A hymn by Joseph Hart.
What makes mistaken men afraid
Of sovereign grace to preach?
The reason is (if truth be said)
Because they are so rich.
Why so offensive in their eyes
Doth God’s election seem?
Because they think themselves so wise
That they have chosen Him.
Of perseverance why so loth
Are some to speak or hear?
Because, as masters over sloth
They vow to persevere.
Whence is imputed righteousness
A point so little known?
Because men think they all possess
Some righteousness their own.
Not so the needy helpless soul
Prefers his humble prayer
He looks to Him that works the whole
And seeks his treasure there.
His language is, “Let me, my God
On sovereign grace rely
And own ’tis free, because bestowed
On one so vile as I.
“Election! ’tis a word divine
For, Lord, I plainly see
Had not Thy choice preceeded mine
I ne’er had chosen Thee.
“For perseverance, strength I’ve none
But would, on this depend:
That Jesus, having loved His own
He loved them to the end.
“Empty and bare, I come to Thee
For righteousness divine
Oh, may Thy matchless merits be
By imputation, mine!”
Thus differ these; yet hoping each
To make salvation sure
Now most men would approve the rich,
But Christ has blessed the poor.
It never ceases to amaze me when someone who was dead long before my grandparents were ever born can identify the very problem of our churches today. Christ’s imputation of righteousness is one of the most neglected doctrines in many churches today, including that of my own. I do not say this to impune anyone’s motives on leadership; I rather point it out to say that I see the effects of this first hand.
What effects? The rat-wheel of good works, for one. “You’re a Christian now…get to work! Serve! Give! You’re supposed to be getting better and better every day! Why do you want to sin??”
Really? Come on. Is that the biblical gospel? I’d say absolutely not. The good news is not simply that Christ died for my sins, but that in my unity with Him I am granted His perfect righteousness like a robe. It’s a truth clearly sung on Sunday mornings when we sing, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” If this is what we sing, it ought to be what we believe, Church. (I’m not simply addressing my church…I’m addressing the Church Universal.)
If we do not believe this…if this doctrine is just an invention of man to promote sin in the believer’s life…then let’s strip “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” out of our hymnals.
But if imputed righteousness IS our only hope…righteousness which is alien to us…completely outside of us…why do we not proclaim this truth from our preaching? Our ministry? Our sharing of the Gospel?
Repentance and the forgiveness of sins, friends, is the only thing we offer the world. Preach it loud and long.
“You’re a Christian now…get to work! Serve! Give! You’re supposed to be getting better and better every day! Why do you want to sin??”–Doesn’t this sound a bit like some things that the apostles were teaching in the early church? I definitely agree the imputed righteousness of Christ is under-preached in many cases, but repentance is not much to be taught if you dont know what your repenting towards. The whole of scripture is the vehicle by which we know God and His principles through the Holy Spirit, including the law. If we rest on the righteousness of Christ, shouldn’t we pursue a greater understanding of what that righteousness consisted of? And if we genuinely acknowledge the righteousness of Jesus as being righteous, wouldnt we seek to align our lives with it and challenge our brothers to the same?
I think I kind of get what your saying, it just almost kind of sounds like you’re asserting no concern whatsoever for the content of our lives as believers (Im sure you’re not, it just sounds like it from what Im reading here). Maybe clarify a bit?
@Ryan: “Doesn’t this sound a bit like some things that the apostles were teaching in the early church?”
No, it does not.Moral exhortation came ONLY following a clear proclamation of the Gospel, something which many evangelical sermons assume. A gospel assumed, I’d argue, is a gospel denied. The sort of preaching I’m referring to comes to us from Wesleyan perfectionism where after someone is ‘evangelized,’ they are given over to preaching which seeks to motivate them unto holiness. This is not the biblical model and serves only to create self-righteous men (in the generic sense of the word) who entertain delusions of having pulled off the Christian life, or who are honest about the state of their failure to keep God’s commands and who quietly (or otherwise) despair.
As for the content of our lives, preaching the Law to convict of sin, offering the free grace of the Gospel apart from any changed life at all, in essence preaches faith into existence in the hearts of the believers in the sermon’s hearing. The Word, just as in the days of old when the world began, creates once again ex nihilo, creating faith where there was none before. This facilitates our being perfected by the Spirit per Galatians 3:1-5.
