Position Precedes Performance
Each Christian needs to get clear about where he stands with God. Any theology that says, “You ought to ___ in order to be holy”, persuading us to do anything other than “believe in the Lord Jesus”, or stay in faith from start, middle through to finish (Rom 1:17) is not from the One who called us (Gal 5:8).
Anything other than Christ and him crucified is not the gospel but an immediate death sentence. It leaves the responsibility for defining and achieving holiness to the flesh. It really ought to begin and end in the Spirit. That Spirit comes and works miracles among us by the hearing of the Word concerning Christ who was clearly portrayed among us as crucified, once-for-all perfecting those who are being made holy.
Hebrews 9:14 reminds us that the gift Christ gave, he offered up through the eternal Spirit. Though an infinite person, the Spirit is synonymous with the infinitely valuable gift that was given because it is by his presence and ministry that we meet the God who gave the gift. Christians walk by this Spirit when they just rely on the gift of righteousness instead of the works of the flesh for righteousness.
For God to advocate anything else as justifying or sanctifying us before him is for God to appeal to our flesh instead of the gift that was offered once and for all through the Spirit. When we “walk in the flesh”, or think anything we do can earn God’s approval, we employ the flesh.
When the flesh is employed, it looks for a reason to either boast or be condemned. That seeking a reason to either be condemned or to boast is the “Contrary Law” that is at work among our members, but it only works when there is something to contradict. If the flesh understands itself as called upon to yield itself before God for your righteousness, it is more than happy to “contradict” this commandment or obey it to its own credit. Either way, it is operating from a separated identity instead of an at-one-d identity.
This is how the commandment that was supposed to produce life instead exposes our death. This is true for the impeccable Pharisee as well as the half-breed Samaritan. Insofar as Father God only had their deeds to look at when judging them, he can find nothing – not one thing – to commend them to him. This was why righteousness had to be a gift from God apart from any deed or trait of the recipient. Even faith comes from God. Regeneration precedes belief.
When one walks in the Spirit – that is, when one hopes that the gift of righteousness received by faith start to finish is all there is to commend him before God – there is no boasting except in the Lord and there is no condemnation because Jesus was made into a curse for us. The flesh is therefore unemployed; consequently, it has nothing to gain from working the works of the flesh. In our passivity, the Spirit has room to produce his fruit in us instead. Our position before God was established spiritually by Christ apart from works. “Walk in the Spirit [only believe in the unceasing, uninterrupted, undiluted sufficiency, infinite grace and unconditional love of the One who called you] and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” – because you will no longer be appealing to the flesh for anything, lest of all, “good behavior”. The Gospel is a Gospel of “done”, never an instruction to “do”.
“Mortify your flesh; crucify your flesh”, Paul writes. Whatever does he mean? He means, “Believe in the Lord Jesus” because in Jesus, the flesh was crucified, the flesh was mortified, the body of sin was done away with, the heart was circumcised and the Law was fulfilled.
God refuses to give into the taunts of the flesh that says, “Look at me, I’m ___” – whatever it is that the flesh is doing or refusing to do, whether it’s an act of self-originated righteousness or sin. No flesh will boast in his presence or disturb his divine equanimity.
People break rules because the flesh carries – and revels in – the fear of getting caught. But perfect love casts out fear because the rules were fulfilled on our behalf as a forever gift. The flesh holds to the wantonness of flaunting rules. Fearing rejection and hardening itself in advance for the punishment it anticipates, it kicks into rebellion or dehumanized slave mode and re-represents us as slaves to something other than the love God has shed abroad our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
But the Gospel has no rules so the flesh has nothing to hold to. Bring me the verses if you think you’ve found them, and I’ll pull you a history and theology lesson to help contextualize them.
A God who polices or judges human performance (which is what the Law does), counting, cataloging, recording and remembering men’s sins (four things the New Covenant promises wouldn’t happen) is an omnipotent and irresistible inflamer of sin. In fact, “the Law was added to increase transgressions”. Show me someone who worships that God, and I’ll show you someone who is utterly, helplessly dead in his sins without the slightest hope of rescue from the God he has imagined – no hope, of course, other than a realer God, a stronger God, a wiser God: that is the God who put the cross forward and with whom mortals may enjoy friendship.
The cross was an instrument of execution and torture. It enforced man’s power over man. It also represented the divine curse, for it is written, “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree”. It therefore was the perfect altar upon which God’s sacrifice could be offered whereby God subverted and destroyed the temple system and its religious domination over the overtaxed poor that could not buy righteousness that was for sale (or works). With it, God disarmed any Sword of Damocles over even above the religious Powers, for they also needed to be rescued from themselves. They had judged, and therefore were in danger of being judged by the same measure – a fate none but God could withstand. At a high price to himself, God chose mercy instead of retaliation.
