Summer Academic Series: The Law & Grace Debate
[Chip Bennett]: I want to welcome everybody, once again, to another Academic Series. As most of you all probably know, but if you’re a guest here, my name is Chip Bennett and I am the pastor here at Grace Community Church and the church that is hosting this event this evening. I’m also an adjunct professor at Southeastern University and an adjunct professor at Knox Theological Seminary. My areas of expertise are systematic theology, hermeneutics, homiletics and the classics of the Western literary canon. We’re going to be joined on stage, shortly here, by Dr. Dale Coulter.
Dale is an associate professor of historical theology as Regent University School of Divinity. He received his undergraduate degree at Lee College, which is now Lee University. My alma mater as well. We were both in college at the same time, and we knew each other. He did his master’s work at Reformed Theological Seminary, and his doctoral studies at the University of Oxford, where he focused on the Middle Ages and the 12th Century in particular. So, he is a patristics scholar and an Oxford graduate, so you can sort of tell the level of education that he’s had.
So, on behalf of both of us and Grace Community Church, we welcome everybody and we’d like to get started with a word of prayer. So, would you bow your heads with me and let’s start with prayer?
Dear Lord, I come to You this evening asking that You would bless our time together as we do our best to present Your people Your truth. I pray that You would be with all of us here this evening so that we can be intellectually challenged, spiritually engaged, but, most importantly, that we would leave here with a greater appreciation for You. Jesus, we love You. We lift You up. This is Your church, and we’re Your people. We’ve gathered not only to be taught from the Word of God, but to receive Your Word. I pray that You would especially be with Dr. Coulter, as he is Your chosen instrument this evening to help us understand a very tough issue in the church. Give him Your words and Your Spirit to help us navigate through some challenging waters.
Give us, Lord, ears to hear. Lord, let us lay down our agendas and our opinions, and let us bow and revere Your Word, which will ultimately lead us to our Lord and Savior, Jesus, and it’s in His name that we pray, and everybody said, “amen.”
As many of you all are aware here, the Academic Series has become hugely successful over the summers here at Grace. It’s sort of hard to not have great attendance and great evenings when you have people of the caliber of Dale. So, thanks everybody for being here and for supporting education in the local church. This is the third of our three evenings that we’re going to do this summer, and I think each one has been great and I think tonight will be great as well.
The original vision behind this Academic Series was to bring academic scholarship at the highest level to the local church, and we’ve been doing that and we continue to plan to do so. These are informative evenings, so they’re educational in nature. We want people of faith, people in the community, and even non-believers to be able to interact with the real academic issues and we hope that you will continue to support these evenings by your attendance.
So, with that in mind, let’s get to learning. The two things that we want to accomplish tonight is, one, we want to have a genuine academic learning experience in the local church. And, two, we want you to be able to wrestle with one of the perennial issues in the church, which is the law and grace debate.
The law and grace debate surfaced, for my personally, in the 1990’s. I was an associate pastor in Miramar, Florida working on a master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. They had an extension site at the Miami Christian College. One of my professors was Doug Moo. And he was working, while he was teaching me New Testament Theology and Criticism, on an essay that he had been asked to contribute to a forthcoming book on the place of the law in the Christian life. It was called “Five Views of the Law.”
As he talked about that in class, it led me to consider the law and its place in the life of the Christian in ways I had really never considered. I really only knew one usage of the law, and wasn’t aware of the historicity of the church in this particular issue. As I was working through these issues, I was confronted with works from James Dunn, Heike Reisnan, Frank Tillman and others. So, there was a whole new world that opened up for me as I studied this subject. It wasn’t as easy as I had previously believed.
Make a note somewhere in your notes tonight. Put it in your Bible. This is a truism I promise you you’ll want to take home with you. I promise you.
Theological issues that are easy haven’t been properly worked through. Write that down. I promise you. Take it home. At some point, you’ll go, “He’s right.”
So, as I started working through that and I was reading the books and doing the things that I was doing for the class, in the local church that I was pastoring in, a wave of Christians needing to keep the Old Testament law came into the church that I was at. So, I had sort of two things coinciding at ones, and it really made me reflect upon these two areas of law and grace. So, as I reflected upon that, I was trying to figure out how they work together, what they do or don’t work together at all. Eventually, that controversy died down and I moved on to other things theologically.
But, it wasn’t until the last few years that the struggle reared again. This time, it wasn’t keeping the Old Testament law that was in play, but it was a new movement. This movement seemed to be fed up with the legalism in the church and performance oriented religion, and it had basically cast off almost every restraint in the name of grace. Basically, to summarize it: Law is bad; grace is good. And that might be a tad of an oversimplification, but it does pretty well explain a lot of the positions of this new movement. Teachers such as Joseph Prince, Steve McVey, Andrew Farley, Paul Ellis and others have been somewhat successful at birthing a movement within the pews of many churches.
It comes under the names of “The Grace Movement,” “The Exchanged Life Teaching,” or, those who look at it more critically would call it “Hyper Grace.” So, some of the questions that we need to deal with tonight is does the Grace Movement, or the Hyper Grace Movement, stand up to any type of critical scholarship? Do they possibly focus on one area of the law to the detriment of the others? Maybe they’re not even aware that there are other elements of the law. Another question that needs to be addressed is what is expected of a Christian? Is there anything to sanctification at all? Has the historical church been wrong for 2,000 years about the disciplines of the faith?
Are you and I dead and only Christ lives in us? So, only when we’re moved on to do something do we do it? That would probably sound a little bit like a Christian Weekend at Bernie’s experience. So, what does it mean for Christ to be in us? What do the ethical admonitions of the Epistles mean? Do they have any meaning at all? Are we called to holiness? Is there any truth to the rejection of the legalism in performance-based Christianity that we see in these new movements? These, and others like that, are real questions, and they deserve real answers. So, hopefully, before you leave tonight, you’ll be given some answers to these types of questions.
On your seats, you have a 3x5 card, I hope, or you were given one on the way in. If you weren’t given one, let’s make sure you do get one. Did everybody get one on the way in? Good. On that 3x5 card, as the evening is going on, please feel free to write down any questions that you may have, and we’ll collect them a little later this evening. We’re going to do our best to get to every single one of them during our Q&A session. So, we want you to ask questions. Part of the reason we do this is not just to lecture, but to do Q&A.
So, with no further delay at all, I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Dale Coulter. Could you all give him a warm hand as he comes up this evening? It’s so great to have you, man.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I appreciate it.
[Chip Bennett]: Teach us, man. Teach us.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: It’s great to be back in Florida. I grew up in Florida on the other side of the state; on the Space Coast, in Brevard Count in a little town called Palm Bay. I actually was just over there with my family on a vacation for about a week on that beach. So, it’s kind of the first time in my life that within a three-week period I was from the east coast to the west coast. I went from the brown beaches to the white sands over here. I went over to the beach today. I walked on the beach and thought, “I can’t go to Florida and not walk on the beach. It’s just what you do.
It’s great to be here with you. It’s great to be here with Pastor Chip and reconnect with him. He’s right. We both graduated from Lee University together in 1992, and really have gone our separate ways and only recently have reconnected. So, it’s just great to kind of get caught up with what God’s been doing in his life here at Grace Community and this church and hearing so many wonderful things about this church. It kind of makes me want to move. I always want to move back to Florida anyway. It kind of makes me want to move here and start attending the church.
So, I’m really excited to be here. I want to talk to you about law and grace and kind of move through this topic. Pastor Chip is right. It’s a perennial topic. It’s been around for a while. It goes all the way back to the reformation, in fact. They were debating this in the 1500’s, if you can believe it. And we continue to debate this and how we think about the relationship between the two and how we might understand them. So, what I want to do is sort of start off by looking at the challenge.
Let’s see if that gets that right. Keep clicking. Keep clicking. I’m going through Grace Community Church ads here. Just a few commercial advertisements before we begin. There we go. Now we’re on it. Okay.
Alright. So, let’s talk about some challenges real quick to kind of get things out on the table just so that we’re all on the same page. And then I’ll talk a little bit about the law and how we can understand it. Then I’ll talk about grace and how we understand that. And I’ll kind of bring it all to a conclusion. So, that’s kind of what we’re going to do. Challenge. Law. Grace. Wrapping it all up together. And then we’ll open it up for Q&A at the end. Simple enough.
So, too much law. One challenge. That’s one side of the equation. And you have to think about law and grace as two sides and there’s a pendulum. In history, the pendulum swings; sometimes to one side and sometimes to the other. It usually depends on the cultural issues and the cultural challenges of the day as to where the pendulum is swinging right now. Sometimes, it’s not just broadly like in the United States. Sometimes the pendulum is far to the grace side in one sector, like maybe in Florida. And sometimes it’s far to the law side in another sector, like maybe in Kansas or something like that. So, a lot of times it even depends on where you live as to where the pendulum is.
