My Sins Go Over My Head

Christians can and should proclaim, “Indeed, my sins go over my head. That was my plight, not only in the days when I was not converted, but it is still my plight. I do not believe this merely because I read about it in my Bible, but I experience every day what a wicked thing my heart is and how frail my Old Adam.”

– C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel

But I Am Not Doing Anything

“The Ten Commandments have no right to condemn that conscience in which Jesus dwells, for Jesus has taken from the Ten Commandments the right and power to curse us. Not as if the conscience is now insensitive to the terrors of the Law, but the Law cannot drive the conscience to despair. ‘There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36).

You will complain: ‘But I am not doing anything.’ That is right. You cannot do a thing to be delivered from the tyranny of the Law. But listen to the glad tidings which the Holy Ghost brings to you in the words of the prophet: ‘Rejoice, thou barren.’ As Christ is greater than the Law, so much more excellent is the righteousness of Christ than the righteousness of the Law.”

(Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians)

Religion to Relationship

It is a common phrase among evangelicals to say that “Christianity is not about religion, but relationship”. I have probably said this a lot! It is said often to those outside of the church. I sympathize with the heart behind the statement. The intention behind the phrase is to communicate that Christianity is not about coldly following a bunch of rules (what we call “religion”); it is about you walking closely with God (“relationship”).

The phrase rightly communicates that Christianity is not a deistic religion, meaning, a religion that says God has long since peaced-out, leaving us and our world to run like clockwork as we obey the rules He left us. The phrase helps communicate that God is a personal God, involved in His creation, desirous to be in real, close, intimate relationship with us.

With that being said, I do not think this phrase rightly gets at how good the good news of Jesus really is. I think it can be helpful given a lot of explanation. For instance, “religion” is not necessarily a bad word. Also, “relationship” can simply equal obedience to God’s Law, which is not the gospel.

The good news of the Bible is not that God has thrown out His demands (“cold rules to follow”; what we call “religion”) and replaced them with a warmer, lighter expectation to just simply walk with Him in a personal relationship. Before you cry heresy, hear me out, I’m trying to give you really, really good news, from the Bible.

Let me cut to the heart of the matter by asking you a question. If Christianity is all about you walking in close relationship to God, how are you doing at that? Are you in prayerful connection with God “without ceasing” (see 1 Thess. 5:17)? Are you walking “humbly with your God” (see Micah 6:8)? Do you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength (see Mark 12:30)?

Now, you may say “yes” to some of that and “no” to some of that. But, you may add, that God does not expect perfection from you. That’s religion! He just expects a relationship.

While that sounds better, it really isn’t at all. In this whole expectation of relationship God still demands perfection. Jesus never said, “Love God partially and imperfectly.” Jesus never said, “Be better.” Jesus said things like, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30). Jesus said things like, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The question is, how are you doing with that?

To say that God has thrown away His old rules with the simple expectation that you would “just walk with Him” is not good news for me. I know just how far short I fall of the standard of “walk in close relationship with God”. I do not pray without ceasing, I do not love God with everything in me, and I do not walk humbly with God. In short, I am a sinner.

To tell a sinner, like me, or like you, that the good news is that you should just walk with God is simply saying the good news is that you would stop being a sinner. Righteous people walk with God in perfect love and trust; sinners, like you and me, don’t. So the answer is not, “walk with God”. That is my very problem! I fail at that every day! The shift from religion to relationship isn’t helping!

Well, the good news of the Bible is better than that. The good news is that Jesus, in your place, walked with God perfectly. He loved God with everything in Him, He prayed without ceasing, He walked humbly with His Father. In short, He was perfect. And He was perfect, as a man, to give you and me His record of righteousness.

God has not thrown away or lightened His demands. He has simply fulfilled them for you in Jesus Christ, who died for you and me, and who rose from the dead to be our very life.

Rest easy in God’s grace. Enjoy the peace God has made with you in Jesus. By faith, you are now friends; He calls you family.

Am I a Legalist?

Wait, lega-what?

Concerning Christianity and the Bible, a legalist is someone who believes that their works will save them. On the one hand, a legalist may believe that he needs absolutely no grace from God and rests entirely in his own righteousness. On the other hand, a legalist may believe that he needs some added grace to complete his salvation; that could be like a 90/10 grace to works, or 10/90 grace to works, but either works, grace plus works equal salvation.

Collin, this sounds bad. Are you a legalist?

Well, yes and no. Theologically, I am not a legalist. Paul is clear in Gal. 2:16, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Paul says to those who add works of any kind to grace, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

That is some serious language, but if works are necessary for salvation, then Jesus did not need to come a die. But He did come and die, and His death is sufficient for our salvation. To add works is to say He and His cross are not enough for us. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).

While I am not theologically a legalist, practically I still remain one. I am an actual sinner. As a current, actual sinner, everyday I live with a flesh that still believes it can save itself. It believes if it wants to be righteous, it has all the resources it needs: itself. My sinful flesh does not believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. Like Paul “…I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:23).

This is why I have to pray like the father in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” God has made me alive by His Spirit and given me faith in Jesus, but everyday I feel the flesh so close, doubting His grace; a nagging sense is always close at hand, “Is Jesus really enough? Surely you can do it! You can pull it off!”

So I am a legalist, to my shame. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25). “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13).

In Christ and because of Christ I am counted perfectly righteous and totally forgiven. All glory be to God.

