Thursday, January 24, 2008

Overturning the tables of legalism

A good number of posts (and comments) on this blog have discussed the dangers of legalism, and have powerfully proclaimed the glorious grace of God. For a while now, I have been thinking about how we should respond to legalism. Then, a few weeks ago, Dan sent me a text message in which he made reference to the following quote from Rob Rufus:

"If you don't get angry with legalists then you haven't seen grace".

And also:

"DON'T LET THE PHARISEES RAPE YOUR PEOPLE. Don't be nice to the Pharisees! Jesus wasn't!".

I was then reminded of one of the times we see Jesus getting angry: in the temple just before the Passover, where he drives out the money changers and those who are buying and selling animals for sacrifice (who, incidently, were occupying the "Court of the Gentiles", the only place where the Gentiles were permitted to worship the God of all the earth and had turned it into a market). Jesus showed these traders no mercy. He lamented the failure to fulfill God's vision for the place to be a house of prayer for all nations, and told them they had turned it into a den of thieves.

Here we see people (Jew and Gentile) being robbed of the grace of God.

What legalism does

It says: "He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business." (John 2v14)

Oxen, sheep and doves were the animals that people came to sacrifice in order to be accepted before God. There were many kinds of sacrifice, but the essential purpose of them was so that people could be right with God. In particular, at the Passover (the time when these events occurred), the lamb was sacrificed as a memorial that in Egypt the wrath of God was turned aside and the people were set free.

So here in the temple of God, they were selling the means by which people could get right with God. They were forced to pay in the temple currency (hence the money changers) - in other words they were forced to step into a particular mould of behaviour in order to be accepted by God, and to pay for the means of acceptance with the work of their hands.

The only way a person could be sure that the animal was acceptable to the priest was to buy from the sellers there in the temple. And the only way he/she could buy the correct animal was to have the right currency. If they brought their own animal, or tried to pay in any other way, they were rejected. So drawing near to God had been transformed totally into an operation where the people had to fit the mould, work the works, and pay the price to draw near to God.

If someone couldn't pay, they were left out and so could not draw near (or so they were taught). What an abomination!! How disgusting! And yet, this is a clear picture of what legalism does.

So many believers end up having to "tow the line" and approach God in the format demanded by their churches; they have to pay their way into coming near to God (only accepted if their tithes are fully paid up); they have to obey all the rules of church life in order to be an upstanding member of the church; they are taught that their behaviour (not the grace of God through Christ) determines their standing in the presence of God.

And so many, many believers are bound up by rules and regulations, and under a cloud of condemnation (because they don't meet the grade of human regulation) and are missing out on the joy and liberty of living in the amazing grace of God.

What should be our response?

It says: "When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables." (John 2v15).

Jesus overturned the tables. He drove them out. This might not be a popular thing to say, but I believe God has given to those who have discovered the truth of the free grace of God - to drive out the lies about the cost of God's grace and, if necessary, confront the people who stand in the way of grace.

We are to overturn the tables of those who sell God's love, who make the saints feel that have to earn acceptance. We must upturn the ables of law and regulation and invite every precious saint freely to come beyond the Court of the Gentiles right in through the torn veil right into the very throne room.

This might appear quite a rough response. What about love? I do believe there needs to be a difference in approach, depending on who we speak to.

Those enslaved and broken by legalism need a tender and gentle touch as the grace of God is taught and fed.

Then there are many victims of legalism who are, because legalism has become so ingrained, are very zealous for legalism and earning favour with God. These are like all the people who bought in the temple - they were caught up within the system, but they were none the less victims - shut out from intimacy with God and made to pay their way. With such there does need to a firmer hand, but still a tender hand. Be bold, but be gentle and patient, keep loving and keep persevering and demonstrating the grace of God.

Then, there are the moneychangers and the sellers themselves. It is clear from the scripture that Jesus showed them no tenderness, but drove them out. Frankly, these were the people (supported by the pharisees), who should have known better. And today, while I am sure many leaders are very sincere - they should know better. Scripture is very clear about the abundant grace of God.

We need to be bold - very, very bold. It is interesting that those who defend legalism do so claiming the authority of Gal 2v11 - "Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed." This verse is used to excuse all manner of authoritarian action and speech against people who do not agree. Yet the context is in fact an apostle standing firm to challenge another apostle who had fallen into legalism.

This was the line in the sand for Paul. Legalism had come into the church, and was being embraced by a leader - and it had to be opposed.

The likely response

It says: "And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him." (Mark 11v18)

The pharisees sought to kill Jesus. That doesn't bode well! But history has repeated itself since. The religious leadership sought to kill Tyndale for freely giving away the word of God. They sought to kill Luther for revealing the free gift of justification. It is the response of religion.

I'm not saying we will be killed, but it is an almighty battle. Instead of drawing the line in the sand over secondary issues such as the "role" of women in the church - our line in the sand is far more serious.

It is the GOSPEL itself. It is the glorious truth that we are justified freely by His grace, clothed in His righteousness, having the same standing before God as His own dear Son, with the right by His blood to stand in God's presence and bask in His glory as sons and daughters of the Lord, to hear His voice, and to cry Abba Father. And to know that we are free from any form of payment, free from any requirement to meet human regulations, free from the accusations and reminders of how we fall short, free from being reminded about indwelling sin.

I fully expect that we shall be accused of antinomianism (that is, being against the old covenant law - as if that were a bad thing :)!), of promoting licence, of undermining God Himself. But it is simply not true. God's grace is free, access into His presence is free, for every single child of God. It is essential that we encourage God's people to stand firm in the grace of God and enjoy their full inheritance.

