Tullian Tchividjian|9:54 am CT

If’s Kill

My friend Kevin DeYoung has put together a creative dialog with sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith on the role of the law in the life of the Christian. To further this important conversation, I thought I’d repost some thoughts that I posted here just over a year ago. I hope this helps.

One of the problems in the current conversation regarding the relationship between law and gospel is that the term “law” is not always used to mean the same thing. This is understandable since in the Bible “law” does not always mean the same thing.

For example, in Psalm 40:8 we read: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Here the law is synonymous with God’s revealed will. A Christian seeking to express their love for God and neighbor delights in those passages that declare what God’s will is. When, however, Paul tells Christians that they are no longer under the law (Rom. 6:14) he obviously means more by law than the revealed will of God. He’s talking there about Christians being free from the curse of the law-not needing to depend on adherence to the law to establish our relationship to God: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).

So, it’s not as simple as you might think. For short hand, I think it’s helpful to say that law is anything in the Bible that says “do”, while gospel is anything in the Bible that says “done”; law equals imperative and gospel equals indicative. However, when you begin to parse things out more precisely, you discover some important nuances that should significantly help the conversation forward so that people who are basically saying the same thing aren’t speaking different languages and talking right past one another.

Discussion of the law and it’s three uses (1) usus theologicus (drives us to Christ), (2) usus politicus (the civil use), and (3) usus practicus (revealing of God’s will for living) are helpful. But I’ve discovered that this outline all by itself raises just as many questions to those I talk to as it does provide answers. So, I’d like to offer some brief thoughts that you might find helpful (big shout-out to my friend Jono Linebaugh who has helped me tremendously in thinking these things through).

When, for instance, the Apostle Paul speaks about the law he routinely speaks of it as a command attached to a condition. In other words, law is a demand within a conditional framework. This is why he selects Leviticus 18:5b (both in Gal. 3 and Rom. 10) as a summary of the salvation-structure of the law: “if you keep the commandments, then you will live.” Here, there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat for not doing them: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citing Deut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is the condition that does the work of condemnation. “Ifs” kill!

Compare this to a couple examples of New Testament imperatives. First, consider Galatians 5.1. After four chapters of passionate insistence that justification is by faith apart from works of the law, Paul issues a couple of strong imperatives: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these commandments with conditions? No! Are these imperatives equal to Paul’s description of the law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the law; it is an imperative to stand firm in freedom from the law.

Let’s say you’re a pastor and a college student comes to you for advice. He’s worn out because of the amount of things he’s involved in. He’s in a fraternity, playing basketball, running track, waiting tables, and taking 16 hours of credit. The pressure he feels from his family to “do it all” and “make something of himself” is making him crazy and wearing him down. After explaining his situation to you, you look at him and explain the gospel-that because Jesus paid it all we are free from the need to do it all. Our identity, worth, and value is not anchored in what we can accomplish but in what Jesus accomplished for us. Then you issue an imperative: “Now, quit track and drop one class.” Does he hear this as bad news or good news? Good news, of course. The very idea of knowing he can let something go brings him much needed relief-he can smell freedom. Like Galatians 5:1, the directive you issue to the student is a directive to not submit to the slavery of a command with a condition (law): “if you do more and try harder, you will make something of yourself and therefore find life.” It’s not an imperative of conditional command; it is an invitation to freedom and fullness. This is good news!

Or take another example, John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? No! Otherwise Jesus would have instead said, “If you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

The reason Paul says that Christ is the end of this law is that in the gospel God unconditionally gives the righteousness that the law demands conditionally. So Christ kicks the law out of the conscience by overcoming the voice of condemnation produced by the condition of the law. As I said in my previous post, the conditional voice that says “Do this and live” gets out-volumed by the unconditional voice that says “It is finished.”

When this happens, we are freed from the condemnation of the law’s conditionality (the “law” loses its teeth) and therefore free to hear the law’s content as a description of what a free life looks like. In other words, the gospel ends the law’s role as the regulator of the divine-human relationship and limits the law to being a blueprint for the free life. So, the law serves Christians by showing us what freedom on the ground looks like. But everyday in various ways we disobey and stubbornly ignore the call to be free, “submitting ourselves once again to a yoke of slavery.” And when we do, it is the gospel which brings comfort by reminding us that God’s love for us doesn’t depend on what we do (or fail to do) but on what Christ has done for us. Jesus fulfilled all of God’s holy conditions so that our relationship to God could be wholly unconditional. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The gospel, therefore, always has the last word over a believer. Always!

For Martin Luther, it is within this unconditional context created by the gospel-the reality he called “living by faith”-that the law understood as God’s good commands can be returned to its proper place. Wilfried Joest sums this up beautifully:

The end of the law for faith does not mean the denial of a Christian ethic…. Luther knows a commandment that gives concrete instruction and an obedience of faith that is consistent with the freedom of faith…. This commandment, however, is no longer the lex implenda [the law that must be fulfilled], but rather comes to us as the lex impleta [the law that is already fulfilled]. It does not speak to salvation-less people saying: ‘You must, in order that…’ It speaks to those who have been given the salvation-gift and say, “You may, because…”

Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to “imperatives”, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. The law, in other words, norms neighbor love-it shows us what to do and how to do it. Once a person is liberated from the commonsense delusion that keeping the rules makes us right with God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving and resurrecting word precedes and produces loving action (defined as serving our neighbor), then the justified person is unlocked to love-which is the fulfillment of the law.

