Lecture 3: Theology of Change
Course: Introduction to Public Speaking
Lecture: Theology of Change
What I've tried to say to you this week is that it is important to keep Christ in our Christian messages. That sounds so simple but as you think on the implications of not only what I've been saying, but perhaps what I've done in the past and what you've done in the past, you recognize that it's very easy not to have Christ in our messages.
So the first day I simply tried to talk about: If we're gong to speak with the voice of Jesus, we must keep the message of Jesus plain, and talked about the importance of keeping Christ in a Christian message.
Yesterday I talked more specifically about how we do that and though I recognize we're just scratching the surface of how one exegetes scripture -- looks at scripture -- through new lenses to see redemptive truth wherever you are hopefully that at least gives you some avenues now to go down to think about: How can I go anywhere in scripture and still think redemptively.
Let me just review 'cause I think it is really the most important thing that I say. What are those two lenses that you can use to approach virtually any text and think redemptively? The first lens is the question: What does this text that tells me about the nature of God that provides redemption? And the other lens is the question: What does this text reveal about the nature of man that requires redemption? Just asking those two questions: What does it tell me about God, what's his nature/character; what does it tell me about me, what's my nature/character? Those two questions force us to think in redemptive terms.
The goal for today's lesson is: What's the impact of all this? If it's important and we have some means to begin to analyze scripture, what will be the impact? My goal today is to help you understand how Christ-centered messages affect the Christian life. What's the impact for us daily?
The real subject, if you will allow me to put it this way, is simply to ask, what's your theology of change? What do you think changes people -- how you preach, how you proclaim, how you counsel even how you parent, typically has the goal of: I'm seeking to see the Lord change these people, but what is you ultimate theology of what does change people?
We think about what will stimulate holiness and the necessity of doing that through Christ-centered messages by asking first the question, what makes people more holy? Particularly as we're thinking about approaching redeemed people, what makes redeemed people more holy? Threat of condemnation or promise of grace?
Now that's not a new question as a review of Rom. 6:1 will assure you. Remember, people thought Paul was talking too much about grace, and therefore, should we continue in grace than sin may abound? Obviously talking about grace has concerned God's people for many centuries, yet the question is still debated in every generation of believers: How much can we talk about grace? How much is good, how much actually leads to licentiousness?
There really is an amazing account of Bradford, the Puritan, when he was in prison facing death, debating with the Anabaptists -- now this is interesting -- they're both in prison facing death and they're debating theological questions on the nature of grace. And the Anabaptists were saying to Bradford, "You can't keep assuring people of the love of God. If all you do is keep assuring people of the love of God, they will do whatever they want." What was Bradford's response? No, if you keep assuring people of the love of God, they will do whatever he wants.
Now, it's a fundamental understanding of how human nature functions, particularly in the heart that has been regenerated by God. Recognize however the concern with the idea of assured grace is similar to that surrounding perseverance, that is the "P" in TULIP. People are concerned. If we tell people they do not have to worry about rejection, what's to keep them on the straight and narrow? Such people reason, "We cannot tell them God will never reject them or they'll just do what they want." 'Once saved, always saved' is equated with 'have perseverance, will party.'
The same reasoning asks, "What reason will God's people have to be holy if all you do is keep assuring them of grace?" So, I'll ask again, what better leads to true holiness, threat of punishment or promise of grace? Which will make people more holiness?
What do our standards say? We can start perhaps just thinking hopefully in an orthodox way. Hopefully we're on track here -- Westminster Confession chapter 20. This is the chapter on Christian liberty. The confession says, "The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel consists [in this:] their freedom from the guilt of sin, [their freedom from] the condemning wrath of God, [their freedom from] the curse of the moral law; and in their being delivered from the... dominion of sin... [so] also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him [here's the key phrase], not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love, and a willing mind."
What will enable people to serve God? Because they are delivered from fear by their liberty under Christ. So what now constrains them? They are not constrained by slavish fear but a childlike love and willing mind. It goes on to say, "...a man's doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourages one, and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace [that is, the simple fact that there's still obedience does not mean we're not under grace]. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ [notice what now constrains] subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires to be done."
That which is holy is that which is done freely and cheerfully. Now we're going to talk about the logical necessity of that in a moment but is still goes back to our question: What will make people more holy, promise of grace or threat of punishment?
