The last post really hit a cord with quite a number of you. It seems that many of us have gone through the same experience with legalism and have come out the other side battered and beaten. Last weekend a friend dropped by and we began talking about our experiences in a “non user friendly” church. What amazed me was that, though we both attended church in different parts of the country, our experiences were similar.
I wonder what is it that draws denominations towards the law as the foundation for their theological formation. If the Gospel is as straightforward as many of us have now discovered, how is it that so many churches and fellowship groups miss its simplicity? How is it that when you and I read Scripture Jesus jumps out at us from every page but other sincere and dedicated Christians see only the law?
I think part of the problem for some of us is that we were given a wrong foundation in which to build our understanding of God. I remember pastors teaching that the purpose of Jesus coming to this earth and living a perfect sinless life was to be an example for us. Jesus purpose was to show us that we could keep the law. But, in order to make that scenario work they had to assign Jesus a sinful nature so that He would have no advantage over us when it came to perfect law keeping.
Our role as Christians was to accept Jesus death on Calvary’s cross for our past sins but we were to face our present sins through resistance and overcoming. A friend told me about a pastor that told his daughter’s class (she attended a Christian school) that he had only one more sin to overcome before becoming perfect.
Well-intentioned teachers convinced us that God was waiting for a prepared people before He could return. That at the end of time there would be a group of people who could be sinless before God as living proof that the law could be kept and thus vindicate God as just in His destruction of the wicked for not keeping the law.
Try to imagine what this must be like for the poor Christian struggling with discouragement and loneliness. Instead of being able to turn to God for help she could only shudder at the thought of facing God who demanded absolute obedience and perfection from her. Without it she is lost. It’s like He is saying I forgave your past sins but now you need to shoulder the burden and you better prove the worth of your character by your obedience and surrender to all I ask of you. Today, in acknowledgement that that was pure legalism many Christians say you can keep the law and live perfect obedient lives but only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s the same thing except this time they see the Holy Spirit as some kind of power bar that gives them the extra boost to accomplish what they can’t do on their own. But the bottom line is still the same; you must somehow stop sinning. Not long ago a friend reminded me that even if they don’t get to the state of perfect perfection before Jesus arrives it is then that Jesus makes up for the perfection he hasn’t obtained.
Now here is the good news! Jesus died for your past sins, your present sins and your future sins. He died for you. Jesus didn’t come to this world to be an example of how to be perfect; He came to be our substitute because we aren’t perfect. That is the whole point of the plan of salvation. Salvation isn’t based on what I do but on what He did at Calvary.
“God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4: 8-10
Jesus died so that we as sinners may be reconciled to our Holy God. When we fall at the foot of the cross in repentance pouring out our hearts to God He forgives and forgets our sins. We are declared righteous because we are covered by the blood of Christ who died for us.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see.
When John Newton penned these words he knew what it was like to be wretched, forgotten, abandoned and engulfed in sin. He was a slave trader who lay dying and knew that he was going to die without hope. He cried out to God in his misery for mercy and healing and God heard his prayer. Newton spent the rest of his life proclaiming the wonders of God’s grace to anyone who would listen. He had lived amazing grace and knew how sweet the sound of grace truly is. He knew how blind he had been to the love of God and how indifferent and hard he had been himself to his fellowman. He reached out to God as a man who was lost and God touched his life. He was lost but God found him, saved him, and gave him the joy of writing one of the great Christian anthems of all times, “Amazing Grace.”
John Newton didn’t have to prove how good he was to God to be saved, he just cried out in his distress. The thief on the cross only knew that he deserved to die but Jesus didn’t. The result was Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” When you cry out God hears you as well and He never forgets you or abandons you. Instead He saves you for all eternity. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 Do you believe it?