriously share and participate in the REAL presence of Christ. It is REAL, it is not pretend. In the Supper we experience Christ in a deeper way and are spiritually nourished by the benefits of redemption and we find that there is a new working of grace in our hearts that makes us want to flee from sin and idolatry. We find that we want to make new commitments to Him in our hearts to resist the devil, to seek the Lord and to love others better.
In the Lord’s Supper we are sharing and participating in everything that Christ has done for us that those elements represent. When Christ shed his blood and gave his body for us, God was removing guilt and shame and forgiving sin. He was becoming reconciled to those who would believe and making peace with them. So it is the purpose of the Supper to be strengthened to obtain this peace and joy while our souls feast on Him. In the Lord’s Supper we can actually feel and taste the gospel.
Christ’s words “This is my body” has several interpretations… that’s tomorrow’s blog.