Note that what is done under compulsion or threat, far from being more righteous, must actually be pursued for self-protection or self-promotion, and thus falls short of the glory of God in that it is only sanctified selfishness. Now just kind of think of the average Joe in the pew and say, "What's motivating him to serve God? "If you were just to take a cross section of our churches and say, "Why are these people doing what they think they must do?," I would say you would find a great percentage of people who are serving God for this reason: They want to get the ogre in the sky off their backs. "I'm serving God so God won't get me."
If the reason that I'm serving God is so that God doesn't get me, whom am I serving? I'm serving myself -- just my own self interest of self-protection.
Now there is another major reason that people in this culture -- and we even train them in this culture to serve God -- so that they'll get more good stuff, either in this life or the life to come: bigger mansions up there, you know. But if the reason that you're serving God is so that you'll get more good stuff, whom are you serving? Just yourself again. It's just sanctified greed. What is the only thing that makes your service holy? It is the profound and deep belief that your goodness merits you nothing. It doesn't keep the ogre in the sky of your back. It doesn't get you more good stuff.
Now if you're serving God because it gains you nothing, whom are you serving? Now you're serving God. You are serving him, not out of self but out of true selflessness, serving God because of your love for God. Now let me ask you again, "What will make people more holy -- I'm not talking in the moment about their behavior changes -- what will make them more holy? Promise of grace. By grace alone are you saved, by grace alone are you sanctified. Because if I have something else work its way in there, even if threat of punishment is the reason you're serving God, then ultimately your service, though it may be a biblical, moral behavior, is not more holy, in fact, it's less holy. You may be doing the right thing but by having done it for the wrong reasons, it's now self service rather than godly service.
The only thing that makes our work holy is a profound understanding of the nature of grace. God alone is what provides for us to be right with him, not our works. Now I am not saying there can be no personal motive in our service of God.
Let's put it in very human terms. Let's say that I come home home one day from work, and I give my wife some flowers, and she says, "Honey, that's so nice. Why did you do that?" And I say, "Well, you know, it's really good for me." What's she going to do with those flowers? If I am giving her flowers for my sake -- if that's my primary motive, that's insulting. But now, if out of love for her I simply want to gift her with these flowers, my primary motive is out of love for her.
There is a hierarchy of motives. I may recognize this is wonderful for our relationship. It's good for my own heart to be a cheerful giver. It;s a blessing for our marriage. The primary reason has to be love for her. There can be other reasons, I know that. And we can serve God God because we recognize that our obedience does result in blessing. There can be a hierarchy, but if the primary reason I'm serving God is for my sake, then that's not serving God. Grace keeps me on track, because it reminds me ultimately of what my work is doing. It is serving God, not myself. My work does not do anything for me in terms of meriting God's favor.
You recognize that if all we're doing is pursuing some aspect of self, we are falling short of the first requirement of our standards and that is that we are not doing that which glorifies God. Well, not only looking at our standards, but on the second page of what you have: What does the Bible say should compel us to do what God says -- makes us more holy? Second Cor. 5:14, what is that ministry of reconciliation about? It is the love of God that constrains us to preach the gospel. Rom. 8:15 -- You have not received the Spirit of God again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship whereby we cry, 'Abba, Father.' First John 4:18 -- There's no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear because fear hath torment. Luke 1:68 and 74 -- these are verses right out of the nativity narrative: He has come, and redeemed his people to enable us to serve him without fear.
Let me ask you again the basic question, what better enables God's people to serve God, promise of grace, or threat of punishment? Apparently, from what I read in scripture, our holiness is never primarily a result of responding to threats.
Herman Ridderbos, in his outline of Paul's theology -- now you know why you paid all the big bucks to come here, you can quote Herman Ridderbos when you go home -- says this in his commentary on Col. 3, "No less striking [in this sense of where our motivation comes from] in this respect is Colossians 3:3 ff., where in response to [these words] ‘For you have died and your life is hid in God,’ the command at once resounds: “Put to death therefore your members that are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness,‘ etc. Having once died to Christ [that is, being in Christ] does not render superfluous putting to death the members that are upon the earth [being in Christ does not render superfluous having to obey his commands], but is precisely the great urgent reason for it.... The imperative [what we must do] is thus founded on the indicative [what we are -- we are in Christ]...it is immediately clear that the imperative rests on the indicative and that this order is not reversible, for in each case the imperative follows the indicative by way of conclusion."
