Sunday, December 14, 2008

Deception and Discernment or Misery and Morality?

I came home today to visit my family for a belated birthday celebration and had an absolutely lovely time with them. I was thrilled to receive two Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones books that I can't wait to get reading. His final book in his Romans series: "Life in Two Kingdoms" and also his fifth volume in his series on the Book of Acts entitled: "Authentic Christianity - Acts 7". My family know me so well!

However while I've been socialising with my parents we have had some very interesting chats mainly centered around the gospel of grace and legalism. One such conversation was provoked by a Christmas newsletter I was rather distressed to find, pick up and read from someone. The individual wrote:

"The recent debacle of the so-called "Lakeland Revival" under Todd Bentley and his subsequent fall from grace should have jolted some Christians into thinking seriously".

The writer then went on to recommend two books - one of which was edited by C J Mahaney entitled; "Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World". So the question that I put and we discussed at some length was this phrase: "Fallen from grace". What does it mean? Christianity traditionally uses it against Christians who have sinned morally in some way. But as Rob Rufus among others shows quite clearly - to use the phrase in such a way is totally unbiblical and misleading.

"Fallen from grace" is found when Paul writes his letter to Galatians in Galatians 5:4 and he writes:

"You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace".

Paul is writing - as is well known - to the Galatian church who began in the true gospel of grace and ended up in a gospel of works. He did not have any commendation for them and was extremely angry. So the apostle Paul does not apply the term; "Fallen from grace" to Christians (such as the Corinthians as one might think) who have fallen morally. Rather he sees legalistic Christians who are seeking to be justified by law - THEY are the ones who have fallen from grace.

In writing to the Corinthian church (who had fallen morally as is well known) Paul at the start of both letters (1 Corinthians 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:2) actually uses the phrase: "Grace ... to you"! A well-known old hymn speaks of the wonder of what happened at the Cross of Christ to our sin:

"My sin, 0 the bliss of this glorious thought - My sin, not in part but in whole - Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more - Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, 0 my soul!"

So has Todd Bentley "fallen from grace"? By no means - rather I hope and pray that at this moment he has found that underneath are the "everlasting arms of grace" and that his beloved Father will not let him rest until he is back in God's will for his already remarkable life. May Todd Bentley know this Christmas that "grace and peace" is coming to him and the question from heaven is: "Don't you know that you are light?".

The question is rather - are such legalists aware that by attempting to gain approval with God through the keeping of the law that THEY are the ones who have fallen from grace? May they too re-find the wonder of their first love when they realised that it: "Is BY GRACE you are saved - THROUGH FAITH and that NOT OF YOURSELVES - it is the GIFT of God".

I can't resist ending this post without quoting from my new Dr Lloyd-Jones book: "Authentic Christianity - Acts 7". A lot of the discussion that I've so enjoyed and benefited from was about how we work through sanctification now we are justified. We discussed the pros and cons of "accountability groups". We talked about the Puritan view of "Mortifying sin" and generally the whole question - how do we grow more like Jesus Christ? Should I be going out and buying these books on "Worldliness" that teach me about modesty and what clothes I should wear? About music and what singles I should listen to and buy? Dr Lloyd-Jones presents a powerful and refreshing alternative:

"What does Christianity offer? Is it an exhortation to you to live a better life? Is it the business of preaching to tell you; "Stop drinking. Stop committing adultery. Don't do this and that. Try to pull yourself together. Read good books. Get a little moral uplift. Gradually make yourself a better person"? A thousand times - no! That is no message: we cannot do it!".

The thing I love about Dr Lloyd-Jones - like any expert clinician - is that he does not tell you what not to do and leave you floundering. He presents the correct view.

"What is it then? Well, as you saw, our Lord puts it so plainly to Nicodemus: "You must be born again". That is the message and it is about a miracle. We cannot be improved. We need the miracle of a rebirth, a regeneration, a new nature, a new creation. The God who created us all at the beginning is going to create us anew, make new people of us and here is the hope and the only hope.

The gospel is not the proclamation of a moral reformation".

Or as Rob Rufus puts it - "The Gospel is not about right living but right believing".

"But of regeneration and life in the Spirit. It offers us a new start, a new beginning; it offers us a new power, which is the 'power of God unto salvation'. It offers us power to live the remainder of our lives in this world and at the end it promises us a like conquest over death, a glorious resurrection and an eternity in the Presence of God. It is not ... a moral, ethical scheme; it is not a political scheme; it is nothing less than the re-creating work of the almighty God. It is a miracle. It is supernatural. It is divine action from beginning to end.

THIS is the message of the Christian gospel of salvation!".

Let's never forget that. We all aim I am sure - legalists and non alike - to become more like Jesus Christ. But the fact is that the Bible is very clear in how that can most effectually be accomplished. So people of the Word (if that's what we claim to be) let's be truthful to the Word of God and realise that there is nothing more abhorent to God Himself that attempting to gain a standing with Him by our own works of the flesh.


jul said...

great post Dan! Glad you had a good time with your family celebrating your birthdays, of the flesh and of the Spirit!

Sheila said...

Excellent. I could not agree more.

I believe Bentley has fallen *into* grace. Isn't that really the way it is?? When a child of God stumbles and falls....don't they fall smack dab INTO grace?

Never "from" it. Never.

Just a thought.

Peter Day said...

Amen, amen, amen!! Falling from grace is not falling into sin but coming under law. I wonder how many folk who have backslidden would have been restored if legalists had not thundered at them "you have fallen from grace"? No - where sin abounds, grace abounds much more!! Shall we go on sinning then? By no means - we have died to sin, been raised with Him into newness of life.

So the gospel IS about right believing. Keep preaching this, dear brother!

Jon Sidnell said...

Awesome post, Dan!!

I've never read any Lloyd-Jones. I think the time is beckoning when I'll need to pick some of his stuff up and give my brain some exercise and my spirit a good bit of food!

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks all! :) Great to read your comments and know it was an encouragement. You are all awesome blessings to me, and just knowing my thoughts are helpful is great!

Sheila - yep, I think you've got it in one. "Fallen into grace". See my next post! You helped inspire it!

Jon - do highly recommend Lloyd-Jones - I really think you will love every word!