August 7, 2019 | by: 0 Comments|
Brothers and Sisters,
A few weeks ago, during the membership course, I was asked a difficult question about one of the thorniest areas of Christian theology – how do we relate to the law of God? I did not have a straightforward or succinct answer. There are two terrible troughs we can fall into. One is called antinomianism (against the law), and the other is legalism (an abuse of the law). We want to understand both dangers, and here is how Sinclair Ferguson explains, exposes, and undermines the first in our lives. He writes:
Antinomianism has an everyday and mundane form, for example, in the professing Christian who responds to his passenger’s anxious glance at his speedometer with a “We’re not under law; we’re under grace.”
At one level it would be appropriate to say: “Actually you are under the law - Indiana Law, or Pennsylvania Law, or Scots Law - and there is a flashing light behind you to prove it!”
But in terms of our theology of the Christian life, responding “But you are under the law” would in any case not really deal with the problem. It would miss its real heart. For the deepest response to antinomianism is not “You are under the law” but rather
You are despising the gospel and failing to understand how the grace of God in the gospel works! There is no condemnation for you under the law because of your faith-union with Christ. But that same faith-union leads to the requirements of the law being fulfilled in you through the Spirit. Your real problem is not that you do not understand the law. It is that you do not understand the gospel. For Paul says that we are “in-lawed to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:20-21). Our relationship to the law is not a bare legal one, coldly impersonal. No, our conformity to it is the fruit of our marriage to our new husband Jesus Christ.
Practical antinomianism has many forms today. One of them is the secular gospel of self-acceptance masquerading as Christianity. “Since God accepts me the way I am, I ought not to get straitjacketed by the law of God - what God wants is that I be myself.” This has very concrete expressions in what are euphemistically described as “lifestyle choices”: “This is how I am, God is gracious, and [implied: unlike you, if you disagree with me] he accepts me as I am, and therefore I will remain as I am.”
At one level the problem is indeed rejection of God’s law. But underneath lies a failure to understand grace and ultimately to understand God. True, his love for me is not based on my qualification of my preparation. But it is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. Nor does he mean to leave us the way he found us, but to transform us into the likeness of his Son (Roman 8:29). Without that transformation and new conformity of life we do not have any evidence that we were ever his in the first place. [Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance-Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 153-154.]
As Dr. Ferguson declared, our faith-union with Jesus Christ leads to the requirements of the law being fulfilled in us through the Spirit. The law is a gift, guide, and a guard to us. The Spirit writes God’s law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31), and it is our delight to live out the love of the law (and the law of love) as transformed and deepened through the ministry of Jesus Christ. Living out the law of love and the love of the law is part of how we display the character of Christ in the world. May we so display the character of the Light of the World (John 8:12) that we shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).
Warmly in Christ,
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