The key idea is this: The imperative rests on the indicative, and the order is not reversible. The imperative, the things you must do: you must obey God, you shall not steal, you should be faithful to your spouse, you shall not take the Lord's name in vain; rest on the indicative, who you are in Christ, and the order is not reversible. You don't do these things so that you will be in Christ. That would not be grace -- do these things and then you'll be in God, then you'll be in his favor. No, no! It's because you ARE in Christ that you do these things. You live out what you are and the order is not reversible.
You know it's the great human effort always to reverse the order: You be a good child, and then I'll love you. We will preach the gospel in an orthodox way and then God will bless us. You be nice to me and then I'll care about you. And we're being told the gospel is something exactly the reverse, because God loved us while we were yet his enemies, we love him. He has established something out of which we move. It changes everything.
It changes the way we preach to people. When I preach imperatives from the pulpit, I must say, "It's not your doing this that makes you loved by God. It's because you are the people of God, because he has made you his own through no work of yours that you now live for him."
It changes the way I parent. My wife and I kind of caught this at some early stages of our parenting. We actually had to change the way we talked to our children. It was our tendency to say, "You did a bad thing; you're a bad boy." And we had to begin to say things to our children, to have our theology come out and to say things like, "Colin, don't do that. You're my child. You're God's child. Be what you are. Live out what you are." Not characterize people by their actions, but characterize them by their position, "You are in Christ. You are in this family. You're my child. Live out what you are. Your actions do not characterize you. It's your relationship with me which is prior to any action, and overcomes any action." It's the relationship that's central. The imperative, rests on the indicative, and the order is not reversible.
When we begin to capture what that means, we begin to recognize it is the great motivating feature of the Christian life because what we begin to say is this: "The rules do not change, the reasons do." It's now NOT okay to steal -- since we're under grace, go steal now? No, the rules don't change. It's still wrong to steal, but why are you not stealing? So the ogre in the sky won't get you? So that you'll get more good stuff? No, the reasons have changed. Because I love the God who loved me and will love me even if I steal; in response to the great love that he has shown me, I now live out the life that he has given me. The rules don't change, the reasons do.
If that is clear, hopefully not merely from our confessions but from the scriptures, why is there a debate? Why is there debate over whether we should threaten with guilt, and you know the reasons: Christians feel the need for a corrective. We wonder how we shall compel others, or even ourselves who are sinful, to stop sinning. The most obvious and often the most efficient method, at least in the short term, is to threaten rejection, or retribution, or even to introduce doubt about one's salvation. Such comments can be very effective in changing people's behavior, but are such comments proper, and if so, what are their proper limits?
Ultimately the question boils down to what we believe is the relationship between our conduct and God's acceptance. Are we holy for God's acceptance, or are we holy from God's acceptance, that is out of or because of God's acceptance? Are we holy so that we'll get God's acceptance, or are we holy because we HAVE God's acceptance?
It's not an easy thing to live out, I will tell you. I've mentioned to you my delight and wonder in kind of discovering a kindred spirit in Paul Coister and how we came from different parts of the country, I think by God's providence as ultimately a lot of professors at Covenant Seminary came from very dissimilar backgrounds but having had similar experiences of the necessity of the message of grace. My own experience was having gone through seminary and having a certain amount of recognition for preaching and things that I could do and going into a senior pastor spot right out of seminary. In fact both churches that I have pastored are historic churches, one about a century old, the other about two centuries old. The second church that I pastored was the first Presbyterian church in the Illinois territory established by a Scottish missionary, Samuel Wylie, who's in some of your history books.
It was in some ways wonderful to be in those historic churches but I will tell you it was the longevity of the churches that sometimes bothered me the most. And it was because I would meet people whose knowledge of the Bible, whose experience in the faith far outdistanced mine. There were people who knew their Bibles far better than I did. And yet despite the long attestation of belief in Christ, great knowledge of scripture, the weightier matters of the law seemed so distant from us -- love, joy, peace, and long suffering.
