Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cheap Law and True Holiness

A Sermon Delivered at Dayspring Church June 3, 2012

Please turn to Matthew chapter 5, that’s where we’ll begin today.

What is the primary obstacle to understanding and being encouraged by the Proverbs? It’s when we take the amazing overflowing wisdom, the gathered gold of the Proverbs and we cheapen it.  

Bonheoffer talked about Cheap Grace in his writings; Cheap Law is the idea that the law of God, such as the proverbs we have before us today, can be satisfied by anything other than the righteousness of Christ. Cheapening the law makes the Christian life doable and makes Jesus an accessory, a co-pilot, that we bring in when we need help, but otherwise unnecessary.

What’s wrong with making the moral side of Christianity seem doable? People like lists, they like programs, they like it when everything is nice and packaged and when it feels possible to obey God in the coming week. I know congregations like it when there are three points and they rhyme but I tend to resist that unless the text demands it because it communicates something that is not true—that the Christian life is neat and tidy and doable. All the famous pastors with big churches use this technique, but look at Jesus’ list in the NT. Matthew 5 is one. Turn to Matthew 5 please. Here Jesus gives God’s high standard for life and love in the New Covenant, he re-tells the law from the perspective of the New Covenant and rather than doing away with the law, repurposes it.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

So when we relax the law, when we make the Proverbs seem doable and make it seem easier to live the Christian life by smooth preaching, we are actually going against the intent of Jesus. Jesus gives a list in Matthew 5 [Blessed…blessed] and that list makes the new life in his new world order seem unattainable and he says that’s right, now you are getting it, the truths of Scripture are written so that I might fulfill them, not that you might fulfill them. Jesus seems to say that the rule and principles and truths of Scripture exist not that you might be more fit, but that I might more found, more glorious, more delightful! 

Proverbs used like a doable checklist end up like this, something to make us more fit, to make our business’ prosper and our families sound. We relax the Proverbs as Matthew 5:19 says, individually and as a group, so we can apply them mechanically and profit from them in this horizontal realm. But does that make us more holy in our soul? 

If we use the Proverbs merely as a means of self-improvement, then when we are improved, when our business is more efficient, when our homes are more manageable, when our children are properly disciplined, then we are done with them and they are done with us.
But if we use the Proverbs to reveal how our hearts are sinful, and how that leaks out into every area of life targeted by the Proverbs, and that we can’t fully obey any Proverb and any section of the law perfectly, then Jesus shines. Then Jesus is glorified and the gospel is revealed to be true.

If I cheapen the law, I don’t need the double-imputation of Christ—him giving me his righteousness, me giving him my sin—I don’t need that if I’ve got it all together. I don’t need that if the Proverbs and the rest of the Bible is just one big self-help book. I just need more will, more drive, more determination. But not more of Jesus.

Putting it positively, the Bible is designed to reveal our need for Christ and our need for the Gospel, and as we live for him and are guided by his inerrant, inspired book, we mature, and then our success, as well as our failure, reveals Christ, just as the success and failure of our heroes in Scripture does.

Let’s inspect Proverbs 24 today and see how this works. It’s very simple. You can either use these for simple self-improvement or you can take these principles and apply them to your heart and find new room for Christ there. You can be afraid of the consequences of ungodly living and so start applying the Proverbs out of fear, or you can start applying the Proverbs out of a desire for others to think you are spiritual, or you can apply them in such a way that reveals that Jesus is alive and well and matters in your heart and in your lifestyle and in your computer and bedroom and every part of your existence.

How do we do that? We read the negative Proverbs, warning us against sin, we ask, “How am I just like that?” And then we read it again and ask, “How is Jesus so sufficient, so marvelous, so awesome, that I never have to live and feel that way again?” Then true holiness happens, and we know it not primarily by our own feelings or experiences, but primarily because truth holiness is reflected in the law and the Gospel, in the assurances and the admonitions of Scripture. True holiness makes us more like Jesus, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross.

