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.