I know how we were so angry at one another so often, how there was such a comparison spirit, how when new believers would come into the church how we had so little tolerance for their inability to discern the Christian code that we all knew: you don't smoke or chew or go with the girls that do. People would come in and they didn't know the code. We were just practically happy when they left they were so troubling to us.
And I though, how can this be? We say so much about the Lord Jesus and yet so little of him characterizes who we are. I tell you, I used to get SO MAD at those people! Until I began to recognize that the problem wasn't so much them as it was me and preachers like me.
I will tell you, I did not hear it so much in my preaching -- what I was saying, what I was implying, the theology that I was really promoting, but I began to hear it actually more in my counseling. I would deal with a couple, perhaps engaged in some form of immorality. We would begin to talk and I would say things to them and we would go through a process, and their behavior would change. But I would look at that couple one year down the road, two years years down the road, three years down the road, and while that behavior might not have come back into their lives, frequently they were in deep depression or they were in some other compulsive behavior. That's not the way it's supposed to work. We'd change their behavior, why aren't they more healthy spiritually?
I had to listen to what I was saying, and I would say things to people like, "Listen, if you expect for God to love you, you've got to get out of that immoral behavior. If you expect for God to care about you, you've got to care for the things of God."
Did you hear it? The indicative and the imperative traded places: "You've got to do something so that you can be in a position of favor with God." Now I'm not talking about blessings, I'm talking about relationship. What I was teaching people was: As long as their behavior changed, then God would care about them.
No question really, as I think about it why one year, two years, three years down the road, these people were in depression, in a certain sense they were at a greater distance from God than when I started my great counseling, because I had driven this great wedge of human works between them and God. As long as their works were okay, God would care about them, but if their works were not okay, God was somewhere on another planet.
I had to think about what I was doing, and I will tell you, it first sent me into despair to recognize what I had been teaching, and then to recognize I don't know how to do anything else. I've said to people, "You've got to change. You've got to do these things." That's what my preaching was about. That's what that verse says. How can I be wrong? It just says don't steal. How can I be wrong telling people not to steal?
I had to begin to think about what really is the redemptive message of scripture and how can I be expository -- exegetical -- and still speak about the nature of grace? It was where Sidney Greidanus and Paul Coister and other people began to influence my life and I began to recognize that this really is the message of all the scriptures and it will change everything I say.
In counseling, in preaching, in parenting, and in my relationship to my wife, do I still act lovingly toward you when you have disappointed me? When there's tension between us our relationship is not going to change here. There's tension between us perhaps, but our relationship has to be secure or we put ourselves in a conditional way of reacting to one another that has to be destructive. You're my wife. We're in a covenant relationship and ultimately it is not our works -- what we're doing to or for or against one another -- that's determining that. It's the relationship that has to have everything else grow out of it, even in terms of how we relate to one another in differences.
As I said, ultimately the question is whether we're holy for God's acceptance or from God's acceptance, and whether or not we love people because they have changed behavior or not. Are people going to be more holy because we threaten with guilt and punishment or because we keep assuring of grace?
On page three we maybe can put it in stark terms by thinking of a formula for holiness. What do we really believe? I don't mean this in your intellect because we all would have learned the same things, but how do we talk to one another? How to we talk to people who disappoint us and frustrate us?
The dynamics of the contrary beliefs about the relationship between holiness and acceptance can perhaps be formulated this way. We can say, "Look, if you've got guilt, if there's something that is wrong, what are we teaching people that gets rid of that and makes them right?" What we can say is, "What you have to do is, if you have guilt, you have to cancel it by behavior change. Be different!" But if we're saying that guilt is canceled by behavior change, what does that really equal? What is that? That's just legalism.
Now, still because we are Presbyterians, because we're Reformed, because we believe that there is a continuing application of the λογο (lŏgŏ), we know there's got to be behavior change, but where does it fit in the system? Well, if we say there is guilt, what alone can cancel it? Only the work of Christ. Only the grace of God. That is all that can cancel that; the work of the cross.