My talk from LIBERATE 2013 on God’s two words–law and gospel–for a worn out world may be helpful as well.

Liberate 2013 – Tullian Tchividjian from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.


  1. Matthew,
    Man, Sorry. I just reread my post and it sounded a bit accusatory and harsh. I jumped on you with both feet. I apologize. I just really like this topic.

  2. Hey John,

    No problem, these discussions are good to have, so long as we are all learning from them.

    First, in regard to Jesus use of figurative language. I was not suggesting the “law” is figurative (as spelled out in the 10 commandments, or summarized in Jesus’ 2 great commands.) However, Jesus OFTEN made use of common literary tactics such as parables, hyperbole, and other forms of figurative speech. As a rule, we should take the Bible at face value. This means when the clear meaning is literal, we take it literally, and when the clear meaning is figurative, we take it figuratively. Not all scripture is literal. Think about it…Jesus isn’t literally interested in camels passing through the eye of a needle, is he? Was he literally asking his followers to eat his “flesh” and drink his “blood”? In John 15 was he actually suggesting to his followers that he was a literal “vine”, and they were actual branches. There is no question Jesus used figurative speech. When this is the case, our job is to discern the spiritual lessons and principles that underlie Christ’s words.

    As for Law/Gospel, there is NO disagreement about whether we can be saved by law keeping. Let me state it as clearly as possible, so that we don’t keep coming back to this point. Man is sinful, and can never purchase his own salvation by law keeping. Our only hope is Jesus, the perfect Son of God who kept the law on our behalf. Nobody here is arguing salvation by law. Thank God!

    The real question is, what role does the law play in the sanctification process? And I’ll assume we’re all referring to “moral law”, not “civil” and “ceremonial”. To this point Calvin, and Luther both agreed in the 2nd use of the law. This means that the law is not only a “mirror” that shows us our sinfulness (which is historically known as the 1st use). But to the CHRISTIAN it is also a “guide”, instructing us on how to live as believers (which is historically known as the 2nd use). The Westminster Confession is very helpful on this point. It addresses the first use by stating, “It (the law) gives people a clearer sight of the need they have for Christ, and the perfection of his obedience.” The WCF then speaks of the 2nd use by saying, “Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as others.” It further explains this by stating (the law) is the “rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly.”

    We may not be in complete disagreement on this, because this is similar to what you are saying in your last paragraph. “Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to “imperatives”, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor.” I say amen to that! Imperatives are a blessing because they give us direction on how to live as Christians. And we are enabled to obey these commands by the Holy Spirit (albeit not perfectly, because we’re still sinful people). So, as Christians when we see imperatives/commands in scripture we should endeavor to obey them, not just take them as reminders of our sinfulness.

    The problem I’ve found with Tullian’s teachings is an issue of imbalance, not heresy. He often reminds people of the 1st use of the law, and the fact the law shows us our sin and reminds us of our need for a savior. This is good, especially when it hits the ears of moralistic/legalistic folks. I personally benefit from reminders that my acceptance is in Christ apart from my works. The problem is that Tullian rarely (and I’ve heard him speak on several occasions) emphasizes the importance of the 2nd use of the law by encouraging Christians to obey the Lord. We have to remember Christians don’t drift toward sanctification or holiness apart from reminders to love and obey. This is why Timothy said, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for TRAININING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS.


  3. Sorry, my reference to the “last paragraph” was addressing Tullian’s words. Not yours.

  4. Thanks for the clarification Matthew. I think we might get along pretty well.

    More clarification please.

    Does a Christian have to obey the law as defined by the 2nd use of the law as defined above? Are there punishments from God for not obeying since the WCF says that it “binds” the Christian to walk accordingly? If it is binding, and there is punishment for it, can you explain to me how it is different that the Mosaic law? If it is not binding then, how can you consider it law?

    Do you keep the sabbath btw?

  5. Your questions are good, and deep. This will take a little time to answer.

    I’ll answer your question about Mosaic Law first because it will help with put the rest of my post in context. Mosaic Law is a broad term for the “entire” law given through Moses. It helps to divide Mosaic Law into three parts: Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral. The Civil Law consisted of societal laws given by God to govern the nation of Israel. They were unique laws that applied only to Israel as a theocracy. Subsequently, Civil law perished along with the theocratic state of Israel. Civil Law is therefore no longer binding on anyone.

    Ceremonial Laws had to do with religious rituals and prohibitions. This included cleansing rituals, prohibitions against certain foods and clothing, temple practices, etc… Ceremonial Law was fulfilled in Christ and is no longer binding either.

    The last type of law is Moral Law. This has to do with God’s unchanging nature and how he views right and wrong. We can conclude that anything that was morally wrong in the OT is also morally wrong now, because “God changeth not.” Lying , coveting, murder, stealing, etc, were all wrong in the OT and they are wrong in the NT. So the Moral Law is still God’s standard of right and wrong and has great relevance today (as I mentioned when speaking about 1st and 2nd use of the Law in my previous post).

