Letters to the Family of God
by Joe Franzone | June 16, 2022 | Pastor's Blog
June 16, 2022
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?
Does God, who gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you, do these things because you have obeyed the Law or because you have believed the Gospel?
Galatian 3:3 The Message
There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be trust as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.
B.B. Warefield (1851-1921)
Richard Halverson was undoubtedly on to something when he wrote,
In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.
Christianity is not a business. The ability to mature as a Christian is not a commodity to be sold. We should not be selling maturity, although regrettably, it is almost to be expected now. Christian maturity, marketed in such a way that the rest we are promised, can never come, as long as there are “new” products for promised maturity in the pipeline to sell.
Christian maturity is not foundationally an exercise program either. Sunday by Sunday worship is not like a person going to the gym for a good workout. In exercising, if you put in the work, results will come. The foundation of your growth is all on you. We are not the foundation of anything in our Christian walk.
In stressing the desire and value of Christian growth, obedience can be seen, by some, as the foundation for growth. Under this framework, obedience is almost always presented. However, Christian maturity cannot be reached simply by stressing the importance of obedience or even by setting up robust accountability networks to help us obey. Many religions have tried to bring about maturity in these ways, and the results always have been short-lived and far less than the Christian discipleship aim.
The temptation to rely on our works was a constant trap in the New Testament churches. The Colossian, Corinthian, Philippian, and Galatian churches all struggled with this. It continued to be a struggle throughout church history, and it continues to be a struggle now.
Paul taught the Christians in Rome that those who rejected faith in Christ for their righteousness and sought to establish their own did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness-by-the-Law for everyone who believes in Him. (Romans 10:1-4) All to say, faith and not obedience is foundational.
Luther, in his commentary on the Psalms, wrote that false interpreters of Scripture led people away from the true ground of faith (Christ) and brought them to their mountains, that is, their great high holiness of works. Amen!
Obedience-based maturity will not strengthen but weaken people’s defenses against temptation. Their promised high holy mountain is a paper mountain. Our standing before God is based entirely on the finished work of Christ, and as we saw earlier, we mature in our Christian lives just as we began: through faith, by the power of the Spirit (Galatians 3:2–3).
In short, the righteousness acceptable to God is plain, the forgiveness of sins. Sins are not counted against us but are covered by Him.
This means many things, but one thing it means is that Christian growth is always downward. Downward in self-reliance, confidence in our flesh, and upward for righteousness not our own, but through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:9)
We cannot rely on our day-to-day existence for our sanctification and justification. Drawing our assurance of acceptance with God from our sincerity, our latest religious performance, or the relative infrequency of our conscious willful disobedience is more pagan than Christian. Every Christian will come face to face with clear and abundant evidence that sin resides in and troubles even the most mature Christian. When you rely on your achievements or history or behavior more than the justifying work of Christ for your sense of significance and security, it makes you fundamentally insecure. Why? Because our perpetual obedience is unsustainable. Zeal in this can be a dangerous thing for the person and confusing for the on-looker.
The Gospel is the beginning, middle, and finishing of the Christian life. Markets are for buying things. Christianity is receiving a gift—His righteousness. Obedience is certainly a fruit of the Gospel, but it is not the root of the Gospel.
God bless you in all things great and small.