When that occurs, when we recognize that God by his work and not by ours cancels our guilt, what does that result in? Hopefully that results in our lives in love and gratitude which then yields behavior change. And what is that truly? That is repentance. That is true repentance. When guilt is canceled by the cross -- when we recognize it's his work and not ours that takes away the guilt, then what response happens in us is love for God, not fear of the ogre in the sky; not a delight in gaining something from the vending machine that we pay off with enough behavior-change nickels, but we love the God who loved us unconditionally. And in that love there is a response of gratitude that is true repentance.
Recognize it is the way the scriptures present themselves to us. When the father welcomed the prodigal son, he welcomed him before and after the son's words of confession were offered. Remember, while he was still a long way off -- he hasn't said anything to the father yet, what does the father do? He runs to him, throws his arms around him, kisses him. Now the son says, "Father I have sinned against heaven and against you." But what has the father already shown him? Already the love is there. The son knew it when he was eating the pods that were given to the pigs, he said, "My father's hired hands are treated better than this. I know the nature of my father."
And it's what leads me back to God. It's what carries me back. The son assured himself of his father's care before he returned because grace precedes repentance. Grace doesn't follow repentance, grace has to precede it. You know Romans 2:4. It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. If God really is the ogre in the sky waiting to get us when we get out of line, who wants to go back to him? But if we recognize no matter how badly we have fallen, how stinking is the sin that we have fallen into, that our Father is there for us still, arms wide open running to receive us, it's the very thing that says, "It's that God that I will go back to. I have seen the misery of my own sin. I recognize the fault it has put me into, the desperation that is really down this path. It's kindness of God, the knowledge of who he is: the gracious one who loves me despite my sin, that pushes me back to him, away from the sin, and back to him." It is the promise -- grace -- that is the power of repentance, true repentance that's seeking God, and not self.
In it's essence, what we're simply saying in terms of the proper motivation of Christ-centered messages -- what we are trying to do, is that old principle of the Reformed faith: present the whole counsel of God. That's really all that we're saying. We're presenting the whole counsel of God when we preach, and when we counsel, and when we teach, because commanding people to do what is right, without explaining why or how, inevitably hurts them because they are left to consider their works and abilities as the cause of God's acceptance or affection. As a result, well-intended instruction dispensed with the motive of helping people inevitably hurts them. On their own, no believers can do what they are told they should do. On their own, they can't do it.
So we have to keep the message of Christ's enabling work in our messages. Thus, if all people hear are the "shoulds," they will inevitably face despair, because they can't do it on their own, or they will pretend self-righteousness. Those are the only two alternatives apart from God, I'll either despair or I will pretend I have achieved.
If grace is not put into the equation or human works, and divine acceptance, then legalism or moralism results. Whether one is talking about salvation or sanctification, we are acceptable to God by grace alone. Our sanctification is by grace alone. Since our best works are filthy rags, that's why sanctification has to be by grace. Sanctification is not by better works. Sanctification results in better works, but it's no by better works since our best works are only filthy rags. God graciously accepts our works offered to him in gratitude for our salvation but our acceptance and our sanctification is never a result of anything but grace.
Next page: We cannot gain or earn any more of God's love since grace has has already granted and secured all the love that he has. While we may experience more of God's blessings and more of God's fellowship as a result of our obedience we do not risk rejection by our failures.
We may experience discipline. Yes, we have to say that. We may experience discipline as a result of our sin, but fatherly discipline, even when harsh, is still an expression of love for a child's welfare. Yes, I may be harsh with my child if he is running into a busy street, but why would I disciple a child harshly for running into a busy street? Because I love him. We know the words of Hebrews: God disciplines those he loves. Listen, if he did not love, he would not discipline. You know, that's the message of Proverbs, right? The parent that will not discipline his child, hates his child, because all that child will see for the rest of his life is the world's frown: disapproval. If you love your child you discipline your child.
Because God loves us, he disciplines us. But we need to be careful here. It is the discipline of love. It is not punitive. It is not, "I'm gonna get you because you didn't do what I said. I'm gonna get my pound of flesh. I'm gonna punish you." There is a key word difference between punishment and discipline.
Now, you and I both know the semantic ranges overlap here a bit, but lets go back to the roots and make sure that we understand. The word "punishment" has the notion of penalty in it: I'm going to penalize you for what you've done. Let me ask you the question so it's clear here, how much of the penalty for your sin did Jesus take upon the cross? All of it. God will not put the penalty for your sin on you, or your children, or the people with whom you work because God put the penalty for your sin on his son. Now God may discipline. But when we are in the throes of the harshest discipline that God could bring upon us, we are loved no less.
