Sunday, January 29, 2006

Under Grace, Part II

Read my first post on grace here.

In yesterday's post on grace, I mentioned the two aspects of grace that we, as believers, are extended. Not only are we forgiven of our sins, but we are continually cleansed and purified by the Holy Spirit. I also highlighted v. 14 of Romans 6, which is oft' misquoted as a prooftext for antinomianism, and I explained why such a use of the verse is mistaken and completely out of context.

At the end of yesterday's post, I had considered expounding more on law v. grace, but decide to hold off, hoping that I would have the chance in the future (The three chickens on the stove were calling my name; I now have plenty of broth for your soup recipe, Jessica!). One reason I held off on extending my previous post was because I was still mulling over several related ideas and had not yet sorted them out in my brain. I'm still sorting, but I feel more organized in my thoughts on the matter today than I did yesterday. The sermon today had many applications to areas over which I was ruminating; it was definitely a timely choice of sermon topic. A good portion of this second post will be drawn from this morning's sermon.

I tend towards extremes. I don't live by the ebb and flow of our culture or even of the modern church, but do you know what? I fall into many pitfalls even as I am careful to protect myself from modernist views. I exchange one sin for another. You see, I am often so careful to avoid all the "evils of modern society", making sure to avoid those sins that I deem "really bad." However, in backing away in disgust from modernism and antinomianism, I stumble and fall into separatism and legalism. I exchange one extreme for another.

I think we all have problems with such extremes. As one of my former pastors would say, I know I am guilty of _______, and you can't be that much better! It's much easier to whole-heartedly embrace either antinomianism or legalism, rather than striking a balance between the two. Conservatives, homeschoolers especially :), have a special knack at card-carrying legalism.

The sermon at our church this morning was from Mark, chapter 7, verses 1-13. This passage really strikes an excellent balance with Romans 6; Mark 7 stabs legalism, while Roman 6 attacks antinomianism. Both legalism and antinomianism are easy to fall into, and I am pretty confident that every Christian struggles with both to some extent; some may major on legalism and minor on antinomianism, while others may do the reverse, but I don't believe there ever was or ever will be a Christian who hasn't dabbled in a combination of the two.

The passage from Mark 7 details Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisaical traditions. We all know that the Pharisees majored on legalism, but I think they also had a strong minor in antinomianism, however covert they wished it to be. In this passage, Jesus takes a swing at their failings in both areas.

The Pharisees were experts at keeping the law, if there ever were experts. They not only strived to keep the whole law of Moses, they even embellished the Mosaic law to make sure they didn't come close to breaking it. This was called "fencing the law." Fencing the law was the practice of placing safety nets over the Mosaic law, to doubly ensure that it was not broken. For example, to ensure that God's name was never taken in vain, God's favorite name - Yahweh or Jehovah, meaning "I am" - was not spoken for hundreds of years. The Jewish people figured that if they never spoke God's name, they could never profane it. In like manner, they adopted hundreds of extra-scriptural rules concerning Sabbath-keeping, to absolutely ensure that the Sabbath was strictly kept.

The problem was that the Pharisees treated their own rules, or boundaries for the law, as absolute laws, not "helpful suggestions." They were trusting in their system of righteousness to save them, trying to clean themselves up before God, rather than letting Him do the job.

We can laugh at the Pharisees and their fencing of the law, but are we not also guilty of the same thing? I know I am. I appreciate R.C. Sproul Jr.'s principle of hermeneutics: When you read in the Bible of someone doing something stupid, do not say "How can they be that stupid?" Instead, think, "How am I that stupid?" After all, original sin isn't all that original; we make the same mistakes that our fathers did and that our forefathers did. We should study our past, not to make fun of our forebearers, but to learn from their mistakes. As the old addage goes, those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Fencing the law is not a dead practice; it's alive and well. We see lawlessness, we see filth, and we build extra safeguards to avoid it. It's much easier to confront sin with specific rules and regulations, rather than with a guiding principle, so when such specific rules are absent from scripture, we make our own for convenience's sake. A few cases in point:

Clothing: Those of us who recognize (rightly so) the vast problems with our culture's general mode of undress are anxious to do something about this problem. Unfortunately it is easier to fall into establishing certain rules regarding apparel and then inflict them on others than it is to teach and practice guiding principles of modesty and propriety with regards to clothing. It's much easier to tell a girl that her skirt is too short because it doesn't reach her knee then it is to explain to her exactly what a miniskirt does to her brothers in Christ. It's also easier, when aware of modern problems in blurring gender roles, to "solve" this problem by appointing skirts as the only godly apparel for women. Detailing reasons behind such a practice or explaining the problems with dressing with no gender distinction would take much more effort, so we establish specific, extra-Biblical rules on the matter. (For my own views on feminine apparel, please see this post I wrote on the subject last fall.)