So, let’s just think about it. If the pendulum is swinging to the law – too much law – what does that look like? Well, the first thing is it’s combining a strict code of holy living or doctrinal conformity with an emphasis on divine judgment. It’s very important that you think about both of those together. Strict code. And it’s not just about holy living, how we should live, but also doctrinal conformity and what we should believe. A strict code on that. That’s usually reinforced by appeals to divine judgment. If you don’t do this, judgment will happen. Right? Judgment is just around the corner.
So, it’s a way of kind of keeping everybody in line. Of course, judgment reinforces some concerns and some anxieties. Sometimes that anxiety can spill over into fear. So, here’s what I mean when I say, “Strict code of holy living.” There’s this word that I want to introduce you to tonight. Some of you may have already heard of it. Some of you might not have. It’s called “adiaphora.” Has anyone heard of this term “adiaphora?” Some of you have. Most of you have not. Okay. It ultimately comes from Greek philosophy, and it just simply is referring to things of indifference. That’s what it means. Things of indifference. Matters of indifference.
New Testament scholars have suggested that when Paul is dealing with certain parts of the law, he’s talking about matters of indifference. For example, if you look in the book of Galatians in his letter, twice in that he says, “Circumcision and uncircumcision count for nothing,” and then at the end he wraps it up by punching it home, saying, “What counts is a new creation.”
He says the same thing in 1 Corinthians. That’s because the issue is circumcision in relationship to being part of the people of God. Did you need to be circumcised to be part of the people of God, especially since Christ has now come? And Paul’s answer to that is no way. But, what he does is he consigns circumcision to a matter of adiaphora. That is to say it’s something of indifference. What that means is it’s sort of morally neutral. It doesn’t really matter. You can do it. And he actually has his ministry companion, Timothy, this younger son in the faith, circumcised. Not because Paul thinks at that moment that Timothy has to be circumcised in order to come to Christ. He thinks, “Oh, it’s a culturally expedient thing to do. You’re going to minister to Jewish people and circumcision is very important? You ought to be circumcised. You don’t have to, but it’s a matter that you should engage in.”
So, matters of indifference are these things that are somewhat morally neutral, and they could be points of strong debate. Circumcision was a point of strong debate. But, for Paul, you could do it, you don’t have to. So, when I talk about a strict code of holy living or doctrinal conformity, here’s what I’m talking about: When you think about something that’s a matter of indifference, you’re talking about something that’s on the periphery of the faith. A doctrinal commitment that might be on the periphery, or a moral commitment that might be on the periphery.
Circumcision, for Paul, was on the periphery. But, the folks who showed up in the house churches in Galatia took it from the periphery and moved it to the center. So, when you talk about a strict holy code, you’re talking about someone who takes something that’s on the periphery and moves it to the center and says, “This is what it means to be a Christian. You’ve got to do this.”
I’ll give you some examples here. I grew up in a very strict holiness environment. In fact, Pastor Chip and I grew up in the same strict holiness environment. My mother, it was even stricter for her. Only dresses. When she went to PE, one of her challenges growing up was she was not allowed to wear pants as a woman. She could only wear long dresses, and she would tell me about her struggles as a teenager trying to do PE exercises in dresses. But, that’s what it meant to be holy. Right? She couldn’t even read comic strips.
To this day, she loves comics, but she has this tinge of a sort of guilt hovering in the background that maybe she’s doing something she shouldn’t be doing. It’s one of these guilty pleasures for her. You think, “Comic strips? Guilty pleasure? Wow.”
But, it’s because she was raised and these kind of entertainment issues were not on the periphery. They were in the center and they had to do with debates over what should Christians do about entertainment. Now, you can think about those debates as really relating to a matter of indifference. You can go or you can’t go. It’s up to you. It depends on your own conscience. But, for my mother, the way she was raised in holiness circles, man, these things were right at the center. So, for her, it was just if you did it, you were guilty, and that was reinforced by appeals to divine judgment. Right?
“Without holiness, no one will see God. If you’re not living holy – and we define holiness in very strict ways – then you’re not doing what God wants you to do.”
That’s an over-emphasis. What’s at the root of that is this confusion, I think, of social mores with biblical morals. A confusion of mores with morals. Here’s what I mean: My wife and I really like Downton Abbey. I don’t know if there are any Downton Abbey fans in here. It’s a PBS series. Okay. I’ve got some Downton Abbey fans. Great. We’re going back through the whole series this summer, because it’s free on Amazon. So, every night she comes in and we just pull up, have dinner and watch some Downton.
If you look at that series, one of the themes that’s traced through the whole series is this shift from the age of Queen Victoria and King Edward – the Edwardian age, which is 1900-1910 – to this new world that emerges after World War I going into World War II. This new world in which the British Aristocracy are just sort of fading away and the world that they came from, where you dressed a certain way for dinner and you dressed a certain way during the day and it was all about the way you dressed and dress codes were really critical – I mean, there were a lot of social mores about dress codes, and if you didn’t dress properly, you were told about it. Even those who were sort of common had to dress in particular ways. Right?
All of those dress codes, right, which now, today, those things are out the window. Especially in Florida. I mean, I don’t know if you, growing up in Florida. For me, going to church, hey, Florida is Florida. It’s a beach community. We just kind of hang out and dress casual and it’s what we do. I mean, that’s just the way it was for me on the other side of the state. I don’t know that if you grew up in Florida on this side of the state that that’s the way it was. But, we have come well beyond those. But, some Christian groups coming out of that period of time thought dress was connected to holiness. Modesty ought to be manifested in the kinds of clothes that you wear. So, you ought to dress in particular ways to reflect a holy God.
So, they were confusing social mores about how you dress with biblical morals, even though dressing is a matter of adiaphora. It’s a matter of indifference. So, in that respect, there’s too much law going on in the middle of all of that.
Now, let’s shift to the other side. Too much grace. This is if the pendulum swings back in the other direction. I would say combining an anemic view of holy living with an emphasis on diving acceptance. The opposite of judgment. Divine acceptance. God accepts you as you are. It doesn’t matter what you do. That sort of thing. And an anemic view of holy living, what I mean by that is it’s sort of similar. It’s allowing social mores to define and shape biblical morals, but in a slightly different way than in the former way. It’s where, for example, I’ll give you this example: I had a family friend who, one time, went to her mother and said she wanted to live with another guy.
She said, “Look, times are changing, mom. People aren’t doing what – your standards are not my standards. I’m growing up in a new era and we don’t have to do what you do anymore. That’s just the way it is, mom.”
The whole point that she was making are these social mores are just the way it is, and I read the Bible different because these social mores are now acceptable, this is acceptable behavior. I know it wasn’t in your day, but it is today. That’s the way it goes. So, there’s a sense in which there’s a swing to allow whatever the emerging set of social mores might be to define biblical values.
Now, when I say an anemic view of holy living with an emphasis on divine acceptance, here’s what I mean, and this sort of relates to a person that Pastor Chip mentioned a few moments ago. A guy named Joseph Prince, who’s written a number of books on this. I don’t know if you’ve read any of his books. He’s a pastor. He’s written a lot of books. If you read some of his books about law and grace, he has a pretty truncated view of the law. The law, for him, only has a negative function in the Christian life. What I mean by that is he says, “The purpose of the law is to convict us of sin. That’s it. That’s what its purpose is, to tell you that you’re a sinner.”
So, the law presents a standard before you that sort of is held up like a mirror to your soul. You look at the standard and, on the basis, you recognize that you don’t measure up to the standard, and the effect of that ought to be convicting you in some way. That’s all the law does. It’s purely negative. So, the law, in a sense, if you sort of tease out that view, is related to a list of do’s and don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.
If you take that kind of view and sort of thread it all out, you can see how that kind of way of thinking about the law sort of makes you think that the only purpose of the law is really to tell you how far short you’ve fallen. It’s to tell you what you’re not doing right. It’s to sort of bring judgment down upon you. It’s just a negative view. I think it’s out of sort of truncated views of the law like that that you get to positions in culture like, “I don’t want to be a Christian.”
“Because Christians don’t have any fun.”
“Why don’t they have any fun?”
“Because they don’t get to do anything, because there are all these rules and regulations that they have to follow. If I really want to do something – I want to have fun with life. The Christians are boring.”
That sort of thing. The idea behind it is that the law is just there to restrict my freedom. That’s the idea behind that sort of common criticism of Christianity. And there’s an assumption of what freedom actually is there. The assumption is freedom is maximizing my choices. The more choices I have, the more free I am. Whereas, the law simply minimizes. It’s telling me what I can’t do. Don’t do this, don’t do that. That sort of thing.