    Now to your first question: The Christian is not bound to obey the (moral) law as a precondition for salvation. Nor can law-keeping ever gain us a more accepted position in Christ. Our justification has been purchased by Jesus, and that’s final. However, while eternity is not at stake, the NT still makes clear that Christians are accountable for their actions, and that our disobedience has consequences. This is why Hebrews 12:6 says, For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” In fact, even the church has authority to discipline unrepentant sin in the flock (Matthew 18). So the question is not whether we are accountable, both to God and each other, but what is the standard for accountability? The answer is God’s moral law. Anytime we act out in anger, or lust, or dishonesty, then we sin against God by violating his moral law. In doing so we are also violating the two great commandments (love God, and love your neighbor as yourself). It is helpful to remember that the two great commandments are really just the moral law in summary form (Matthew 22:37-40).

    But this is also why Christian repentance is such a beautiful thing…. Even in our spirit filled endeavor to love God and love our neighbor (which is the same as keeping the moral law), we will fail. When this happens, we experience guilt. So we repent, we rest in God’s grace, and continue in our pursuit to obey God’s commands, which all revolve around loving others and loving God.

    So when the WCF says “binds”, it’s merely reminding us that we are accountable to God’s moral law. Not accountable in the sense that we will be sent to hell for disobeying, but accountable in the sense that should repent when we violate it, and disobeying it could ultimately result in fatherly discipline. So yes, the Moral Law still sets a standard for our lives.

    As for the Sabbath, that’s a great question and a new can of worms altogether. In short, Christians who believe Sabbath is Moral Law will stick to it, like white on rice. Christians who believe it’s Ceremonial Law, as I do, will see it as pointing to Christ (as all ceremonial laws do). Jesus always grouped Sabbath keeping with ceremonial laws, and that’s how we see it addressed in other NT books as well. Here’s a great article on the Sabbath and Law…http://www.gci.org/law/sabbath/moral

    God bless!

  6. John,

    So exactly how do you see the commands, imperatives, that are in scripture? They don’t only relate to needing to be done for salvation because not all of them are directed to non Christians. So any imperative or command toward a believer is to be ignored? Per Paul, how can this be!!

    When you say that the law brings death, I just don’t see it in Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that Jesus has atoned for our sins because we could not obey perfectly. But you cheapen the law when that is the only way you can view the law (in terms of salvation). The law teaches us about God; in fact the verses you cite bear that out – Gal. 3:24&25. They are a tutor that lead us to Christ. How can the tutor be death and evil? It can be death and evil if you only see it in regard to salvation. Are passages like I Cor 13 just nice suggestions?

    Maybe I have been picking on Tulian. Unfortunately, some in my community who have taken his teachings to an extreme continue in sin because 1) Jesus’ blood covers their sin and 2) they can’t obey perfectly so there is no need to obey at all. Plus I think they just like sinning and don’t care what message it sends to the world.

    Matthew: Feel free to jump in any time you want.

    Heb. 13:20&21

  7. Matthew: Thanks for the lesson on how you see the law. Though, I don’t agree with you, it does help me to better understand how to clarify what I’m saying to the reformed crowd. It is always good to get our terminology ironed out so we can be on the same page, so to speak. I will think about what you’ve said and try to formulate a response in the near future.


    How do you interpret 1cor 3:6, where Paul tells us that the letter (old covenant law) kills, but the spirit gives life?

    Read the next line in after Galatians 3:24: But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. The law was our guardian. Now it’s not, because of our faith in Christ.

    I had someone accuse me of cheapening the law the other day, and my response was that I hold the law in higher regard than almost anyone I know, because I understand exactly what the law does to everyone who breaks even one of the commandments. If you break one you’ve broken them all. I don’t cheapen the law by “trying” to obey it. I know I can’t do what it requires. I can only fall on my knees before God and thank him that through Jesus I can be justified and sanctified perfectly in his sight. Because he lives, I live.

    What you describe about some of Tullian’s followers is not grace it’s leniency. There is a huge difference. Someone who truly understands the law, their sin, and Christ’s death for it, will not speak or act thus. They will weep before their savior and wash his feet with their tears. If you’ve been forgiven much, you love much.

    There are two types of obedience as I see it. Obedience because you have to and obedience because you want to. The law is a have to, the love of Christ is a want to. Tell your wife that you love her because you have to and see what kind of response you get.

    Lastly, two comments on imperatives. If they truly have to be obeyed, then they are law, and there must be some punishment for not obeying them. If they are law then we are no better off than the jews. I view imperatives from the point of who I am in Christ and what the spirit in me is pointing towards. I obey the imperatives because of who I am in Christ, not because I am required to. These are the natural outpouring of staring into the perfect law of liberty and keeping my eyes fixed there.

    What I’ve found is that when law is invoked, sin increases. Tell someone they can’t do something, or to stop doing something and they will do it all the more, or at least want to. Yet grace, at least in my life, has had the opposite effect. If I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith, and focus on the life giving law of liberty, then my desire to sin goes away. When we think about obeying the law, we shine the light on me and what I must do, instead of focusing on Christ and what he did.

    For sin shall have no mastery over me, because I am not under law, but under grace.

