Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The New Legalism

"I love you, Jesus!  But watch out for Peter.
I believe he will deny you tonight.
I believe he is not truly saved."  (Mwah!)

The following post originally appeared as a Facebook note on my personal Facebook page on May 16, 2011.  It was inspired by an expository sermon series I am preaching through The Gospel According to Mark.  In Mark 3:19 we are introduced to Judas Iscariot along with the description, "who also betrayed Him."  10 months later, we have arrived at Chapter 14 and the historical record of the betrayal.  My preparation for this sermon, "Counterfeits" reminded me of this little article. 

For the record, I am convinced that most people who live like Lot are in fact "as lost as a ball in high weeds."  This article simply says, it is not our place to individually judge and make declarations about their salvation.  Having reread this piece, I continue to stand firmly by its contents and its cautions.

Last night's closing point was quite simple.  Judas was lost. Lot was saved.  And we are terrible judges.

While preaching on the appointment of the 12 apostles from Mark 3, I noted that Judas was always listed last in every listing of the apostles.  And each of the synoptics lists him as the betrayer or a traitor.  Luke would have also listed him as such in Acts except that fact is borne out in Luke's narrative and is unnecessary in Acts 1.

Judas was a "model disciple" as far as anyone knew except Jesus.  We know of course he was a fraud from the beginning.  He kept his hand in the apostolic cookie jar and was skimming money off the top...cooking the books...embezzling from the Kingdom's coffers.  In the upper room when Jesus said, "One of you will betray Me" the disciples responded with a chorus of "Is it I?"  No one said, "I've been trying to tell you all that Judas was a counterfeit!"  No one said that because no one believed it.  There was no known, outward, manifest reason to think he was anything other than a devoted Christ-follower.

Contrast this story with the Old Testament character named Lot.  Read his account in Genesis 13-19.  It is a sad and sordid tale.

Disrespectful to Uncle Abram, Lot had an eye for the things of the world.  We find him slouching toward Sodom and ultimately living in and loving this sin-sick city.  His affections for this world and the culture of Sodom are infamous.  He became a leader in the Sodomite government.  He offered two of his virgin daughters to a sexually perverted mob.  Without the grip of grace taking him by the arm, Lot would perhaps have stayed in Sodom as the fire fell.

Finally committed to leave Sodom ahead of the judgment, Lot couldn’t convince his own sons-in-law of the coming wrath of God.  He’d lived a life without credibility before them.  When he told them that the judgment of God was coming they laughed in his face.  After all…who was he to talk to them about God?  They had seen his life.  They knew his ways.  “Judgment of God, Shmudgment of God” they might have said.

Lot escaped from Sodom with nothing but his daughters.  His wife…well, that’s a salty little story of its own.  But Lot had raised those two girls to think like pagans.  So they took advantage of their father’s drunkenness and committed fornication with their inebriated father at Zoar.  Talk about as low as you can get?  Lot fathered his own grandchildren on a drunken bed of incest.

That’s why the inspired New Testament commentary on his life is staggering.

2 Peter 2:7-8 – “And God delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.”

Wow!  Lot was saved the whole time.  The Holy Spirit through Simon Peter says he was a “just” and a “righteous man.”  And his justification and imputed righteousness did not come after his encounter in Sodom and Zoar.  He was saved while all this was taking place in his life.

And my point in last night’s sermon was this: Many in our day would have deemed Lot to be a lost church member at best.  Perhaps a hard-hearted apostate.  And we would have declared Judas to be a righteous and Godly man.  And we would have been wrong on both counts.

This kind of preaching and Scriptural observation is not promoting licentiousness or antinomianism.  It is not condoning Lot's behavior in Sodom.  It is not saying that the Christian experience is separate from yielding to the Lordship of Christ.  It is intended to address the brand of judgmentalism prevalent in many corners of the Kingdom.

Some, in a well-intentioned attempt to promote Lordship Salvation push this Biblical truth to an erroneous application.  Namely, “If you don’t do all the things I am doing and acting like I think a believer should act then you must not be saved.  You must be a victim of easy-believism and have clearly embraced a false gospel.”  And that may be true.  In fact, it may be frequently true. Indeed, I might conjecture it is the truth more often than not.  But according to the Bible, it is not necessarily true.

Peter’s second epistle tells us clearly that Lot was saved and lived in Sodom with a vexed soul.  Every night was a sleepless night for Brother Lot as he wrestled with his convicted conscience before God.  We don’t know whether or not Judas slept like a baby.  But Lot did not.

The idea that “He’s not persevering so he must not be saved” is counter to Scripture and may be evidence of spiritual pride.  This mindset is right at home with the Pharisee who prayed “God I thank you that I am not like other people.”  Meanwhile, the humble and contrite publican went home justified (Luke 18).

