Monday, August 28, 2006

...without the law

On a recent edition of Way of the Master Radio I was reintroduced to a conflict with how we, as Christians, should evangelize. I am completely aware that there is a conflict between the biblical understanding of the Christian life following conversion and an unbiblical one. Namely, the Bible says that if someone is born again that it is God’s will that they be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:4). However, there is a segment, and it’s not a small one either, of Christians who believe and preach a gospel which makes no mandate of a changed life through sanctification. Basically this view says that you can be saved by Christ through faith, but you can live like the devil having no real fruit resulting from salvation. I try to deal with this false presentation of the gospel in some of my previous articles (“Is Turning from Sin Legalism?”, "If you is what you was, you ain't", “Do you have the Son?”, and “Repentance and Faith: two necessary sides of the same saving coin”) and clear up the confusion and bad teaching.

There is a ministry located in New Jersey called Loving Grace Ministries that produces a radio show called “Let’s Talk About Jesus” where the host was recently presented with a question about the necessity of using the law in evangelism. I listened to two episodes of this radio show (both dealing with this issue, as a matter of fact) and it seems that the host has a genuine and true faith in Christ but for some reason doesn’t understand the need for the law.1 I want to deal with what he promoted as the way to evangelize, but I don’t want to get into the specific comments or objections thrown up by the host, and let me tell you why. First of all the host was not aware with the evangelism training in question (Way of the Master) and so he was forced to go off of the characterizations made by the caller to his show about her pastor and the evangelism ministry of Way of the Master. So, I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the host during the first radio program because he seemed to have been reacting to what was said (or misrepresented) about using the law in evangelism as opposed to the actual structure of the Way of the Master evangelism training and the biblical case for it. Secondly, he didn’t seem to have researched this issue between his two programs, so the second show was much the same. He made it plain that he believes that regardless of the situation, all things are made clear in Christ and that if we just preach Christ and the cross then all things will be presented fine and they will be made clear in the head of the hearer.

I wholeheartedly agree that the cross needs to be central to any evangelistic endeavor and that in the Person of Christ Jesus, all things in salvation become clear. The problem is that I don’t believe that it is possible to truly preach the cross without dealing with sin and therefore, dealing with the law is necessary.

If I preach the cross and if I preach Jesus, the question will come up as to why Jesus had to die on the cross. The biblical answer is that He died to pay the penalty for the sin of all of those who would believe.2 The next question that must be dealt with is, “What is sin?” Or, better yet, “How do we know what sin is?”

What is sin?

Generally speaking, it is possible that James generally summed up sin when he said, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) I think that this verse is a good starting point when facing an objection to using the law in evangelism. If someone has been shown any revelation of God (all humanity has) and we don’t always do it, that person is sinning. Adam and Eve knew what they could and couldn’t eat, so when they ate what was not good or what they were allowed to eat, it was sin that resulted in our current fallen condition. Even though murder was not mentioned before in the scriptures, Cain surely knew that killing his brother was not the right or good thing to do, but he did it anyway and God cursed him for it.3 I think that these examples show us the principle that is stated in James, but the question still remains, how do I know what is right or good and what sin is?

Another way for us to identify sin comes from the apostle John, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) This clarifies the picture a little further: sin is lawlessness. If sin is lawlessness, then we need to know what law (civil, ceremonial, etc) we will be judged by. It is no shock that the Law referred to by the biblical writers (especially in the context of sin) is the Law of Moses, or the 10 commandments. This is made clearer in Romans 3:20 “for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Also, later in Romans, Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET." (Romans 7:7)

However, I think one of the most compelling portions of scripture regarding the use of the law in preparing someone’s heart for grace is found in Galatians 3:19-29. The law didn’t “create” sin, but it exposed us to what our sin was and how God viewed it, “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions,” (Galatians 3:19). Furthermore, Paul then declares “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:24,25) The law was given in such a way that the Jews knew, and Christ expounded this, that no one could keep the law. James emphatically states that we are all guilty before God when he wrote, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

How can you really explain the cross without explaining what sin is and what the just penalty of it is? You cannot, it doesn’t make sense. In one sense, if you remove the understanding of the Law of God from the New Testament, it doesn’t make any sense. There would be no real understanding God’s holiness, justice, or of man’s sin and therefore the sacrifice of Christ would be so ambiguous that it would lose much (if not all) of its understood meaning.

Do I think that we need to preach Christ, the cross, and the resurrection in evangelism? Absolutely. There is no other way to be saved! But, we dare not speak vaguely about the cross or skirt the issue of the sinfulness of sin that required the death of Christ when we are telling anyone about the hope that is found only in Christ Jesus.

In conclusion, I do not see how it is possible to present the true gospel without dealing specifically with why the gospel exists. It is called “good news” because correctly understanding the law and justice of God is bad news for all sinful people, and that is everyone (Romans 3:23). The heart of the good news of Jesus Christ is in His sacrificial substitutionary death on the cross where Christ, “who knew no sin” was made “to be sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV) We would cut out the very thing that shows our opposition to God and the fact that we are by nature His enemies, or children of wrath, because of our sin. Only with this clear understanding can a person truly value the sacrifice of our savior.4

1 The episodes in question were the 8/15/2006 and 8/16/2006 editions of “Let’s Talk About Jesus” hosted by Wayne Monbleau.

2 Also, consequently, it was this same sacrifice by Christ that actually saved all O.T. saints. The Old Covenantal system was built upon “types” and “shadows” of the sacrifice of Christ. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, just like Abraham was saved by faith even though he didn’t know Christ in His fullness of revelation as we do now.

3 The entirety of exactly what God did or did not reveal to Adam and Eve (and subsequent people prior to Moses’ time) is not exactly clear, but we can be sure that some revelations were passed down that were later expounded on and clarified in the written word of God.

4 On that same note, though, over time our knowledge of our own sinfulness increases as we are sanctified. So the things that we don’t now clearly see as sin will be revealed as just that as we grow closer to Christ.

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