Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sanctified by Faith: A Few Thoughts

A controversy has blown up over the question of the relationship of law and gospel in the Christian life. One of the contributions may be found here.

Put simply, the concern of Frank Turk and others is this: If we emphasise the distinction between the law and the gospel, are we in danger of Antinomianism? Are we denying that the Gospel has consequences?

The answer of course is no. I am not denying that the Gospel has consequences. It happens that on Saturday night, blissfully unaware of any of this, I was teaching a group of young people from Philippians 3. One of the major themes in Philippians is that the Gospel has an effect on our life, "Only let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ," Paul says in Philippians 1.27. So the Gospel has consequences, it is possible to live in a way that is worthy of the Gospel, and therefore to live in a way that is unworthy. In other words, the motive to holy life is the Gospel, not the law. The law shows us what a holy life looks like, but gives us no power to actually live that holy life.

The law governs by force, it is the paedagogos (a word that one of the members at Bethel now knows off by heart!), the harsh overseer who made sure the child went to school, did his homework and behaved himself! It is the message of what God demands.

The Gospel on the other hand is a message of what God has done for us in Christ to save us from our sins. But you see, it is a message of a great deliverance. That message changes everything. For we are delivered from the guilt of sin, and from its tyranny. We are born again, and led by the Holy Spirit. Gratitude, not obligation, drives us. Let me quote Thomas Chalmers on Romans 6:

"There is a sure transition from our being justified by faith to our being sanctified by faith. There is a provision made for this in the mechanism of the moral nature of man below; and there is a provision made for it in that celestial mechanism which has been set up in heaven... Faith makes known to us the love of God, and upon this gratitude calls forth the love of the heart to Him in return."

To return to Philippians 3, in the chapter Paul begins with legalism, with the Judaizers, and discards legal righteousness as rubbish. The only righteousness that matters, he says, is the imputed righteousness of Christ. But what does this lead to? It leads to a "pressing towards the mark", to holy living. Yes, there are the belly-worshippers (I'm sure there's a German compound word for that) who claim to be Christians, but the very fact that they are belly-worshippers proves that they are enemies of the cross. Jesus died to free us from our sins, not so that we could live in them.

You see, Jesus is the reward. If we really believe that, if we really are looking forward to living in the new heavens and the new earth in which righteouness dwells, then that will have consequences. But those consequences are just that. What I and the White Horse Inn folk are pleading for is that the distinction between the Gospel and its consequences not be erased - because the result of that is ultimately that the Gospel becomes something I do, my being changed, not that which changes me.

The law and the Gospel are always distinct. But they are never to be separated.

I would add that if you get all your teaching from a radio discussion show, you're radically unbalanced anyhow!

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