Saved sinners come to God only through the imputed righteousness of Christ. We are never to come tracking mud into the throne room dressed only in our impudent righteousness. Our “Sunday best” is never good at all, much less good enough. Therefore, understanding what it means to approach God through the merit and goodness of Jesus Christ is a central duty of the Christian Church. And as the church corporately lives out the effects of comprehending imputed righteousness, the effect on individual Christians will be profound. When Christians assembled together cannot speak with God apart from their Mediator, then those same Christians will habitually apply the grace of this example as they pray at home. The worship of the church, therefore, should constantly rest upon the goodness of another, the righteousness of somebody else. The church must know what it means to say, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” To rest in the goodness of Christ is to repudiate one’s own goodness, always a difficult lesson for decent church folk.
The result of all of this is confident liberty, not carnal licentiousness. This is necessary to point out because the liberty introduced by justification is always accused of being licentious. In his teaching of grace, was the apostle Paul setting aside the perfect law of God? Of course not. Was he teaching and behaving in such a way that certain brethren with over-starched collars thought that he was overthrowing it? Absolutely. The preaching of grace is never really complete until Sister Bertha Better-than-you attacks it. The work of justification is not really visible in the world until it makes us appear in the eyes of the established religious world more like our Lord Jesus — that notorious glutton and winebibber.
When a minister of the gospel effectively preaches justification, and the liberty which flows from it, he should never be surprised at the subsequent counterattacks. One counterattack is obvious and comes from those who do not like the preaching of free grace on doctrinal grounds. Here at least a debate can occur. The response of course, is to turn to the Scriptures and seek to determine the issue. We should gladly welcome such a rare exchange of ideas.
But the second counterattack is far more subtle and usually proceeds from those who grant “all that” about justification, but who, for various reasons, want to change the subject. They do not call it changing the subject — they think they are going on to real discipleship, to “sold-out” Christianity — but the effect is always a turning away from the central issue. The list of distractions varies from place to place, but they all have that same furrowed-brow concern for peripherals. A focused attention on the center — Christ and Him crucified — fades. Soon the saints are hopping around like self-important Dufflepuds, convinced that the needed reformation will not come unless the church insists upon schedule feeding of babies, head coverings for women in worship, courtship, Christian schools, neo-Amish homeschooling, exclusive psalmody, finicky sabbatarianism, tithing from the spice rack, beekeeping, soapmaking, turning to accentuate the negative, condemning Christmas, rock and roll, the beverage use of alcohol, birth control, pleated trousers, argyle socks, movies, cigars, clam chowder and bacon, formal education for girls, bowing down in the house of Rimmon, television, and eating meat offered in sacrifice to Aphrodite.
Given the tunnel vision which afflicts those who have drifted away from the liberty of justification, it would be easy for them to infer our position on the particular issues mentioned above from their mere inclusion in this list. But it would be a false inference, and there I will let it rest.
The elders of any Christian church which takes the Word of God seriously will soon see a number of people attracted to their church who are hungry for a word of certainty. We live in relativistic times, and nothing is sure anymore. Consequently, when the gospel is preached without apology, it attracts those who are hungry for answers. Unfortunately, there are many who want “answers” for everything — a sure word from the elders on whether or not it is lawful to see Sense and Sensibility. This is the desire which has always enabled rabbis and gurus to set up their casuistry shops and which gives birth to voluminous talmudic regulations. “Serious Christians don’t. . . .” And we all need to be sure to tell this desire for answers on everything to go back to hell.
The theft of evangelical liberty can come from two directions — from the top or from the bottom. In either case the source of the difficulty is a fleshly perfectionism. When the leadership of the church begins to bind the consciences of members on issues such as these, the tyranny is obvious. But oftentimes churches are also roiled by controversy because some members seek to “reform” the church through individualist boat-rocking. Without submitting to the established leadership of the church (the leadership which will give an account to God), individual members start trying to set the pace. They put forward the pattern of the “more excellent way,” whatever that happens to be this month.
And the antidote to all this ecclesiastical foolishness is found in the simple conclusion to prayer which we all tend to say without thinking about it. When we say “in Jesus’ name, amen” we are acknowledging that we cannot commend ourselves to God on the basis of our wisdom or merit. We have none. The church is filled with corruptions, even during times of great blessings. We need forgiveness and mercy which we have received for Jesus’ sake. If we can’t do a thing in Jesus’ name we shouldn’t do it. If we can say grace over it then we should have grace in it. Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free. Part of this freedom is the freedom from performance anxiety.
If this prompts the question, “What then, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound” then perhaps we are finally starting to declare the doctrine of justifying grace aright.