His only goal is to turn us from that which would hurt us, from that which would be disaster to ourselves and our families and our ministry, and to turn us from that back in to a loving path, but it's only love that turns us. We have to begin to perceive God as that loving father rather than the ogre who's exacting his pound of flesh 'cause we got in his way or got out of his way. It's not God. We make God and Satan change places sometimes in our life [or mind]. God may discipline but the penalty for our guilt is as far away as the easy is from the west.
As a child is healthier emotionally when there is never any question about his parents' unconditional love and favor, God's children are spiritually healthier when they are taught there is no question about their heavenly father's unconditional affection and perpetual favor.
I know these next phrases are simple but we have to be clear:
We are SAVED by grace alone.
We are SANCTIFIED by grace alone. I'm not saying there is not human effort engaged, but even if we do what honors God, who enabled us to do it? The Spirit of God. We are sanctified by grace alone.
We are SECURED by grace alone. Recognize again it has to be that way because our best works are only filthy rags. They do not secure us before God.
That means the proper motivations for behavior change erupt now out of this notion of how the gospel works. What are the proper motivations for behavior change? We still have to tell people don't steal, but what's the motive behind it now in our message?
The first is this: We issue the motive of a gratitude-response to the love shown us by Christ. A gratitude-response is, I think, the prime motive for Christian behavior according to scripture.
Now you see the note -- can guilt be used as a motivation for holiness? Well, I'm a professor so I can be ambivalent. Yes, and no. Improper use of guilt causes Christians to question the certainty of God's love and calls for holiness as as a means of securing or restoring God's acceptance. Now that's just bad theology because you're saying filthy rags can get God's acceptance. In such cases, obedience is a guilt-response to gain love or to remove remorse, and that's wrong.
Proper guilt, if you will, good guilt is a love-response that desires a return to obedience because one recognizes his sin betrays the love of God that he has shown in the sacrifice of his son.
To think theologically for the moment, sometimes theologians use the terms subjective guilt versus objective guilt. We can feel guilty. We have done something wrong so we feel guilty about it. That's subjective guilt. But I've got to ask you the question again, what about objective guilt? How much guilt do you and I carry, we who are robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ? What objectively about God's forensic act of the work of Jesus Christ -- how much objective guilt do you and I carry? None.
So what's happening of course is guilt is used by the Holy Spirit at times for conviction. Yes, I recognize I have failed God, the one who loved me so who gave his son for me. I can feel conviction for sin, and it's that conviction for sin that now makes me recognize what I have done in betraying the love shown by God. It's the overwhelming love now for God that turns me in conviction back in to a path of obedience. That's conviction.
But if we're talking about guilt in terms of the objective guilt of God, that is canceled. That's done away with. The lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world for your sin and for mine, that guilt is canceled. I feel conviction. It takes me to confession. It takes me back to God into repentance and therefore new obedience.
But we need to be careful not to tell the people of God, that they now have to serve God because they've been so bad that they now have this huge weight of guilt on them that they now have to work themselves out of. Who is it that wants you to try to serve God burdened down with this huge load of guilt on your back? "Oh, you'll serve God better now. Do you know how bad you were? You know what you did. You know how wrong it was. You know how you failed God. So the way that you need to make this right with God is you need to feel badder longer." Who wants you to serve God that way? Satan does. He's the accuser of the brethren because he knows how good it is to limit us. "You serve God weighed down with all this guilt."
Whereas God has said, "I'm the lifter of your head. I know what you did. I know how wrong it was and I have taken it from you as far as the east is from the west. Take all of that guilt, all that you're feeling, all that is true of your disobedience before me, and you bring it to the cross of Jesus Christ and you recognize that he has once for all forgiven that sin and you lay it down."
And now you rise to walk in newness of life in the recognition of the wonders of his grace and love, and that is what is strength because you know the words: The joy of the lord is our strength. He's forgiven it. It's the grace of God that makes me right with him. And ultimately that is the strength that is necessary for new obedience in holiness.