Rob Rufus said in his first message on the grace-hating spirit: "When you realise that I can come to God, I can receive grace, then you can see the marriages getting blessed, the wife's a blessing she is a priest, the husbands a priest, they're priests over their children, they're priests in their marriage, they're priests, they are living with God, they have access to God. If we could liberate 1.2bn christians into the priesthood of all believers the power of heaven will come down on the church and what happened 2000 years ago at the cross when the veil was split and the glory of God came out and was accessible to all who were born again, we would see revival break out across the planet."

And there is simply the joy of being in love with Him, in His presence, being drenched in His glory. We must not compromise and allow these false teachings to hold people back from the glory cloud.

I found these wonderful songs from the Parachute Band (from New Zealand):

I see you Lord, in the most holy place
Where angels tremble and lay down in worship.
I stand in wonder, longing to draw near
You catch my eye and call me in.

I fall down, in awe of you
I fall down, in awe of you.
(Shonelle Barnes, (C) Parachute Productions 1998)


In so many ways you love me
just as I am not as I should be
and as your child you take hold of me
I see just why I fall in love with you.
The purest love I've ever known
was that you chose to give and die.
The blood that poured from your open hands
all so I could fall in love with you

I've got to worship you my God
I can't contain the way I feel
I dance free before you Lord
it's you that I adore.
(Shonelle Barnes, (C) Parachute Productions 1998)

Let's start dancing free...


jul said...

WOW! Peter, what a great post!

Dan Bowen said...

Isn't it?!!? This man carries such an incredible gift of teaching and I am so honoured he has agreed to share these revelations on my blog!

Anonymous said...

This is an absolute prescription for license. The root sin at man's heart is pride and we should never forget it. C J Mahaney said It is by concentrating on our indwelling sin and the depths of our depravity that we will be kept truly humble. I cannot believe the depths to which this blog has sunk.

Dan Bowen said...

Well anonymous with all due respect to C J Mahaney, I think he is wrong and believe that there is a far better way to remain truly humble as opposed to being condemned - and I am thrilled at what you wrote. According to Dr Lloyd-Jones, your reaction shows that Pete Day has truly understood TRUE grace!

jul said...

Go Pete! You riled up the brood of vipers, or maybe just one, but you're on the right track...

lydia joy said...

wow, excellent post! I appreciated the backdrop you painted it really really helps to understand the whole context of that passage....
I am also so grateful to be introduced to grace filled worship....genuine from the heart passionate worship....I will be checking these guys out for sure!!!!

By way anonymous focusing on my indwelling sin all these years only led to more "indwelling" sin -grace has led to a deep hunger and passion for God and it is a joy to be His child and I can't get enough of My AWESOME God .....(oh and no more guilt or condemnation...woohoo!)

Ellie said...

Personally, anonymous....I follow Jesus...not CJ Mahaney....

thebluefish said...

Indeed, go get accuseed of being an antinomian! It's true that awareness of sin helps humility, the question is how am I made aware of sin? By rules I can't keep - NO! By looking at Jesus and beholding his glory and grace - YES!

I've been on this subject recently three ways to live. Helpful quote about being angry with legalists.

You guys would love Marcus Honeysett's book Finding Joy Those of you who love grace anyway. Much like Virgo's God's lavish grace.

James B said...

Awesome - what a way to start blog fights than write about grace?! What better topic, what better thing to think about. There's not much more that I contribute that the girls and Bluefish haven't!

Thanks for the book plug btw - I will be hunting that one down.

Peter Day said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and encouragement. And thank you for the book plug; I shall take a look at that.

Although I must apologise to Dan for the "depths to which this blog has sunk" since I started posting here! lol :D

In all seriousness, I can't think of anything in the post that encourages license. Scripturally true grace leads to the question, "Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?" (Rom 6v1). And then Paul answers in the glorious way - "Of course not!" But the reason that he says we don't go on sinning isn't "well, you have deep indwelling sin problems, focus on them, get yourself humble and you won't sin."

Rather he says "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? " (Rom 6v2). That is what the cross and resurrection has done - it has made us DEAD to sin, and ALIVE to God through Jesus Christ.

Now, of course humility is very important. James and Peter both tell us to humble ourselves. But it is GRACE not law that humbles. Law puts the credit for the blessing of God firmly with me.

In the past, if I had prayed hard and kept myself largely free from serious sin during the week, I used to walk into church confident that the blessing of God would come. Who gets the glory for that?

But now I have seen I can add absolutely nothing to His righteousness. His righteousness is perfect - you can't get a better righteousness - and He says that I have become the righteousness of God in Christ!!! What amazing grace, how humbling, how much I want to fall on my face in awe and amazement, to dance around the room in complete joy.

And, also, how much more distasteful sin has become. Yes, I still sin, but suddenly instead of trying in my feeble human efforts to get right with God by praying harder, working harder, beating myself up and sitting under a cloud of condemnation, I can get straight back up, repent and adore Him who has already taken my sin past, present and future. Why can I get straight back up and worship? Because I am still the righteousness of God in Him!

But sin has become so much more distasteful, because He is my best Friend, my Lover, my Father. Compared to His awesome presence sin is just - it is dust, dead, dry, empty. The pleasures of God surpass the pleasures of sin, and I can stand in the pleasures of His presence 24/7 because - I am the righteousness of God in Him.

