There is something that happens when a person begins to understand just how deeply profound God’s grace is toward His children. Sarah Taras is on that journey like many of us, and has written about it over at her blog. Her journey has taken her away from her denomination and in search of the Church. In her searching, she has identified the longing of many hearts:
We’ve wandered far and wide, desperate to hear the one thing our entire faith is founded upon: “It is finished”.
For Taras, this has led her to the doorsteps of the Lutheran church. While I am not Lutheran, and have some significant theological differences with Lutheranism, I have a huge appreciation for their unabashed preaching of the Gospel. I have seen first hand how weary my brothers and sisters in Christ have become when the law is used to manipulate and control their behavior. I have heard their cries as they are crushed by those who use the law in an unlawful manner. I hear story after story about how their churches have discouraged them.
As a pastor, I am committed to holiness. It is vitally important for the church to reflect who our God is. God has indeed called us to be different from the world. However, I am also committed to allowing God to produce that holiness through His ordained means – the hearing of and believing in the gospel.
Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the law was powerless to produce holiness because it was weakened by the flesh. The law, he said, increases sin. But what the law was powerless to do, God did by sending Christ. In sending Christ He condemned sin in the flesh.
I often use Romans 6 as an example of how we are to grow in holiness. In verse 1, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “should we continue to sin so that grace may abound”? This is (by the way) one of the chief objections of those who insist that we reign in our talk of grace. They insist that if we talk about grace too much (as if that is possible) then people will think they can sin all they want because grace covers it. I understand their concern. I really do. These are people who love God wholeheartedly and have a deep passion for holiness. This is a good thing. But in their zeal, they often resort to unbiblical means of achieving holiness. Notice first how Paul does not respond. He does not point them back to the law. To do so is a distinctively Roman Catholic response. “How do you overcome your sin? Here is a list of things to do”. This kind of thinking is precisely what the Reformation was all about. We cannot merit anything. Our law keeping is unable to make us holy. So how does Paul respond? He responds by reminding them of the gospel. “Don’t you know that …”
It is so important to grasp this because God is showing us the answer to the dilemma that our law oriented brothers and sisters fear. Through Paul, God tells us two things:
- Holiness matters to God. It is not His desire for His children to live in sin.
The ordained mechanism for creating holiness within His children is not the law, but believing in the gospel. Or to put it another way, grasping our union with Christ. Or going deeper into our justification as the Lutherans say.
Back to Sarah Taras…
There are times when God uproots us from where He once led us to begin a new journey in life. I am not one who advocates leaving a church for petty reasons; but this is no petty thing. If God has stirred your heart to move on from your current church I would encourage you to move slowly as Taras has. Examine your heart. Are you wanting to find a new church because God is convicting you of sin and you want to avoid the Spirit’s conviction? If so, perhaps it is best to stay where God has placed you. Return to the gospel of Christ to overcome your sin!
However, there are countless who are not being pointed back to Christ to overcome sin. Instead, they are pointed to themselves and to their effort to their flesh. While we do exert significant effort in battling sin, we do not trust in our effort to sanctify us. In Galatians 3:3, Paul condemns this kind of thinking when he says, ” Are you so foolish? After beginning means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”
So what do you do if you are in one of these congregations which Paul labeled as foolish in Galatians 3:3? I think in this case it is justified to leave your church after pleading with your elders to see the truth of God’s word. This is no small matter. It was important enough to receive a rebuke from Paul; a rebuke which (incidentally) was harsher than the rebuke he gave to those struggling with sin in the church.
If you are weary of being unlawfully crushed by the law in your church, then my heart goes out to you. I pray for people like you every day. I pray that like Sarah Taras, you will find comfort in the cross and will find a church that feeds you with the gospel. A church that encourages you to love Christ by living a life of grateful obedience rather than fearful obedience. May God be with you and lead you to the joy of His transforming grace.
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