Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Three Major Approaches to Change Among Evangelicals According to How Romans 8:2 is Interpreted.

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 22, 2016

Originally published November 22, 2015

” ‘I didn’t do it! Jesus did it through me!’ See how this works? You did it, but ONLY because it…was/is ‘God’s will.’ Let’s be honest; we talk like this all the time, and it is exactly why ’10 percent of the people do 90 percent of the work.’ But more importantly, it’s their gospel.  Their sanctification paradigm defines their definition of the new birth.”

ppt-jpeg4For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Key to our discussion is how one interprets the word “law.” In the first model of change, “law” is a realm…like, “law of gravity.” I once heard the well-known evangelical Paul David Tripp say the following about Christians: we can’t overcome sin anymore than we can overcome hitting the ground by jumping out of a second story window (paraphrase). Now, Tripp said this at a major Southern Baptist seminary chapel session to the echoes of many “amen”s. This is by no means fringe stuff; in fact, the first model here is the most common.

Before we go further, let me emphasize the gravity of this issue, pun intended. Please, if you forget everything else, don’t forget this: a person’s view of Christian change is indicative of their gospel. That’s what the parable of the talents is about. We tend to think that justification and sanctification are separate, and indeed they are; yet, a person’s view of sanctification reveals their gospel.

So, in this first model, what is the salvation construct or the definition of the new birth? The new birth is defined by a mere ability to “see the kingdom.” The new birth is mere perception. The “Christian” now has the ability to see the Spirit realm and the sin realm. As the so-called saints see both realms in a greater and greater way, they experience an increasing level of joy. This is their definition of new birth which takes place many times over the course of their lives. The more they see their own sin and God’s holiness, the more gratitude they have for their original salvation. Joy, regardless of what is going on in the realms, is the goal. You can see how this looks and sounds spiritual.

But what changes? Only your ability to see, leading to a deeper and deeper joy. Physical change that is experienced is not really being done by you. How does that work? Let me share how this supposedly works according to say, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, et al. The sin realm is passive and the Spirit realm is active. Let’s consider the physical realm, or sin realm. Let’s consider a 2x4x8 piece of lumber. You can see it, feel it, smell it, and if you would like, taste it as well. No problem here, the 2×4 is real. But, it is passive; that 2×4 sits there and does nothing until somebody picks it up. But you say: “Paul, your analogy breaks down here because the material workman is playing an active part; so, he is also active, and not just passive.” Not really. If you have read any of my wife’s stuff on the Puritans, you know that ideas precede all actions, and God is the creator of all ideas. So right, the workman picked up the 2×4, but only because of God’s will—God initiated the act through the action of “the first, or beginning idea (Edwards).”

Now listen, most Christians would write this stuff off as philosophical nonsense, but here is the problem: it’s how they function, and it’s how they talk. Want an example? “I didn’t do it! Jesus did it through me!” See how this works? You did it, but ONLY because it…was/is “God’s will.” Let’s be honest; we talk like this all the time, and it is exactly why “10 percent of the people do 90 percent of the work.” But more importantly, it’s their gospel.  Their sanctification paradigm defines their definition of the new birth. Listen to what a Christian lady said to me about two weeks ago: “I want people seeing Jesus, not waist deep in theology.” She may not realize it, but what is she really advocating? What drives a statement like that?

Here is another variation, “yielding.” This is the second model, and we will get to the third one shortly. This proffers the idea that when we are “saved,” we are moved between the Spirit realm and the sin realm. Both put pressure on us, and at any given time we “yield” to one or the other. But again, the only reason we yield is because God gives us the will through the first idea. Let’s move on to the third model.