Here, even the conscience has no room before God’s complete work. For the conscience to visit us again about sin is for it to equate the blood of Jesus to the blood of bulls and goats. This is a tremendous mistake. The blood of bulls and goats was offered several times over to atone for unconscious and accidental sins committed only in the past tense. The ceremonial Law had no provision for deliberate sin, and if three witnesses were willing to out you you’d be killed without mercy.
But the blood of Christ was offered once to take away all sin. What Jesus did cannot be improved upon or undone. And this is what transforms souls.
“The Holy Spirit convicts believers of sin”, religion likes to say in order to get us to buy into its temple sacrificial systems. But that’s a misunderstanding of John 16:8. “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me”. If we break it down, we find that the Holy Spirit will convict the world (those who walk in the flesh – religious people) concerning sin, because they don’t believe in the Lamb who has taken away the sin of the world. Instead of relying on this truth, they continue walking in the flesh to earn a righteousness that is only found freely in Christ. The Spirit convicts them concerning righteousness, because they don’t believe in the only One in whom it can be found and so continue producing dead works by obeying rules. He has returned to the Father which proves that his person was worthy for the task of purging sin.
The NIV says, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment”. The world that walks in the flesh was wrong about slavery, racism, interracial marriage, and this time, what it means to be attracted to someone of the same gender. The world that regards according to the flesh has always been wrong and will continue to be wrong until the day it collapses from outward appearances and performances into nothing but God’s ability to justify the ungodly.
God’s righteousness, his justification and justice, is his choice to place the sinner smack-bang at the center of his unconditional love for Christ’s sake without regard for what that sinner does. This effectively circumcises that sinner’s flesh nature into the death that Christ died.
NET Bible reads: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”. The world was dead wrong about sin and judgment; hence, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. The world is blind, but says it sees. Those that were blind do see. Thusly does God judge religion.
The subjective awareness of assurance is not necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for victorious living. You want to see victory in your Christian walk? Believe that no matter what your flesh decides to do, it is no longer included in the equation of how you stack up before God; Christ alone is and has secured your salvation. In believing this, you fire the flesh. But for that to happen, you have to simultaneously fire all expectations and rules, whether they come from society, the Law of Moses, the rules of decency – all of them, without one exception – because God abolished the Law in its totality. He didn’t merely say that Christ was his method for getting you to fulfill the Law, for that would turn Christ into little more than a hagiographed psychological gimmick. Rather, God called Christ the Law fulfilled when he called his blood the ratification of the New Covenant, making the other one Old. Why, then, serve the Law? The Law was added because of transgressions and at every point, it presupposes the very sinful nature it is given to subdue. It is impotent to transform that nature or ransom the Law-keeper. The blood of Christ, alone, presents this hope; this hope is frustrated when it’s Jesus plus something of the flesh. It must be Christ, he must be crucified, and, like the High Priest, he must be alone.
People will accuse you of antinomianism. Now before you get scared and run back into the Law in order to impress men or find a secure footing instead of being established in grace, ask yourself one thing. What Law applies to God or to someone who, by nature, possesses God’s righteousness? What Law applies to people who are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus? Whatever Law is applied to believers has to be applied to God. However believers are bound, God, too, must be bound. For they partake in the same righteousness. Jesus ate with people that decent society regarded as sinners. And if any Letter-Law applies, then Christ was lying when he said, “It is accomplished”: it wasn’t accomplished for there still exists a handwritten debt.
Christ is risen above all power and principality and rule. In this ascended nature, God is a Law unto himself. God only and always acts out of his nature. God’s nature is love. Your nature, if you’re a believer, is love. You are therefore free to only and always act out of your nature, for it is identical with God’s. You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. You are not under the Law. If they accuse you of antinomianism, rejoice greatly and be exceedingly glad! For so did they persecute and revile the prophets that testified of the gift of righteousness apart from the Law before you. Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. But you possess the kingdom of heaven and God’s righteousness, that is, God’s choice to love you by sheer gift, which you never worked for.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Christ your righteousness. Blessed are you when they make caricatures of who you are as you fight for marriage equality – a basic civil right – or the separation of church and State (what the hell has Satan’s world bound under Moses’ Law got to do with God’s Kingdom?) or pray against your convictions. God’s already won the battles he’s interested in winning and religion is on the wrong side of the culture war by being at war with flesh and blood to begin with. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you when they testified of God’s gift of righteousness apart from observation of the Law.
