In the church today, our motivations towards holiness fall somewhere between two extremes.
On one side, we have the “your ticket is punched, do whatever you want” camp which receives labels such as cheap grace and sloppy agape.
On theother side, we have a controlling, law-oriented, manipulation-based “scare them into the kingdom and keep them there” approach. This view turns to legalism and works.
In my personal experience in both life and ministry, I’ve seen more approaches on the later, rule oriented side. While not as extreme as detailed above, they can be dangerous.
Cloud and Townsend, in their book [amazon_link id=”B001UFMUCU” target=”_blank” ]How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals About Personal Growth[/amazon_link], list three common forms of law which lead to failure.
1.Harsh, angry preaching against sin with the injunction to repent – this is the stereotypical televangelist picture
2. Legalistic rules to keep people in line – while done often with a sincere heart, this can modify and control behavior, but not ultimately change hearts
3.Telling people (even lovingly) that the way out is to make better choices. If change were as simple as making better choices, why aren’t we? Why are we still making “mistakes”
Hoping these methods will change hearts is a fallacy. There is something human about wanting to do the forbidden. Our sin nature wants to do something when we are told we cannot.
None of these forms of law have ability to work, although they do contain elements of truth. In other words, they all can come accompanied by Scripture verses; getting the letter of the Law but missing its Spirit.
These methods assume people possess the ability to choose correctly. Emotional responses to the pressure of the law and our subsequent failure to keep it turn into guilt, anger, and fear furthering the problem
The only way to make good choices is to live by the Spirit. Paul gives the Galatians believers the secret to the Christian life in Galatians 5:16.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
What? That’s it? No twelve step formula or 3 spiritual laws?
Instead, Paul challenges the Galatians to a life lived in trust and dependence on the Spirit of God who dwells in them.
If he knew what Peter would write, surely he would have quoted 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,”
Even as edgy as Paul was, I struggle to see him preaching the law in any of the methods I’ve listed above. Paul knew the sinfulness of man and he knew the need we have to rely on the Spirit daily.
When we admonish our people towards holiness, let’s do so as a response to grace not as a condition to receive it.
Let’s help them to choose wisely. In our preaching, let’s make sure we choose wisely.