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.