Paul's Passing Thoughts

Can Christians Really Be “Self-Righteous”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on July 6, 2015

self rightousnessThere are many, many Protestant misnomers that are assumed to be truth. In the past I have written about so-called “legalism” and “church discipline.” Neither concepts are found anywhere in the Bible. In this short post, we will mention another one: “self-righteousness,” specifically, the idea that a Christian can be “self-righteous.” If you get my point here, you may reconsider your incredulity regarding the aforementioned misnomers.

Actually, there is a reason that we hear the constant literary and verbal drumbeat regarding the dangers of so-called Christian self-righteousness; the root cause is found in Martin Luther’s alien righteousness soteriology. Many have added the self-righteousness mantra to their vocabulary without thinking the idea through to its logical and historical conclusions.

First of all, the problem is presenting Christian self-righteousness as something to be avoided lest we shipwreck our faith. In other words, answering the biblical call to become who we are will supposedly shipwreck our faith. God made us righteous through the new birth; how would we then make ourselves “self-righteous”? If we have a proper understanding of salvation, why would we attempt to do something that we know is already completed? Because of weak understanding, believers have been led to believe that we are in danger of justifying ourselves. Obviously, this makes good works a spiritual minefield for the Christian. A cursory observation of the institutional church makes this point.

This was Paul’s exact point to the Galatians (3:1-3); why are you trying to complete a work that was finished when you received the Spirit? We are made righteous via the new birth, not the satisfaction of…”the righteous demands of the law.” Understand; when Paul speaks of righteousness by the law in Galatians, he is speaking of manmade traditions that fulfill the law for justification. In other words, the law is the standard for justification—not the receiving of the Spirit.

This is a HUGE problem because if the law is the standard for justification, the believer cannot be free to love, ie., the law cannot be the Christian standard for love AND the standard for justification at the same time. Using the law lawfully for love can show that we are justified/righteous, but the law cannot justify in any way, shape, or form.

Hypothetically, if the law could justify, we would have to keep it perfectly:

Galatians 5:2 – Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

What’s going on here? The Galatians were buying into the most common false soteriology of the ages; the idea that the law is the standard for righteousness instead of the new birth. This does not set the Christian free to use the law lawfully, or in other words, as a standard for love:

Galatians  4:21 – Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

So, for those who see the law as the standard for justification, and knowing that we cannot keep the law perfectly, some ritual or tradition is put into place, and if that is practiced, the law is fulfilled. For those falling into this error at Galatia, that meant the observance of days and circumcision. Paul, in essence was saying, “No, no, no—if you are going that route you cannot bypass a perfect keeping of the law; circumcision does NOT fulfill the law.”

No, LOVE is what fulfills the law.

The Galatian problem was a carryover from former error before Christ came to die on the cross to end the law, but later in history Christ was integrated in this way:

Christ fulfills the law for us.

If we do certain things, Christ fulfills the “righteous demands of the law” and a fulfillment of the law is imputed to us. But here is the huge problem with that: law is still the standard for justification, NOT faith working through love. Hence, love is circumvented resulting in dead orthodoxy at best and sinful calamity at worst.

This was the crux of Martin Luther’s alien righteousness. ALL righteousness is outside of the believer, and this is testified to by the fact that Christians cannot obey the law perfectly. If we play by the rules, Christ’s perfect law-keeping will be imputed to us and we can remain saved. Again, the problem is law as justification’s standard.

This keeps the “Christian” under law and COVERED by under grace. In this ancient construct, you have under law and under grace going on at the same time. The “Christian” remains under law, but is “covered” by the righteousness of Christ via under grace.

In contrast, the old us that was under law died with Christ, and we were resurrected with Christ and set free to love according to the law without any fear of condemnation via being under the law. Christ came to end the law of condemnation for those who love him. He loved us first by ending the law on the cross and thereby setting us free to love Him and others according to the law.

The law is NOT the standard for justification—the new birth is, and thus freeing us to love God and others without fear of condemnation.

BUT, this whole idea that Christians can be “self-righteous” confounds under law and under grace. Any righteousness that we have must be, supposedly, our own righteousness that didn’t come from the new birth. This is the true implication of the saying. ALL righteousness remains outside of the believer because he/she cannot keep the law perfectly.

Therefore, the “Christian” is not free to love without fear of condemnation. And again, the church looks like that is indeed the case.

paul

The Potter’s House 6/28/2015: The Gospel of Excuses

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on July 1, 2015

“Grace” is NOT Salvation, and Why Justification is the Antithesis of Sanctification

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 2, 2015

11091157_1126552080703726_3445703121797935280_nIf every verse in the Bible is not about justification, but Protestants believe that, and they do, this will redefine the Bible from cover to cover, and it does. The result is a completely upside down gospel.

For example, the internet placard that inspired this post. How does it define “grace”? Obviously, it defines grace as Christians not getting the punishment they deserve from the “righteous demands of the law.” This “mercy” “guides” you to obedience. But what “obedience”? Well, let me quote the pastor of the person who posted the placard: “You don’t keep the law by keeping the law.”

“You don’t keep the law by keeping the law.” What does that mean in conjunction with “mercy” leading us to this “obedience.” And, do Christians still need “mercy”? According to Protestantism, “yes.” I understand that some Protestants understand this to mean that we are motivated by God’s mercy when we don’t get the punishment that we deserve, but that is a watered down version of the authentic Protestant gospel. And anyway, true Christians no longer need mercy because we are no longer under condemnation; there is “no condemnation” for Christians. But more on the significance of that later.

