One thing that unbelievers cannot explain away so easily is the serendipitous way in which God brings things to our attention. Believers call this being convicted by the Holy Spirit at opportune times. Unbelievers pay little attention to it. I’ve tried to explain away such things myself as being mere coincidence, happenstance, or circumstantial incidents, but they seem to pop up at the most necessary times to further what I have been thinking about all week. Example? Yesterday, I wrote about Natural and Supernatural Religion, not something I think about every day, but spurred by Murry’s article, I thought I’d give it a whirl and work out some thoughts on “paper.” Today, I came across this article. Much like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, my head did one of those 180s, HUHHHH???? Am I getting those messages to pay attention again? I used to all the time, but have not paid so close attention lately.
After reading this sermon, two principles struck me:
(1.) Natural inclinations never change, but by some superior virtue.
(2.) Nothing can act beyond its own principle and nature.
God, being God, necessarily works AGAINST nature in order to be God. Does this make sense at all? The bible clearly says:
Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
If God is so displeased with all things natural, then why did He create it? This is what’s logically confusing about the whole idea of sin and our supposed responsibility for it. If we are entirely creatures of nature, then we cannot possibly be responsible for sin because God created all of nature, including the sin inclination. “Nothing can act beyond its own principle and nature.” God is responsible for sin and the elimination of it, not human beings. Taking the bible literally requires this interpretation. You cannot make humans responsible for what God creates and then send them to hell for it. You cannot say it’s entirely free will because there is always the threat of hell behind God’s supposed desire that we come to him of our own free will. That’s like telling a child, I want you to love me because you want to, but remember, if you don’t you’ll die a horrible death. How absurd. Either God’s entirely responsible or He’s not responsible at all.
Therefore, the remedy for sin in the world must be entirely God’s remedy or no remedy at all. None of our own effort can effect a remedy. “Bad” nature “cannot change, but by superior virtue.” The superior virtue is Jesus, God’s remedy. Now this all sounds pretty convoluted. But, for once, the “Grace, plus nothing” doctrine makes sense to me. I then read this on the Internet Monk’s website:
It appears to me that the Bible is telling us a pretty big-time truth when it says in John 1:17 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” It’s not that there isn’t grace all over the older testament, or that there isn’t law in the new. It’s that the point of the whole exercise is grace. Grace, the final and greatest truth, came through Jesus. The truth of God in the law isn’t the whole Gospel, not in the old or the new. Not in Deuteronomy. Not in James or anywhere else. The Final Word speaks the truth that saves: Salvation by grace through faith totally apart from the works of the law.
The problem for the sweaty-handed worriers is this: Certain passages, or even books, in the New Testament that stress and teach obedience. This leads some Christians to construct something like the “Law-Grace-Law” paradigm pointed out by Rod Rosenblatt, Jerry Bridges and others. I might change that a bit, to something more like “Law-Grace-Legalism,” with legalism being the necessity of some kind of obedience or law-keeping to prove that grace is really there. Grace has to be proven, and it’s evangelical law-keeping that does the job. At least for those who want to keep score.
This can turn nasty, with dress and behavior codes enforced by beady-eyed elders, or it can be pretty vague and amorphous, with no more official manifestations than too many sermons on obedience and morality, and too few on the Gospel of Grace. But the point is this: These New Testament passages on obedience have to stand in line behind the Gospel of Grace. Whatever they mean–and I’m all for a healthy debate on that subject–they can’t dilute or demean the explosive news that God is saving sinners, and renewing all of creation, completely in the person and work of Jesus. Wherever my works eventually fit in, get that straight, and keep it at the top of your list.
Christians at their worst–and I know some, because I am one–are constantly making excuses and explanations for grace, as if stories like the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the conversion of Saul could cause a lot of trouble if not balanced out with various lists of commandments and duties. When obedience is paraded around like the final point of the Bible–and in many churches of diverse persuasions, that is EXACTLY what happens–we’ve lost our way badly. Living out some evangelical version of what it means to be “good Christians,” we wind up not being floored by sovereign grace, and therefore, not resembling people who are “Jesus people” at all.
Sovereign grace; the idea that God is in control and we are not. The idea that we are only here to receive and accept, not take and fight. Grace is nothing if not supernatural. And, since it is so above nature, we want to earn the right to live when God has already granted that to us and remedied the problems we make of this life. Gratis. Free. No strings attached. Don’t you just hate that? But it’s true, which is why we can’t believe it and won’t accept it.
This is why hell is such an insidious and unbiblical doctrine. Can you imagine WANTING to worship a God who designed such a place? Imagine the “choice” of “Believe in Me.” OR “Go to Hell.” What kind of choice is that? None at all and there is no free will involved in either choice. Believers also want it both ways. They want us to love God because we should WANT to and because, they claim, we have free will, but they will just as easily and gleefully threaten hell if we don’t choose to believe what they believe. Doesn’t sound very loving or like much of a choice, does it? Precisely. Because it is a false choice. There’s something so prurient in wanting God to damn people for all eternity. What merciless and depraved thinking.
If God, in His infinite mercy, provided a remedy for sin, then the burden is no longer upon us to remedy what can’t be remedied. We no longer have to make such an insidious choice. If indeed we are so sinful that nature cannot correct itself without supernatural means, then the supernatural means are entirely in God’s hands and I need do absolutely nothing but rest.
Hebrews 4:9-10 “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”