In the midst of my imperfections, inconsistencies, sinfulness and even in my seasons of personal improvement – I am always in need of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17
Pastor Tullian Tchividjian comments from an interviewed regarding his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything
” What is the biggest threat to Christianity?
This might come as a surprise to some, but the biggest threat to Christianity exists inside the church, not outside the church. According to the Bible, the biggest threat to Christianity is legalism.
Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, the human race has been naturally prone toward works-righteousness, self-salvation projects. Having determined way back then that we could do it better on our own, we’ve been trying ever since.
There’s a common misunderstanding in today’s church, which says there are two equal dangers Christians must avoid. On one side of the road is a ditch called “legalism”; on the other is a ditch called “license” or “lawlessness.” Legalism, they say, happens when you focus too much on law, on rules. Lawlessness, they say, happens when you focus too much on grace. Therefore, in order to maintain spiritual equilibrium, you have to balance law and grace. If you start getting too much law, you need to balance it with grace. If you start getting too much grace, you need to balance it with law. This dichotomy exposes our failure to understand gospel grace as it really is; it betrays our blindness to all the radical depth and beauty of grace.
It’s much more theologically accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (I call this “front-door legalism”). Other people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (“back-door legalism”). In other words, there are two “laws” we can choose to live by apart from Christ: the law which says, “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules,” and the law which says, “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.” Either way, you’re trying to “save” yourself, which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects. So what some call “license” is just another form of legalism.
This distinction is super important because the biggest lie about grace that Satan wants the church to buy is the idea that it’s dangerous and therefore needs to be kept it in check. The perceived fear is this: if we think too much and talk too much about grace and the radical freedom it brings, we’ll go off the deep end with it. We’ll abuse it. By believing that lie, we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in our lives and in the church by perpetuating our own slavery. The truth is, disobedience happens not when we think too much of grace, but when we think too little of it.
As a pastor, one of my responsibilities is to disciple people into a deeper understanding of obedience—teaching them to say no to the things God hates and yes to the things God loves. All too often I’ve wrongly concluded that the only way to keep licentious people in line is to give them more rules—to lay down the law. The fact is, however, the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. What licentious people need is a greater understanding of grace, not a governor on grace. Grace alone melts hearts and changes us from the inside out. Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize that God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.
A “yes, grace—but” disposition is the kind of fearful posture that keeps legalism swirling around in our hearts and in the church.
What is the “now power” of the Gospel and what difference does it make?
I once assumed (along with the vast majority of professing Christians) that the gospel was simply what non- Christians must believe in order to be saved, while afterward we advance to deeper theological waters. But I’ve come to realize that once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. We never outgrow our need for the gospel. Because I am a daily sinner, I need God’s daily distributions of grace that come my way as a result of the finished work of Christ.
When God’s good news met me in my dark place during the summer of 2009, I started to see the many-faceted dimensions of the gospel in a more dazzling way. It’s almost as if, for me, the gospel changed from something hazy and monochromatic to something richly multicolored, vivid, and vibrant. I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel—that the gospel doesn’t simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future; it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance. Through my pain, I was being convinced all over again that the power of the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before.
The gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We know we’re not okay—though we try very hard to convince ourselves and other people that we’re basically fine. But the gospel tells us, “Relax, it is finished. The pressure’s off.”
Because of the gospel, we have nothing to prove or protect. We can stop pretending. We can take off our masks and be real. The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, appease people, measure up for people, or prove ourselves to people. The gospel frees us from the burden of trying to control what other people think about us. It frees us from the miserable, unquenchable pursuit to make something of ourselves by using others.
The gospel frees us from what one writer calls “the law of capability”—the law, he says, “that judges us wanting if we are not capable, if we cannot handle it all, if we are not competent to balance our diverse commitments without a slip.” The gospel grants us the strength to admit we’re weak and needy and restless—knowing that Christ’s finished work has proven to be all the strength and fulfillment and peace we could ever want, and more. Since Jesus is our strength, our weaknesses don’t threaten our sense of worth and value. Now we’re free to admit our wrongs and weaknesses without feeling as if our flesh is being ripped off our bones.
That’s what I mean in the book when I talk at length about the “now-power” of the gospel.
Why are Christians legalists when it comes to sanctification?
The way many Christians think about sanctification is that it’s a step beyond our need for Jesus and his finished work on our behalf. In other words, we tend to think of justification as step one and sanctification as step two. And once we get to step two, we never need to go back to step one. We needed Jesus a lot for justification. We need him less for sanctification. The truth is, though, that sanctification is simply getting used to your justification–it’s receiving Christ’s words “It is finished” into our rebellious regions of unbelief.
As Luther put it, “To progress is always to begin again”–it’s going back to the already secured reality of your justification and hitting the refresh button 1000 times a day. Going forward, in other words, requires a daily going backwards.
Legalism happens when what I need to do, instead of what Christ has already done, becomes the end game of my life. The gospel tells us the determining factor in my relationship with God is Jesus’ work for us, not our work for him; his performance for us, not our performance for him; his obedience for us, not our obedience. The Gospel is the good news that God doesn’t relate to us based on our feats for Jesus but Jesus feats for us. The gospel tells us that God’s acceptance of us is not gained by our successes or forfeited by our failures—because it’s not about us!