And this is where reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality comes from a fundamental, and fundamentalist, misunderstanding of both the Gospel and the bible (notice how I’ve distinguished them). The Judaisers (reparative therapists that claim to work for God) want to boast in “the flesh” of “cured” gay Christians: they want to prove that some human technique can get human beings to conform to human standards of righteousness instead of letting those humans submit to the righteous that was given by God as a free gift. It shows lack of faith in what God has declared – that is, that the corpus of justification’s work has been accomplished in Christ. This ministry of righteousness sounds correct, and it seems to make perfect sense – the Law is against homosexuality; therefore, to save homosexuals, we need to get them to observe the Law through the power of the cross, presto – but one cannot observe the Law and work from the power of the cross at the same time. In fact, no one can be justified in God’s sight by observing the Law; Moses and his Law exist to stir up and accuse of sin and will do nothing else, ever, even as one goes about marrying heterosexually as expected by the Law. So this business of working for sanctification through the power of the cross is a contradiction in terms. “What, then? Leave them in their sins?” No! The church needs to engage with same-sex attracted believers in their righteousness, talk to them, and watch what God does. They are not the same creatures that the Law presupposed when it made its demands because they were transformed by gazing upon the glory of the Lord; by looking upon the bronze serpent. When believers look into the mirror, they see the glory of the Lord (James 1:25; 2 Cor 3:18) and our proper response is to be in communion with them.
If an accusation could be brought against God’s chosen ones, an accusation causing God to revoke his free gift of imputed righteousness, then the chosen one was under the Law all along – for his performance has caused God to cease loving him – and the free gift of righteousness never was a free gift of righteousness from God in the first place. The genius of the cross would have been thwarted by God’s partiality. But there is no partiality with God, for there is no difference: he consigned all to disobedience so that he may show mercy to all that trust on God who justifies the ungodly. In a passage sometimes titled, “God works in all things”, Romans 8 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us”. Over the next few blog posts, I will explain why the Law made the demands that it made. Those instructions are perfect, holy and good for someone who knows not Christ. But Christ is the end of the Law for them that believe.
Christ Abolished The Law
The cross judged the temple system as a scheme of thieves. See, the priesthood knew in theory that God alone forgave sin. But the moment he did offer forgiveness aside from the temple system, the priests would cry, “Where’s our cut?” Oh, they’d disguise it as concern for ecclesiastical protocol but God called bullshit on the whole farce. He sent prophets to rail against it and they were stoned. He shut his mouth for four centuries and eventually stepped in to cut that system away because of its sky-high corruption (“I hate…detest…abhor…your sacred feasts and new moons…). God undercut the system by offering sinners unconditional acceptance substantiated by Christ’s sacrificing himself as a ransom on the altar of the idols of religion and State – idols and altars, paradoxically, that were supplied by the priests themselves. The cross was God’s supreme checkmate, silencing every religious mouth and crushing Satan’s head, stuffing the accusation back in their faces with a price too high not to ransom sinners out of the system – exposing its spiritual bankruptcy and parasitism. God thwarted and unmasked the impostor that pretended to be God: religion.
Jesus is God’s verdict, an absolute “vindicated”, on behalf of those religion deemed beyond God’s grace. God, by sheer fiat explained in his self-sacrifice which he condescended to offer on the altar of our idols – disarming our Powers and Principalities of religion and empire – may justify whomever he damn well pleases without checking even the character or attitude of the one justified. Read Romans 9 again and again until it sinks in.
For the danger with leaving the cause of his choice down here on earth as though it were something offered by the elect, is that we or the Powers and Principalities may make an entire industry out of buying God’s favour – we may erect a new temple system, replete with our moneychangers’ “cut” and bragging rights as we glory in the flesh of those we’ve healed on any day except the Sabbath and into any condition except for Sabbath rest – and in our temple system of human-originated righteousness, we may only proclaim people forgiven once they’ve paid us indulgences to escape our imagined Purgatory, or shown, through enough straining at reparative therapy, religion and reformation, that they’re awfully contrite for the terrible sin of loving members of the same sex. Hence Romans 9’s emphasis on the unilaterality of God’s election into justification. Through the cross, God took the monopoly of righteousness – the whole discourse of who is forgiven and who isn’t, who is in and who is out – back from religion, back from the Law, back from the rules of common decency, back from social norms and normality, culture, back from even our blessed conscience with its dismally low understanding of purity and righteousness, back from the unspoken “bro code” that flunks gay men at gender 101, back, back, back to justification entirely and forever as and by the gift of God’s love, given in a dirty, scandalous criminal’s death on an oppressor’s cross.
Which is where salvation actually belongs. It is of the Lord.
Remember the height from which you have fallen. You have fallen from grace. He is at the door. He is coming quickly.
Please stay in touch