There’s a real issue here as to whether freedom really means maximizing our choices. That is to say, the more choices you have, the more free you actually are. If you’ve run a business – and I assume some of you have, and I know Pastor Chip has – you know that what you really are trying to do is to restrict the choices of your employees that are underneath you. You’re trying to regulate their freedom. What you mean by regulate is we live in light of these particular governing principles which govern our business. Within these principles, then, if you conform your activity to these principles, this is how this business is going to grow. We have certain goals. You need to conform what you do to goals, and that’s how you achieve them. If you are just doing whatever you want to do, we’re not going anywhere and we’re not achieving anything. We’re just all going a number of directions.
In other words, one of the goals I would say if you’re a boss is to restrict. But, you recognize that in regulating the freedom of the employee, you’re directing it. Toward what? Toward the good of the business. I do that all the time with my kids. Right? I regulate their freedom. My kids – I’ve said this to them so many times now that they can repeat it back to me.
“I know, dad. If I don’t discipline myself, you’re going to discipline me.”
You’re right. I tell them, “What’s it mean to be an adult? An adult is supposed to discipline himself or herself. An adult has to regulate his or her behavior. Right now, you’re a kid. I know that you really don’t regulate your behavior. So, I’ll regulate it for you if I have to. But, my hope is that one day you will self-regulate so that I don’t have to.”
In other words, regulated freedom is conforming our freedom to the truth. When we conform our freedom to the truth about who we are, the truth about the world that we’re living in, then we can achieve the goals that we want to achieve. Let me just give you something to think about. We say that God is the most free being in all of the universe. There’s no being like God. God is more free than anyone else. And yet, God, there are choices that are open to you that are actually not open to God.
God cannot, by definition, sin. It would be a contradiction in the very nature of God to sin. Yet, God is more free than you are. And you can. It’s a possibility that you have. And that doesn’t mean just one sinful action. Think about all the think about all the hosts of sinful actions that are out there. God cannot, by definition, do that, because it would contradict His very nature.
So, God’s freedom – we might say that God’s less free than we are if that were our definition of freedom, if freedom was just defined exclusively in terms of the maximization of choice. But, if we say that real freedom is regulate freedom, freedom in conformity to goodness, to what is genuinely good, freedom in conformity to what is genuinely true, now we can see that God is actually the most free, because there is never a time when God’s freedom is not acted in concert with goodness and truth. God always acts in concert with goodness. God always acts for His own good and for your good and my good. He does this by nature.
We are working toward a place where, one day, we will be like the saints in heaven. We say that we will be absolutely free. And, in that moment, we will not be capable of sinning. That tells us that freedom has to be different than the maximization of choices. I am most free when every choice I make maximizes my good. And I may only have a handful of choices, but if all of those choices lead to my flourishing as a human being and maximize who I am, then that is all I need. Right? That is all I need.
So, too much grace really has this anemic view of holy living where it sort of defines the law in a wholly negative way. And I’ve tried to sort of draw out from that, as you see, when you define the law in a wholly negative way, it’s a list of don’t do this and don’t do that, then you can get to this ultimate point that Christians don’t have any fun because it’s all about restricting your freedom. What I’ve tried to do is a little bit challenge that notion of restricting your freedom.
Actually, God doesn’t want to restrict your freedom. God wants you to use your freedom in a way that actually is for your good and for the good of others, not in ways that are self-destructive. God doesn’t want to keep you from using creation. He doesn’t want to keep you from enjoying life. He wants to keep you from using it in destructive ways; ways that destroy you and destroy those that are around you. That’s the whole premise behind the idea of enslaved to sin. We don’t use creation in the way God intended it. So, it becomes a destructive force in us and in others.
Alright? Drugs, which are a product of our environment by some sort of chemical analysis where we discover how to manipulate all of these natural goods, these plants and all of that, and bring them into a way that can cure the body? That’s a wonderful thing. Drugs used in the right way are used in a wonderful way. But, we can use that same aspect of creation in a self-destructive fashion, and it can become a self-destructive mechanism for us and for others. The problem is not in the drugs themselves. The problem is how we relate to them and how we use them and how we employ them. Right? That’s the issue that’s going on there.
Okay. So, we’ve got these two pendulums. Too much grace. There’s this divine acceptance of all kinds of behavior. Freedom means maximization of choice and all that sort of thing. Too much law. There’s this emphasis on judgment. I’m all the time feeling like either I’m holier than everybody else because I’m living a lifestyle that nobody else does – I’m dressing more conservatively than everybody else – or I’m living with this cycle of doubt and despair where I think I’ll never measure up enough. I can never quite get it right and I’m in a performance oriented form of Christianity where, if I’m not reading my Bible 30 minutes a day, if I’m not praying so much time every bit... you know, you can really define what it means to be a holy Christian in very specific ways. And, if you’re not careful, you can paint yourself into a corner and then you start feeling guilty about it.
In the same way that if you’ve ever gone on a diet – I have, many times. You can see that it doesn’t always work for me. And you start feeling guilty because you are not – you know, you start off gung-ho, restricting yourself. You think, “This is working.” Sometimes you want to go even further and restrict yourself, and then you start feeling guilty for the little nibbles and the little pleasures of ice cream and the little things that you start doing to sort of reward yourself. Before you know it, you’ve just kind of giving up the ghost.
I mean, if you’re in too much legalism sometimes, or too much law, you can get so frustrated that you just say, “I’m going to give it up. It’s not worth it.”
So, let’s talk about how to understand the law in relationship to grace. Go down this road a little bit. Let me talk about creation for just a few moments, and then I’m going to jump in and talk about the law as it unfolds. So, a couple of points about creation. One: The image of God points toward design and purpose. The whole idea behind the Bible saying that humans are created in the image is to say that humans are endowed with a God-given purpose. They both mirror or reflect who God is. That’s design. Who we are reflects who God is. And that design holds within it purpose. So, God has designed us as moral beings.
Therefore, morality is a reflection of who God is. There’s a kind of what you could call, for Catholics, natural law. C.S. Lewis in the Abolition of Man talks about natural law, if you’ve read that book. He calls it “the Tao.” All he’s doing is borrowing a Chinese term which means “the Way.” He means that if you look at various cultures, what you can discover is there are common sets of moral principles. Those common sets of moral principles, humans have discovered on their own. Why have they discovered them on their own? Because, God has designed humans to reflect Him. There’s a moral center to human existence. We can discover that moral center if we pay attention to who we are.
We can discover, for example, that knowledge is good to be pursued. We should pursue knowledge, learning and what we are doing right now as a good. Why? Because, you have something in you called curiosity. Now, we can debate all night – and I’m sure we would debate all night – about what kind of knowledge ought to be pursued. My son wants to be an engineer, but he doesn’t want to do math. And I tell him, “Son, you can’t get to the latter without the former.”
He’s curious about engineering. His curiosity is piqued about that. But, not math. Right? So, we can debate the kinds of knowledge and point the fact that God has built it into the fabric of human nature that we are curious animals, and learning is generated from that. So, you know you don’t need a Bible to tell you that knowledge is good to be pursued. You don’t even need a Bible to tell you that you shouldn’t murder someone else. You know, you have an instinct, a fight or flight instinct, to preserve your own existence. I put you in a room, I threaten your life, and that will manifest itself automatically. It will come from who you are as a human being. That ought to tell you that life is a good to be pursued. You will instinctively preserve your own existence.
Every day you live out of that, because you take care to eat, you take care to clothe yourself, you make sure that you have a place to sleep at night and you do all those sorts of things to take care of who you are. You look on other human beings who don’t engage in those activities as either something is wrong with them or there are sets of circumstances that are preventing them from taking care of themselves, and you sometimes try to help them. Why? Because, you’re living out of your own instinct to preserve your life, and you’re just applying it some more. That’s conscience. That’s the natural law.
So, there’s a law of God, Paul says in Romans, written on the heart. It says, “The Gentiles who do not have Torah [the law] do by nature what the law requires, for they have a law written on their heart.”
What is he talking about? The natural law. The law written on your heart. The law that comes from your own desires to preserve your life, curiosity, and those sorts of things. The image of God, then, points toward design and purpose. It tells you what’s good. It gives you a moral center, in a sense. So, there’s a moral law within that reflects God’s design for the universe.
Now, let’s go forward for just a second. However, while there is a moral law within, there’s sin. Let’s think about that for just a few minutes here. I want to talk about sin in two ways. The first way is sin is a transgression of the law of God. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. Or forgive us our “debts.” It depends on how you want to translate that passage.
Paul will differentiate between sin and trespasses, or transgressions. He will talk about those differences. When we think of trespasses or transgressions, we’re thinking about sinful actions or sinful intentions. Think about it this way: Temptation really is when you are attracted to something. Something that if you were to engage in, a form of behavior that if you were engaged in would be a contradiction to God’s law. Right? You want to kill somebody. Maybe you want to kill somebody because you’re driving down the road and that person cut you off. Right? And road rage, suddenly, from out of nowhere. An impulse called anger emerges in your being and begins to take over, and suddenly thoughts begin to emerge in your mind of what you will do to this person should you track him or her down who has dared to cut you off.
