Adrian Warnock has invited me to listen to his sermon of last Sunday, "Free because of Jesus"
. The sermon is based on Romans, chapter 8
8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you  free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,  he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Adrian placed repeated emphasis on the phrase "no condemnation". By accepting Jesus, Adrian declared, one becomes free of any condemnation due to sin. There is no judgment for one in Christ, no weighing of a life's works, good or bad. In Jesus, Adrian repeated, one is not under the Law. The Law makes us sin. In Jesus all laws are waived.
Adrian made other observations on the implications of Romans 8. The idea that we should be judged on our merits, on our life's record of good deeds weighed against our sins is totally discounted. If this were to be the case, noone would be saved, for noone is righteous to God. Adrian used the phrase "if you break one Commandment, you break them all". Apparently God has a zero tolerance policy where sin is concerned. One strike and you're out. It is the proverbial "no win" situation. Except, that is, if you accept Christ, then it becomes a no lose situation.
To me this sounds like the proverbial "gift horse", the one that you shouldn't look in the mouth. Yet I can't help but look it in the mouth, because of that other proverb about gifts: "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is". I would say that this guilt-free promise of salvation is the quintessential "too good to be true" idea. Yet who am I to pooh-pooh such an offer. This isn't a TV ad, it is supposedly coming from God himself. What do I have to lose, right?
I believe that there are good reasons for resisting this kind of spriritual "get out of judgment free" card. For one, it goes against our most basic instincts of morality, of right and wrong. This idea that to commit one sin is to commit all sins makes a mockery of the very notion of right and wrong. It destroys any sense of proportionality, of balance. When a white lie is condemned as heavily as rape and murder, then morality serves no useful purpose to society. I find it hard to see how a person can keep two opposing viewpoints of morality side by side in his mind, one that applies at the human level, and another at the cosmic level. What implications does that hold for how a person will view the mores of the society in which he lives? Doesn't it encourage him to look at himself as one who is above Earthly morality, like Nietzche's Superman? If not, why not?
At one point Adrian repeats the same question that I asked him about the substitutionary atonement in my post last week: "How does that make sense? It is the opposite of what makes sense.", and agrees that it does not make sense. But there it is written in Romans 8, and so we must believe. But I see a big problem in believing in a proposition that does not make sense to oneself. To explain, I'll use a metaphor to something I and many other people are familiar with. Buying stocks. I joined the stock buying craze along with millions of others during the height of the Internet bubble mania in 1999. I foolishly put money into tech stocks that I did not understand because it seemed like everything related to the internet would just continue to grow for years to come. The problem occured when the first major downturn in my stock came. Not knowing what the company represented by my stock was really worth, I had no basis on which to judge whether my stock was at risk to long term declines. I had no basis because I bought into something that I didn't understand.
Now wiser, if a little poorer, I buy stocks based on what I know about them. I understand what they are worth, and I will not be scared out of a position by the panicky selling of speculators. The same should be true when adopting a worldview, or philosophy about the world. Our worldviews are the framework within which we construct our ideas about what is meaningful in life. We are all tested in life, and our commitments to meaning are called into question by crises and setbacks. The worst thing that can befall you during a period of tribulation is to lose faith in your worldview. It would be like the bottom of a market falling out, as your landmarks of meaning are sold in the panic. If you understand what you believe, if it makes sense to you at a deep level, it is unlikely that you'll be shaken out of it when crisis hits.
Another problem that I have with this no guilt, no condemnation outlook on life is that it is unnatural. Feeling guilty is a natural part of living. It is a healthy part of living. It is a necessary part of living. Not unfocused, chronic, pathological guilt. But guilt from the realization that we aren't always as good as we should be. A philosophy that promises to wipe away guilt will only set expectations too high. In that regard it has much in common with the "self esteem" movement. It is very easy to get carried away with the good news of being pardoned for all your sins, past, present and future. It is very tempting. Especially when you are exhorted on by someone as passionate and charismatic as Adrian. Yet guilt will return, and when it does it will be double. Guilt for your imperfections, and guilt for feeling guilty in the face of God's pardon.
One of Woody Allen's lesser known movies was "Broadway Danny Rose"
, about a small-time New York comic turned small-time agent. He has a heart of gold, but one day he inadvertently causes one of his acquaintances to be mistaken for another man who is secretly seeing a mobster's girlfriend. The man is badly beaten and ends up in the hospital for a long time. Danny feels terrible guilt and remorse for what he has done, and does what he can for the poor man. He confesses his guilt to the mobster's girlfriend, played by Mia Farrow, who tells him to forget about it and not feel so guilty. Things happen. Danny refuses to take this advice. The least he can do for his friend is to feel the guilt for what he has done.
Adrian has also challenged me to comment on whether I think the Bible supports C J Mahaney's original quote. This is a difficult question, because I'd have to say "yes" and "no". The Bible says many, many things, and depending on how you mine it for quotes it can support contradictory positions on almost any theological question. Abraham Lincoln himself lamented this reality when he noted that both the anti-slavery North and the pro-slavery South claimed that God was on their side. But as Lincoln noted "God cannot be both for and against the same thing".
But there certainly is plenty of support for C J's position. There is also support for Peter Kirk's position. My position on the matter is not based on Biblical exegesis.
But if I were to argue against Adrian's position above, derived from Romans 8, that only a turn to Christ in the spirit will bring salvation, from a Biblical standpoint, I would invoke Matthew 31-46:
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.'
41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' 45Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
If good works held no influence on salvation, then this passage makes no sense. Clearly Jesus is telling his followers here to look for him "in the flesh", not in the spirit. Those of his followers who looked to him but not to the opportunities to help their fellow man, even if it means taking their eyes off of him, will not be saved. Jesus is not making a distinction between the spirit and the flesh, but is saying that the two are one.
One other statement from Adrian's sermon that caught my attention was, to paraphrase, that "small errors in understanding the Gospel lead to big problems in your life". I'm not sure exactly how to interpret this, but this makes sense to me in reference to the incredible level to which I've seen evangelicals, among other Christians, look to exploit seemingly small details in interpretation of Scriptures into make or break theological doctrines. How else to explain the seemingly endless variety of theological doctrines and positions that I've noticed browsing the various religious blogs, with each proclaiming to represent the clear, unambiguous truth as laid out in the Gospel? Whatever it might be, it is certainly not clear. In my post that started this whole discussion
with Adrian, I also pointed to a discussion thread on Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost blog, where Joe and Tim Challies were dabating whether to even consider Andrew Sullivan a Christian. Challies responded to Joe Carter in the negative, and a detailed set of criteria which one should meet in order to be considered a Christian. Carter replied, surprisingly, that by Challies' criteria he himself could not call himself a Christian. For a missionary faith, Christianity can certainly seem a very exclusive community. How do you really know when you're 'in'? Even when you think you're in, you might not be. Perhaps this explains the popularity of the doctrine-lite Post-Denominational
But to reiterate the most striking point to me, it has to be this notion that the Law no longer applies. This is an idea that I never encountered in all my days as a Catholic. Here in the US many conservative Christian groups are trying to place the Ten Commandments in public venues such as courtrooms and schools. It thoroughly confuses me to hear from other Christians that the Commandments are no longer in force, and that Christianity is truly about the realization that obeying the Commandments is a futile exercise. We talk about the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West, as a single heritage developed through time. Yet it seems by this definition that Christianity is not a further development of Judaism, but the total antithesis of Judaism. It is the anti-Judaism. I've never looked at Christianity in that way.
Sorry that I only found grounds for disagreement, Adrian. I hope this clarifies some of my own thinking.