    I know we don’t agree, but I truly do appreciate what you have to say. I know we would get along fine. I have many, many friends who believe what you believe and who are dear, close friends (in spite of my belief). I know you are sincere and have a good relationship with our savior. Please don’t think in anyway that I am saying otherwise. I am not in a position to judge another man’s servant. I just really have been freed by grace and am excited to share it.

    On Tullian: I came to this understanding of grace a year before I even heard of Tullian (I still can’t figure out how to say his last name). While I don’t agree with everything he says, most of what he says does resonate with me.


  8. Thanks for your kind words and understanding, John.

    Not sure ICor. 3:6 is the right reference. I think you meant IICor. 3:6. Either way, you have to look at it in context. So looking at verse 5, the context is relying on yourself vs what Christ did. I am not relying on the law or myself for anything with regard to salvation. There truly is nothing I could every do that satisfy God’s wrath for my sin. What concerns me is that the law/imperatives/commands are useful to the believer in His life with Christ. They teach us about our walk with Him and also about Him. They are useful in our relationship with Him. Are they not? Or do you believe they are of no use in the Christian’s life?

    The motive for obedience is the key; it should be love for Him. I agree we are not under the law as a basis for salvation. BTW: Praise God that Jesus came and provided us a way!!!

    Not sure about your version of Gal. 3:24; mine says tutor. A tutor is a guide that brings us to Christ.

    What I have found is that the imperatives have become my desires as I seek to love Him and bring glory to Him.


  9. Haha. Yes IICor. Thanks for the correction. If my mind ever caught up with my fingers I would be way ahead of the game. As it is I can barely keep the names of my kids in my head. :)

    We’ll have to disagree on the context. I’m okay with that.

    I say Amen to the way!

    I just want to mention a turn of phrase from your above statement, that might give us an insight into how we view things differently.

    I agree that our motivation for obedience is the absolute key. You said: “it should be love for Him.” I would say you have it backwards and that our love for him isn’t what should motivate us, it’s His love for us.

    1John 4:10 – “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

    My motivation to obey is his great love for me, not my love for him.

    I have a few questions that might spur the conversation in a different direction.

    What does John mean when he says that “if the son sets you free you will be really free?” Is this freedom only freedom from ceremonial and civil law, or, are we set free from all the law? The context is Sin and Sonship. Sin is disobeying the law, as it says in 1John. Is he saying that he is setting us free from disobeying the law?

    Hebrews 4:9 & 10 (I don’t want to talk about the Sabbath btw but rest. I’m a strict Sabbatarian in the sense that I believe everyday is the Sabbath, but that’s a digression) says that a “Sabbath’s rest remains for God’s people. For the one who enters God’s rest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works.” Is he talking about a rest from works of the ceremonial and civil law only, or, is he also talking about rest from the moral law?

    Please bring scripture to bear here and not the WCF or non-biblical sources.

    In love.

  10. Ultimately, any love we have for Him originates from Him. Our faith is faith that comes from Him. When we fellowship with Him, it is God in us fellowshipping with Himself.

  11. Sin is not only committed by commission but also by omission.

    To me, the verse in John is saying that I am finally free to be the person that God made me to be (no longer a slave to sin).

    He is talking about how since God rested on the Sabbath, we should rest on the Sabbath also. Having studied Hebrews recently, I suspect that the passage is speaking to the audience at that time and now about relying on God and the sacrifice of His Son for salvation, not the continual sacrifice of burnt offerings and the law for their salvation. The law and works are not evil as long as they are done by God to the glory of God through His servants. The writer of Hebrews also takes great pains to indicate that Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, not the blood of animals. This was a difficult thing for them to fathom based on how they had lived for so long; it was a part of their culture.

    Why is it that the focus seems to be so much on the law and works for most of the posts here? The focus should be on God. Are you so afraid to do something because you can’t do it perfectly or because you may possibly do it out of legalism?

  12. Randy,

    Sorry about the tardiness of my reply to your question about sanctification. I realized that I agree with you fully in principle about the use of the law for sanctification but do disagree with you about its application. I think about the moral law almost continuously and it is a huge inspiration for me to obedience to God. But when I think of the moral law I don’t see it as commands to obey but rather as a wholeness of goodness that God requires me to BE right now every second of every day. Because I think this way I cannot separate the moral law from the person of Christ; and because I think this way I also cannot separate the person of Christ from the finished work of Christ. In fact when the human mind perceives the moral law as a seamless whole it suddenly becomes a person–Jesus Christ. No one else can come to mind–NO ONE. If the law is not a whole it cannot be a person. Christ is the revelation of the Father and we know the Father only through the Son. Jesus said that the moral law can be summarized in a two point statement: To love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul; and to love your neighbor as yourself. And that ALL the law and prophets hang on this dual statement. Isn’t Jesus saying that it is good and natural to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbor with all that you are–all the time you are alive? Jesus honored moral goodness in every thought, word, and deed and in doing this showed us what goodness, law, and love look like. He even filled goodness with gladness–Hebrews 1:10 seems to declare that He was the gladest man who ever lived. His mind was set on the pleasure of the Father and so He seemed to naturally and effortless bless everyone He met–though he did have a little stress in the Garden of Gethsemene. This is what God is like and God calls us to, for only this is goodness. Could God call us to anything less than goodness?

