My title is a bit misleading. This debate is really sad because this is not really the issue. The church seems to be at odds similarly as conservatives and liberals fight. One side wants to emphasize grace and the other seemingly want to emphasize faith or obedience in a world that wants none. Nobody is really touting for a return to following the letter of the law but I have been at odds sometimes when simply wanting to communicate what the Bibles teaches, such as fruit and faithfulness while those seemed to hear any kind of ought as “law.”
I think this comes from a failure to walk in the Spirit. Paul contrasts living under the law not with grace but with walking in the Sprint. Which is allowing the Spirit to impose his will and guidance according to the scriptures rather than us looking at a rule book and trying to measure up.
Now stick with me here: The truth of the matter is that following the law and being led by the Spirit are going to look, can I say this, similar? Don’t leave yet, keep reading. I say this knowing that the reasons and power to do so are from completely different places, and NO, we do not hold to every law of the Old Covenant, obviously many things have changed, but the Spirit is going to lead us into not full-filling the desires of the flesh. The desires of the flesh are a lot of the things that the Old Covenent addresses. All foods were declared clean in the New Testament and the liturgy for approaching God is totally summed up in Christ himself, but the morality is going to be the same. Just because we now walk by faith does not now mean we can freely partake in child sacrifice or idolatry or bestiality does it? This is the difference. The Spirit is going to lead us in the direction of morality and faithfulness and yes even obedience, while the Law hitting on those things, will only lead to rules and earning without any help, without the presence of the Spirit, and without a readiness to forgive.
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Tim 1)
Here’s a test:
Ask yourself, if I am a child of God then can I freely partake in this list above? Y/N
Do we need to sacrifice a lamb for a sin offering anymore? Y/N
Do we refrain from eating pork or shellfish? Y/N
Do we refrain from having sex with our sisters? Y/N
The answer key is this: No, No, No, Yes.
How does that strike you? Does the idea that the Word of God still has somethings to say to you about behavior prick your sense of grace?
Until we understand that Jesus wanted the disciples to go and make disciples and to teach them all that he taught, (Matt 28:19) which means respecting the Old Covenant as he did and applying it wisely as Paul teaches in Galatians and the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, we will continue to talk past each other when we hear certain buzzwords that set off certain theological leanings; much like what is happening in our political discourse. I need the very grace that everyone desires in order to be led by the Spirit, but being led by the Spirit is not going to lead me to gracelessly ignore the Word of God when it comes to faithful obedience in areas I would rather have freedom in. This is when grace leads to license, and as Christians we need to understand the difference. Yes, we are free from the curse of the law, but no I am not free from living morally.
It seems like our American ideologies of freedom continue to influence our understanding of Christianity in such a way that we believe any morality must not make any uncomfortable appeals to us because that doesn’t feel “free”. But what we are freed from is a slavery to sin and separation from Christ. It is not freedom from the need to stop addressing sin, because sin very much offends God, we can grieve the Spirit after all. (Eph 4:30) The message is we can be forgiven and when we do sin he is faithful and just to forgive us all unrighteousness, it is not: since I am forgiven nothing actually is a violation anymore.
The further problem at least for my position is that in saying this it sounds like I am more interested in rules and law and obedience rather than freedom and grace. But what I am most interested in as a Pastor is Jesus and his testimony; what we are to teach as we make disciples. The only reason I come with the approach I do is because this is where we are now in 2017, this is where the balance is needed. When there are troubled marriages a pastor should talk about marital love. When there are financial problems a pastor should teach on stewardship. When there are addictions a pastor should address them. There was a time when a different emphasis was needed in order to help balance the overwhelming swing of the pendulum that was stuck in Legalismville during the fundamentalist 40’s 50’s. I get that any attempt to bring this balance back now sounds like a return to Egypt. But where we are now is so far across the line of grace that the word license is starting to blush. This is the case when many churches don’t understand simple right and wrong anymore.
America is brimming with open sin and demanding more license for as many expressions as they can get away with, which is what they were always going to do, but it is so much so that even churches are caving on what simple Biblical morality is. Furthermore we have a society that believes it can violently riot to force its own anarchists views, one that will not submit to authority. We do not have a legalism problem right now in 2017, we have a licentious one that needs the hard words of sin and teachings on repentance brought back into the foreground. I wish I was in a time when the strong words that needed to be shared were more of grace and mercy, that feels nicer, but that is not largely where we are as a society. The church needs to be the church and present the Gospel as one that is so loving, gracious, merciful yes, but because there is rescue from our cultural calamity. That is the point, it is a rescue not a free-pass. This is what Ephesians 4 is about.
I know there is always a needed temperance of grace and love being taught, the message is incomplete without it, and I am not saying change the message, but what I am saying is we need to respond to what is going on in our land the way it is. We need to address what is lacking at the other end. When the church is beginning to follow the world down primrose path what we need is a loud “No!” This is what Paul does to Peter in Galatians 2 when we says he saw Peter’s actions as out of step with the truth of the Gospel. He called him to repentance.
When we walk in the Spirit we will not full-fill the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16) I pray that walking in the Spirit will not also be called “law.” Let’s stop turning grace into a modern indulgence, we already had that fight.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5)
Yes the whole law is summed up in love, and love is not going to lead us away from morality either. Read chapter 5 of the book of Galatians as it sums this up beautifully. It is not law to be led by the Spirit which will look like not gratifying the desires of the flesh. A large point of the book is that the Law used to be our guardian until Jesus came but now that he came, the Spirit does this, but this says nothing of the morality contained within the Law as something to also be discarded. This is why Jesus still shares many do’s and dont’s throughout the Gospels. The difference is now the Spirit guides us lovingly, forgiving-ly, graciously but he is still leading us away from full-filling the desires of our flesh, towards being made Christ-like.
This is about direction, which road are we travelling? Are we heading towards the city of light riding in the car of grace or are we heading towards the city of freedom in the grievous town bus? The problem here is that we think that responding a bit more forceful isn’t grace, but God disciplines us for the purpose of better relationship. The Bible doesn’t talk about obedience and grace as two opposing things.
We are always to show mercy, love, and compassion to a dying world but there are also times when a whip of cords is needed in the temple grounds or for a prophet a to be sought so that he might come to town and share some thoughts. The question is always how do we respond?