Everything we have comes from Him; we are totally dependent on Him. That is the essence of true humility - complete dependence on Him, so He gets all the glory.

thebluefish said...

newfrontiers elder Sean Green on 'Finding Joy'.

Grace is the only way to do discipleship - Peter, so helpful to say that it's grace that humbles us. Surely that's the logic of 2 Cor 3v18-4v6, it's beholding the glory of the Lord in the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that is how we're transformed into Christlikeness.

Peter Day said...

That's it exactly, Dave. And because of His righteous given to us, we are free to stand and behold! We don't come to a mountain that cannot be touched. We don't stand afar off while only Moses (or the pastor!) goes in to the tent to talk with God. We don't wait for the annual entering of the priest into the Most Holy Place for our sins.

The curtain is torn in two, and we stand, clothed in His righteousness in the Most Holy Place to behold His glory and be changed from glory to glory! Hallelujah!

thebluefish said...


We come back up the mountain into Eden, hidden in the righteousness of Christ, past the angels who had barred the way (no coincidence that the temple curtain had two angels on it... until it was torn open!), back into the place where we can walk in fellowship with God!

I love the gospel.

Concerned Friend said...

I don't think anonymous was suggesting that we follow C J Mahaney rather than Jesus Christ, but C J is a godly, wise, mature, experienced leader who has studied the Scriptures and the men of the past and has seen the mistakes and errors that license can do and bring to a church or churches. I think his book on "Humility" is wise and I know that I have been helped hugely in trying to be more humble by focusing more on my depraved nature and what I am deep within.

I too am concerned at this post and can see license coming as a result of it, but I can appreciate Peter's heart in writing this. We do need to think through these thigns.

lydia joy said...

I am just curious what people, who suggest this post is leading to license or is licentious, would say license is exactly? And how do you come up with what you would see as license.....not trying to stir anything up here, just honestly would like to know how you define it.....

jul said...

I guesss I have just have to say that the Bible actually says the the law STIRS UP SIN. It's GRACE that teaches us to say 'no' to ungodliness. So, are we going to believe Scripture, or C.J., or any other man, no matter how godly and humble they may be?

Dan Bowen said...

"Concerned Friend" - all I am hearing from you is a doctrine of works and of effort.

"helped hugely in TRYING to be more humble by FOCUSSING more on my depraved nature".

Grace sets you free! The Cross of Christ should tell you (not a human teacher) that it is about what is DONE - DONE - DONE, not what you are TRYING to DO - DO - DO!!

No one is doubting C J Mahaney (or any other leader's) sincerity or desire for orthodoxy. But our foundation for all faith is the Word of God and what we are trying to establish here is whether what they are teaching is matching up to that.

And the proof of that is going to be in changed lives. What brings out the best result in Christians? A focus on indwelling sin, on accounting for and listing every flaw and failure and attempts to deal with them humanly? Or a focus on the all-encompassing grace of Almighty God in the totally and utterly finished work of Christ on the Cross and the imputed righteousness - the FACT (rather than the effort) that when God looks at us He sees us as righteous (TOTALLY and UTTERLY) in Christ Jesus!?

I don't know about anyone else, but in all my 30 years of striving and struggling, I have NEVER EVER so wanted to be like Christ since I began hearing this wonderful freeing message of grace through men like Rob and Terry and Pete!

Concerned Friend said...

Hi again, I am sorry if I came across as a bit "hero-worshipping" of C J. I guess he is the greatest influence on my life since I became a Christian and I find it hard to believe or conceive that he could be wrong in what he has been teaching since the mid-90's about this.

I guess Lydia (as I was one of those expressing concern) that my worry comes from the fact that it seems to me that all the "safety railings" are off in this teaching. There's no talk of the anger of God against sin, the wrath of God against what we do wrong, the holy fury of God and so on. I guess if you accept this teaching 100% whole-sail there is no fear to keep you in check.

And surely that is like a red rag to a bull to the devil and to our sinful inner natures?

Concerned Friend said...

Dan, I think we were posting comments at the same time. Yes I guess you are right in that there is much talk of effort in what I wrote but doesn't Paul talk about "Working hard"? Surely effort is expected in the Christian life?

James B said...

Concerned Friend: "There's no talk of the anger of God against sin, the wrath of God against what we do wrong, the holy fury of God and so on".

Erm ... forgive me, but seeing as you link to Sovereign Grace then I am guessing you put the Cross of Christ as primary. Wasn't all that you quoted and wrote poured out on the Son of God at Calvary?

Peter Day said...

James you are correct - the wrath of God was satisfied completely upon the cross. There is no more wrath for the Christian. All our sins, past, present and future have been paid for on the cross.

Also, Concerned Friend mentioned the importance of fear to motivate us. But doesn't the scripture say: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." (1 John 4v18).

Our motivation to not sin, is LOVE not fear. And grace motivates love. So the grace of God is absolutely key to overcoming sin.

As Julie has pointed out Titus 2 says that grace teaches us to say "no". It is grace which will produce a walking in the Spirit that means we do not fulfil the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5v16).

Grace defeats the devil rather than giving him like a red-rag to a bull. Grace totally undermines any voice of condemnation because we are the righteousness of God in Christ. Condemnation is one of the key tools of the enemy to keep us oppressed and therefore more likely to throw in the towel and yield to sin.

I believe that if we embrace this teaching 100% whole-sale we will not only feel the joy of the total freedom that is ours in Christ, but we will also live more and more free from sin.

thebluefish said...