I’ve been there. Now, the question becomes, what do you do with this? Right? At that point, it’s an emotion connected to a series of thoughts. That brings you into the possibility of making a decision. Do you consent to this? Some people do. And what do they do? They step on the gas.
“I’m going after this person.”
Right? Road rage incident. If you consent, go over, take that person, harm that person or, God forbid, take that person’s life, yeah, you’ve sinned. You’ve contradicted the law of God. But, you don’t have to consent. Now, the point for me is sin, as a transgression, comes in the moment of consent. Temptation is not sin. Temptation is when the experience comes upon you, of attraction, to do a set of possibilities. The question is what will you do when the set of possibilities emerge? If you consent to that – and you don’t even have to commit the action to consent, right? Think about what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.
“To the one who lusts in his own mind after another woman, he has committed adultery in his heart whether he does the deed or not.”
In other words, if you are attracted, you consent to the attraction, you play the image in your mind, you work it out, you live in the fantasy in your mind – if you’re consenting to that over and over, at that point you have entered into a mental adultery; an adulterous affair whether you go through the action or not. That’s what Jesus is trying to say. But, the key is consent. It’s always consent. We’re attracted to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. It doesn’t mean it’s sin to do that. Right? Sin is always in consent.
So, that’s the first thing. Second: Sin is a condition that enslaves. That’s the trickier thing. Right? When scripture says, in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” it means that we’re all born in some condition. We can call it a disease if we want to. Now, how does the Bible describe this disease, as it were? I say it’s a disease because it’s not natural to us. It may be common, but it’s not natural. When I say it’s common, I mean everybody in the human race has this disease. But, it’s not natural. We shouldn’t have it. It’s not the way things ought to be. Right?
And, I don’t know if you can read all these, but if you look at some of these Scriptures I’ve given you, I want to point out something: What’s common to all of them is the language of desire or passion. Right? So, Romans 6:12: “Do not let sin reign that you should obey it in its desires.”
Sometimes it gets translated “lusts.” But, all “lust” means in that context is not sexual lust, but a strong desire for. Right? Well, in the flesh, the sinful passions were at work, Paul says in Romans 7. Or, in Ephesians 2:3, “We all once lived in the lusts of the flesh.”
“Each one is tempted when drawn away by his own desires,” James says in James 1:14. Or, in 1 John, “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”
When you look at the way Scripture describes sin as a condition, it’s always centered on desire and emotion. Sin is the desiring disease. It’s a problem of our desires not being properly ordered. Our desires are directing us in the wrong ways and connecting us.
How can you be enslaved to an Audi? After all, it’s an inanimate object. It doesn’t really beacon your name, does it? Or does it? Some people say, “That car’s calling my name.”
How can a car call your name when it can’t speak? Because, you have a desire for the car. Right? The problem is not the car. Drive an Audi if you want. I don’t care. The problem is not the car. The problem is your relationship to the car. So, the car can actually enslave you because of your desire. If you think the car adds value to your life, if you think the car makes you somebody, if you think the car makes you the kind of person that you want to really be, a person of stature, honor, influence and those sorts of things – if that car, should it be taken away from you, makes you something less than what you are, at that point that car has become an enslaving mechanism for you. It has nothing to do with the car. It has to do with your relationship. You’ve overvalued it.
But, remember: You don’t value anything you don’t desire. Value is connected to desire. You value something the more you desire it. Sin is when our desires are messed up and we don’t have our values right. That’s why Scripture says, “Love God first. Number one value. Love your neighbor. That would include yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. So, you have to include yourself in your neighbor. And then love creation.”
That’s the order. There’s a hierarchy there. There’s an importance there. If you will order your life that way, if you will arrange your desires – love for God first, love for neighbor second, love for creation third – then you can do everything you want with creation, because you’re loving it in the right way. It ceases to be an enslaving mechanism. But, the problem of sin as a disease is that that hierarchy is all messed up. We will love our self over God. When we love our self over God, that’s selfishness. That’s how it manifests. It’s a desire for myself over or against God.
We can love a part of creation and privilege that part of creation over God. We can love this drink, this food, this whatever. This house, this car. You name it. Remember: Scripture doesn’t say money is the root of all evil. It says the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s all about the relationship we have to money; not money. The problem is not money. The problem is the way you relate to money. You can have all the money in the world if you are rightly related to it. That’s one of the reasons why Scripture admonishes us to give away things. Because, when you give away money, it’s a direct assault on your desire for money. I don’t need it. I’m giving it. I’m giving it. I don’t need it. I’m saying, “You are my source, God. You are my source. So, I’m going to give this. You are my source. I don’t want to become enslaved to this, so I’m giving this away because I don’t want it to dominate my life.”
So, there’s a sense in which God has to do two things. He has to deal with sin in both of these ways, okay? Both the transgressions – but the transgressions are a manifestation of a deeper condition, and that deeper condition is that our desires and emotions are messed up.
Now, let’s, in light of that, talk about the law, and then we’re going to go to grace. So, I’ve said the Old Testament law in threes. I’m going to talk about two threes. Two three-fold ways of talking about the law. First is three dimensions. When we think about the law in the Old Testament, we can divide it up into three areas that it covers. Three areas. Ceremonial, feasts and festivals, practices like circumcision. All of those things that govern Jewish existence. Yom Kippur. Feast of Tabernacles. You name it.
We could talk about civil. There are criminal laws that govern the life of the nation of Israel. You stone a person if they’re caught in this particular kind of sin. That’s a civil law. It’s a crime against the state, and the state exacts punishment and the punishment is the death penalty. You’ll read some laws in Leviticus and others that are like that. Sabbatical years. Every seven years, you give back certain things. That’s a law that governs the life of the nation. So, it’s a civil law that they ought to have cities of refugee. Because, what happens if you accidentally kill somebody and then their family wants to take revenge on you? You run to the city of refuge in the nation of Israel. That’s a civil law that sort of governs their existence.
Then there’s the moral law. The moral law would be laws like the Ten Commandments, which would be the center of the moral law. You think about the way the Ten Commandments are structured. They are structured along two lines. The first four tell you how to love God. You know, the two greatest commandments, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. So, the first four tell you how to love God. They give you specific ways of loving God.
“You shall have no other God’s before me. Don’t make any idols. Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vein. Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. If you really love me, respect my name. If you really love me, put me first. If you really love me, don’t value something to the point that it takes my place. If you really love me, set a day aside to honor me.”
That’s the specific way about how you think about loving God. The last six are love for neighbor. Start off with honor your father and your mother, do not steal, do not bear false witness against your neighbor, do not commit adultery and those sorts of things. Do not covet.
All of those are ways in which you treat your neighbor. You want to know how you treat your neighbor? Respect their property. Don’t steal it. Alright? Don’t covet it either. Respect your parents. Those sorts of things. Respect the truth. Don’t bear false witness. Respect the truth with respect to your neighbor. Don’t do those sorts of things.
So, the law, the moral law, is about that. It’s separate. So, when we think about the law, we have to think about these three dimensions. Because, when we talk about Christ coming to fulfill the law, we ask, “What does He fulfill? What still remains? What do we not have to worry about and what do we still have to worry about?”
Now, let’s talk about three uses in relationship to that. This comes from the reformation. Three ways in which the Old Testament law is used. Martin Luther talked about the first two. His colleague, Philip Melanchthon, talked about the third. There’s the theological use, which is what Joseph Prince loves. The whole purpose of the law is to convict us of sin, Luther says. And he gets that from Paul, where Paul says, “I would not know what wrong was if it weren’t for the law. The law is holy and right, but it tells me what’s wrong.”
The second thing is very closely related. There’s the civil use. The law helps us to understand how we should live in society. So, the law can become a basis for the laws that we make in the land, like the laws of Congress. They can be grounded, and there are people in this country that want to. I mean, the most famous one is the Alabama judge, right, who got the Ten Commandments up there. He wants to say that the moral law of God is a basis for all the laws that govern our land. So, there’s this civil use.
Then there’s the moral use, and this is the real debate here. Does the law still instruct us in how we should live? Is there still a moral center that we ought to pay attention to? And in that way, it’s positive. These two are really negative. The law just convicts us. And, this one, the law holds back sin. It keeps society from becoming as bad as it could. Right? So, these two are negative. This is the positive, and there are Protestants who come along and say, “Yeah. The law is absolutely necessary to govern our lives if we understand it correctly.”
So, what does Jesus come to do? He comes to fulfill the law. But, what does He fulfill? Paul says, “We don’t have circumcision.”