    I take this with dead seriousness for justification and sanctification, but find that most writers and pastors I read or ask don’t seem to. Even your words and Matt’s words about the meaning of Jesus’ heavenly statement here seem schizophrenic to me. You (and almost all Christians I am aware of ) declare clearly to unbelievers that God requires flawless continuous perfection to be righteous before him and enter heaven, with the only hope being the gift of righteousness. Be like Jesus or you don’t make it. God can’t dishonor His law to let someone into heaven. Right? I wholeheartedly agree with these statements. But on the other side of the cross somehow the law isn’t taken with such seriousness. And to not take the law seriously is to dishonor it, which is to dishonor God, whose character it reflects. What authority do you and nearly all dear saints I read or hear have to cheapen Jesus’ words for the saved person? Did the moral law change at salvation? I am unable to detect anywhere in scripture that it did. I find that the theme of the Bible beginning to end is God’s delight to honor the law (read the context of Isaiah 42:21) and the spiritual battle from beginning to the end of the Bible is for the honor of the law (righteousness). Hebrews 1:9 declares that Jesus loved righteousness and hated dishonor of the law (GK is anomia). To think or act in any way that denies the wholeness of the law is anomia, the dishonor of the law. Christ is the only place we can look to see the honor of the law. It was the honor of the law (God’s holiness) that terrified Isaiah in chapter 6, which is declared in John 12 to be the vision of chapter 53: the finished work of Christ.

    In short I am asking you or Matt to give a coherent explanation of how Jesus’ glorious dual statement of the law can be cheapened for sanctification. Quote any theologians you wish but it they disagree with the apostles then the apostles, who lived with the perfect God/man and were inspired, trump them. What I repeatedly hear in your words about sanctification are that nobody is perfect and God wants us to try to keep the moral law, even though we will fail, and that thankfully Christ covers our failures. Have I heard you wrong? It almost seems that you are treating the moral law like a french window rather than a plate glass one. We would never let unbelievers get away with that for justification, so why think it as a Christian for sanctification? It is incoherent and schizophrenic to me. [Note: one of my closest Christian friends is paranoid and schizophrenic and so I think I can speak to that issue.] I am basically asking you to defend your vision of sanctification against my (and I think the scripture’s) charge of cheap law or dishonor of the law (anomia). Because If it is anomia then Jesus hates it. Anomia is not a legitimate option for God’s way of sanctification. I think the scripture is clear in teaching that you as a person are fully blessed by God, but that the teaching you espouse on sanctification is dishonor of the law and thus hated by Christ He died to honor the goodness and wholeness of the law and set us free to live in liberty. But this liberty is not a liberty for motivation by imperfect law.

    The Bible is not a self-help manual, but rather a record of God’s goodness in all His ways with mankind–patience, lovingkindness, justice, generosity, etc. Every person hears the voice of God’s goodness (which includes the moral law) continuously. Every atheist I speak with tells me that this is the voice of his conscience. Is the following statement true or false? “The law of God is not a statute; but an ideal which defines itself through conscience in a form appropriate to each successive moment of our existence; and the obligation of it, as so defined, is never less than unconditional.” -James Denney. I cannot see how a Christian theologian could disagree with this statement as I find it all over the scripture and the human conscience. It this is true then how can we honor law as Christians? Christ took all my obligation to the moral law and I am free to be inspired by feeling the full weight of the cost to Him to free me from all that obligation. For the Christian the moral law only has value now as glorified in the atonement. As I ponder the finished work of Christ, who fully honored the law in my place, I always do good to all people no matter how contrary they are. I don’t need individual commands because I see them as a whole as glorified in Christ. When I see Christ as the embodiment of the moral law, i.e., not cheapening it to some idol (1John 5:21), I fall down and worship (as John wrote) and freely do what pleases the Father. I love because He first propitiated me. I read the law and the gospel much and do notice carefully the imperatives because the goodness of the law is what overflows from a heart gripped by the generosity of God in the finished work of Christ. The scripture’s way of sanctification fully honors the law because it is safeguarded against trying, partial obedience, pride, human effort, human glory. etc.

    That leads me to touch another related subject. Your view of sanctification has led you to agree with Matt in pointing the finger at what I will call lazy born again Christians. You wrote that they may be saved but aren’t taking the commandments seriously and are continuing in their sins. Again, did I read you correctly? Your criticism seems clear and not unkind, but leads me to think that you don’t think that you are in the same boat with them. True? Your repeated criticism of Tullian, (and of course of John and me) is that it is wrong (or at least naive or sadly lacking) to teach that all a Christian needs to do is fix his gaze on the law glorified in the finished work of Christ and the heart will naturally overflow with good works to everyone. You say that this leads saints to lead lives of sin and not take holiness seriously. By the way, how is it going for you and Matt in your way of sanctification? Compared to Jesus those dear saints are lazy–but then so am I. But compared to Jesus aren’t you and Matt lazy too? I can detect no standard in scripture except Christ and so trust that you are using him as the measuring stick. How can you avoid the label of being a hypocrite? A hypocrite is a person who thinks that he is keeping the standard but others aren’t. Only Christ wasn’t lazy. Those you criticize are lazy, you are lazy and so am I–but I admit it and have found what it it all about. Laziness is all about laziness (dullness) in hearing the word of righteousness (Hebrews 5:11 and 6:12 and all of James). James (see 1:25ff and 3:17 in context) and the human conscience tell us that the way of freedom from hypocrisy is to judge by moral perfection. One agnostic philosopher friend said that if one judges by perfection he could not possibly be a hypocrite, but he would have to find a new way to live as one cannot live by that standard. My young assistant then explained the way of living by grace to him.

