Thursday, October 20, 2011

How Free Grace Gets Cheapened

I need some help.

How often should we believers resort to grace when we simply don't want to face a difficult ethical decision?  Not just when we can't figure out a more appropriate way to respond than with gracious acquiescence, but when we know something is not proper, yet we keep our mouths shut anyway?

Or how often should invoking God's forgiveness seem easier than inquiring about whether we're really permitted to do something?  Not when we blatantly disobey God's laws, which we know to be wrong, but in areas that seem grayer to us, particularly when we suspect they're not as gray as we hope them to be?

Are there times when, to avoid offending another person, we can permit something that we're pretty sure is offensive to God?  Such as, say, attending the wedding of good friends with lots of sexually immoral baggage?

Love, Marriage, Lust, and Sin

These questions have been percolating in my mind after reading Al Mohler's blog post on gay marriage in light of Joel Osteen's response to the rising trend.  Basically, Osteen has been quoted as saying he would not perform a gay wedding, but he would attend one.  In his blog, Mohler calls Osteen out on his contradictory viewpoints.  If gay marriage isn't something Osteen can endorse as an officiant, what makes it good enough for him to endorse as a guest?

Most people of faith likely wouldn't attend the wedding of a gay couple, but would that be out of theological conviction, opposition to the political statement being made, or simple unease with being around homosexuals of any marital status?  If it's because of a theological conviction that gay marriage is a sin, then why don't we oppose other marriages between people exhibiting sin practices of a sexual nature?

It doesn't take much for Mohler's castigation of Osteen to unravel an increasingly pernicious tendency of believers to marginalize marriage by letting all sorts of issues fall by the wayside on the way to the altar.

What about divorce and re-marriage, for example? I know of a pastor whose wife left him, refusing all attempts at reconciliation by her husband, and actually telling the elder board at his church that there was nothing he'd done wrong; she just wanted a change.  He later re-married a widow and is now a senior pastor - a senior pastor - at another church.

Then there was the friend who commented to me at dinner one evening several years ago, "don't you just hate it when women keep asking you for sex?"

To which I had to reply in all honesty that, no, I'd never had that problem in my life. So he told me that someone he'd met and dated a couple of times kept pestering him for sex, even though he'd met her at church and didn't believe in sex outside of marriage. He finally stopped the relationship, only to have her contact him several months later and ask him for one night of passionate uninhibitedness before her wedding - the next day.  And sure, her fiance was fine with it, since he was going to have a final fling with a female friend of his.

Oh. My. Word.

Our society has woven tangled webs of lust and promiscuity that have deceived us into a false understanding of morality and what is acceptable, even for believers. 

That my friend with the nymphomaniacal pursuer had met her at church should tell us something about the ineffectiveness within some communities of faith of instilling a pervasive sense of respect for God's laws and His holiness. Should she have felt so comfortable attending that church while pursuing its men so deviantly?

That another church would invite a divorced man into their conservative pulpit certainly reveals how accepting congregations have become towards broken marriages. I understand that not every marriage is going to last, but if any do fail, especially a pastor's, should we just cry a bit and shake off any negative implications?

Especially since marriage is supposed to model the relationship between Christ and His, um, church?

Does Sin Obscure Grace?

Maybe it's me who doesn't understand grace. Maybe my soul is so corrupted by my own sin that I can't understand how God could wipe my soul's slate utterly clean, let alone anybody else's. Or how other believers can accept something they haven't paid for and then act as though they deserve further infusions of grace whenever they willfully contravene His laws.

Do we sin so that grace may abound? Consider Romans 6, and you tell me. I'll give you the juicy bits here:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Presenting Ourselves to God as Slaves of Righteousness

So is God's grace an excuse, or a get-out-of-jail-free card? Or is it slavery to righteousness?

Paul admits in verse 19 that sure, we used to be free to wallow in all sorts of sinful behavior.  But then in verse 22, he creates the expectation that the fruits of our lives will point to the sanctification process taking place in our hearts and minds.

So am I just making up the correlation between what we do as believers, what we tolerate in our communities of faith, and how authentic that faith really is?

Like I've said, many evangelicals will fairly readily admit that attending a gay wedding isn't appropriate.  But how many evangelicals have allowed activities like divorce and sex outside of marriage to get exceedingly fuzzy?  Can't doing so endanger the integrity of the witness we portray to the world?  Should we just shrug our shoulders and let grace cover it, like we do with our credit cards after a dinner out?

Maybe I'm just jealous since the sins I harbor secretively in my life aren't the type of sins that are socially acceptable in Christian circles.  It doesn't really help, either, to realize that both my private sins and public ones are equally grave to our Father.

Fortunately, it's not up to us to decide the eternal fate of every believer based on how we view their personal interpretations of what grace is. But the fact that God does look at our hearts to gauge our motivations... perhaps that's scarier that letting our peers make the eternity call on our behalf. Because if in our hearts, we're not letting the process of sanctification have unfettered access to our desires, impulses, and actions, what does that say about our acceptance of His grace to begin with?

Not that rules and regulations make a believer holy. But we can't ignore the fact that Christ is the Fulfillment of the law, not the obliterator of it (Matthew 5:17).

One of the best ways to obliterate something is, over time, to weaken and cheapen it.  The marriage covenant, yes; plus all sorts of best practices in the Christian life.

Obviously, Christ doesn't weaken or cheapen the lives of His followers with His grace.

But do we?

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