What if I sin? is the classic legalist question, as put into Peter's mouth by Paul in their dialogue in Galatians 2. And Paul's response? The life I live in the flesh is dead - the life I actually live is in the Son of God. Yes we still sin, the Spirit and the sinful nature war with one another... but the remedy (galatians 5) is to live by the Spirit. The logic of 5v16 is compelling... live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. NOT "don't gratify the sinful nature and you'll live by the Spirit". Pursuing a life in step with the gospel and in step with the Spirit (synonymous I think) is the way to beat sin. Jesus focussed rather than sin focussed.

I've always found CJM to be good on that but my experience may be narrow. I'm all for Owen-esque putting my sin to death - sin is horrible and I want to be rid of it, but the tool to root it out isn't rule-based accountability or stuff, it's grace and the Spirit, it's seeing Christ. The more my heart feeds on the grace of Christ the more reviled I am by my sin. Whereas when I focus on sin it has a strange way of convincing me that it's not so bad.

I'm going for Led by the Spirit therefore not under law. (Gal 5v18)

lydia joy said...

concerned friend
you said "my worry comes from the fact that it seems to me that all the "safety railings" are off in this teaching."
I think I know what you mean by this, it's why the grace message is questioned so much.....but you are saying what God did isn't good enough for you, that you still have some part to play and I don't believe God is into behaviour modification as much as many Christians are, you have to stop and step back from the passages you interpret as "behaviour".... if you don't see the whole point of the Gospel that is interwoven into all the New Testament/New Covenant teachings you miss what will really transform your life.....knowing about your sin and dwelling on your sin will not truly transform you life the way God intends...besides we died to sin, remember??? We are alive to Christ......the impact this message has had on my life has been truly transforming am I living licentiously when all I can think about is God, how Awesome He is and How much I am falling in love with Him!!! Getting a hold of the message of grace will begin to truly transform us into the image of Christ......

Isaiah 54 prophecies of a promise/ an oath God makes to never be angry with us again!!!

janelle said...

Anonymous: CJ also said for "every one look we take at our sin, we should take ten looks at the Cross." Yes, we can be kept humble my our depraved sin, but if we do not focus on grace, we will feel condemned. After all, the ministry CJ leads is called "Sovereign Grace" and not "Depraved Sin."

Concerned Friend: Focusing on sin and grace must walk hand in hand for the same reason mentioned above: there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Inevitably only focusing on sin will lead to condemnation. Humility does require sorting through our sin, and CJ's book does speak a lot of sin, but it also speaks a lot of grace, too. He certainly is a wise leader, and I'm proud (no pun intended) to be under his teaching!

Peter: Great article and subsequent responses. I don't think license was given anywhere in this article.

jul said...

You go Janelle!!

Peter Day said...

Thank you again everyone for continuing to contribute to this discussion.

Janelle: Thanks so much for stopping by and for your encouragement. Thanks, too, for the clarification concerning CJ Mahaney's teaching. I have to admit I had been quite alarmed at some of the quotes I have read about the book on humility (particularly those about looking inwards at our sin). I agree 100% that God calls us to humility (how can we not be humble when we consider all that He has done for us, and when by grace we enjoy His awesome presence? God is just sooo good and we are utterly dependent on Him for everything).

But, as I have explored grace more and more, I do wonder about the wisdom of looking inwards. Of course David did pray "search me, O God" (Ps 139) but that was an invitation to God to speak to him about things that He desired to change, rather than David himself dredging up things in his heart.

I think the devil himself spends enough time dredging things up in our hearts and condemning us without us helping him to do it!

One of the great songs that has come out of SGM recently is Before the throne of God above. I just love that song, especially this part:

When satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt withing,
Upward I look and see Him there (glory!!!)
Who made an end to all my sin!!!!!

Having said all that, I don't want to criticise from a position of being uninformed. So I shall give the humility book a read aswell. That's now two books to add to my reading list :-). But there's no pressure because we're under grace! :D

Peter Day said...

Lydia: I was so blessed your response to Concerned Friend about "my worry comes from the fact that it seems to me that all the "safety railings" are off in this teaching."

You said: "Getting a hold of the message of grace will begin to truly transform us into the image of Christ......" Amen, amen!!

Overnight I have been thinking more about this concern that the "safety railings" are off.

I can think of two occasions where Paul addresses the subject of a wrong response to grace:-

First in Rom 6v1, he raises the natural questions "Shall we go on sinning then that grace may abound?" And then he answers as I mentioned in an earlier comment.

Also in Gal 5v13: "for you have been called to liberty; only do not use your liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

It seems that Paul is aware that people will abuse his teaching. Peter also affirms that people twisted Paul's teaching in 2 Peter 3v16.

What is Paul’s response? He answers the accusations and then goes on teaching grace. He doesn’t get worried about the "safety-railings" and start adding law. He corrects the falsehood and then continues teaching pure grace. So let's carry on proclaiming pure grace.

Just as an aside, a while ago I wrote a post on my own blog (which I have been neglecting recently!) called Why are we so wary of grace? If anyone is interested, feel free to have a read.

jul said...