Therefore, gazing on Christ (to fill in your blanks), what he has done, his ministry, his mercy on the cross -- gazing on Christ, not fleeing God -- get out of the way of the ogre in the sky -- is sin's greatest threat. That is getting sin out of our lives.
Good guilt is a gratitude-response to the provision of grace that draws us close to God in joyful obedience rather than, to use the confessional terms, slavish fear or servile dread. Because the joy of the Lord is our strength, these cannot be the primary reasons we serve God because slavish fear or servile dread are antithetical to victorious Christian lives of those who are heirs of the kingdom and co-heirs with Christ.
A summary of much of this is in the Heidelberg Catechism question number 86. I love this question because it is so honest. Since we are redeemed from our sin and its wretched consequences by grace through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works? Isn't that a great question? Since we are saved by grace through faith without any merit of our own, why be good? If it doesn't really affect things why bother? See the answer? Look at the underlined portion: ...so that with our whole life we may show ourselves grateful to God for His goodness, and that He may be glorified through us. Why would I live obedient to God if it's all grace? Because I love him so much, because I'm so thankful for what he has done, because grace has captured me ultimately it compels me.
Some of the biblical support. You know these verses. Romans 12:1, Therefore I urge you brothers -- why to live as a living sacrifice? Why to do all this? -- in view of God's mercy, that's why. Second Corinthians 5:14, the love of Christ that compels us to preach the ministry of reconciliation. Titus 2:11, it's not just the positive side, it's even the negative, it's the grace of god that brings salvation having appeared to all men, it teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. What does? Grace does. Grace not only tells us the positive things to do, grace compels us not to do the wrong things. Rightly perceived, I am so in love with Jesus I cannot stand the things in my life that betray him. Grace teaches us to say no to what dishonors him.
That is the primary reason, I think, that the scriptures are telling us that we should motivate others to different behaviors that honor God: a gratitude-response.
A second primary motivation I know is that we would teach the avoidance of the consequences of sin revealed by a loving God. Yes, we will teach people that it's good for them not to disobey. You know some of the saddest verses in scripture are there in Romans 1 repeated three times: God gave them over to their own sin and just let them go into it because he knew how damaging it was.
We've already talked about the nature of a saving discipline versus punitive damage. It's not the way God works to punish people in the sense of exacting more penalty. That's been taken care of. But God will surely say, "Because if you run into the street, you're gonna get hurt." He will alert us to the consequences so that we will turn from it. And avoidance of the consequences is one of the reasons that we tell people, "If you get involved in immorality, it will destroy your family." Because God loved you so much he told you that. If he did no love, he would not warn. Even the warning of consequences is out of love.
Finally, we ask the scriptures, "How do you motivate people to do what God wants?" And I think an answer is, we tell them they must do it out of love for others loved by God. God loves them. That's why you treat them with forgiveness and respect. That's why you deal with the hard things, why to take the ministry to people who are antagonistic toward you, because God loves. You love him, so that you will love those that he loves.
I'm going then to the conclusion down at the bottom of that page: in essence what we are saying is this: The rules do not change. Simply because we are proclaiming grace does not mean that it's now okay to steal. The rules do not change but the reasons do, as one parents, and preaches, and teaches, and counsels, and lives with a Christ-centered redemptive approach. Ultimately what we are doing is seeking to motivate by grace not by guilt. The reason is -- I know this sounds kind of schmaltzy and smarmy but it's true -- there is nothing more powerful than love. Fear is not more powerful. Intimidation is not more powerful. Greed is not more powerful. Guilt is not more powerful. In the world there is nothing more po...
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...olive tree is mentioned here and how it's related over there, and look how it's all grace and all these images and symbols and they just get caught up in the science of the exegesis of biblical theology, and I think that's great. But it's not really fundamentally what I'm most concerned about. I'm not concerned so much about the science as the relationship. What are we ultimately talking about here? We are talking about how great is the love of God for a sinful people and how when they perceive it how overwhelming it is, is the motivation for their obedience and holiness. And how nothing else will work -- not really, not long term. It is the love of God that has to be part and parcel, woven in, the elemental force of every message that we preach or it has no power, not for doing the work of the gospel.