    In summary I would say that anyone holding your view of sanctification consistently cannot avoid the charge of being a hypocrite or of teaching a view that bears the fruit of hypocrisy. I (and John and Tullian) see God’s call to always judge by moral perfection–the wholeness of goodness, Christ Himself–and when we think this way we cannot be hypocrites–by the definition of the moral categories. But we, like everyone else, are tempted to be lazy hearers of the word of righteousness and so get distracted and then judge by cheap law (or look away from the perfect law that brings liberty, and so become forgetful or lazy hearers, as James puts it). We are no better that you or any other lazy saint. Our view of sanctification simply by definition has power to free us from trying unsuccessfully to keep the commandments and from being hypocrites. We know we fail and we know why we fail–because we took our eyes off the law glorified in the atonement and put it on cheap law expecting someone to meet our non-perfect standards. Of course they don’t and we get upset. I never get upset when I expect someone to be perfect–it is humanly impossible.

    My view of sanctification causes me (when I am thinking of the finished work of Christ) to be drawn to lazy Christians and to long to spend time with them to edify them for they are dearly loved by Christ. My call is to follow Peter’s lead in 2 Peter where he is dead set on making sure the saints have their minds set on the finished work of Christ–even after he dies he still wants them to have a reminder. When my mind is set on the law glorified in the atonement I am also drawn to all my critics and all those I see to be wrong. Is not Christ smiling on those lazy saints and urging them to remember His finished work? I don’t want to be overly critical, but I sense in your words (and in the words of Matt and many saints around me who hold your view of sanctification) a distancing of yourself from the saints your deem to be lazy. Don’t you feel that within yourself even?

    I care much for you brother and wish we could sit across the table and discuss these matters more intimately. I and the Apostles invite you to embrace God’s way of sanctification–a way of thinking that frees one from ALL hypocrisy and partiality and fills one with gentleness, mercy, approachableness and much more. Here it is at the end of James 3: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” -James 3:17-18
    First it is pure (unpolluted). When one gazes on moral goodness unpolluted by partial obedience–either expected or performed–one’s heart opens in grace and the life of Christ flows out like a mighty river. It is true that almost all saints and theologians, new and old, Catholic and Protestant, hold your view, though most don’t have a developed theology of it, they just bumble along trying to do the best they can. The Christian church is filled with much of the horrible descriptions that are also in the book of James–division, coldness, judgmentalism, bitterness, envy, hatred, and worse (between and within denominations, congregations, elder boards, and families). James seem to cry from heaven that religion that doesn’t perfectly control the tongue is vain and teaching that doesn’t control the whole body is false. This is all about a false view of sanctification–one which does not honor the moral law as a seamless whole. Your view of sanctification seems to have ruled the church since shortly after the apostles. The NT is filled with words of the apostles defending the gospel and sanctification from attackers declaring the necessity of some motivation by the law–that the gospel doesn’t go all the way in explaining everything Christian (to use James Denney’s words). The apostolic view is that sanctification is by remembrance of the law glorified in the atonement, the finished work of Christ. Period.

    Again brother, it is not about you or Matt or my pastor friends, or my mentor who agree with you. We are all in the same boat fully welcomed, cleansed and blessed by Christ. The issue is the mind set that Christ has given to every saint and told him or her to use. We all have a choice. We are all told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to set our minds in the heavenlies where Christ is, to love fervently with a pure heart that we received when we purified ourselves in believing the gospel. Worldliness (for atheists, Mormons, Muslims, etc) is all about trying to live a good life with the commands provided by the conscience or religious teachings in view . Christian holiness is all about being set apart or different. Different from what? Different from the above motivation. Our motivation is actually an inspiration of infinite power rooted in seeing the goodness of God glorified in the finished work of Christ. Most Christians sound like Mormons: “Now that I am a Mormon it is time to obey God.” versus “Now that I am saved it is time to obey God.” Don’t be fooled. Both say that it is good and necessary to want to obey God.

    In Sept 2001 my doctor (a Jewish surgeon) told me I had cancer and that we needed to move quickly. It turned out to be stage 3 cancer. I have 2 degrees in engineering and have given my life to the study of the Bible and preaching the gospel, knew nothing of medicine and so was oblivious to my condition. But I trusted the surgeon and immediately told him to proceed as quickly as possible. I share this often with unbelievers as a lead in to aggressive law/gospel conversation. I tell them that they have spiritual cancer and don’t even know it. A person is converted by leaving behind spiritual cancer–thinking that goodness can be partial and so seeing the need for some bit of personal righteousness. Most of God’s dear saints and congregations are gripped by going back to that old way of thinking that goodness can be partial and the moral commands of God should be our motivation to do good. Tullian, John and I have joined the voices that are rising here and there in various denominations joyfully declaring that the finished work of Christ is all we need to ponder to live the Christian life well and all that God calls us to consider to inspire us to live the Christian life well.