As far as 'needing' safety railings, I think this is nothing less than a mistrust of the Holy Spirit. We are to live led by the Spirit, and if we feel it isn't safe to live with him as our shepherd, what is that saying about him? As I've said before, for some reason people would rather choose guidelines over the Guide. This ulimately leads us AWAY from God, not closer...What is God's objective in saving us? Is it to make us live right or to bring us near to him into intimate fellowship? Regardless, the law will lead us into a miserable failure to attain either. Grace is the only way, pure, undiluted GRACE!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes Janelle I am well aware that the ministry we are in is called "Sovereign Grace" and not "Deprived Sin" but as I understood C J's key sermon outlining the change of our name from "PDI" - the key focus is "divine election". I.e - while we were dead in trespasses and sin, He sovereignly elected that we would be recipients of salvation. The choice of the name cannot be insignificant.

To be in such a group of churches must mean that much of our focus and concentration must be like C J's - remembering where we came from. That will keep us humble. Doesn't C J quote Martin Luther often saying; "We carry NOTHING but His nails in our pockets"?

We have no - absolutely no - grounds for pride. In anything. Period.

janelle said...

Anonymous, I agree with you, but I think you are missing something. Yes, we were soveriegnly saved from our sin. Remembering where we came from is very important. But that ALONE will not keep us humble...we must also remember God's GRACE. The emphasis is on grace and is always going to be on grace. CJ does quote Luther, but Luther also said, "Be a sinner and sin strongly, but MORE STRONGLY have faith and rejoice in Christ." He also said, "I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals."

That's my point. There is a balance. Dwelling on sin and dwelling on grace must be simultaneous and walk hand in hand.

lydia joy said...

Oh Julie that was well said......I remember sitting in your living room when you said that, I want all grace, only grace, now I know what you mean!!....and Peter I really appreciate all your comments and how you teach a bit more each a good kind of teaching way....thanks!!

Marshall said...

The reason to consider our sin is so that we can greatly appreciate what Jesus did to pay the price for it. Instead of condemning us, it motivates us to turn to God and rejoice that He has forgiven it all!

Anonymous said...


"Remembering where we came from is very important. But that ALONE will not keep us humble...we must also remember God's GRACE".

What is God's grace other than what He did for us at the Cross? I think you are wrong in saying that alone will not keep us humble. Why else would C J write a book on the "Cross Centred Life"? Why else would he insist on "We must never move beyond the Cross"?

The power in keeping us humble is remembering the past. Our depraved state and His finished work. It worries me and fears me that to suggest that we must look for something else is to take away from the Cross and the Cross-centred life we MUST live and MUST make every effort to live.

PS: Where is the so-called author of this blog? He seems to be keeping remarkably quiet for once.

Dan Bowen said...

Oh I am here "Anonymous" ... I think the conversation is going fine without me needing to make any comments. Issues are becoming quite clear and I am learning a lot ... about grace. AND about legalism.

From what I gather, the focus of your life is about looking back then?

Diane (SGM Pastors Wife) said...


I just can't figure out about you. When you first started leaving your angry posts I got so irritated with you. Then I became thankful that I am not in your church and under your leadership. Now you just make me feel very sad. I haven't tasted anything of grace (I feel) when I read and hear Rob Rufus or Terry Virgo.

But to read you talking of "effort" and "remembering" and "trying" just makes my heart ache at what life must be like for you. I don't mean to sound patronising. I am just being honest.

I am sure you are a person of vast experience and of knowledge - but you know what? I'd prefer just a few days of pure ecstatic grace and joy dancing in wonderful freedom at the realisation that I have the imputed righteousness of Christ applied to me FOREVER and I am accepted in the Beloved!! I'd prefer that than years in anything else.

I read this on the Rob Rufus blog; "Don't EVER put your life under your pastors or leaders, put it under God and His Word!!".

I am glad (I really am) that Mahaney means so much to you. But just be careful.

A TRULY concerned friend.

James B (will Ern Baxter dot come EVER come online?!) said...

Well said Diane, and you should know - coming from the same background (although maybe different styles).

What occured to me was that we are all commenting here and I think all striving for a true understanding of the grace of God. I think?! None of us would willingly and freely say "I want to be under legalism!!". But I think we have to be absolutely unyielding in sniffing out legalism in WHATEVER form, WHATEVER church you come from - and being honest about it.

I too read that wonderful sermon that Lydia so freely posted on the Rob Rufus blog and it was this bit that caught my eye;

"It is not enough to preach Grace! If you leave the impression that the Christian is somehow under the law a little bit or leave a subtle insinuation in people's mind -"Yes there's grace, but we do have to keep a few laws." If you do that, it's that little gap that the enemy will take advantage of and will use it to undermine the whole super structure of Grace and the Whole Gospel is neutralized!!
You say but Rob, don't we have Christian duties, don't we have to do something! I want to say categorically, WE HAVE NO CHRISTIAN DUTIES! WHAT?!?! This is hard to hear because of 1500 years of indoctrination of religious control, but when you come under grace and are free from the law, there is nothing you have to do, but there are a whole lot of want to's that start rising up in the heart.
I just think some Christians need to go on a diet from everything else and go on a diet of grace for a long time because I believe that many Christians have been propped up by law and external behaviour and modification techniques, that's all their doing and they think that because they behave externally that God's impressed with that. GOD IS NAUSEOUS WITH THAT STUFF, IT'S CALLED PHARISEEISM!!! God wants what we do to come from our HEART, that is released from guilt and manipulation, that is FULL OF GRACE".

That's quite shocking isn't it - God is NAUSEOUS with Phariseeism! Let us be careful guys. There's not much difference between the nausea of God and the way He treated and spoke to the Laoedecian church.

lydia joy said...

Hmmm James, I am just curious what you mean in that last sentence, could you explain??