I get what you’re saying here and Im totally in agreement that any exhortation towards holy living must be in a gospel context and that this is sorely lacking in many, many pulpits. I guess what I am saying is that I am getting a bit of a baby out with the bathwater kind of vibe here. The fact of the matter is that the apostles, preached the simple gospel in evangelism and (inclusively) expanded that to call believers to higher standards in their living. The challenge to the church should not be to preach nothing but the gospel, but rather to preach nothing but all of scripture with the gospel as the context. 2 Peter 1 is a perfect example of what I am saying. Peter teaches: based on the power of God in the gospel, “make every effort” to live this way. See where Im coming from?
@Ryan: I think I get where you’re coming from. I would agree that that we should preach all of scripture with the gospel as context. But the way this is actually happening in many churches is…well…it isn’t happening that way at all! I do have a concern about your phrase “call believers to higher standards in their living.” I don’t believe that sanctification is brought about by calling believers to higher standards, but rather by preaching that nude faith in Christ saves, wholly. This means that the works (Ephesians 2:10) flow from a life of gratitude, not a steady diet of moral exhortation from the pulpit. If the works flow from a life of gratitude and repentance and forgiveness of sins is consistently proclaimed, then the sheep will not be affected (on their end) by the emotional ups and downs that come from a moral exhortation-style of preaching. That style of preaching creates navel gazers…”I wonder if I love Jesus enough this 7 seconds,” or “I can affect my relationship with Christ if I sin this way, or draw closer to God by reading my Bible.”
The truth of the matter is that our standing before God doesn’t have anything to do with our work at all. Believers who are more sanctified are not standing closer to the mercy seat than anyone else. Now, if fruit in keeping with repentance is not present, one should exhort that brother to repent. If that brother does so in faith, then he is a true believer. There may be consequences for his sin, but Christ has paid the debt he owed. This sort of freedom from a “now I’m in and now I need to cultivate this relationship” is ridiculous. Christ has cultivated the relationship…I simply receive. Will that reconciled relationship cause behavior change? Perhaps…we’re to live as children of light, not in the former passions in which we once lived! But is our behavior the foundation or even the structure of that relationship? I’d argue it is not.
But I do agree with you…1 Peter 1 illustrates the sort of gospel exhortation I’m proposing very well. The whole chapter is one unified thought…and I’d go so far as to say that if a pastor diced up 1:3-12 from 1:13-25, he would do severe violence to the text…and it is this sort of violence that I’m seeking to speak against. Moral imperatives preached apart from the gospel only amount to more Law. The Gospel fulfills what the Law demands…and preaching that truth causes obedience from faith and gratitude.
Josh Goeke said:
What you’re saying about humanity’s total depravity and God’s unconditional grace is so very true, and if anyone is able to “choose” God it could only be because God had graciously empowered that person to make such a choice. I think that sometimes the “closer” I get to God the more I understand how utterly sinful I am, and how much I do not deserve the grace given in Jesus’ sacrifice.
Also, what you’re saying about repentance and the forgiveness of sins being the only thing we offer–that is right on. I often find myself tempted to enter into a religious competition of do-gooding with representatives from faiths not Christian, or worse yet with brothers and sisters from a church down the street. The power of the Gospel is not in our ability to live moral live, but in God’s transforming and powerful love for the addict, the weak loser, the broken sinner. The point is that we DON’T live good lives, and God chooses to love us and mysteriously transform us despite those weaknesses.