Looking at our text today, notice as it was read that in this section of Proverbs, we don’t have couplets, but couplets of couplets, that should not be separated as we read them. Let’s look at one more section of this chapter.

Let’s look at Proverbs 24. Two sections that jumped out at me this week.

11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
    hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
     does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
    and will he not repay man according to his work?

This is the traditional text used by a variety of pro-life ministries and Christian groups who reach out and try and help those who are in great danger. In our society, there are many activities and substances that can kill you. You can even die from doing nothing, just hanging out in your mother’s womb. I’m grateful we don’t have an abortion clinic in our community, but if we did, we could use this text to explain our Scriptural basis for it.

In its context, we don’t know for certain what historical situation this is referencing. They didn’t have abortion clinics back them. But the first audience of Proverbs was young men, being trained as princes in the royal court of Solomon, and they would have learned a great deal of information and science and technology of the day. With that wisdom and knowledge, they could not turn their back on the covenant community who was suffering, and then claim they were ignorant—God knew that they did and did not know. If there is someone in this congregation who is destroying themselves thoughtlessly, and ignorantly endangering themselves and their family, then we have to say something, because part of being linked together by Christ means helping those around us who are in trouble.

But that level of the proverb could be practiced by a Buddhist; an atheist could read the proverb on that level, bring it down to his own circumstances, and benefit from it. But that “relaxes” the proverb, making it helpful, but not redemptive, not gracious. This surface reading of it does not reveal my sin or reveal my Christ.  

But let’s go to the heart of why God included this in the Proverbs. I ask the reader--How are you just like this? Think on this for a moment before you continue.

Let’s go deeper into the heart of why God included this: How is Jesus revealed here to us in this previous text? Think on this a moment before you continue. 

One more text to consider:

19 Fret not yourself because of evildoers,
    and be not envious of the wicked,
20 for the evil man has no future;
     the lamp of the wicked will be put out.
21 My son, fear the Lord and the king,
    and do not join with those who do otherwise,
22 for disaster will arise suddenly from them,
    and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?

Obviously, the simple moral teaching of this text is to not worry about evil people, whether high up or low in society, and do not join with those who make it a habit. This calls into question the wisdom of joining one group or the other that is anti-Obama or anti-homosexual or even against drunk driving—this proverb warns that disaster can come from any situation, not just the political realm or from the obvious “bad people.”

But let’s read this with new eyes. How am I just like this? How does Jesus deal with the wicked, and what does this reality compel me to do? Contemplate this before you move on. 

In answer to the last question, Revelation 6:1 says this:

"Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals..."

And each one of those seals are salvation for his people and judgment on the enemies of the church, which is the purpose of the book of Revelation. When Jesus sees injustice, he is patient, desiring all to repent, but does not wait any longer than necessary and then he acts. Look at the end of Revelation 6.

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave[e]and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16  calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

This is how Jesus deals with those who refuse to repent. This is the most serious of matters we have before God--will we repent? Or hide sin and self? 

If you are not a God-worshiper, if you know you are not a Christian, even though you may be a member of a church, even though you may have been raised in the church, you know you don’t know Jesus personally, you don’t read the Bible ever, you don’t pray ever—if you live your life just fine without Jesus, then you need to be grateful. God could have dropped you on the floor at any time and he would have been within his rights. But he has delayed so you could repent, turn from your God-less life, and live a life centered on him through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who took the sin of all God’s people upon himself and gave all his people his right standing, his righteousness, towards God. You don’t have to fear death, you don’t have to fear life, you don’t have to fear the political process—but you do have to fear God and his judgment.

Today at the Lord’s Table, we will learn about the joy of fleeing from God, to God, and being received at his table as we look at the original Passover found in Exodus 12. Let us pray.

General Comments at the Table
It is the Lord's Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

At this table, just as in the ancient times, we celebrate God saving his people from his wrath that they deserved. This is how he can be just, and punish sin, and the justifier, who pardons sinners. And he invites pardoned sinners to this table today, a place of safety for his people, and destruction for those who have no appetite for Christ.

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