Entertainment: Those of us who recognize (rightly so) the vast problems with our culture's general methods of entertainment are anxious to do something about this problem. Unfortunately it is easier to establish certain rules regarding entertainment and then inflict them on others, rather than teach and practice guiding principles of time management and mental purity. (Sensing a strong parallel to the previous paragraph?) It's easier to decide that all R rated movies are wrong, rather than evalate each movie based on Biblical principles; it's easier still to dismiss all TV and cinema as ungodly. It's much easier to tell someone that all video games are wrong because they are a waste of time, rather than provide that same someone with reasons that time is important and then provide alternatives for both entertainment and industry.

Education: Those of us who recognize (rightly so) the vast problems with our culture's general methods of education are anxious to do something about this problem. Unfortunately it is easier to establish certain rules regarding education and then inflict them on others, rather than teach and practice guiding principles of wise educational decisions and godly training. (Sensing a strong parallel to the previous two paragraphs?) It's easier to declare that homeschooling is the only method of education allowable to Christian parents, rather than explain legitimate, Biblical problems with the public school system and the majority of Christian schools. How much easier is it to condemn all college education as "wasteful," "sinful," and "prideful," rather than taking the time to explain many legitimate concerns with the typical college education?

The problem with all of the above examples is that in each one, a man-made rule is established and instigated with the assumed authority of God. Many views somewhere in the middle of the "condemned view" and the "godly view", that may indeed be legitimately Biblical, are automatically thrown out in exchange for a man-made definition of righteousness.

I could go on, expounding on courtship, sexual purity, birth control, music, age-segregated activities, debt, child-rearing strategies, etc. I could continue, but I'm sure I've painted a large enough picture :). I've brushed enough strokes on the subject to keep myself, and I'm sure each of you, reeling from conviction for years to come. Many of the scenarios I described above I am guilty of perpetuating. As I recoil from antinomianism I fall into legalism, over and over. It really is a slimy pit out of which God continues to pull me. I fall into a form of legalism; God delivers me. I fall right into another form; God delivers me. Et Cetera. Sanctification is definitely a continual process!

The Pharisees were using their traditions to make themselves good, to earn their righteous status. They were using their ceremonial traditions of cleansing, not so much to cleanse their feet and hands and bowls, as much as they were using their traditions to try to cleanse their consciences. They were trying to save themselves by good deeds.

The law of God is good and right; we are to delight in the law of God; we are to love the law of God; we are to cherish the law of God; we are to seek to follow the law of God. Legalism distorts the law of God, though. The law of God is given by God to "teach us our duty, and show our need of a Saviour" (courtesy of the Catechism for Young Children). It is a mirror into which we look to see our filth before God; the law shows us our sin. The law is not the solution to the problem; it is there to show us the problem! I love the way the pastor put it this morning: The law is a mirror to show us what's wrong. The law is not soap, so quit scrubbing yourself with it!

That is the problem with legalism; we treat the law like soap, using it to try to cleanse ourselves and make us right before God. It's a works-based salvation, destroying the significance of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and the continuing role of sanctification that the Holy Spirit is appointed to do in our lives.

The Pharisees were genuine legalists. How then were they also antinomians? Well, the Pharisees sure had a lot of laws down pat; they washed at the right times, they rested properly on the Sabbath, and they avoided unclean meat. But like we all do, they played pick-and-choose when it came to the law. I like this law here, hmmm, nope chuck that law, this one will do, let's add in this one right here just to make sure. . . Take a look at vv. 9-13 for an example.

Are we not all guilty of playing pick-and-choose with the law? We pick certain commands of God that we deem "really important" - usually ones that happen to come easily for us (hmmm. . . ), we "overlook" some other commands of God that "aren't as important" or are a "matter of personal conviction," and then to make ourselves feel really good we make up a few rules of our own to ensure our own righteousness. Then we top it all off by finding people who haven't decided on the exact same result in our "pick-and-choose" game, and set about condemning them in an attitude of self-righteousness.

Antinomianism ignores the second dimension of grace - sanctification, while legalism ignores the first dimension - justification by faith alone. The two dogmas, while seemingly unrelated, are quite intimately connected. May God deliver me - and all of us - from both of these traps.


Adrian C. Keister said...

I like your observation that the Pharisees were "closet" antinomians. Perhaps in some cases not so closet.

Indeed, if we really examine the law, we find that every single one of the Ten Commandments is a continuum from the extreme thing we're not allowed to do, to the extreme thing we are commanded to do. We are not to murder. That's the extreme bad thing we can't do. This commandment equally implies we are to promote life vigorously to its Christ-centered fullness. Jesus said that to hate is to commit murder; this is an example of the law condemning something that is not so extreme (in its consequences; of course all sin is sin). The problem with the Pharisees, is that they did not understand the law this way. If they had, they might have realized just how impossible it was to keep it. Then they might have abandoned at least their legalism. But the fact they didn't realize this about the law indicates their antinomianism. Incidentally, I don't think the Pharisees actually kept the Sabbath. Certain aspects they did keep; they certainly tried hard to avoid work on the Sabbath. The other aspects they didn't perhaps do so well. But the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. I like Joseph Pipa's book, The Lord's Day, for an explanation of the Sabbath.