I think another temptation to be justified in a means other than the cross, however, and this can be a tricky one, is to be justified by the soundness of our doctrine. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use all of our minds to understand as much of God as we can, learning as much of the truth as possible–I believe in believing true things–but I grow concerned whenever I hear the Reformation language so highly praised as it is in the hymn above because I have to wonder if the criminal on the cross next to Jesus had such a deep understanding of his “imputed righteousness.” When we make the finer points of what it means for us to be saved by God’s grace “indisputable” I have to wonder if we are really preaching the Gospel of grace or if we are preaching the “gospel” of our own understanding about said grace. I think Calvin would weep to see the way many brothers have practiced “Sola Institutes of the Christian Religion” to the detriment of Sola Scriptura. When I read the relevant passages that are often cited in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, I don’t really see Paul or Jesus addressing the question that the debate is trying to answer. We read that debate into Scripture, and the conclusions we draw can be dangerously divisive and distracting from the Gospel–which does not and should not take a Seminary degree to articulate. The point is that Jesus is the way to the father and no one comes any way but through him. The faith that we have doesn’t come from ourselves so we can’t boast–and I’ll argue that “we can’t boast” is the controlling phrase for that paragraph–but is the gift of God so that we could do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. How that exactly works out in the mystery of human will and God’s will, I think Scripture is gloriously more vague than we might want it to be, and relying on God’s grace rather than our understanding of that grace is important when putting on the helmet of salvation.
Bad theology is certainly part of our broken human condition, one that should be avoided, but I would love to see an empirical study that could link soundness of doctrine concerning soteriology to righteous living and spiritual health. Beyond the very basic understanding of “Jesus is Lord,” I would wager that such a correlation would be hard to prove.
All that to say, imputed righteousness IS our only hope. 🙂
@Josh: “I think another temptation to be justified in a means other than the cross, however, and this can be a tricky one, is to be justified by the soundness of our doctrine.” I’d agree that is certainly a temptation in the ditch on the side of the road which the Christian walks. On the other side of the road, I see imprecision which leads to the inclusion of doctrine which is sub-biblical at best, serious error in many instances, and heretical at worst.
Here’s the issue at the helm: sanctification cannot me measured as you suggest, Josh. I know that Rick Warren disagrees with that statement, as he has exhorted the pastors he’s trained to measure sanctification via obedience to God’s commands by their congregants…but Scripture simply doesn’t allow for that sort of measurement on our part.
Many folks who are Calvinists walk around with a chip on their shoulder, treating Reformed theology as a source of pride. What I’m seeking to do is to point to it as a summation of biblical teaching on the role of man and God in salvation. The only thing according to Scripture (and summed up by Luther) which I bring to my salvation is my sin. God causes all of the rest of it, from my justification to my glorification…and that’s not Calvin, that’s Paul in Romans 8. This is a glorious and humbling truth, because if it is as Paul says it is, then your claim that there is no boasting is all the more magnified in our sight. So, Amen, brother. 🙂
I think were on the same page now. Ill stop harassing.
I don’t think it’s harassing at all. 🙂
Josh Goeke said:
“sanctification cannot me measured as you suggest, Josh. I know that Rick Warren disagrees with that statement, as he has exhorted the pastors he’s trained to measure sanctification via obedience to God’s commands by their congregants…but Scripture simply doesn’t allow for that sort of measurement on our part.”
God alone has the knowledge and the authority to judge, and you are right that for me or you to say “this ones ok, that one’s not; this one’s a success story, that one’s failing” is a little bit cheeky before the Judge of the universe, but if we’re not measuring anything, why critique a brother’s theology, or his actions for that matter? 🙂 Should we sin more that grace should abound? 🙂
A serious question, one that I don’t know that I have an answer to:
What’s the difference between proud and boastful measuring of another’s walk and obedient leadership/truth-telling?
As a leader you surely make measurements among those you’re leading, and they want you to, they want you to lead them to Jesus. What do you measure?
@Josh: You actually raise great questions. I think we must judge a brother’s theology since protection of the doctrine of the church is emphasized by Paul. I think that judging must be done in humility and reverence for the other person, prayerfully.
In terms of the other question…what do we measure as spiritual leaders…DO we measure as spiritual leaders…I’m really wrestling with that right now. I have no answer at all and am looking forward to a few years of seminary to help me get that straightened out…Lord willing, that process will begin this fall for me.
Josh Goeke said:
That is great news. I think it’s wonderful that you’re pursuing that while being in active leadership in a church. Doing seminary divorced from the experience of actually leading seems like a very dangerous endeavor to me, one that produces the kind of pride we discussed above, at least it would be that way if I were to engage in such an activity. 🙂 I hope and pray that can begin in the fall for you! That knowledge warms my heart with gladness for you my friend and brother.
Wow, that was gushy. I mean… “cool, man.”