Peter Day said...

Well Anonymous...

As Dan says, we don't always need to comment. Firstly, Dan works and so do I. Secondly, we don't always dive in with the first thought that comes to mind. Rather, we want to be sure that our comments are both biblical and in the right spirit.

Also, you mention a book by CJ Mahaney called "The Cross-Centred Life". As I said to Janelle above, I am very happy to read these books, so I can read the teaching you refer to for myself and to follow the example of the Bereans to search the scriptures to see if these things are so. And that, surely, should be our practice. Many of us have quoted our spiritual heroes above, and that is not wrong at all, but our final authority is the Word of God.

With that in mind, I have some trouble finding the biblical basis for "we must never move beyond the cross". It sounds so good and laudible. It sounds spiritual, but is it actually biblical?

You see, Jesus moved beyond the cross, came out of the grave, and is now at the right hand of God, reigning in the glory, having poured out the Holy Spirit, is interceding for His own as our Great High Priest, is our Advocate before the Father, and is coming again. Yes, the vision of the Lamb "as though it had been slain" is an indication that His glorified body bears the marks of our redemption for eternity. It seems there will be an eternal reminder of our redemption as we declare, with the angels, "worthy is the Lamb who was slain", and as we stand before the throne with our robes washed in the blood of the Lamb.

So Jesus has moved beyond the cross. We are told "fix your minds on things ABOVE, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God." (Col 3v1).

Of course, we boast in the cross, as our source of redemption (Gal 6v14); we remember Him through the breaking of bread; we are eternally grateful and awestruck that there should be such amazing love poured out upon us who deserve the complete opposite.

But that is not the same as "never moving from the cross."

Last night, an illustration came to mind. The high priest in the OT moved beyond the brazen altar into the Most Holy Place. The altar forshadows the cross, where the sacrifice was made. The priest moves beyond the veil, into the glory. When he does that, is he gazing back at the altar? No, he is gazing with awe into the glory. At the same time, is he aware that his right to be there is because of the sacrifice? Yes - because he carries the blood into the Most Holy Place.

We are called to look up, not back; to press in, not to stay by the altar. Yet always, our cry is "thank you, Lord, thank You for saving Me, thank you for bringing me in to your glory." And it is a far greater honour to Jesus, rather than spending all our time looking back, to enter in fully to all that Jesus died to make our own.

And, as I have said before, when we are in the presence of the Lord, our thoughts are captivated by Him, and not with ourselves. Surely that is the heart of humility - where He is magnified.

thebluefish said...

"Never move beyond the cross" is David Prior in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, should probably be read in that context:

"It is most important to note that the mystery of which Paul speaks here is not something additional to the saving message of Christ crucified: it is in Christ crucified that the wisdom of God is embodied. It consists rather in the more detailed unfolding of the divine purpose summed up in Christ crucified. We never, therefore, move on from the cross of Christ - only into a more profound understanding of the cross. Paul does not have a simple gospel of the cross for babes, and a different wisdom-gospel for the mature."

The cross then is code for the gospel in all it's fulness which is the message of grace, of how to reign in life, of being sons of God, of being justified, of having the Spirit. And that we never move on from into a higher wisdom, nor do we "turn back the clock of salvation history to law" (Trevor Burke, Adopted into God's family)

Staying true to the cross surely means staying true to what God has done for us there. Such as enjoying Christ, enjoying his blessings and gifts, enjoying being part of the church, enjoying that you're already counted righteous (so add nothing!), enjoy new life as sons of God.

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks for the Prior quote Dave, that's really helpful. I heard the phrase; "Never move beyond the Cross" pretty much on the first Sunday of the SGM church I joined, and could never quite compute it or find it in the Bible. And no one was really able to explain it although someone in my care group suggested they too thought it was "code" for the whole Gospel.

But: "The cross then is code for the gospel in all it's fulness which is the message of grace, of how to reign in life, of being sons of God, of being justified, of having the Spirit".

I can accept and see that. But I am not sure that the Cross is quite the best icon to choose. Ern Baxter said that there was nothing - absolutely NOTHING - positive about the Cross. The Cross was an icon of pain, torture. Although Mel Gibson adequately portrayed the physical sufferings of Jesus I don't think any film on earth could even get close to the spiritual sufferings of the Lord. "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?".

The Bible says that it was only for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the Cross. So is that particular emblem the right one to act as the complete code for the whole Gospel from the impeccable life of Jesus to the vicarious death, to the victorious resurrection to the glorious ascension and royal enthronement and outpoured Holy Spirit on all flesh (that was quoting Ern Baxter by the way before anyone gets too impressed!).

I'm not sure. I guess it is rhetoric anyway but surely the better symbol would be the Throne!!

thebluefish said...

Spot on. The cross is foolishness. Of all the aspects of the gospel message to pick as the summary word the cross is nuts. Yet, Paul summarises his message as "Christ Crucified" but we know he says all the other stuff too. The cross makes an idiot of the world who thought they'd beaten Jesus by the cross. It also stops us being proud because no one looks big when they say that Jesus on a tree is where our hope comes from. The cross is the Bible's gospel-code.

Likewise look at Esther. Purim is the festival to celebrate the victory over the Amalekites. You'd think GALLOWS would be the symbol cos they hang their enemy and his sons on Gallows. What do they pick as the symbol - PUR - because their enemy thought that by casting lots and trusting in chance he could beat the Jews. The symbol mocks the enemy. Lucky man lost and it's celebrated by building Vegas.

thebluefish said...