I liked your R.C. Sproul, Jr. quote. I personally think that whenever you read "Pharisee," it's a good idea to read "conservative Presbyterian."

Have you ever read the Westminster Larger Catechism questions on the Ten Commandments? It's an absolute treasure-trove.

Law-grace-law-grace. A beautiful balance, though I perfectly agree a difficult one to get a good handle on. Praise be to God,without Whom we wouldn't even be able to begin!

In Christ.

Susan said...

I like your observation that the Pharisees were "closet" antinomians.

Well, the main points that led to that observation were brought forward by my pastor, though I don't believe he used the label antinomian. Yesterday's sermon really was exactly what I needed, and much of my post (as I stated in the original post) was drawn from it.

I like your observation on the Ten Commandments; it explains exactly why "fencing the law" doesn't work. It's so much more than a list of dont's! For years I saw sin only as "transgression of the law of God", failing to include "want of conformity." I agree that the Pharisees didn't keep the Sabbath, for the same reason that they did not keep the other laws. I am only beginning to understand the Lord's Day for what it is, but still have many questions. I've been recommended Pipa's book before, and hopefully one of these days I will get to read it :).

I am not very familiar with the Larger Catechism. I learned the Children's Catechism (based off the Shorter Catechism) in elementary school, and barely began the Shorter Catechism. I think catechetic instruction is so beneficial, and I wish I had learned the Shorter or Longer Catechisms with scripture proofs when I was younger and my brain was literally a sponge for memorizing. Incidentally I have a post on the catechism drafted right now, awaiting completion.

Adrian C. Keister said...

J. C. Ryle's book Holiness has many great quotes in it. One them is this: "It was a deep and thoughtful saying of holy Archbishop Usher, just before he died: 'Lord, forgive me all my sins, and specially my sins of omission.'"

Ah, the Lord's Day. One of Pipa's great points is that those who would be sabbatarians tend to emphasize the dont's of the Sabbath, and fail to realize all the do's. The Sabbath is really more about the do's than the dont's. We are not to work on Sunday precisely so that we can delight in the Lord.

Perhaps you've heard of the Puritan view of the Sabbath, versus the continental? The Puritan view is exemplified in the Larger Catechism:

Q. 117. How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified?

A. The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.

The continental view states that some recreations are lawful. Luther and Calvin both bowled on Sunday, and were proponents of this continental view. The problem with the covenantal view is Isaiah 58:13-4:

13 If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (ESV, of course)

I have not heard a continentalist satisfactorily explain these verses. So at the moment, I highly lean toward the Puritan view.

I, too, wish I had memorized the Larger catechism when I was young. Ah, well. My father did teach me much of what was in it anyway. I can't complain too much. :-) If I did, I might be breaking #5. I eagerly await your post on the catechism.

In Christ.

Susan said...

Until about a year ago, I really had never heard in great detail of the idea (at least in my memory) of keeping the Sabbath to delight in the Lord, so it's a relatively new idea to me, but now I can see it throughout scripture. I always saw the Sabbath is either passe or a list of things not to do. I admit that I am still working through my observance on the Lord's Day and have far to go in this area; Over the past several months I've been slowly altering how I spend the Lord's Day, but as I said, I have much to work on in this area. Thanks for the catechism quote and the book recommendation. It sounds like a good read.

David said...
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David said...

I'm looking forward to your upcoming piece on the catechism as well. =)

I grew up in a very Evangelical church in California (and that's not such a compliment), and missed anything even remotely similar to the Children's Catechism, which I would very much like my TFC's to learn. There is a great deal of depth that many of us 'Evangelicals' are not able to appreciate, simply due to our upbringing. And you know what.....*I know - how dare I say it*.....The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a great deal of depth to it as well - in a very good way. I would even go so far as to say that it is worth knowing as well.....a bit more difficult to memorize though. It is only within the last two years or so that I was even remotely exposed to such things (Prot. or Cath.). Vison Forum has been a good influence in that regard, I think =)

Susan said...


What does TFC stand for? I got the "future children" part, but the T?

Yes, catechetic instruction has so many benefits. My mom worked with us on the Children's Catechism in conjunction with Sunday school. My teacher for 3 years in elementary school was the founder of Children's Ministry International (linked on my sidebar), which produces catechism-based Bible lesson materials.

I hadn't seriously considered the Catholic catechism :). I'd have to take a look at it, and choose portions carefully, but I don't doubt that it has many truths to digest.

David said...

(As yet "theoretical" =)

Susan said...

Ah! I was stuck on "hypothetical future children", but of course that didn't match TFC. . .

zan said...

The concervative Catholics are really knowledgable about a lot of things. I have just recently found this out. There are all sorts of Catholics just like there are all sorts of Protestants. I have been watching EWTN quite a bit to figure out what they are all about. It is a concervative catholic TV channel. Sad to say, I get more from it than the 700 Club.