There is a really interesting debate of sorts going on in an orb not ours that resonates with my thinking regarding salvation and morality and the Church’s moral mandate. Greek Orthodox priest, Stephen Freemen, wrote something that I truly rejoiced in because I understood it the way I think he meant it to be understood. I too have started realizing in the last 5 to 10 years that our preaching is moralism + Jesus even in the most conscientious “gospel-centered” environments. It was years ago when I was preaching through Matthew that I realized that the Sermon on the Mount could only be rightly interpreted in light of Matthew 5:48: “Be Perfect.” Or, to put it more shockingly, “Be divine.”
I had been reared listening to moral instructions preached from the Sermon on the Mount, proud that, of all the men in the world who counted adultery as adultery, I was among the class of people that went further with our morality. I, along with all Christ followers, counted the second-glance, the lustful gaze as adultery. Our morality was that much higher! But I was missing the point. The point was simply Jesus’ way of saying, “Unless you’re a God-Man, you’re toast.”
Anyway, read when you get the chance this article, “The Un-Moral Christian” and, for counter-balance, read this rebuttal(which I think fails to do anything, but maybe temper excessive application). Finally, read the rebuttal to the rebuttal. And you’ll be stepping deep into the pool I’ve been floundering in with joy for the last several years.
This is relevant in the TGC orb because some of the Reformed guys are in full panic mode over the Tchividjian/Fitzpatrick so-called antinomianism. The MacArthur guys are calling everyone back to “The Gospel According to MacArthur” series to find out what has been decreed in heaven and are suspicious of guys like me who do not yet have their boxers in a wad over the Tchividjian/Fitzpatrick “spin”.
Reformed guys (as in guys who are really Reformed) and not merely cool Calvinists are generally better theologians than either the MacArthurites or the Tchividjian types (who, admittedly, have more Graham in them than Presbyterianism). But if you listen to these two sides bomb each other with their best exegetical artillery the average theological pastor/reader in the middle who was born evangelical/fundamentalist (they are the same thing) and has matured to some level of independence with secret sympathies for the EO interest in theosis (though this imaginary type does not buy into their emphasis or doctrinal explanation of theosis) AND a deep appreciation for Reformed covenantalism AND an ecclesiology that is increasingly untrammeled by extreme baptistic “autonomianism”, one is inclined to think that the extreme readings of MacArthur and Tchividjian blessedly cancel each other out by complimenting each other.
In other words, pastorally, dish out JMac’s “Hard to Believe” along with Tchividjian’s “One Way Love” and the average Christian in the pew is probably going to get a lot more Gospel. If theJMac people are right that the Tchividjian/Fitzpatrick people are antinomian writers, I think it is only because of the fact that antinomians readers read like antinomians. I don’t think the writers can be legitimately charged with such heresy except for the charge of being over zealous about the freedom we have in one-way love. On the other hand, the JMac crowd sound very much like neo-nomians to me. It is not enough that you believe, you must have found it hard to believe or you probably are not saved.
I over-state it, of course. But I think that the other side is right to worry about how legalists could read JMac and other Reformed critics of their soteriology.
This brings us to the other orb. The Orthodox and theosis understanding of salvation. Protestants do believe and teach that we will become partakers of the divine nature, but we don’t focus on it a lot. We tend to think of “glory to glory” tangible steps of progress in sanctification that looks like the making of good habits and the shedding of bad habits with increasing degrees of commitment. But it is more than that. It is the process of making us like God.
The Sermon on the Mount is not, as I had thought, a how to for the Christian dispensation that motivated, yes, but in practical life leaves most of us with an I can’t type of conviction. Instead, it was a grand here’s Who statement that is supposed to leave us with a humble I’m not conviction: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is not teaching a Christian morality. It’s teaching the inadequacy of morality. The Law was never meant to tell us what to do, but to tell us who we are. Living like God on earth is an utter impossibility for us. The incarnation of God changed that. Jesus only conformed to the moral law out of sympathy. Just as he conformed to natural laws. He could walk on water, but usually he took a boat. Natural laws were irrelevant to his Godness. Moral laws were irrelevant to his Godness. But he submitted to natural and moral law as man so that he could make a way for us become partakers of the divine nature.
Ironically, we can understand this in moral terms better than in natural terms. There are some moral laws that are irrelevant to us. I know that, presumably, there is a law that I must take care of my children. It is irrelevant to me whether that law exists or does not exists because it is my nature to take care of my children. I will live my entire life obeying a law that is irrelevant to me. My nature is above that law. This is how Jesus lived on earth, both with moral and natural law. And the offer of salvation is not merely a freedom from immorality; it is an offer of freedom from morality.
On the new earth there will not be any moral people. The moral people will be in hell. “We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.”
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