Martin Luther defined sin as “mankind turned inward.” And sadly, the way many of us think about sanctification is terribly narcissistic. We spend too much time thinking about how we’re doing, if we’re growing, whether we’re doing it right or not. We spend too much time pondering our failure and brooding over our spiritual successes. In short, we spend way too much time thinking about ourselves and what we need to do and far too little time thinking about Jesus and what he’s already done. And what I’ve discovered is that the more I focus on my need to get better the worse I actually get–I become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my performance over Christ’s performance for me makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. This is the opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about yourself.
Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on “how he was doing.” Anytime our natural fixture on self is rattled, shaken, turned from itself to that Man’s blood, to that Man’s cross, the devil runs!
When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better that is what it means to get better. When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve!”
Source: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2011/11/17/stetzer-interview-part-two/ – (November 17,2011)
“Christ frees you and me from our self-enslaving thrones. Christ frees you from the need to justify yourself, the need to be in control, the need to have recognition, and the need to seek manmade fulfillment. May the old Sinful nature in each and every one of us be utterly killed and destroyed, for we are forgiven of this idolatry, placed in the shadows of the Cross and given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm.
Baptized Saints, the sins of your past, the sins of today and the sins of tomorrow cannot and will not destroy the authority, power and work of Christ and His Word for you. You, who have ears, hear this present reality. In Christ you are forgiven, are chosen, have a legacy, and have an identity. In Christ, God is well pleased with you, for Christ has sufficiently accomplished everything for you and has made you citizens not of any earthly kingdom, but His kingdom that will have no end.” – Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard
ROMANS CHAPTER 7
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
QUOTES FROM MARTIN LUTHER
“Strange, though I am saved from sin, I am not saved from sinning.”
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
ON CHRISTIAN FREEDOM > “Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.”
“In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.”
“The devil and temptations also do give occasion unto us somewhat to learn and understand the Scriptures, by experience and practice. Without trials and temptations we should never understand anything thereof; no, not although we diligently read and heard the same.”
“So then, have we nothing to do to obtain righteousness? No, nothing at all! For this righteousness comes by doing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing, but rather in knowing and believing this only–that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation!
Now God sees no sin in us. For in this heavenly righteousness, sin has no place. So now we may certainly think, “Although I still sin, I don’t despair, because Christ lives–who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.” In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death, but is eternal righteousness and eternal life. For if the truth of being justified by Christ alone (not by our works) is lost, then all Christian truths are lost…On this truth and only on this truth the Church is built and has its being.”
“If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, then you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious [or imaginary] sinners. Be a sinner and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly still. For he is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” –
Lutheran Pastor Matthew Richard, “Sin is like glue. It clings to us, damns us unto death, and puts us in the grave. But take comfort you baptized children of God. The Gospel puts you not in your own grave, but in Jesus’ grave where you are promised a future resurrection at His second coming, a resurrection of the body; full salvation free from sin, free from the fear of death, and free from the pathetic lies and deceit of the evil one.”
Lamenations 3:22-23 > “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
I am extremely grateful, thankful and stand in awe of God’s Mercy towards me throughout my whole life. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). And, by His Grace upon my life, I have been led and reminded many times to preach the Gospel to my own soul. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)
Mercy has been the least biblical truth that I have experienced in all my years in church life.
Throughout the years, I was involved in full-time Christian ministry and in leadership within several local churches and in well-known parachurch Christian organizations and it was within those environments that I did not experience mercy from others or even Christian leaders, instead experienced from them legalistic demands, abusive authority and power – manipulation, hyperspirituality, self-righteousness, judgement, condemnation and in some cases even deception. Again, Mercy has been the least biblical truth that I have experienced [ not witnessing or experiencing mercy towards me or others as well ] which has been my greatest and deepest disappointment, discouragement, and even disillusionment within Christian based communities.
I realize that these were and still are imperfect individuals (sinners) who lacked a proper understanding of the Biblical Message of Grace, the Centrality of the Gospel, the proper understanding of the distinction between Law and Gospel in order to have a better understanding of the Holy Scriptures from a Christ-centered and Cross-focused perspective.
“Just as the rainbow is a sign which “reminds” God of His promise to never again flood the earth, so the blood of Christ is a covenant sign to “remind” Him not to treat our sins as they deserve. It is only because of God’s mercy in Christ that we are not utterly consumed. That means, because of Christ, God does not treat us according to our sin. What we deserve, rather, is His fierce wrath. But because the fullness of His wrath has already been poured on Christ, God is completely satisfied and Christ’s atoning blood is sufficient for you for all time. You cannot add or take away from it.
We have broken his law, cast aside His love, despised and rejected Him with our sin and we should be utterly consumed. Anything else is better than we deserve. But God has shown great mercy to us in Christ, and that mercy fails not. It is new every morning which means that if you have sinned, then God has fresh supply of mercy, so flee to Christ now. If your conscience accuses you of that one sin you committed, go to Christ. He is compassionate and His mercy never runs out of supply because God is already completely satisfied – Christ has paid for that sin. If you are brokenhearted about sin, if you are brought low because of it and mourn over it then God has done a work of grace in your heart. And since God’s covenant in Christ’s blood is the foundation of your hope, turn your eyes away from yourself unto Him. God keeps his Word so go to Him now to find mercy and grace in your time of need. Our faithlessness does not change God’s faithfulness to us since He has already given us His Son and His work is finished.” – J.W. Hendryx
Mark 6:34 > “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”
Mark 1:41 > “Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.”
Matt. 14:14 > “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”
Matt. 9:36 > “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
Colossians 3:12-14 > “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
1 Peter 3:8-9 > “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”