When Grace Ceases to be Grace

bridges quo storms

“Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit.… Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit.… [Grace] is treating a person without the slightest reference to demerit whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God.”

Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 35, quoting C. Samuel Storms.

Blameless In Your Lifetime

Luke describes the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth, as “righteous before God, walking blamelessly (ἄμεμπτος) in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6)

Paul, describing himself before his conversion, describes himself likewise: “as to righteousness under the law, blameless (ἄμεμπτος) (Philippians 3:6).
Prior to the cross, that is, before Christ’s death and resurrection, Zechariah and Elizabeth are commended for their righteousness.
After the cross (the historical death and resurrection of Christ), but yet before he is converted, Paul’s blamelessness under the law serves as a foundation, a reason, for his rejecting Christ and for his persecution of the church.
Then, after his conversion, Paul counts it all as loss:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11).
Before a man is converted to Christ, his blamelessness under the Law is fuel for his hatred of the church; following the cross, his blamelessness under the Law is understood as an impossibility, and a loss.
Following his conversion to Christ, a man in Christ knows his blamelessness before God has a different foundation.
Paul still claims that to be blameless is a Christian’s virtue (Philippians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:13).
It is expected that the Christian will be “blameless,” but not under the Law. No one alive today can, be in Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s position. If we are to be blameless, it is by grace, and not by Law.
The Law will show us what righteousness looks like, but, because of our weakness, cannot get us there. Only God’s grace can:
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh

 

We are still accountable and expected to be blameless. Are you? How are you?

The Cure for Legalism is not Antinomianism.

I respond to a tweet from Richard Rohr, OFM, whose take on the Law fails to maintain its proper use. His full article here.

I appreciate the sentiments in this article, and I agree that legalism is a problem for many. To be a legalist, though, is not to affirm the moral truth of the Law. Legalism is not the careful keeping of God’s Law. What legalism is, is to rely upon the Law a means to salvation. The problem with this article is that Rohr treats the Law as the problem, rather than sin (breaking the Law) as the problem. His concern over legalism leads him to deny the proper place of the Law. Rohr says that the Law is only “. . . to get you seriously engaged with the need for grace and mercy; they were never an end in themselves (read Romans 7:7ff).” This is missing the point of the Law.

First off, Rohr creates a straw man argument in saying that “they (the Law’s rules and regulations) were never an end in themselves.” The Bible never says the Law is an end to itself  (Psalm 19:7; 37:31; 40:8 and many other places); rather, one important purpose of the Law is to reflect the holiness of God, and how His people may please Him.

Secondly, Rohr seems to want to cut off any use of the Law as a way to know the character of God. He seems to limit the purpose of the Law to “getting us seriously engaged,” and not as a means to keeping us seriously engaged. But the moral character of God did not change at the cross, and the cross does not take away the moral requirements of the Law. The Law cannot  (because of our weakness) save; but the saved seek to grow in sanctification, which is at the least, to keep His Law.

Rohr’s first two Bible passages do not at all say what he says they do:

Rohr says that Paul said this: “ ‘Cursed be the law,’ Paul even says (Galatians 3:13)”

But Paul really said this:

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”— Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

Failure to keep and obey the Law brings a curse, but that curse is not the Law itself. Paul never uses this language to describe the Law. Rather, reliance upon the Law brings a curse. This is an important distinction, because Rohr’s approach denies the Law its rightful place as a rule of life for the Christian, and sure and true guidance for the Christian who desires to please God (John 14:15, 21, 15:10).

The curse comes not because of anything at fault wi-th the Law, but with us. That is why Christ became a curse for us. That’s grace.

Rohr: “But it seems Christianity has paid little heed to Paul’s revolutionary message, or even to Jesus who says six times in a row, ‘The law says, but I say!’(Matthew 5:21-45).”

What Jesus said: “You have heard” (Matthew 5, verses 21, 27, 33, 38, 43) and “it was also said” (Matthew 5:31). Jesus was NOT saying what Rohr is claiming. Jesus is not doing away with the Law, nor is He saying that He is somehow setting it aside; actually, quite the opposite (see Matthew 5:17 and below)

Jesus is not quoting the Law in these sayings. Jesus is quoting the Rabbinical interpretation of the Law. This is evident because, when Jesus quotes Scripture, He says, “It is written . . .” (Matthew 4:4, 6, & 10). Here He does not. He says, “You have heard.” This is a reference to the oral tradition of the Rabbis. That this is a Rabbinical interpretation is also evident from the last “you have heard,” in  Matthew 5:43:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

This is not a statement of Old Testament Law. It is a Rabbinical commentary.

Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that the Law is not abolished, by saying,  “17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 (ESV)

Fulfilment and abolishment are two entirely different things. What Jesus says is that the Law will not pass away until it is kept perfectly, that is, fulfilled, and it was done so in Christ. In fact, Christ’s “you have heard” statements reaffirm the deep and spiritual nature of the Law, not merely the outward appearance.

Legalism is a real problem, and it lays at the theological foundations of Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholicism, and every man-made religion. It is man striving to reach God.

But the cure for legalism is not antinomianism (lawlessness), but Grace. Grace is what God applies to us when we are brought to the end of our abilities by the Law. It must be kept in mind that the Law was good when I could not keep it; now, in Christ, who kept it for me, the Law is still good.

I personally believe that legalism among professed Christians is much less a problem than antinomianism, because there appears to be so little difference between Christians and non-Christians morally in our present age. If the Law, properly used as a means to show our need for Grace, but also as a perfect rule of life lived with the power of the Holy Spirit, was better taught today, the distinction between believer and unbeliever would be clearer.

The Christian and Social Justice

“The doctrine of grace must also be found unacceptable by humanitarian-based theological pragmatists, because grace allows one to accept without guilt what is not deserved. To have something that another does not have, or to have something that is not earned, by inheritance, by ‘luck,’ by gift—in other words, by grace—is unsupportable for those theorists and requires the imputation of guilt. Only grace can expunge guilt. Social justice advocates are hostile toward Christianity precisely because the latter stands on grace, which the former hates. Christians taken in by the social justice argument have a social ethic at war with their deepest convictions and are, therefore condemned to futility. The only theology consistent with humanitarianism is works-righteousness, or Pelagianism.”

Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, p 240