Realize of course, many preachers think that the goal of preaching is to make people feel guilty, just as many people feel it is their obligation to feel bad, in order to merit grace. Oh, you know this. You go out and: "Well, that was sure a good message, pastor; sure stepped on my toes; did a good job today." For such people, guilty feelings are penance of which they do not wish to be deprived. They want to feel that way. They think it's their obligation. There are preachers who think it is their job to beat people about the head and shoulders with the Bible so they'll feel bad and there's just as many people who think, "I'm supposed to take it. That's my job. Your job to hit me; my job to take it, 'cause that's what will make me right with God, if I feel real bad."
"No, the joy of the Lord is your strength. Your sin is taken away as far as the east is from the west. Yes, you have failed God. There is none righteous; no, not one. You are wrong before God and you know not the half of it. But, the grace of God is greater than all of our sin. Christian, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," is the message that must remain.
Proper application, if I could put it all together, would be this: Ultimately what I think we have to be doing is taking people away from themselves as the instrument of healing. That's the bottom line in Christ-centered testimony and teaching. People ask me, even again at this conference, "Are you really saying that we have to mention Jesus in every message? In every message you have to say something about the cross or Jesus?"
That's not really my point. I've used a lot of words interchangeably. I've talked about Christ-centeredness, and redemptive message, and simply the gospel, and the love of God. In essence what I'm saying is this: People got holes in them. Remember, they're Swiss cheese.
What are you telling them fills the holes? As they walk away, are they looking at themselves as the ones who are going to fix it? Or have you somehow -- and however you do it, I think there's thousands -- tens of thousands -- of ways of saying this. Have you made them recognize their dependence upon God rather than themselves. That's really what Christ-centered preaching is about. Not, "I mentioned Jesus in there." Have I gotten in the understanding of people that they are not the ones who can fix it. They've got to be dependent on God, and however you say that -- and I think there are thousands of ways -- that's the bottom line.
The Westminster Confession of Faith again in the twentieth chapter says, "The spirit of God enables men to do what God requires to be done." Have you taken them to the enabler or have you just said, "Do these things."
Therefore we're wanting to make sure that people do know how to plug in, as it were, to Christ's grace and power. Do they know his grace, by offering confession, that they would be able to claim the sonship that is in Christ Jesus, not that it would make them sons, they are simply recognizing what God has done. Do they recognize the power that is already available to them as they pray for the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, as they recognize there is confidence in what the word says, "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." There is truly power to overcome in terms of the things that God by his spirit has now revealed to you.
Do they believe that they are a new creature in Christ Jesus, not because they feel it, because the word of God says it. They are able now to be overcomers. They are able not to sin, those sins that God by his spirit has revealed to them. All of these things are where we're ultimately saying, "Have people recognized they must go to God?" And we haven't just given them a list of five new behaviors to think about this week at the end of our messages.
Yes the behaviors have to be there. Rules don't change. What are the reasons they're now doing it? Are they doing it out of love for God and a recognition that he's the one who provides what they could not provide for themselves?
Just think of it this way. I'll leave you with an image if I can. Schaeffer -- everybody knows the idea -- Schaeffer said you must come to God with the empty hands of faith. That was in "Justification," that you must not come to God saying, "Receive me because I've got something in my hand that I'm offering to you." Schaeffer said. "Come with the empty hands."
But another image that he used powerfully is to say, "We, when we come to God, in sanctification, seeking to obey God, must learn to bow twice." He said, first -- now this is going to sound like Schaeffer -- we must bow to the metaphysical truth: What God in Christ has done." First we must bow to what God has done, before we would bow in obedience, because, he says, if you don't bow to what God has done, then you're bowing in obedience is irrelevant and wrong, because you think that's what's going to make you right before God. First you must bow to what God has done and then you must bow in obedience.
What are you saying to people? What do we say? And I think the basic message is the same whether we're talking about salvation or sanctification, we're saying to people, "Keep your hands empty." If you're claiming why God should love you, why he should love your children, why you should love your wife, don't make it dependent on any work of yours, but point always to the work of Christ, for in him there is love and power and joy for the Christian life. May the message of Christ center in your messages.
Pray with me. "Father, you know our hope. It is that the gospel would characterize our words and it would capture the lives of those we love because you love them. Change our own hearts to recognize the wonder of Jesus' love. We pray that we might be strengthened by the joy that is in him. And so we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.