“Is it possible for someone to die in the arms of a prostitute and still go to heaven?”
There is a sense in which the doctrine of justification by faith only is a very dangerous doctrine; dangerous, I mean, in the sense that it can be misunderstood. It exposes a man to this particular charge. People listening to it may say, “Ah, there is a man who does not encourage us to live a good life, he seems to say that there is no value in our works, he says that ‘all our righteousness are as filthy rags.’ Therefore what he is saying is that it does not matter what you do, sin as much as you like.” . . . There is thus clearly a sense in which the message of “justification by faith only” can be dangerous, and likewise with the message that salvation is entirely of grace. . . . I say therefore that if our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel.
Nobody has ever brought this charge against the Church of Rome, but it was brought frequently against Martin Luther; indeed that was precisely what the Church of Rome said about the preaching of Martin Luther. They said,”This man who was a priest has changed the doctrine in order to justify his own marriage and his own lust”, . . . and so on.”This man”, they said, “is an antinomian; and that is heresy.”That is the very charge they brought against him. It was also brought against George Whitefield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity — if there is such a thing — has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God “justifies the ungodly”, and that we are saved, not by anything we do, but in spite of it, entirely and only by the grace of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
That is my comment; and it is a very important comment for preachers. I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, to the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a sermon on Romans 6
Question: Martin Luther said, “we must offend these legalists boldly”. Are you offensive to legalists? Does your church preach grace , but live works? Do you know someone who could use some grace in their life right now? What can you do to make grace known to others?
“Those who believe that God has a plan for them sometimes encounter another problem – the conviction that they have lost God’s best plan for them. They believe that they have missed or fallen off the plan, or that something has happened to destroy it. We know the feeling. Somewhere along the line, we zigged when we should have zagged, and now we’re hopelessly stuck with plan B. It only takes a foolish youthful decision, a missed opportunity, the interference of someone else in our lives, or our sinfulness, and plan A is gone forever.
But if God is sovereign, then plan B is a myth. No matter how dark things look to us, or how big the mess we’re in, we’re in plan A. God’s plan for us is intact, proceeding exactly as He intended, neither behind nor ahead but right on schedule. Nothing – not our sins, failures, disappointments, bad decisions, nor the sins of others against us – can deter a sovereign God from accomplishing His purposes.”
It seems to me that a series on Spiritual Disciplines should begin with exploring why (or why not) we should engage in any Spiritual Disciplines in the first place.
We’ll take the “why not?” question first.
Reason One: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to earn favor from God
You’ll never meet anyone who wants to please God more than me. Really.
The problem is, many times I desire to do so for the wrong reason. As a recovering Pharisee I want to please God because I think I have to do so. I mean I am better about it than I used to be, but I still find my motivation for pleasing God is one of earning favor more often than I care to admit to.
This, of course, is completely contrary to the message of the gospel.
There is nothing anyone can do to make God love them more (or less) than He already does. Nothing.
Reason Two: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to simply acquire knowledge about God.
It’s fine to learn about God. That is what Theology and Doctrine are all about and they are good things. But they are ALWAYS intended to point to God, and never intended to be ends in and of themselves.
The problem with most of us is that we already know too much – more than we can ever put into practice.
The other problem with Theology is that it only goes to a certain point then it poops out. I mean, Theology can answer the question “Can angels fit on a pin head?” (yes) but it cannot answer the question “How many angels can fit on a pin head?” (who knows? no one!). And it never will be able to do so.
When the emotions aren’t there, Doctrine and Theology are the bedrock that keep me sane. But having said that, I will also add that I’ve never been hugged by a Doctrine.
Reason Three: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines as a bargaining chip to manipulate God.
God doesn’t need you.
He uses you, but He doesn’t need you. He was doing fine before you came along and will be just fine after you are gone. Peter in the book of Acts tells us that “God is not served by human hands as though He needed something”.
You can’t make God cooperate by giving Him things He needs because He needs nothing.
Reason Four: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of guilt.
The only good guilt is guilt out of having done something wrong which drives you to the cross to get forgiven. Beyond that guilt serves no purpose.
If you use anything other than the forgiveness of the cross to try to ease your guilt it won’t work and you’ll feel even more guilty.
Reason Five: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of fear.
Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those of us who belong to Christ.
The unbeliever is at enmity with God, but not the believer. There is no condemnation. None.
If you belong to Christ, because God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus on the cross, God will never ever be angry at you. Oh, He might be disappointed with your sin sometimes. He might chasten you (Heb 12) but He will not be angry at you in a wrathful way.
If He ever is, then He didn’t punish Jesus sufficiently for all your sin. And we all know Jesus said on the cross, “it is finished”. That means it was done and all of God’s wrath was satisfied.
So if you are engaging in the disciplines because you are afraid of God’s condemnation then you don’t know Him and you don’t fully believe what Jesus did was enough.
Reason Six: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to “keep up with the Joneses”.
I’ve heard a lot of manipulation used in the past to try to get people to engage in the disciplines. I’ve heard preachers use guilt to motivate. I’ve seen blog posts about so and so who used this reading plan to get through the Bible in such and such time.
