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For Such a Time: Gospel of Grace not Spirit of the Law

August 4, 2010

[God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).

How would a person who is not a Christian answer the question, “What is Christianity?’  I think most would respond by saying something similar to “It is a moral system that will supposedly make your life better.”  Is this really what Christianity is?  How would they get such an idea? 

I am afraid that we have often given the message to the world that Christianity is a set of moral rules that can clean up a person’s life.  This is not Christianity.  If this is the message that we have given, then we have embodied the spirit of the law not the gospel of grace.  We then become intolerant moralists rather than proclaimers of Jesus.  Now, I am sure that when I say grace instead of law, most will think I mean “soft” instead of “strict.”  That is not what I mean.  I am more concerned with the content of our message than the tone (although the tone can be important, too). 

Perhaps one of the reasons we are losing a skeptical generation of people is that we are giving the wrong message.  We have hidden the gospel of Jesus Christ within a moral-centered religion.  We are preaching the law instead of the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ.  The problem is that the law condemns, kills and brings death (2 Cor. 3:6-7, 9), and it cannot save anyone (Gal. 3:19-25).  Essentially, the world hears us saying that if they can ever get their life straight and moral then God will accept them.  The truth is that, without grace through the sacrifice of Jesus, none of us will ever be acceptable. 

This leads to several conclusions about the nature of a ministry of grace versus the spirit of the law.  First, the gospel leads us to confess that we are unable to be righteous and need the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ.  The message, “be more moral and God will love you and bless you,” flies in the face of the gospel.  It assumes you have the ability to be “good enough” to be accepted by God.  God calls us to be desperate not determined.  Furthermore, a law-centered faith leaves Jesus out.  It makes the cross of no effect.  Salvation is not a promise to do better for God.  Salvation is a confession of our inability to do better and our need for Christ.  The Bible says that we were spiritually “dead” (Eph. 2:1).  When we preach morality to those who are “spiritually dead” we are asking them to do something they cannot do.  We instead become “determined to not know anything . . . except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).  Believe it or not, morality can be a hindrance to seeing Christ; Paul even calls the law a veil that blinds our eyes (2 Cor. 3:14. 4:3).  In fact, some of the most spiritually frightening people I know are those that have cleaned up their lives without Jesus.  Their morality is nothing more than a camouflage to hide their sin.  It’s like putting perfume on a pig!  The saddest part is that their morality has fooled them into thinking they aren’t in need of Jesus.  At least the immoral don’t carry this delusion.  We must preach “you can’t” instead of “try harder.”

Second, changes in a life that are motivated by guilt alone are incomplete unless they are followed by a person being captivated by the grace of Jesus.  Guilt never lasts.  Given time and opportunity the guilt-motivated change will fade away.  Guilt is but one step that shows us that we are in need (Gal. 3:24).  However, to know your need is not to change your situation.  Until we are captured by such a great grace which God has shown through Jesus, we will not be changed (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:14).  We have preached guilt until we are blue (actually red) in the face.  If this is our final word, then this preaching is law-centered.  It usually happens when we lose faith in the gospel and try to make something happen with our own strength.  We think, “If the grace of God displayed through the cross of Jesus is not working, maybe I can guilt people into holiness.”  It will not work.  Instead, grace motivates us through gratitude.  We don’t do works for God because we feel guilty or are trying to earn his pleasure.  We work because our lives are filled with thanksgiving. 

Third, the grace of God through Jesus Christ is a message that can take us captive and change our lives.  To be offered love when we least deserve it, and to be provided with spiritual innocence when we could not earn it, is a power unleashed that morality by self-effort will never match.  In fact, I would suggest to you that the only morality acceptable before God is the morality that is produced through grace displayed on the cross.  Anything else is filthy rages (Is.  64:6).  Look at the glory of God’s gracious action through Jesus Christ and see if your gaze upon it doesn’t transform you.  Look deeply at the many facets of the gospel and let them melt your pride.  Let the love of God through Jesus be a “reckless raging fury” as G. K. Chesterton calls it.  When you are captured by the gospel, your life will reflect its character:  forgiveness, generosity, sacrifice, and love.  At this point, you might think that I am against morality, but in reality, I am not.  I simply believe that the only way to produce eternal deeds from our lives is to be confronted with the grace of God found in the death of Jesus.

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