    Brother, consider my words, and see if God might be calling you to add your voice to that growing chorus of the fresh breeze that will blow much of the division, coldness and apathy our of the church and breathe life into lazy Christians. I may not live to see the new reformation but it is coming and maybe sooner than I think.

    I am glad to be with you forever in the grace of Christ,

  13. Brad,

    While I am sure you wrote some wonderful stuff, I apologize for not reading all that you have written. Simply put, my mission in life now that He has called me to Himself is to know Him and to make Him known. It is not to focus on law or grace as the goal, but to focus on the One who created both of them. For me, to focus on anything other than Him is to make that thing as a god in my life. (I just wonder when I read other comments here if some have not made grace as god in their lives rather than God Himself.)

    If this new fresh vision helps you in seeking Him to not rely on your own performance, good for you. But this constant droning that everyone is like you and needs to embrace this message is just simply not true. (I read this a lot in some of Tulian’s writings where he states that we always default to this way of thinking; I guess I must be the only person in the world that does not default to this way of thinking. Or as one of the local grace zealots has accused me of lying to myself.) Each and every day I rest on what Christ did for me on the cross and by His life giving resurrection. I just don’t have that “bent” that compels me to rest on anything I have done or could ever do as adding to what He has done. And frankly, I come across many people who are like me. So I don’t buy your comment that “most of God’s dear saints are gripped” by this. Maybe all the ones in your area of the country, not where I live. Some “religions” in our society do place too much emphasis on works.

    The real spiritual cancer is not law or grace or works; it is sin. Sin brings death. This is what separates a person from God and what impairs a believer’s fellowship with God (Ps. 51).

    In keeping this brief, James also admonishes that faith without works is dead. Works are not an add-on to what Christ did, but a follow-on of what saving faith does II Cor. 5:17-21.

  14. Randy,

    Dear brother, you must be an enigma to yourself. Perfect law and perfect grace are who God is. You can’t know God if you don’t know Him as perfect law. You can’t know God if you don’t know Him as perfect grace. If you say that all you want to do is know Him and make Him known (the theme of the Navigators who led me to Christ 34 years ago), then why do you so freely criticize lazy saints and “grace zealots” and preach sanctification by using the moral law as a guide (but not the moral law as a complete seamless whole)? [Note: Again, in this post I am speaking only about sanctification unless otherwise noted.]

    You are correct in saying that many saints have made an idol of the word grace. But the meaning of grace is righteous generosity. One cannot idolize that. What I hear you, Christians generally, and most preachers I have observation of describe is really the concept (moral category) of leniency or unrighteous mercy—a lowering of the standard of obedience from complete goodness so that partial obedience at some high (but not perfect) or very low level can be honored. The lazy saints you criticize are thinking leniency and you and others in criticizing them are thinking leniency. It is impossible for grace to be used as a license for sin because of the definition of the moral categories. What is used as a license for sin—by the lazy Christians and in your excuse-making words (doing your best, noboby’s perfect, trying)—is leniency. Jude 4 is misinterpreted when used as such a criticism. The Greek word means exchange—like swapping out a hard drive for another hard drive, not using the same hard drive for a wrongful purpose. Righteous generosity (grace) is swapped out for unrighteous mercy (leniency) and bears the ugly fruit of lasciviousness, which Eph 4:19 indicates to be the source of all uncleanness and greediness (not merely sexual sin). Think: laziness, fornication, stealing, judgmentalism, murder, hypocrisy, partiality, etc.

    Also, one cannot use the moral law as a guide to know God for sanctification, because to do so would be to turn it into an idol—some lifeless cheap golden statue. The moral law is alive only when it is whole because then it is God Himself. The moral law is only of value in knowing God when it reflects His true character, which can be known only in Christ—who is moral goodness as a whole. When a person see God’s moral character as a whole (including at least perfect love and finished work at the cross), he falls down and worships and is moved to celebration of the cross and moved to love his brothers without the taint of selfishness. [Please don't use an excuse word here, but try to follow my reasoning.] When saints think of moral law as a whole, all attitude problems between saints disappear and differences based on tradition don’t separate them. Why? Because we realize that we are all helpless sinners and all accepted into the beloved by the work of Christ. This is true unity. Using the law as a guide is likely the cause of all the sinfulness in the church. I cannot think of an exception but am open to suggestions. One cannot use the law as a guide except by particularizing it and losing its sense of wholeness. This is the gross pollution that at least Isaiah, Jeremiah, James, Peter, and Jesus preach against. If you don’t see it I would be glad to suggest questions that get below our shallow Christian reading of the Bible as a a to do list for the Christian life. We want easy answers about what we need to do now that we are justified by faith. Most of us are afraid to ask hard questions for clarification and instead swallow like a baby robin what ever mama robin (pastors, teachers, Christian books) drop in our mouths. Every verse can be read in two ways, either cheap law/leniency or pure law/righteous generosity. It is very interesting to begin noticing and evaluating this contrast everywhere. Luther wrote that his great temptation was to go back to seeing Christ as a lawgiver. Luther said that Paul’s point is that Christ is no lawgiver. He blamed his Catholic training that trauma.