Well, we know that circumcision now is not about the moral law. It’s about ceremonial law. We don’t have that. We don’t have sabbaths or new moon festivals or those sorts of things. In other words, we don’t have to engage in any Jewish festivals, Paul says in the book of Colossians. So, that part of the law no longer applies. It’s clear that Christ fulfills all the ceremonial requirements. We’re not sacrificing bulls, goats and lambs or anything like that. We’re not engaged in grain offerings. We’re not doing anything like that. Why? Because, Jesus has fulfilled those sorts of things. But, the question remains about the moral law.
To understand that, we’ll go to our last section here. Grace. I’ve got to wrap up pretty quickly, I know. I’m running close.
So, let’s talk about grace for a few moments. Let me give you a broad definition of grace. It just means gift. Simple. Straightforward. Behind the gift is the favor of God, who gives freely. It does not require you to do anything, because a gift is something that is given without expectation if it’s a genuine gift. If there’s strings attached, it’s really not a gift. Right? A gift, if it’s genuinely a gift, is given without strings attached. So, grace is gift. It always points to gifts.
At the center of this is the triune God. God gives the gift of God. God the Father gives the gift of His Son, who becomes flesh. He dwells among us, lives, dies and is resurrected for our sins. And God the Father gives the gift of God the Spirit, who is the love of God, according to Paul in Romans 5, poured out into our hearts, who gives us power and strength. So, God gives God. Behind all of the gifts of God are the Son and the Spirit.
I like this metaphor. It’s from a theologian in the 2nd Century whose name is Irenaeus of Lyon. Irenaeus says this, and he gets this, I think, from Paul in Ephesians where Paul says, “We are God’s workmanship.”
That idea of workmanship is a potter who’s shaping. We are the ones who are formed by the hands of the potter. Of course, that’s ultimately from Jeremiah, where God says, in Jeremiah, “I am the potter and you are the clay.”
So, what forms us? Irenaeus says, “The Word or the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father by which the Father reaches out into the world and begins to shape us. He conforms us to His Son in the power of the Spirit.”
And so, He begins to mold us. And, in doing so, He restores the image of God within us. He restores order to the disordered desires and emotions that are within us. Now, let’s talk about how that works. So, two ways, then, to understand the gift. If we think about the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father, there two ways of understanding this gift.
Through the Son, we can think about grace as mercy and acceptance. Have you heard this before? I heard this when I was in seminary. Grace means, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” That’s the acronym, right? God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The idea behind that is that grace is really mercy. All the transgressions that we have committed, all the sins and sinful actions, God forgives for the sake of Christ. We are accepted because of Christ. Christ stands before God and we are clothed or wrapped in the righteousness of Christ. And, therefore, we are adopted into the family of God, declared to be sons and daughters of God, given a new inheritance, given a new name. I’m adopted. I don’t even know where my birth parents are because I just never have bothered. Although, the older I get the more I think I need to bother. Because, you know, health issues are tied to biology. Anyway, that’s another matter. You don’t have to worry about it.
When I was adopted, I was given a name. I was given an inheritance that I did not earn. I was brought into a family and raised. That’s what God does in Christ. He brings us into a family and gives us a name. A new name. That’s why we can use language of family for one another. That’s where the term “godparents” come from. Right? In the Middle Ages, godparents were parents in God. They were not blood relatives. They’re fellow Christians. So, what’s the relationship? It has nothing to do with biology. It has everything to do with Christ. These people can be parents in God. Because, though Christ, we are members of the same family.
So, from the Middle Ages, the whole purpose of a godparent is to help raise the child. That’s the reason behind it. Now, we might still have godparents. You might still have godparents for your children or you might have godparents for yourself. The godparents may not function that way, but that’s the intention behind it with that language. It’s to give rise to that we are part of the family and we are brought in. So, there’s mercy and acceptance.
Another way of describing this would be to say this: There is no place so deep that He’s not deeper. There is no sinful action that will take you so far away that God will not find you. Why? Because, His mercy is always there. And this mercy and acceptance is grounded in God’s covenant faithfulness. One of the most vivid images of this is when God tells the prophet Hosea, “Go out and marry a harlot. No matter how many times she messes up and goes back into it, you keep going after her. Why? Because, I am the husband of Israel. No matter how far Israel goes, I will pursue her always because of my covenant faithfulness. I’ll keep my covenant even when she doesn’t keep her covenant.”
That idea is manifested in the Son. Christ says, “I will go to the cross. I’ll keep my covenant with creation.”
At this point, it’s not just covenant with Israel. It’s God’s covenant with creation.
“I’m not going to let you go down. I will keep it.”
So, the Son keeps it. Therefore, we receive mercy and acceptance on that basis. So, if you think about grace in that way, that’s where all the language comes about “I’m accepted.”
I’m always accepted in Christ. Christ always stands in my place. Alongside of that, though, there’s another way of thinking about grace. Grace not simply is favor, unmerited favor, acceptance, mercy, but presence and power. So, alongside this notion of grace as favor and acceptance, Paul says the Spirit has been poured out into our hearts. So, at the beginning of Romans, he says, “The Gospel is the power of God at work.”
Grace is the power. Grace is not just God’s acceptance of you for the sake of Christ. Grace is God’s presence in you through the Holy Spirit. Grace is both. Because, God’s not just bringing you into His family. God wants to change you and heal you and elevate you.
And that’s the next thing I want us to see here. Three ways in which grade works in our lives. Grace cleanses us. So, whenever you commit a sinful action or a transgression, there’s guilt. But, through Christ, forgiveness is always extended and the guilt can be removed. The problem, however – the underlying problem – remains. Remember this: You can kneel down, say a prayer and say, “God, forgive me of my sins,” and at that moment, Christ will forgive you. The Father will forgive you for the sake of Christ.
What remains? The underlying issue. What’s the underlying issue? Whatever disordered desire gave rise to the sinful action to begin with. Right? I’ll give you an example: A friend of mine was very promiscuous through high school, but got radically saved at the end. At 18. God called him. He went to school and wanted to go into the ministry. He started to like this girl, but he said, “I couldn’t really see myself with her.”
“Because, I had trained my mind to think about women solely in terms of their physical appearance.”
Now, how did he train his mind to think about women that way? Because, all of the promiscuity that he had gone through in high school was still with him. How? It was with him in the form of mental habits and ways of thinking about women, ways of just thinking of them totally in terms of their physical appearance. So, there was a point at which there was the woman that he really liked and he said, “Well, I can’t really like you because you’re not physically the way I imagine my wife should be.”
He ended up marrying that woman. The only way he could marry her, though, was to deal with the underlying issues: The habits of mind and the desires underlying those, and the character that those habits and desires had created through years of promiscuity in high school. Had God forgiven him of the guilt? Sure. What was left? Habits that he still had to deal with. What was left? Disordered desires. Ways of thinking about women that objectified them. Those sorts of things.
So, while on the one hand, justification says, “I forgive you. I extend the righteousness of Christ to you,” on that basis, heaven is yours. On the other hand, sanctification says, “But, I want to do so much more than that. Salvation is not fire insurance. This is not just about getting into heaven. Salvation is ultimately about making you into the kind of person that you really want to be and that I want you to be. Salvation is about healing you of the disordered desires that are within you. Salvation is about helping you to flourish as a human being. Salvation is about helping you come into healthy relationships. Salvation is about making you whole once again, and I can only do that if I deal with these underlying issues.”
“What are they?”
“All the disordered desires. I have to cut off the slavery to whatever part of creation you’re enslaved to.”
A lust for power. A lust for fame. You can think of all kinds of ways in which desire manifests itself. We see it all the time, right? The way in which we are shaped by images that are around us. To be certain kinds of people because marketers want you to buy their products by convincing you that you need to be the kind of person that they are presenting you to be. Right? And your desires, then, get shaped in that way.
So, grace is not just simply favor to cleanse of guilt, it’s power to heal. And lastly, it elevates us. It gives us a life that we would never have. For me, salvation could never be anything other than grace, because, no matter how hard I work, I cannot give myself immortality and I cannot make myself incorruptible. So, Paul says, in the resurrection, “Christ is the first fruits of what’s going to happen to the rest of us.”
And what’s going to happen to the rest of us? This mortality will put on immortality. This corruptibility will put on incorruptibility. Now, that tells you something about salvation. That tells you that salvation cannot be simply fire insurance. That tells you that the tree of life in the garden, which appears again at the end of Revelation, is really part of the plan of God. God wants to give you everlasting life. And that’s not just duration of time. That is a particular kind of existence. An existence where you are free from corruption. Corruption of the body so that you no longer age, and corruption of the soul so that you no longer perform destructive acts. You no longer get mad. You no longer have to stare in the mirror and wonder, “Who was that person who just did that action? I don’t even recognize myself.”