In this model, the “law” is not a realm, it’s the word of God. Both words in this verse for “law” are the same Greek word (nomos). By the way, the Greek word for “realm” is a totally different word (vasíleio). Let’s also define what we mean by “law.” When we use this word, we are simply speaking about the Bible, or Scripture—the words are used interchangeably. There are many, many examples of this, but one is Galatians 3:21-23. And while we are in Galatians 3, here is a related thought that will not be unpacked in this message, but is relevant and put forth for your pondering pleasure: if Jesus kept the law for us so that we can be justified, Jesus isn’t the only seed, the law is also a seed and a giver of life. It doesn’t matter who keeps the law, it can’t give life. We are justified by the new birth, not the law. This is Paul’s EXACT argument in Galatians 3. But what about Matthew 5:17, right? That’s what somebody is going to ask. Well, we aren’t going to unpack that either, but the answer is right here in Romans 8, and you can ponder that on your own time as well.

But here we are in Romans 8:2, faced with the consideration of two laws and what does this mean? There is only one Bible, right? Of course, but here is where I plug in the issue I often hear pastors complain about: passiveness in the church. Most pastors attribute it to “fear.” And what are they afraid of? They are afraid of condemnation because they don’t understand Romans 8:2 and the Spirit’s two uses of the law. They do not know the difference between under law and under grace in Romans 6:14. You see, the first part of Romans 8:2 is the first part of Romans 6:14 and also the second parts respectively.

Of course 10% of the people are doing 90% percent of the work because Jesus is doing the other 90%, and he would be doing 100% of the work if the 10% weren’t confused in a good way about sanctification. You see, Christians don’t work because they are afraid, and they are afraid because they are still under law. They fear that their motives for serving, somewhere deep, deep in their hearts is an attempt to justify themselves, and that would be works salvation. Therefore, by golly, if Jesus doesn’t tell them to do something, and thus signifying that it is actually him doing it, they must “wait on the Lord.” It sounds so pious, no? And of course, you can cite any number of Bible verses that would seem to support that.

And how is that working for us? But let me tell you what it is: it’s antithetical to “faith working through love”(Galatians 5:6). And what’s that? Here it is: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus did not say, “Love me by letting me fulfill the law through you so I can love myself.” I hate to be blunt, but if you didn’t do the love, but rather Jesus loved Himself through you—you didn’t do any love. Though this would seem evident, I direct you to what Paul wrote in Galatians right after 5:6… “You were running well, who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Any questions? If Christians do not understand the Spirit’s two uses of the law, they will not run well, but will rather partake in John Calvin’s Sabbath sanctification rest salvation which we are not going to unpack at this time.

So, what are these two laws? It’s pretty simple: for those under law (unsaved), the Spirit uses the law for one thing and one thing only, to condemn, and if they don’t repent, it will be used to judge them on the day of the white throne judgment. But, for those who give their life to Christ, they die with Christ literally (Romans 6), and are no longer under that law (Romans 7). Because they receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they not only die, but are literally resurrected to new creaturehood (Rom 6 also) and are under grace which means they serve the new law of the Spirit for purposes of love only. What is that law? It’s the same Bible, it’s also the “perfect law of liberty.” Why did James call it that? Because here is what you use it for: you use it to set people free to aggressively love with NO fear of condemnation. Loving Christians who understand the new birth understand that no loving act they do can effect their salvation because there is no law to judge them—all obedience is a pure act of love. In fact, the Bible says one act of love fulfills the whole law.

Christians who love aggressively without fear of condemnation show that they understand the true gospel because of what they understand about sanctification: Christ didn’t come to merely cover sin, he came to end it and free his literal brothers and sisters from its judgment… “there is NOW NO condemnation” for those who are in Christ because He came to END the law (Romans 10:4) of condemnation, and free His siblings to serve the law of love which they also love because they are born anew. Here is another nugget for pondering: our flesh, or body, or “members” are/is NOT inherently evil, but rather “weak.” The idea that our flesh is inherently evil is part and parcel with the first two models. This is why we still sin, but it is family sin, not sin that condemns us. For those who really believe and understand the gospel, the only motive is love. There is nothing else left but love.

Set people free to love without fear with the true gospel.

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