And I, myself, am going to suggest some tools you might want to try in a later part of this series.
But be clear of one thing: please do not engage the disciplines just because everyone else is doing it or says you should do it.
Now that we’ve seen some reasons not to engage in the disciplines, in the next part of this series we’ll look at some reasons that we should. Stay tuned.
Questions: So what are your motivations for doing any Spiritual Disciplines? Do you feel guilty because you don’t do what you think you should be doing? Why? Do you feel pressured by others to “perform” in the area of Spiritual Disciplines?
Bible reading, Prayer, Scripture memorization, Bible studies, devotions, journaling and the like are all things we need to be doing. We hear it constantly from the spiritual among us that without building these habits into our lives we cannot grow in the way God wants us to as believers. I hear others constantly tout their favorite Bible reading plan, boast about how much Scripture they have memorized or muse about the day they are going to publish the journal they have kept faithfully for the last 18 years without missing a day.
Does it take pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps to ensure God can “use us”? Do we have to do things we do not like or be people that we aren’t so that God can use us?
I don’t think so.
After all, Scripture is full of stories of the lives of people who were anything but perfect. Look at Abraham, lying to save his own skin. David a man after God’s own heart, but also an (albeit forgiven) adulterer. Peter, who denied Jesus three times, still couldn’t stay out of trouble after Jesus was gone requiring Paul to confront him about his behavior. And Paul. What about Paul who got in such a fight with Barnabas that the two of them split up and went their separate ways?
Scripture is replete with examples of people who were weak and failed to live up to the “standard” quite often. The gospel itself is for people who can’t live up to the “standard”.
Of course the people who speak to us about the spiritual disciplines are, often times, the same folk who tell us that God is Sovereign over everything, which would include our spiritual growth. If God is really sovereign, then can He not bring circumstances into our lives that cause us to grow the way He wants us to without being perfectionists in our practices of the spiritual disciplines?
Sure He can.
Still, there is room for the case to be made that the spiritual disciplines are helpful and are things that we should pursue. We should read our Bibles, get involved in community, memorize Scripture, pray. These are things that are commanded of us for one thing and they may prevent God from having to use other methods to grow us.
Yet, as is so often done, we have a great tendency to hold these things over each other and use them at best, as measures of our spirituality or at worst, as weapons against each other.
You didn’t get through the whole Bible this year in your Bible reading plan? You only memorized 25 Bible verses this week? You wrote only eleven journal entries (eight of which were about how much you hate journaling) last year? Didn’t you know that so and so got through their whole Bible and they still had time to memorize the whole book of John? After all Jesus has done for you and you couldn’t even get through Genesis in your reading plan?
Feel guilty? You might. But you shouldn’t.
None of these disciplines were ever intended to be used as weapons by others or ourselves to make us feel guilty. Sanctification is a process and that process includes failure. And I’ll tell you something else… I suspect that fully 50% or more of the people who say they do all these things are probably ready to sell you some swamp land in the Everglades. They want you to buy into the games they play and buy their worthless swamp too. A friend of mine calls them the “evangelical jet set and theological sophisticates who look down their noses at those of us who are spiritual mortals.”
The question isn’t should we do these things, but is rather, how are we to engage them in a way that leaves room for grace to work in our lives when we do not do them perfectly. And even more important, what is the best form of motivation for doing them?
Over the course of the next few days (or weeks) I’d like to explore these issues in a series I’ve decided to call “Spiritual Disciplines for Slackers.”
Hope you will stick around and join me.
Question: What Spiritual Disciplines do you do? Why do you do them? Have you tried and failed?
Matthew 7 begins with a stern warning from Jesus about making judgements.
“Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:1-2)
Now on face value this appears to be a commandment forbidding all judgment of others. I know in my own experience countless people have thrown this text up at me whenever I have made a judgment about the behavior of another person. It seems to me to be a universally used text against even forming an opinion about whether something or someone is good or evil.
But is this really what Jesus had in mind?
I think not.
Consider Matthew 18:15-20 where Jesus lays down the method for Church Discipline. He says that when your brother sins against you, confront that person. Well, how can you confront someone unless you’ve made a judgment about what they’ve done? You can’t confront sin without identifying it and to identify it, you must make a judgment.
So, since Jesus is implying the need to make judgments in Matthew 18, then is it really wrong to judge? Jesus would not instruct us against making judgments in Matthew 7 and then say it is ok to do so in Matthew 18. Right?
So what is Jesus really saying here in Matthew 7?
Well, the passage is not making a case against judgment per se. It is, rather, making a case against judgment which is condemning.
Keep in mind that Jesus was addressing a crowd which contained many Pharisees and other religious leaders of the day. These religious leaders did little else but condemn the behavior of others.
Note also, the passage speaks about being hypocritical (v. 5) and about being cognizant of your own faults first (vv. 3-4).
Rather than a command not to judge, Jesus is merely saying that we should always do so in a way that:
- recognizes our own sin and
- is restorative rather than destructive.
In other words, we should remember what Paul told the Galatians when we judge others:
“Brothers if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)