You know, when you come down from whatever it is you were doing? You know? You screen your brains out? I’ve been there. And then you realize, “What am I doing? I’ve got to get control of myself again. Anger has taken over and I’ve said some things that I need to apologize for.”
So, glorification is the elevation. Salvation is this whole package. So, let’s bring it together and wrap it up and then take some questions. How does grace work? Through the Son. God accepts us. We receive the perfect obedience of Christ and forgiveness. Now, what does that do for us? That gives you a sure foundation. The whole point of justification is to remind you that every day you have a secure foundation upon which to stand.
Growing up on the Space Coast, I watched I don’t know how many rockets blast off from Kennedy Space Center. I was in high school when the challenger blew up. I saw it in the air. We were all outside and we saw it. It was unbelievable. A rocket has to have a sure foundation. It’s got to have a launching pad. If it’s going to make it where it needs to go, that launching pad has to be sure. What’s your launching pad? It’s the Son. It’s His work on the cross. You come back to that time and time again, no matter how many times you mess up. When you do that, that gives you the security you need to pursue the difficult parts.
What are the difficult parts? Cultivating the character of Christ. So, here’s where we bring it together. The moral law can tell you what to do or what not to do. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. What Paul thinks you need is the character of Christ, and when the character of Christ is in you, you will do, by nature, what the law requires because you will have the character. When you do by nature what the law requires, you don’t even need the law at that point. Why? Because, you’ve internalized it.
That’s what Jesus’ teaching is all about. If you look at the Beatitudes, those are all about states of mind. Blessed are the meek. He’s not giving you a list of regulations. He’s giving you a mental state or an attitude. Develop and cultivate meekness. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Cultivate humility in your life. And He’s attaching the language of blessedness to it because He’s trying to say, “If you want to flourish as a human being, this is what you will cultivate in your life.”
And you can cultivate this through the power and presence of the Spirit, “Because I have put my Spirit in you.”
So, you know what? Even if you’re studying your Bible 10 minutes, 5 minutes or whatever, you know that the whole purpose of it is to cultivate Christ in you. When you guys go out and do on Main Street what Pastor Chip was telling me you do every year, you’re not just doing that for everybody else. You’re doing that for you. Why? Because, you need to cultivate the character of Christ. I know when I go serve the poor, I’m not just doing it to help the poor person. I can’t become Christ without doing that. All of these characteristics are developed in community. You can’t become humble without engaging in acts of humility, and that requires another human being.
I thought I had patience, and then I had kids and I recognized that there’s a whole new depth to patience that I had yet to fully cultivate in my life. So, there I am. I want to be Christ in the face of this kid who just will not stop asking me the same question for the last 24 hours.
“Dad, when am I going to watch this movie?”
“You know what? Just shut up. Okay. I shouldn’t have said shut up. Be quiet. Okay? Just be quiet for a while.”
You need other people to cultivate these characteristics. The Spirit helps you to cultivate them. When you do, you’ve internalized the moral law. Until you do, the moral law can guide you. Think about it this way: Those last six commands of the Ten Commandments – honor your father and your mother and that sort of thing – tell you how to love your neighbor. And then Jesus’ own teachings tell you how to love your neighbor. Want to know how to love your neighbor? Your neighbor is that Samaritan. That’s who your neighbor is.
So, between the two, you’ve got what your neighbor is. Now, you work in the Spirit to internalize that love so that you come to naturally begin to do things for your neighbor because you have cultivated habits. Remember this: Desires, when turned into choices that you consent to, cultivate habits. And habits create a character, and the character shapes a destiny.
C.S. Lewis says this: “We are right now becoming either the most beautiful beings that if we were to see the saints in heaven who have already become what we’re on the journey to become right now, they would look like angels and we would be strongly tempted to worship them, or we’re becoming so deformed in our characters that we’re becoming like this hideous, ugly demon that we wouldn’t even want to see in our nightmare.”
His point is that none of us are ordinary. God has destined us. We’re on a trajectory. If you cooperate with the Holy Spirit and you cultivate holy habits, God is actually making you a beautiful soul, where your own life reflects the internal harmony of His life. Your desires are no longer competing with one another. They’re now working together.
So, grace means that God always acts first by bestowing His gifts upon us. Even faith is a gift. Faith is a gift the Spirit brings, and faith, itself, units us to Christ through our trust. Grace means that we’re grounded in God’s acceptance for the sake of Christ. So, we have confidence about who we are. We’re members of the family, and that’s secure. And grace means that we are grounded in God’s power and presence. So, we can struggle to internalize the moral law. The whole point of the moral law is to give you guidance to follow the Spirit in cultivating holy habits. The more you become like Christ, the more you are united to Him and the more you fulfill the destiny that God has for you.
I’ll stop. 8:11. I’ve gone long. Sorry, Chip.
[Chip Bennett]: I want to make sure that we have proper time for Q&A. So, the ushers are going to come really quick. It is an expense to bring all these people down and do the things that we do. So, I am going to ask, really quickly, for the ushers to pass the offering bucket. But, if you have questions, please make sure that you hold those 3x5 cards up. There will be people coming to get them as well, and we’ll do a Q&A very quickly. Let’s just ask the Lord to bless the offering.
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You so much for the opportunity to be able to give. Lord, I pray that You’d bless this offering for Dale, his wife, Esther, and their family. Lord, I pray that You would help us, Lord, to send them on their way, Lord, in a positive way. And help us to raise, Lord, some funds to pay for bringing Dale down.
Lord, we just thank You for tonight. I pray, Lord, that the Q&A session would be fantastic. Lord, we look forward to answering those questions. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”
We’re going to take up an offering. We’ll get some chairs up here. If you have questions, go ahead and put your hand up and we’ll go ahead and start picking them up as well. Just put your hand up with a card if you’ve got questions.
If you do have questions, hold the questions up real high. Down here in the front. Here’s some too. Here you go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Anybody else? Anybody else?
Alright. Let’s do this here.
“You say to your children, ‘Discipline yourself or I will discipline you.’ Do you think God disciplines us when we do not discipline ourselves? If so, how?”
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: That’s a great question. I mean, Hebrews says quiet clearly that God disciplines us and that it’s a manifestation of His love for us. Here’s the way I think judgment works. I go with my interpretation of what Paul says in Romans 1 where Paul says that God has turned them over to themselves. So, I think that sometimes God’s discipline just allows us to live with what we have created.
So, here’s what I mean by that. I mean God will forgive you of your sins if you’ve committed adultery, for example. But, that doesn’t mean that the lives that you have destroyed in that act are somehow not destroyed by that action. Right? The mess still has to be cleaned up. You still have to ask for forgiveness. You still have to extend forgiveness. You still have children that could be. There are all those sorts of issues, right? So, does God clean all of that up? No. We have to cooperate with God to sort of work through that.
So, I think the way I see judgment manifesting itself in our lives is God turning us over sometimes to our own devices. It’s the parent saying to the child, “You want this so bad? You’re not going to listen to me? Okay. I don’t want it for you. I wouldn’t make this choice. But, I’m going to let you have it. I know what it’s going to do to you. But, if you want to live with it, I’m going to let you live with it.”
I think that’s the way in which judgment manifests itself. And then, of course, that doesn’t mean that God leave us. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t there to help us pick up the pieces. But, there are times where God lets us live with the consequences of our actions. That’s the manifestation, in my mind, of divine judgment in our lives. So, it’s not God taking a whip and just beating the mess out of anybody.
[Chip Bennett]: I think I would also say that judgment, in the biblical, usually has a remedial nature to it. God doesn’t judge just to judge. He judges in hopes that we will understand and change. So, when you see judgment in Scripture, you’ll see it a lot with the prophets where they’ll say, “God’s going to come in and clean house and do all that stuff, but He’s going to do it with an aim towards you all coming back to Him in repentance.”
So, judgment usually has some sort of remedial hope or some sort of repentant hope. It’s not just God getting you to get you. It’s that when judgment happens, there is a hope that there will be a turning of the ways with that. Just like, you know, if you were to get on your children. Does anybody ever get on their children and just go, “You know what I want to do? I just want to just give my kid a hard time tonight for no reason?”
Nobody does that, right? If we discipline or we send them to their room or we do whatever that we do – somebody was talking about a magic spoon recently. Anybody ever heard about the magic spoon? I guess that’s what they got whacked with or whatever. Magic spoon. I don’t know. Somebody was talking about it. But, the point is that even the magic spoon would, hopefully, lead towards a change in behavior. You know? Sometimes the quickest way to a child’s head is through the seat of understanding.
But, I think that when we look at discipline, God’s discipline in our lives is always to move us toward the image of His Son, and it’s always with a hope of getting us to where we need to be. It’s never God just getting you to get you. You know?
