Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sanctification is About the Heart, not the Law

I have enjoyed reading Joseph Bellamy’s Book “True Religion Delineated”.  He was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards.  As the title suggests, it is his attempt to define what it is to live as God intends those he saves to live.  His basic premise should be obvious to all who read the Bible but too many times it seems it is not. 
At the heart of holiness is to love the Lord with all of our hearts.  There is no greater commandment or pursuit; that is the essence of righteousness.  To me the very definition of what is to be a Christian is to love God supremely and live one’s life accordingly.  Having been raised in Fundamentalism, too often the Christian life was described as a series of rules that one was supposed to do (or usually was supposed not to do).  As long as you conformed outwardly all was considered to be well between you and God.
Of course, any lost person can conform to rules but only one regenerated and brought to faith in the cross of Christ can love God and do good because he loves the Lord.  As much as I love my Covenant Theologian commentators, and believe me, I have benefited greatly from their books, I grow weary of the mantra “Moses leads us to Christ for justification and Christ takes us back to Moses for Sanctification”.  Oddly it is not unusual in the next chapter to find them saying that one cannot be sanctified by the law.  It sometimes seems to be a case where they know better than their theological system but can’t rectify it to the Bible.
If sanctification is conforming to the 10 Commandments then they immediately become a check list; as I cross off one I am doing better.  As I cross off more than my brother in the pew next to me I am doing better than he.  Inevitably this leads to judgmentalism and a measure of self righteousness or it will lead to despair because we never keep them very well.  By understanding holiness as doing everything for the glory of God, one is not left comparing himself to others or any list, no matter how good it might be, but one instead is left with a honest sense of his total lack of goodness in himself and utter need for the power of Christ.
I would suggest that Adam was not given the 10 Commandments in the garden but basically the first and greatest Commandment.  The one of which Jesus said the other laws hang.  He didn’t say the Great Commandment hung on the 10 Commandments.  When Adam fell, it was because he failed to love God as God and put himself first and that is the essence of sin.  Everything we do externally is a result of how well we are honoring the Lord inwardly. 
When we stop defining sin primarily by outward actions and see how laden we are inside with sin, we don’t spend so much time pointing it out in others and start looking at our own needs. 
I certainly don’t want to downplay the part of Scripture that tell us what the Lord expects of us; the imperative statements, if you will.  Clearly just telling even Christians to just love God isn’t all the revelation we need.  I illustrate it to my church by comparing the Christian life to one of our members who loves to fish.  I don’t need to take a baseball bat to him and demand that he go fishing.  He loves to fish and goes every chance he gets.  But if I give him some information that instructs him how to catch more fish, he is thankful because he loves to fish.  Thus Christians love Christ because that is what we are now by nature.  I don’t have to thunder threats that they better keep the law because it has already been written on their hearts; their nature has already been changed to love God.  Now when we come to the latter part of the book of Romans or the Sermon on the Mt., we don’t look at it as rules that must be kept lest we upset the Father and he chasten us; we see instruction that guides us to be better lovers of Christ!  Yes, there is a sense of duty to obey the Lord but that is not the driving motivation.  Young children sometimes need to be threatened to do right but it is every parents hope that as they mature they do right because they want to do right.
You can thunder the law at saints and make Christianity a legalistic drudgery, or you can preach the gospel whenever you open the Book and keep exalting Christ so that they grow in love and the desire to love him grows and grows.  Such use of the law will keep them looking mostly at the outward man and comparing themselves to others, but to replace law with gospel keeps us looking at Christ with an eye to our hearts.  Which is more effective and more biblical?  Studying the 10 Commandments will give us some insight into how to live for God, although in the context of the Old Covenant, but studying Christ must be better for he is the full light of the heart of God, not a dull light written on tables of stone.
If anyone would like to read Joseph Bellamy’s book you can download it at Google Books or follow this link:  True%7C_Religion%7C_Delineated%7C_%7C_Or%7C_%7C_Experiment  It is not always easy reading but the effort will be rewarded.  You won’t find everything I have said here in this book, but I think that what I have said reflects the spirit of the book.

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