I meant to add - yes, a throne, or an empty tomb would be the obvious Christian symbol. Yet the church went for the cross.

Dan Bowen said...

"The cross makes an idiot of the world who thought they'd beaten Jesus by the cross. It also stops us being proud because no one looks big when they say that Jesus on a tree is where our hope comes from. The cross is the Bible's gospel-code".

You know, that statement explained what I've never quite been able to understand. I can see that. Maybe the obvious isn't always quite right in God's eyes. Maybe there is a reason why the church adopted the Cross. Maybe they are right. But I wonder whether the Church would be making more headway into the Great Commission if we living with a symbol of the Throne or the empty tomb! ;)

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dan Bowen said...

Okay just so we are clear - Anonymous I have deliberately deleted that comment. I don't really care if you make personal or nasty remarks about me. We have personal issues with each other and that's fine. I'm quite content with that. But you absolutely WILL NOT make personal disparaging remarks about my friends or other people who visit this blog. And especially women. I will fiercely protect my sisters in Christ who come and read this blog and dare to make comments. They are welcome and valued here and I appreciate them and love them.

You on the other hand need to go and find another blog to read as I am sure there are others that would edify you more. I fear that somehow you won't as you have self-elected yourself as a heresy detector and defender of your view of orthodoxy.

Let me make myself clear; don't leave nasty, angry comments about ANYONE else here or I will continue deleting them and telling you so.

Diane (SGM Pastors wife) said...

Thnx u Dan :) I've never had a brother in Christ talk about "fiercly protecting me". It feels v nice.

James B said...

Sorry Lydia should have made myself clearer - I guess I was just seeing a bit of a connection between what Rob said about the "nausea" and the verse in Revelation where Jesus warned the Laoedecian church that lukewarmness caused Him to vomit. The orthodox evangelicals talk loads about the anger and wrath of God but no one ever talks about the "nausea" of God at lukewarmness and legalistic Pharisaicalism. And why? Because I think deep down I think we are guilty. We have exalted getting orthodoxy right over staying on fire for God.

Hope that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I think I caught a glimpse of this comment left by Anonymous just before Dan rightfully deleted it (as it is his blog). I have been following this discussion as I do with all discussions on this blog and I don't think there is ever any call to become rude towards especially sisters in Christ.

Anonymous you may believe you are speaking as a man to a woman you believe should submit, but the Bible firstly instructs men to "love their wives as Christ loved the church" before asking women to submit. The sister in Christ you were speaking too is NOT your wife and she is NOT under your leadership - therefore I do not believe you have the right to speak to her this way.

Unless Sovereign Grace Ministries believe that men can address other men's wives and instruct them to submit. And I thought it was done respectfully and called "observations". You, Anonymous, did not fulfill either category.

Let's remember we are all on the same side here - the devil is the enemy - he is the one spreading lies and untruths. Our Commission is the same so let's seek unity of the faith.

Dr S A J Burgess

janelle said...

I was going to respond to anonymous but now feel no need to. Dan you're awesome. I'm upset that anonymous seems to be trying to speak for Mr. Mahaney, when in fact I don't think CJ, just from listening to his teachings let alone reading his books, would ever simply look inward at our sin and never at grace! Bluefish, that is exactly what CJ means when he makes that reference to "never moving on from the Cross." Funny how some people only remember that, and not what he actually means by it.

I am interested, however, in the reference that the Cross shouldn't be the "emblem" so to speak of the Church, more like the empty tomb or the Throne.

I find it to be debatable simply because the Cross seems to be the focal point of all of Scripture. Yes, certainly the resurrection and the ascension are vital to the Gospel, and there would be no Gospel without them. One example though of what I mean is the boasting example...Paul didn't say he would boast on the empty tomb or the Throne of grace.

Another would be 1 Cor 1:17 which says, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." Notice here that he didn't say "so that the resurrection would be emptied of its power." (which would make more sense since he was speaking of baptism, if in fact the Cross wasn't central and the resurrection was!)

Now I know I'm no pastor or teacher or anything near that. Maybe I'm wrong, but that seems to be what scripture teaches.

Dan, I'm wondering what Baxter meant when he said there was nothing positive about the Cross. That's depressing for us Christians who only should see positive things from it...since that is where our sins were paid for? Or was he not referring to our view point but to Christ's?

thebluefish said...

Janelle, agreed - I think Cross-Centred Life uses the Prior quote in context helpfully and it's a wonderful little book.

Dan, "I wonder whether the Church would be making more headway into the Great Commission if we living with a symbol of the Throne or the empty tomb!"

Interesting pondering... I suspect our progress is somewhat dependent on us keeping the Cross as our symbol rather than something more impressive. Grace comes to the humble. Being people of the cross certainly keeps us humble and prevents anyone jumping on the bandwagon to look impressive. 1 Corinthians shows us that God's design is to make a fool of the world. And that's of course the book David Prior is commenting on.

Pete or Dan - any chance of writing a new post to pick up on some of the various threads here.... 50 comments makes for a very long page!

Ellie said...

Dan - you're a blessing. Keep on following after your big Brother. :)

Peter Day said...

Wow, I go away for a day and find so much excellent stuff has been said. Just for the record, while I didn't see the nasty "anonymous" comment as some did, I back Dan 1000%. Anonymous is welcome to attack us (that is Dan and me), but not anyone else here.