“If people have been Christians for decades, yet they still habitually lie or act selfishly, what’s the breakdown? Did they really get saved? Did they miss the Holy Spirit?”
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Oh, gee.
[Chip Bennett]: That’s for you, man. It says, “Would Dale please answer that?”
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Right. So, maybe I should start by defining some parameters here.
[Chip Bennett]: Please do.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: You’re the pastor, so I can walk away from this after I say my thing. You’ve got to pick up the pieces.
[Chip Bennett]: If you don’t discipline yourself, I will. I’m just kidding.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I would say, certainly, we can all struggle and we all do struggle. We could struggle with habits that sometimes last a while. I don’t understand the mystery of sinfulness sometimes. I don’t understand why some people can come down to an alter or can pray a prayer and God can heal them of an addiction and they can get up and walk away from it. I’ve seen it happen. I don’t doubt that it can happen. Because, in the same way that I know that science can construct a pill to help us get off nicotine – if science can do that, why can’t God remove that chemical addiction? Of course. That seems to me that God can do that.
Sometimes God chooses to allow people to struggle for a while, I think, like Pastor Chip said, with the end of character formation within you. So, if that’s a framework and I’m coming at this person who’s been struggling for a long time, I want to know, “Are you in it?”
That’s my first question. Are you in this? Are you in the struggle? Where are you? Have you given up? If you’ve given up, why have you given up? I want to talk to that person and see where he or she is coming from and what’s going on. And then, this is the whole reason why we have a family. I want that person to come into the family. So, if the person is willing, I want to bring that person into an accountability structure. Not because I want to discipline the person in some negative way, but because I want to help the person. Accountability, sometimes, is just me helping you fulfill what you want to do and helping you keep your promises. That’s what accountability can be. If you say, “I want to be a better person,” to me, and I say, “Okay, how are we going to do this,” and we set forth a plan and we both agree to the plan, then my job is to keep you accountable to what you agreed to and to help you get there.
So, I guess that would be the framework out of which I would address that person. If the person is just playing the game, okay? If I’ve counseled and I think that the person is just playing the game, then I’m going to tell the person, “You’re just playing this game and you’d better be careful. Because, God may give you what you want at the end of the day. If you really don’t want God and you want something else, God may turn you over to that. You really don’t want that. Now, God’s not going to leave you, but it means that your life may get into a whole lot of mess that you got yourself into and God just decided He’s going to let you get into that mess. You don’t want that. Come on.”
So, I would question and try to figure out where that person is. To me, if your heads in the game, if you’re in the struggle and the intention is there, that’s what I’m looking for more so than what state or where are you on this journey. Some people are farther along. They’ve developed more of the character of Christ. Some people are back here. Some people were here and then life threw a thunderbolt at them and some tragedy hit them, they lost a loved one or something else and they have gone into the tank, man. Where are you? I know. I had a brother who committed suicide. I understand what that’s like, man. When life throws something at you that you have not planned and you didn’t know what happened, you go into the tank. I understand that.
If that’s it, let’s help and let’s wrestle through that. But, in the midst of that, I want to know are you in the game? So, that would be the way in which I would approach that kind of issue, with a pastoral sensitivity, without coming at them and just sort of assuming things about them.
[Chip Bennett]: I would concur. I would also add a little bit. I think one of the things that we don’t do very well, as Christians, is we don’t give people space. You know? What I mean by that is if somebody comes in here – and we’ll use this thing here – and they’re a habitual liar, but they also have a broken relationship with their dad, they also have a drug addiction, and they also have a pornography addiction, I can’t play Holy Spirit as the pastor of this church and try to figure out which thing they need to be dealing with, because one of those things might be the most important link in all of the habitual problems that they have, and God’s got to deal with a certain aspect of their life before some of those other things can get right.
What we tend to do is we tend to have the sins that we all like the most. You know? The ones that we go, “That’s the sin.” And we want to deal with that one, not realizing that, man, there’s a lot of broken issues in all of us to some degree. So, I think that, for me as a pastor, I want to create a community here where, yeah, if this person’s just habitually lying and doing the selfish thing and acting like they’re a Christian or whatever, that’s a whole other issue. But, for someone who’s struggling and trying to be the things that God wants them to be, and yet there’s broken areas in their lives, I think that we need to love them, give them accountability and we need to walk with them. But, what we don’t need to do is do what I consider the Christian thing.
Somebody comes down and says, “I’m a Christian.” If they don’t clean up in a week or two or maybe a month, then we’re going, “They’re not really a Christian.”
That’s ridiculous, because none of us have cleaned up perfectly in our lives in this world. So, I would say we need to become a little bit more gracious in allowing space in people’s lives, loving them, praying for them, accepting them, and not being a church that’s looking to manage sin.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Let me add something.
[Chip Bennett]: I don’t want to manage your sin. I can’t even manage mine.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I’m with you on that. I don’t like the phrase “total depravity.” I mean, not that I’m against the idea that’s behind the phrase, but I don’t like how the phrase has come to be used. It has taken on this whole life of its own to say that the whole intention is to say that sin infects every part of who we are. That’s fine. I’m with you. But, it has come to be employed as a way of saying that you’re a heinous, no-good, nothing. It’s reinforced by worm theology. A worm. God’s going to step on you. All of that sort of thing.
So, I don’t like the phrase. I tend not to use it for that reason, because I think that sin, if we think about it as a disease, manifests itself in our lives differently in accordance with our unique personality and our own psychological dispositions and all of those sorts of things. So, while we’re all infected, the way it manifests is different in each one of us. And I think, as a pastor, I’d want to give space, I’d want to recognize that. What you struggle with, I don’t struggle, but somebody else struggles with. Different struggles. Recognize those different struggles and then let’s all kind of come together and help each other get through them. Alright. I’ll stop.
[Chip Barnett]: I just think that a church that can help all of us together work through our brokenness is also a church that people who are out there in world are going to want to become a part of. Does that make sense? You know? Because, we’re broken too. The difference is that we’ve been saved, and the righteousness of God has been given to you and me. That doesn’t mean we always look like it, right? So, I think that all of these things, the struggle here really goes down to the idea of law and grace. It goes down to, “Does God just love me no matter what I do or does God have some expectations in the way that I live?”
The problem is that we never can go, “Okay, well how can I hold both of those in some sort of level where they work?”
We tend to go to only one or the other. We go, “We’re going to manage everybody’s sin, because everybody’s got to be holy and everybody’s got to do this. Here’s the checklist thing.”
Anybody who’s ever tried to live the checklist thing realizes that it’s really difficult to live the checklist thing. Have you ever noticed that? If you decide, “These are the nine things that I need to do,” all nine of them you usually break by nine o’clock in the morning. Anybody ever figure that one out? Okay? Well, then the other side is you go, “Okay, well then God just loves me. God loves me.”
Whatever. I think that what you’ve seen tonight with what Dale has presented is what I realized. I had grown up in a church where the only thing I ever heard was the theological use of the law. “Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Law, law, law. Bad, bad, bad.”
But, there’s a lot of different usages of the law in the Old Testament, and I think that the moral fabric of the law is what God does want for you and me. He wants you and me to live lives that are changed, that have ethics to them and morals to them. Otherwise, why would Jesus say, in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine.”
Why? Not so God can see it, but so that others can see what God has done in you and that they would then glorify your Father, which is in heaven. A changed life is what most of the New Testament is talking about. Paul goes, “They saw that you turned from idols to serve the living God. They saw a change in you and they said, ‘What is that?’”
Okay. When we take away the change in Christianity, we’ve lost one side of grace. When we make the change the only thing that matters, then we’ve lost the other side of grace that says, “God loves you and me and salvation has appeared to all men.”
That’s the one side of grace. The other side is teaching us to renounce ungodliness and to live holy and righteous lives in this present world. There’s those two sides. And I think that a healthy understanding of law and grace will keep you from running to one side or the other. You can’t work your way into heaven. Nobody’s saying that. You’re not saying that.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Not at all.
[Chip Bennett]: I mean, you can’t do that. It’s a gift. You can’t then work your way into God’s more favor now that you are a Christian. But, to act like grace doesn’t have the power and the transformational aspect in our lives to continue to move us towards Christ I think is a disingenuous move historically in the church. And I think one of the things that we don’t do very well – my thought, and you would know more about the patristic side of this. I think one of the things we’ve lacked, especially in the American church today, is disciplines. We don’t believe that spending time in prayer really matters. We don’t believe that spending time in the Word of God really matters.
Because, if God just loves me an accepts me, then why would I have to do that? Isn’t that a work? Isn’t that fulfilling the law by me having to do the things? I think that those disciplines do help us live a holy life.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Yeah. I mean, there’s an ancient term called “asceticism.” It comes from a Greek term, “askesis,” which really comes from an athletic context. It refers to exercises. So, the monks developed these spiritual exercises. That’s what translates into the spiritual disciplines. But, the whole idea behind it, the analogy, is you’ve got to work out. If you want to be healthy spiritually, you’ve got to be like the person that goes into the gym. You’ve got to spend your time in the gym. What’s the gym? God’s Word. Prayer. You’ve got to get into the gym and do it.
