It has been nearly 500 years since the German monk and college professor, Martin Luther challenged the largest religious institution of his day. It wasn’t that he set out to challenge anyone, but he had found a wonderful truth in the writings of Paul that dramatically transformed his life.
After years of feeling the weight of his own personal sinfulness, he found peace with God through faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. He had been taught that good works, both charitable acts and the sacraments of the church would lead to peace with God and eternal life in heaven. For some reason this peace for him did not come…. until he began his thorough studies of Paul’s writings, especially his letter to the Romans.
When he read that God’s grace, his favor towards those who have not performed sufficient good works, is the means by which we are saved, and that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, it was if the heavens were open unto him! Having already realized that on his own he could never be good enough, he was thrilled to learn that he could have the very righteousness of Christ applied on his account!
This event, along with other situations in Europe at that time, led to the Protestant Reformation, which altered the course of history.
The leaders of the Reformation were very serious about the Word of God, and they could articulate the Gospel of grace in the context of the major themes of the Bible. They also understood what the New Testament writers knew, that the Gospel could and would be distorted.
When a person understands and truly experiences the wonderful grace of God, the response should be a changed heart, and a desire to please Him. We must be careful, however, to attend to the whole counsel of God. A few Scriptures can easily be taken out of context, even in sincerity, that could mislead many.
The Unfinished Work
Some internationally popular preachers today have perfected a terrific feel-good version of the Gospel that has enormous appeal to this modern generation. They downplay the need for confrontation and repentance from sin. They relegate those aspects of Jesus’ teachings to the Old Testament. According to them, these teachings were before His death on the Cross, after which everything changed.
This fits in nicely with the Prosperity Gospel, where people are told exactly what they want to hear, and the goal is personal pleasure, comfort and material wealth. They say: “Jesus suffered so we would not have to suffer.”
So now, grace means we do not have own up to our failures. This they would call having a “sin-consciousness.” Any church that sees any value at all in learning the 10 Commandments, is accused of bringing death upon the people, and “mixing the law with grace.”
This is obviously an overreaction to the many groups in Christianity that still emphasize rule-keeping as a means to salvation. One group appears to be weak on their understanding of Justification, while the reacting groups misunderstand Sanctification. The finished work of Christ on the Cross is immediate in our justification, while the same work of Christ is progressive in our Sanctification!
Paul and the Law
Without getting too technical on this subject, I would encourage you to take a look at Paul’s writings to see what he actually did say. It has been already established that “by the works of the law will no one be justified before God.” Our justification, God’s counting us righteous, is based upon our trust in the righteousness of Christ alone.
Justification is a done deal for the believer. But what about our sanctification? How do we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Our Lord? Is the finished work of Christ on the Cross the only Bible truth we need to know? If there is nothing left for us to do but to listen to positive preaching, why did Paul himself have so many negative things to say?
If the Ten Commandments only brought death, why did Paul tell the churches to honor their fathers and mothers? Why did he tell them to not steal? Why did he explicitly forbid lying? Why did he have a man put out of the church in Corinth for adultery? Why did he warn against covetousness and idolatry? Surely the Gospel of Grace would have eliminated the need for such references to the law!
The truth is, that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The primary agent in the changing of our thought life is the Word of God, including both the Old and New Testaments!
In fact, the New Testament had not been compiled yet when Paul wrote that all scripture has been given by inspiration of God and is profitable for reproof, correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God can be perfect fully equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:17)
Yes, those whose hearts have not yet turned to the Lord have a veil over their minds in the reading of the Old Testament. But — when the heart turns to the Lord, that veil is taken away. Therefore, beholding the glory of the Lord Himself, even in the reading of the Law, we are transformed into that same image, from glory to glory! Hallelujah! (2 Corinthians 3:14-18).
It was Paul who said, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man!” For one who is born of the Spirit, there is a deepness there that calls unto the depths of the Christ Who lives within us. There is a hunger for the wisdom, knowledge and counsel of God. We know that obedience begins in the heart, but that it has to be worked out in our daily words and actions.
We are working out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure! (Philippians 2:12)
Don’t let yourself be robbed of the power of the Word of God, by those who “wrongly divide” it. Even the wounds we receive from the Sword of the Spirit, that is the Word of God, those wounds only come to remove those things that are deadly to us.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, this friend is the One Who laid down His life for us. But the kisses of the enemy are deceitful. We are living in wonderful and yet treacherous times. Our enemy would love for us to view our Heavenly Father as mean and abusive. But he would also portray Him as soft, indulgent and unconcerned for our growth unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, progressing from faith to faith, from strength to strength and from glory to glory!
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, and acceptable and perfect. NASB