Strangely, a lot of the people I know who have this attitude believe in the sin unto death (1 John 5:16).  Here's the Biblical principle that a believer can be so far away from God in in his practice that God takes his life prematurely as the ultimate form of discipline.  I believe this is a Scriptural truth.  But it cannot be squared with the belief that a person who is not walking in obedience must be lost.  If they were not saved, they would not be candidates for the chastening that John describes.  It is reserved for disobedient children.

Making declarations about a professing Christian’s salvation is reserved for God alone.  Clearly we can make observations about their fidelity to Christ and to His church.  Certainly we can say, "If he is saved he sure isn't living like it." Or, "If he is saved there certainly is no fruit.  He is living in open and unrepentant sin!"  But entering decrees about their salvation is God’s business.

The only exception that even comes close is when a local church has gone through the painful process of church discipline and acts on the authority of Christ to treat the unrepentant member as an unbeliever.  Even then, the church is not authorized by Christ to declare the member to be an unbeliever but rather to treat them as an unbeliever.

Bottom line: A great deal of what is portraying itself as “defending the gospel” is nothing more than old-fashioned spiritual arrogance and Pharisaical legalism hiding beneath a new-fangled theological cloak.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Responses to Truth

I have observed in my life and ministry that there are basically four responses to the declaration of truth (in the life of a believer).

Response #1 is affirmation.  This happens when the truth is declared (a Biblically-based sermon, a Christian song, a gospel-centered testimony, etc) regarding an area of my life in which I am walking in obedience.  When my heart is in tune with God on that subject, my spirit immediately begins to resonate like a stringed instrument resonates with "sympathetic vibrations" when a tuning fork is struck.  In such cases, the Scriptural proclamation causes my soul (and sometimes my mouth) to cry out "Amen!"  It serves as a confirmation of a previously-held and currently-practiced truth.

Response #2 is conviction.  This happens when truth is declared regarding an area of present disobedience in my life.  When I hear it, I immediately recognize it as truth and I immediately recognize the rebuking and correcting power of God's Word.  I don't argue with it.  I don't get upset with the messenger.  I just recognize that God is lovingly chastening me.  His loving discipline causes my soul to cry out, "Oh me."  Sometimes when people actually say, "amen" they really mean "oh me."  It's not that they have arrived at full obedience in that area of life but they are able to admit, "Amen.  That's right.  So be it."

Response #3 is hesitation.  This happens when truth is declared regarding an area of disobedience but I do not immediately recognize its truthfulness.  Desiring to continue in my present practice, I initially resist the work of God.  The general response of my heart in those moments is, "Either he is right and I am wrong...or I am right and he is wrong...and since I cannot be wrong...the messenger is."  Clearly the messenger is ill-informed on the subject.  Like a broken watch, he may occasionally be right.  But on this matter he is unquestionably in error.

In such situations I tend to seek out affirmation from other believers.  Let's face it.  We all do it.  We may send a text or an email.  We may pick up our cell phone and call a friend...usually someone that we already know will agree with us.  And we ask them, "What did you think about that sermon?"  Or we may say, "Were you listening to (insert favorite radio program) today?  Did you agree with what he said about (insert offensive statement)?"

I call this response hesitation because the resistance does not last long.  After wrestling with the aggravation, and perhaps the anger, we have what I call a "deer-stand moment."  I give such epiphanies that name because they happen to me very often in quiet moments where my heart is still and quiet.  In those moments, sometimes when I am "minding my own business," the Holy Spirit gently says, "You know he was right."

Part of me wants to say, "I hate it when that happens."  But the truth is, "I love it when that happens."  I wish it didn't have to happen as often as it does in my life, but when it does, I love it.  Or as the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, "Despise not the chastening of the Lord."

At its core, this initial response of hesitation is caused by pride and stubbornness.  Pride makes me think I could not possibly be wrong.  Stubbornness keeps me there...until the stubborn love of the Lord wins out.

Response #4 is rejection.  This is perhaps merely an extended form of #3 because in the end, the Lord will win.  Although in some cases, He may have to take a believer home to glory to accomplish their sanctification and obedience.  He is committed to that, you know.

This response occurs when the truth declared hits so close to home that we refuse to even consider the possibility that we may be in error.  With a stiff neck we reject the truth.  In my life, it happens sometimes when it involves a family member or close friend.  My child could not be wrong.  My wife could not be wrong.  My grandmother could not have taught me a lie.

But most often, it happens when it is directed toward me.  Sweet little me.  God-loving me.  Why if what the messenger said is true, that means I would be wrong!  And we all know that could not be.  Why, the messenger is no better than me!  His kids are no better than mine!  His life no holier than mine!  I am just as good as he is.

"...but they measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves, they are not wise."  (2 Corinthians 10:12b)

It would be presumptuous and prideful to think that I live in the world of affirmation.  No, when I hear truth declared, it has a greater tendency to bring conviction, because there are far more areas of life in which I have NOT arrived than those in which I have been brought to full submission.  But I pray when my response is hesitation that the resistance will not be long-lasting.  Because for a believer, rejection of truth is a tough place to live.