    One of the horrible results of seeking to use the moral law as a guide for sanctification is hypocrisy. Again, one CANNOT think wholeness and seek this way, because thinking moral wholeness causes the human mind to rest. See Isaiah 6 and 53 which are connected in John 12. God IS dishonored when one does not think wholeness of goodness. To think about the moral law as a guide to sanctification is to swap out Christ in His person and finished work for some partial substitute that we can try to obey and tell others to obey. I explained this in detail in my previous post. Each person and denomination or group makes their own checklist, i.e., a subset of moral law that motivates one to action. If the checklist is moral perfection, it cannot directly motivate to obedience to it, because the conscience knows it is already beyond reach because one sin ruins the whole thing. Comparative obedience becomes the rule and coldness, suspicion, and criticism springs up like weeds. There is very much division among saints in Reformed circles. Add more labels and the divisions multiply. If we would return to the apostolic teaching of Christ as our sanctification, the divisiveness among those who embraced such would disappear overnight.

    Here are three ways your use of the law for sanctification has resulted in hypocrisy in what you say. 1) You say you are doing your best, but yet say that you sin sometimes. Why don’t you take the way of escape that God ALWAYS provides in EVERY temptation? NO temptation is too difficult for you to trust Christ in and not sin. 2) You certainly have sinned in the last week and so are not taking seriously the call to stop sinning. You are just like the “lazy Christians” that you are criticizing, with the only difference being one of degree–they may look like they are sinning more than you are, but neither of you are keeping the apostles commands—as you define them. It is obvious that you don’t think that you are as sinful as those people, otherwise you would not be criticizing them so freely in the way you do. They are at fault but not with your diagnosis—that they are taking advantage of God’s grace. The true diagnosis is that they are dull hearers of the word of righteousness (they lack skillfulness in the word of righteousness) and are forgetful of what righteousness is. This is why they, you and I sin—as I think is clear in scripture, especially see Hebrews 5:11-6:12 and James 1:25 in context. Why do you think you sin? Why do you think they sin? I truly am curious to hear your reason. More importantly, please explain how your level of sinning is acceptable to God and theirs is not. 3) You criticize others for not answering your call to discuss sanctification. I answered it and you wrote that you didn’t have time to read it. This seems to indicate that you aren’t really interested in reasoning about the scriptures but in declaring yourself to be correct and above questioning. Only Christ holds that position. We are called to exhort our brothers. You put your nose in other saints business to exhort them about sanctification. Fine. I assumed that you desired to receive as well, and so have offered you what you requested in vain from others—why your view is not only unnecessary but actually in error.

    If you embraced sanctification by using “moral law glorified in the atonement” as your inspiration, all your hypocrisy would disappear overnight. Again, hypocrisy is thinking one’s obedience is satisfactory and someone else’s isn’t. Therefore no one can be a hypocrite while thinking the way I declare the apostles teach us to think. See James 3:17 in the context all of James. What I am saying is true because of the definition of the moral categories and every thoughtful atheist could tell you so as well because God has written it on every conscience.

    Please consider my words as I urge you to give up these two idols of leniency and “law as a guide for sanctification.” Actually if you give up the latter the former will automatically disappear.

    I care much for you brother and want to see you free to testify of the righteousness of Christ in every conversation about sanctification instead of making excuses for your sins. Sin is dishonor of the law. When one truly honors the law–which is only in the finished work of Christ–, sin disappears and need not be excused. There is a reason I sin: I look away from perfect law (moral law as a seamless whole) to your vision of sanctification by personal obedience for myself or anyone else. Period.

    If you ever make it to Utah, let me know and I will buy you dinner.

    I am glad to stand with you in the lavish righteous generosity of Christ

  15. Please don’t jump to conclusions: “This seems to indicate that you aren’t really interested in reasoning about the scriptures but in declaring yourself to be correct and above questioning.” I hear you say you care, but two paragraphs above you do no speak very lovingly to me, including the sentence in quotes.

    No one gains when you talk down to them. There is a reason that we all sin; it is our sin nature that came to us via Adam. Paul speaks of this battle clearly in Romans 7.

    I am not saying that obedience to the law, commandments, imperatives in Scripture add anything to salvation. But they are a rule for faith and practice.

    Before Paul speaks about the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5, he speaks about the characteristics of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God in verses 19-21. Scripture makes it clear to us what to avoid and what to seek after.

    In your way of living, how does one grow in their walk with God?

  16. Brad,

    I think it is time for both of us to move on with the real work of the kingdom.

    God uses many things in our lives to teach us about Himself. One of the main things that He uses in my life is His word. I am not saying that sanctification comes only by obedience to Scripture; it comes by an infinite number of things that God uses in our lives. He is an infinitely holy God who lavishes His blessings on us in many ways.

    BTW, the law can become a guide without becoming an idol. You many not believe it, but it is true. Why else would scripture exhort us to faith and works? The law is not the end game; it is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection Phil. 3:10. Just because Col. 4:2 says “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” does not mean that prayer has become my idol.

    I wish you well as you seek after God. I pray that He will reveal Himself to you in new and different ways everyday. I also pray that you and I will seek to be satisfied with the things of God, not the things of this world.

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