Now, of course, there are some people who live in the gym for five or six hours a day. They’re the people that are the holier people. You know? They’re on you. They’re the workout partners who are like, “Why aren’t you sweating enough for Jesus? Why aren’t you doing it? Come on, man! You’ve got to pump more. Get down there. You’re not buff enough!”
You know? Okay. They’re a little legalistic on all of that. But, the point behind the whole thing is if you want to get healthy spiritually, just like if you want to get healthy physically, you do the exercises. The exercises are reading your Bible, praying, fasting in some way. The whole point of fasting is to counter gluttony. It’s one of the spiritual exercises. It’s to help you realize that you don’t need certain kinds of food to survive. It’s to help you overcome the way food can become a weapon. Right?
Sometimes we eat ice cream because we just are depressed and we need a little emotional kick. So, we need that ice cream in front of that movie so we can kind of veg out a little bit, because it’s been a rough day. Fasting helps us to overcome those sorts of things. Right? So, the whole point is exercises. That’s the analogy. That’s what you’re doing. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t go into the gym every day. But, if you never go, you know there’s an issue. Right? That’s the other side of that.
[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. You can make these things a work, and we would shun that. We’re not trying to get you to pray or read your Scripture so that you can work your way so that God will love you more. What we’re saying is that Jesus Himself took time away to pray. Jesus Himself knew Scripture. He read it. Okay? He didn’t do that so God could love Him more. He was God. Okay? But, He’s modeling for you and me. He’s showing you and me the way to live.
I don’t read my Scripture – and I have before. I’ve read my Scripture because I felt like it was a duty that I had to do. You don’t have to do it as a duty. But, as a discipline it’s different. Because, now what I’m doing is I’m saying, “I’m reading this because I want to interact and know my Lord better. I want Him to live more in me. I want to hide His Word in my heart so that I will remember those things that I’m supposed to remember when the enemy comes calling and all of those things. That’s a discipline. That’s not a duty, and there’s a difference.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: And it’s making you like Christ, at the end of the day. I mean, okay. This will date me. But, Michael Jordan, when he got out on the court, the fruit of all of that work paid off. He entered into a kind of performance where it was almost like he was at rest in the middle of working. He found his place of peace at the peak of performance. Like a hummingbird, stillness and motion at the same time. Right? It’s like a great dancer. It’s like a great musician if you’ve ever watched someone. All of that work brings and creates a character. When you see that character in action, you marvel at it. God wants you to become that character where the righteousness is flowing through you through the habits that you have constructed, and you are functioning at peak performance. And you do, by nature, the things that are required for you.
Just like the pianist does by nature what is required of her. Her hands move around the keys. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her anymore what the right motions are. She’s trained herself, and she has entered into a state of excellence. The term “virtue” in its ancient sense just simply means excellence. It’s bringing your life into a condition of excellence. That’s what God wants for you. That’s the whole point behind it. It has nothing to do with performing in a way to make yourself acceptable to God. You’ve already been made that in Christ. It has to do with healing you, bringing you into a place of excellence, making you into the kind of person that, at the end of the day, we really all want to be anyway. We all want to be that healthy person, you know? We don’t always want to work for it, but we at least want to be it. That’s the idea behind this.
[Chip Bennett]: “Is baptism a ceremonial law or is it a requirement for salvation.”
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Gosh. Right. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It depends on who you’re talking to, really, I would say. Is it a requirement for salvation? No, I would say. I’ll just be straight up and tell you what I think. Now, of course, a Catholic is going to disagree with me. A Lutheran is going to disagree with me. An Anglican is going to disagree with me. There are other’s that are going to disagree with me. Okay? And you need to know, I’ll just throw it out there, I don’t hold to infant baptism.
So, part of it is where you stand on infant baptism vis–a-vis this whole thing. I’m a “believer’s baptism” kind of guy. I’ll just throw that out there for you. So, what does that mean? Does that mean, then, that baptism is a requirement for entrance into heaven? No. I don’t think so. Acceptance of Christ by faith. Faith alone. That’s a reformation idea. Does that mean you shouldn’t get baptized? No way. You should. Why? Because, baptism is the public testimony of the inward work of the Holy Spirit in your life, and it is the way you come into the community of faith. It’s the way you say, “I’m on the team. I’m a member of the team.”
And it’s an expression of God’s covenant commitment to you and your covenant commitment to God. So, in the same way that in the book of Revelation, the devil has his mark, 666, the mark of the beast or whatever, God has His mark. That’s baptism.
I tell my kids all the time, they’ve all been baptized, “You have been marked with Christ. The seal of Him is upon your life. You can leave Him, but the seal will never leave you.”
That is baptism. So, is it important? You bet. Is it absolutely necessary in terms of salvation? I don’t think so.
[Chip Bennett]: Good. Alright. You went long, so it’s killing my Q&A time. Let’s see here.
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I know it. Mea culpa.
[Chip Bennett]: Let’s see here.
“What if I feel I cleanse my sin and then recommit the sin after? Do I really have grace in my heart?”
See, this just goes back to the struggle of understanding something. Grace in your heart is not earned. You don’t just have to keep repenting to get God. God loves you. He’s given you the unmerited favor. But, what you’re struggling with is not grace. You’re struggling with personal sanctification. You’re struggling with, “How do I live this thing out, because I’m trying to live right and I’m asking God to forgive me. But then, I’m not doing anything.”
The question comes down to – and nobody wants to hear this, because everybody wants to hear the easy way. Okay? Are you involved in a community? Are you involved with people in your life that keep you accountable? Are you spending some time in the Word daily? Are you praying? I guarantee you someone who spends time in the Word daily, someone who spends some time in prayer, someone who puts themselves in an accountability group who has really got a heart that’s Godward is going to find themselves walking things out better than the person who just, every once in a while, when they decide to do something wrong, says, “God, forgive me.”
[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, again, it goes back to what I said earlier. If you are struggling against this – to stick with the disease analogy, there are some cancers that are more aggressive than others. Right? And if this is an aggressive form in your life and this has really taken control of you, but you are struggling against it, then that, to me, is what I want to see.
Of course, the forgiveness of Christ is always there. It is there to remind you that you are in the struggle. It is there to remind you that this is not going to define you. It is there to remind you that you are a child of the King, and that whatever this is that has you, it will not determine your destiny. So, you can fight it, you can get beyond it, you can work against it, because it is not you at the end of the day. And that’s what you have to get beyond first. You have to stop thinking of yourself in terms of the habit.
This is not you. Right?
[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. And the reality is simply this: The fact that you’re struggling means that you’re in. You weren’t struggling before you were in. It wasn’t even a thought. It’s like, “I’ll go do whatever I want to do. I don’t care.”
I mean, a struggling Christian – although that’s not where we want to get you as the apex of your life – shows God is active in your life and grace is active in your life. And that’s okay. So, we’re going to wrap up. It’s 8:37. I don’t want to hold you all too much later. We will stay after. Any questions you have, we’re going to stay after and we’ll talk. We’ll do all the things that you would like. We’re going to be here.
Dale, thanks man. Did y’all enjoy Dale? Right? Good guy. Dale is still a Church of God ordained pastor. You know, we’ve both had good reformed roots, but I think I’ve done a little bit more on the reformed side. But, he’s Wesleyan a lot. It’s great. I think one of the things you’re seeing here is that we have a lot of diversity that I try to bring in with professors, because I want you all to see that there can be things we disagree on, but it’s okay.
Like, I’m sure Dale – I mean, Dale and I were talking about the dating of the Gospels right before we came out here. Just because I’m right and he’s wrong didn’t change anything about the way... no. I’m just joking. I was probably wrong and he’s right. But, the point is that I really want this church to see that we can have some healthy, Christian discussion about things and we don’t have to get all bent out of shape, because it’s about Jesus and it’s not about the boxes. Right? Amen?
Dear Heavenly Father, I just thank You for the opportunity to be able to do these evenings. They’re fantastic. Lord, I pray that even though we probably didn’t answer every single question and we didn’t answer every little thing that everybody would have, Lord, I pray that at least some food for thought was given tonight and maybe some different categories were offered up to think through.
Lord, I pray that You would be with every single person as they leave. Get them home safely. Lord, I pray that You would kindly remind them, without any guilt, that just because they’ve got their church on on Wednesday night doesn’t mean they can’t get their church on also on Saturday or Sunday this weekend.
So, we love You and thank You and praise You for everything that You’re doing. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
We’re going to stay after if you’d like to talk. So, God bless everybody. Have a great night.