 

 

Am I an Antinomian?

Wait, anti-what?

Good question.

The word antinomian literally means “against the law”. Martin Luther coined the phrase to describe people who believed God’s Law, or commands, had no function in our lives, at least not in our lives as Christians. The mentality of a true antinomian is essentially, “I can do whatever the heck I want to do with my life; all of my sin only serves to beckon more of God’s grace anyways!”

Collin, are you an antinomian?! 

Well, yes and no. I am not an antinomian theologically. I do not believe that now that I am a Christian God has ceased defining what is sin and what is not for me; His old, old Law still stands for me. I do not believe I should sin so that God will give me more grace. You and I ought to be perfect; we ought to love God perfectly and love our neighbors perfectly.

No, I am not an antinomian theologically. But I am an antinomian practically.

I believe God’s Law is amazing. The world would be much, much better if we all lived righteous lives loving God and neighbor. We would not have to lock our doors, we wouldn’t have to worry about getting ripped off, abortions clinics would close, and our marriages would rock. But none of us are righteous in ourselves. We do not fulfill God’s Law. I am against it all too often. I am still an actual sinner.

So, yes, I am still an antinomian, to my shame. While I am counted righteous in Jesus Christ and because of Jesus Christ alone, forgiven of all of my antinomian-ness, I am still, in myself, a miserable sinner with a flesh continually bent against God’s Law. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…” (Rom. 7:18). Apparently Paul was an antinomian like this, like me, like you.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)Apparently Paul also hated this fact about himself. Someone theologically against antinomianism recognizes their own antinomian nature and tendencies.

So who will deliver us sad, sad antinomians?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…” (Rom. 7:25).

Answering Radical-less Christianity

I graduated from a private Christian high school where 99% of the students were professing Christians. Somewhere along the way I concluded that many of them were not living their Christianity as they ought to be. They were calling themselves Christians but so much fruit was lacking in their lives. I had the answer for that kind of “Christian”.

I knew the answer was getting closer to Jesus, getting more serious about the faith, and getting more serious about doing good works. I had the chance to speak briefly at chapel one day and this was my message. I subtly, or abruptly, accused many of taking advantage of grace, making it cheap, because it was not costing them anything. By the way, I was doing just fine, thank you very much.

I had no conscious intention to communicate that forgiveness was earned, merited, or purchased. But in my attempt to motivate people to do what Christians are supposed to do I think I completely butchered the Christian message. In my attempt to show them what “real” Christianity was I may have butchered what Christianity is.

At the time, I probably would have summed up what I thought Christians should be doing as (1) being obedient in important areas, (2) having daily quiet times, (3) praying more, and (4) sharing the gospel more (according to God’s Law we should be perfect; I was dumbing it down, ironically). All in all, we should be more serious about Christianity. And I thought the way to get people more serious was to tell them to get more serious…or else. I was really strategic, apparently.

However, it was not just a message to get more serious. It was a message that if you were not more serious, or not evidently getting more serious (again, whatever that meant in my head), then you were taking advantage of grace; you were living in “cheap grace”. The idea was that if your response to grace was poor, inadequate, or not what it could be, then you were taking advantage of grace and maybe, quite possibly, sort of, did not really have grace, or something; not the real grace of God anyways. You had “cheap grace” because it didn’t cost you anything.

I was not saying you should earn grace, but that maybe you should, um, get the real stuff (I guess?). And to do that you had to get more serious about grace.

Ok, that may be confusing; I’m confused too. It is confusing because it is not just that I preached more of God’s Law at the time (summed up biblically as love God and neighbor perfectly; a beautiful law, I must say). It was that I began to mix and mingle God’s commandments with His free gift of grace.

The reality I seemed to be buying into was that if you did not respond radically to God’s grace, you were taking advantage of it, and thus not really receiving it, or maybe forfeiting it. What I was tragically missing, at least on a practical level, was that whether you are a “radical” Christian or a bum of a Christian, grace is free for you. Your radical-for-Jesus life doesn’t earn grace (and by the way, compare yourself to “be perfect” and you will find that you are not radical) and your radical-less life does not lose grace. Grace has nothing to do with you, except that it is given to you for free.

God’s grace does not cost you a dime; it is not cheap, it is absolutely free. That is why Jesus came, to pay the infinite price on the cross you could never pay. God puts no qualifiers on who gets grace; those who find they are unqualified are qualified. It is free for all who believe in Jesus.

The idea that some are “taking advantage of grace” is silly. I take advantage of grace every day! I have to! God gives me grace for my advantage, so that I do not pay the price for my sins. I will get away with all of my sin, because Jesus paid the price for it. No, this does not make me want to sin more. And yes, I do respond poorly to grace. I still sin! So do you. But there is plenty of grace in Jesus for that.

The minute we begin qualifying God’s free gift of grace in Jesus with how well we respond to it with our obedience, radical living, sanctification, and love for God and neighbor we have lost sight of God’s grace entirely. We have made it available for purchase. We have thought up some new, false, empty grace that is received by works, not faith; based on us, not Jesus.

Maybe what all of us bum Christians need is not more, “Try harder or else…” but “You have failed and Jesus did it all perfectly for you. It’s been taken care of.” Our faith can be so weak as we miserably fail to believe this good news perfectly, so we need to hear it incessantly. We are way worse than we think but Jesus is way more gracious than we could ever fathom in our wildest dreams.