The discussion on the cross and the resurrection and the throne has been really excellent. I need to do more thinking and studying of the Word on all these things. Praise God for the constructive comments that means iron can sharpen iron together and we do each other good in God.

I wonder if some of the apparent disagreement is down to different language and that in fact we agree on so much? I could be wrong, so please correct me.

After I read these posts, I was texting Dan, and I wrote this. I hope it helps:

The cross is the legal basis for everything in the New Covenant. It dealt with all that stopped us from entering in {that is all our sin, our lack of righteousness - so the cross fits us for the New Covenant - we become the righteous of God in Christ}.

But the cross is not the essence of the New Covenant. Rather the essence of the New Covenant is life in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said, "I baptise with water, after me will come One who is greater than I. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit."

So the cross is all we need to be brought into the dynamic experience of the New Covenant. Praise God! So let us enjoy it all to the full!

And, Bluefish, I have been thinking about what you said about all the comments. I have a file on my laptop entitled "grace notes" which contains some of the things I have been thinking through as a result of this conversation. I hope to publish at some stage - with Dan's permission of course!!

jul said...

Instead of responding here in length to the whole cross-centered debate, I posted a response on my own blog

It's a great discussion though!

janelle said...

I was reading devotionally in "God is the Gospel" by John Piper and happened upon this...kind of weird that I was just saying this...but Piper says it sooooooo much better!

"What the progress of revelation shows, as the New Testament unfolds, is that the death and resurrection of Christ to cover our sins is the foundation for all these blessings that the gospel of the kingdom announces. The King must die before he reigns. Otherwise the justice of his reign would only bring judgment and not salvation. So all the kingdom blessings demonstrated in the Gospels had to be purchased by the blood of Christ. This is why the cross must ever be the center and foundation of the gospel and why the blessings of the gospel should only be called gospel in relation to the cross."

jul said...

In regards to this part of the quote above:

"This is why the cross must ever be the center and foundation of the gospel and why the blessings of the gospel should only be called gospel in relation to the cross."

I just wish he'd said the cross and resurrecion, because the cross alone is not enough (which he mentions earlier in the quote). The death of Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, but if we live there, we forget that in the resurrection the power of sin and death is conquered! Forgiveness and escaping judgement is wonderful, but how much more is the victory we live in! So I'd rather say that the cross and resurrection are the center and foundation of the gospel. I don't think this is being nit-picky, it seems almost demonic to dwell only on the cross (because satan and his demons delighted in seeing the son of God punished, mocked, tormented and forsaken) without remembering that he's alive and crushed the enemy once for all!

janelle said...


Now your argument lies with Piper, not me:-) I think I would disagree with you, when you say "Forgiveness and escaping judgment is wonderful, but how much more is the victory we live in!" On what basis do you say that? The only reason we live in victory is because we've been forgiven. The resurrection couldn't have happened without the death, first. Now don't hear what I'm not saying...the resurrection is paramount to the gospel. We have victory over death because of the resurrection, and victory over sin because of the cross. But victory over sin preludes victory over death, because sin causes death.

lydia joy said...

thanks for clarifying, yes that does make sense!

lydia joy said...

here's a thought, feeble as it may be.....if we stay at the cross, or have it as our focus, or as our Christian symbol, and focus on it because it reminds us of how we've been forgiven of our seems that it is still all about us in some way.....I don't honestly think God did all of this just to save us from our sin alone, he did it so he could be glorified and known for his grace and because of his grace He can purify his bride, the church for his Son, the bridegroom and somehow that was the plan all along to be glorified for his grace that includes all the aspects of the gospel, the cross the resurrection, our ascended Lord who is now seated on His throne in Heaven.....that's just a small piece of what I really want to say....maybe someone can fill in my thought blanks for me.....

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments that are so thought-provoking and I am learning so much from (yes, I'm even learning from Anonymous - about how I DON'T want to do church and DON'T want to live my life!).

Dave (Bluefish) wrote;

"Pete or Dan - any chance of writing a new post to pick up on some of the various threads here.... 50 comments makes for a very long page!".

I would like to agree with this. My good friend Julie has written a post here;

I would like to suggest that is the new post to continue the thread of conversation if people still have things to share and contribute. Please limit anymore comments on this post to the specific topic of legalism as Pete originally posted.

Thanks all!

Peter Day said...

Hi all. Just to help connect people up to Julie's post on "Should we be cross-centered", here is the link.

T.S. said...

I am sure C.J. Mehaney would weep if he read this:

Crossing said...

I like the doctrine of grace. Basically, when a christian rapes another christian daughter, he shouldn't feel guilt nor condemnation because, jesus has died and paid the penalty for his lawlessness----past, present and future sins. Hallelujah!Praise the Lord!

The christian whose daughter has been rape by another christian then proceed to report the matter to the police. The police arrests the rapist. The sinner turns up in court and the judge sentenced him 10 years in jail plus caning. As he walked the judicial hall of shame, he was reminded repeatedly by the holy spirit in him not to feel guilt nor condemnation because, Christ has borne all his sins..past, present and future. Since his mind is absolutely focused on Jesus blood, he ignored strangers hurling verbal abuses at him. Christ is his righteousness, he affirmed. God is grace and grace is God. He is blessed forever because of the finished work of Christ. Though the judiciary may CONDEMN and imprison, my abba father does not condemn me and since no one is greater, wiser, more perfect in judgement than God, all others must be wrong then, he mused.

The story ends with...released from prison, he being without guilt and condemnation and in love with Christ, repeats his lawlesssness.

The good news is more rape but murder?