The crux of the placard and the idea that Christians still need grace is well defined by some comments that were posted in regard to the placard. It starts with the idea that “grace” is synonymous with biblical justification or salvation. And since we still need “mercy” from the law as Christians, we must know how to obtain this mercy leading to keeping the law by not keeping the law. The endeavor is twofold, and exemplified in the following aforementioned comments:

MERCY is when judgement is constrained, and hence is what is being illustrated in this story by the officer letting you off the hook. But GRACE is not that judgement was constrained, but that it was conferred! It’s the picture of the officer, though acknowledging that you were guilty of trespassing the speed limit, determines that he’ll let you go on the premise that he PAID the ticket for you!

And…

What if the police officer decided to jump in the car with you. So every time you drove he’s sitting next to you and just keeps saying don’t worry about speeding I have fulfilled that law. [Viz, I kept the law for you] I’ll whisper to your heart and let you know if you are heading towards the speed limit. I just want to sit and chat with you and get to know you so well that you never ever want to speed again. Because you are forgiven and I love you.

If you think these are armchair theologians, think again. What they are saying is a mirror image of how two heavyweight Protestant theologians stated it in the following video:

What’s the idea here? Since Christians still need mercy from the righteous demands of the law, they must continually receive it by returning to the same gospel that saved them. “Grace” is defined as justification/salvation, so obviously, we must continually return to the same gospel that saved us. To most professing Christians in our day, the idea that Christians still need grace and mercy is a no-brainer and is pontificated with the often-heard, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”

What is that gospel? It is twofold as exhibited by the two comments. Christ died for our sins which takes care of the penalty of sin (first comment), and then He kept the law perfectly so that His righteousness (perfect obedience) can be imputed to our Christian life. Therefore, as Christians, we continually go back to the salvation well for forgiveness and a righteousness that is not our own. That’s how we keep the law by not keeping the law: Jesus keeps it/kept it for us. The same gospel that saved you also sanctifies you.

Why is this an egregious false gospel? First, we are not under the law for justification. There is no law for Jesus to keep for us. Jesus didn’t come to keep the law for us, He came to end the law… for Justification (Romans 10:4). The fulfilling of the law by Christ does not refer to Him keeping the law perfectly so that His obedience can be imputed to our sanctification.

And “grace” is NOT justification or salvation. “Grace” defines why God saved man; it’s an act of love that expects nothing in return, and of course, we need this same kind of love in our Christian lives, but that doesn’t make our sanctification a progression or specific expression of justification. The love of God is not applied to justification in the exact same way it is applied to our Christian lives (sanctification). Grace, as the reason God justified us (His unmerited love) expects nothing in return because man is utterly unable to justify himself.

However, God also displays His love (“grace” also means “help”) in regard to the purpose for which he saved us: good works…that we actually do in order to please Him. God doesn’t love Himself through us—we are not mere conduits from which God loves Himself; we in fact love God or we do not belong to Him. God’s love towards man in justification has a different application in sanctification. In the former man is completely helpless, in the latter man needs help. Both expressions of love are “grace.”

This is demonstrated by Ephesians 2:8-10…

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Grace, or charis, is a Greek word that means “a joyful benevolence.” Actually, the word has a wide variance of applications including, “favor,” “love,” “help,” “dignity,” etc. To define “grace” as synonymous with salvation is inaccurate; grace is the reason God saves, but it is also the reason God does many other things as well. Grace is also the reason that God is our advocate, comforter, co-laborer, and helper in our Christian life. In regard to our Christian life (sanctification), these words are used interchangeably (Heb 13:6, Jn 14:16 Rom 8:26).

Note verse 8: grace is the reason God saved us (John 3:16), but salvation is “the gift.” It is not the result of “works” (v.9), but the result of grace. This is where we have a radical dichotomy between justification (gift) and sanctification (reward). The two are mutually exclusive, and “grace” does not bridge the two. Gift and reward are mutually exclusive. In fact, Hebrews 6:10 says that God would be “unjust” to forget our works in sanctification. Why? Because our works in sanctification is an earned reward that deserves to be recognized. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn from that passage.

The word for “works” in verse 9 is ergon which according to Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates “stands in direct antithesis” to charis (grace) and the two words are “mutually exclusive” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary, AMG Int. 1992, p.1469). Yet, verse 10 indicates that good “ergon” or works is the purpose of salvation. Salvation is caused by grace, but works is the purpose of salvation. This is why justification and sanctification are mutually exclusive and not bridged by grace. One result of grace is the gift of salvation while the result of the other is reward. Gift and reward cannot be intermingled.

The type and kind of works were predetermined, but we are responsible to “walk” in them with God’s help. In justification, God is a savior; in sanctification, God is a “helper.”

Notice how the professing Christians of our day are obsessed with SIN. Because we are still supposedly under law and need the same “grace” that saved us, our Christianity is obsessed with failure and our dire need for more and more mercy. Life is lived under the cloud of the law, and the focus is how often the holy policemen in the sky does not write a ticket of condemnation.

A pity, because we are not under law and are rather under grace which means we seek to obey God’s law in love. The focus isn’t failure so that we can supposedly glorify God by returning to the foot of the cross, the focus is love which “covers a multitude of sin” (1Pet 4:8). We would sin a lot less if our focus was love, not the expectation of failure under the heavy burden of the law. We are not under the law of sin and death, we are under the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2). We strive to obey that law in love as the primary focus of our life; we dwell on love, not sin.

Moreover, if we glory in more and more mercy that saves us from the law that we are supposedly still under, that will result in a relaxing (lyō) of the law in sanctification that Christ warned us about (Matt 5:19) because after all, we can’t keep it perfectly anyway.

As Christians, our sin is family sin against our Father and can bring chastisement, but it is not sin under the condemnation of the law that requires a return to the same “grace” that saved us. That’s a false gospel. That’s under law, NOT under grace.

So, you do in fact keep the law by keeping the law, because that’s love.

paul

%d bloggers like this: