Rom.9: 31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Gal.3: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
If you peruse the community of faith generally referred to as “evangelical” and more specific “orthodox” you will find that the overwhelming majority will have a conviction that salvation is by faith alone and that Jesus is the only Redeemer who can save. So the common theological thread among most of them is that a sinner can only be saved through a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is generally called orthodox theology regardless of what other doctrinal deviations one may have.
The verses I provided also present a clear picture that not only emphasizes that truth, but Paul also makes it clear that even after one is redeemed by faith in Christ the sanctification process whereby his life begins to conform to the image of Christ is not by the law of human works. That is also by faith and can be completely attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. You may think you really worked hard to give up a certain sin, but the truth is the Spirit empowered you and you finally, by faith, surrendered to the Spirit’s power and released your own grip on the situation.
The church has slowly but surely moved away from recognizing and surrendering to the ministry and power of the Spirit. Instead we have all kinds of steps and elaborate programs designed to teach the flesh how to act. The fellowship of the Spirit has been replaced by pragmatic advice disguised as Biblical teaching. Christ leaves this earth after suffering beyond imagination for us and He sends another Comforter and yet we diminish, dilute, and most times completely ignore Him? What spiritual treachery.
And here is an astounding contradiction within the evangelical and orthodox community. Those who say with utter conviction that redemption is by faith alone in Jesus Christ and there is no other way also seem to believe a collection of sinners can achieve some level of sanctification by the power of the flesh. Yes, their theology believes in faith alone and yet their teaching and practice demonstrates otherwise. You see, you cannot tout a "faith only" theology and yet demand that a certain collection of sinners pull themselves up by their own moral bootstraps and still claim to be consistent in your theology.
Yes, most orthodox preachers rail against the liberals and the lost culture as if they could improve themselves without being regenerated. And yet they proudly parade their theology that claims an unregenerate sinner cannot choose God and is without God and without hope in this world. But still they rebuke and reprove the sea of dead people living in America. Does it occur to anyone that America is not a living organism and is in fact a collection of, you guessed it, people? It is a feat of doctrinal gymnastics to be able to insist an unregenerate sinner cannot know truth, is immoral at the foundational level, and cannot do anything that can please God while at the same time commanding those same lost sinners to change their ways.
"The gospel is not about making bad people moral, but about making dead people alive. If we teach [our kids] morality without the transforming power of the gospel and the necessity of a life fully surrendered to God's will, then we are raising moral pagans." -Barrett Johnson
The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is not just the highest hope of all mankind, but it is the only hope. And even the slightest deviation from our gospel mission is a giant step away from Christ. It matters not how noble, or how moral, or how just is some cause, if it is not centered on and empowered by the gospel it is nonetheless an exercise in futility even if it succeeds upon the earth. And yet it is so very easy to get sidetracked amidst all the temporal sirens which beckon with smooth and alluring voices.
In fact it is a very deep and profound deception that has led even the most celebrated theologians astray. Theology, which is what you believe about God and His truth, is not something that should be compartmentalized in a box labeled “religion”. What we believe must permeate every area of our lives and in fact our beings. It is at the most impractical intersect of the temporal and the eternal where we find either the strength or weakness of our profession of faith. When we are faced with a conundrum where what the Scriptures teach seems so implausible, impractical and even irrational when placed in the context of earthly reason and practice is where we can find our most sacred treasure. Because obedience in that circumstance is a sweet smelling savor unto God as well as a demonstration of the faith that can be actually seen, if not approved, by those outside the kingdom.
And therein lies the heart of the matter. Who is Christ, who are we, and what are our commandments as laid out in the New Testament? Imagine a soldier who has been given orders to blow up a bridge so that enemy tanks cannot cross. The soldier and his platoon come to the bridge and begin to set the explosives. But as they are working they notice a beautiful horse has been caught in some deep mud and cannot get out. They drop what they are doing and run to help the frightened animal. After a few hours they are able to free the horse. But as they turn to resume setting the explosives that will bring down the bridge they see to their horror enemy tanks already crossing that bridge that should have been already blown up. They had done something noble but they had neglected their mission and caused great harm to the battle.
Does that mean we resist doing good works? No, to the contrary! We have been created unto good works. But our works must be gospel based and attached to the name of Jesus. But what we must resist are earthly schemes designed to change a culture through human means other than the gospel. It may not appear as such, but those efforts are counterproductive to the gospel. They lead to self righteousness, hatred for political enemies, unscriptural alliances, and an obfuscation of the gospel itself. It takes money and time and effort away from the gospel and uses it on temporal issues. And the question is this: If you force a code of morality upon a culture and through legislation and stricter laws you see an observable moral shift, just what have you accomplished? If a culture can become more moral without Christ does that change anything except make you feel a sense of accomplishment as well as making you feel more comfortable in your surroundings?
II Cor.10: 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
When we do warfare within the temporal realm we need to have temporal weapons. But our battle is not of this world. And if we are walking in the Spirit then our warfare is in the Spirit and that requires much greater weapons than those which the kingdom of darkness can use. You see when we pick up these carnal weapons of guns and votes and legislation we must lay down the powerful weapons of the Spirit. God will not share His glory and He will not be an unwilling partner in a battle which is an amalgam of spiritual and carnal.
And if you attend an evangelical church you may well find an emphasis on morality. Sermons will focus on homosexuality or adultery or stealing or some other moral tenant. And even those things must and should be taught but that can never be our focus. We lose our young people because we are asking them to be moral and shouting at them over and over and yet not leading them into a deeper and more surrendered spiritual life that does much more than just keep someone moral. And as we can see by the rampant immorality in the church as a whole the focus on morality and conforming the outside of the cup is almost an impossible task. This kind of outward commandment bearing keeps proving itself to be a powerless exercise which more often than not is ignored when some strong temptation of the flesh is before us.
In many ways morality as become a god. It has become an obsession with the evangelical community when the Lord Jesus Himself should be our obsession. We have become sin conscious rather than Savior conscious. And this trend toward morality, surely interconnected to nationalism, has led the visible church into a death spiral even while being active and appearing to be successful in collecting more and more people. And this observable trend has grown such deep roots that most believers will not even entertain the notion of examining the ecclesiastical practices to see if they align themselves with New Testament teachings. Spiritual inertia is much more comfortable than seeking the spiritual power that would dislodge us from the safety of sameness and begin a journey that may be filled with sacrifice, self denial, and a rejection of much of what is embraced today. Cotton candy is much easier to digest than spiritual meat.
The entire spiritual narrative being played out in these last days is tragic but prophetic. The Spirit warned us about itching ears.
II Tim.4: 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
But please hear me and hear me well. To our own spiritual detriment we have defined these verses as applying to liberal preachers, prosperity messages, ecumenical movements, the emergent church and some other categories. But while were quick and Biblically correct to point out the spiritual flaws in such camps we became doctrinally righteous in our own eyes and thus are blind to how these verses apply to our own “orthodox” camps. The lust that dwells in people’s hearts long to be on the winning side in any battle and especially in the highly competitive atmosphere in America. So when a preacher castigates a certain group which practices and promotes a certain sinful lifestyle it is appealing to the flesh to shout “Amen!” and feel the peer love and the sense of belonging to the right moral club.
But these verses go much deeper than that. They are an apt description of a church that loves to hear how great America is and how wonderful were the founding fathers and how homosexuality is bad and divorce and remarriage is also bad but redeemable. They describe a religious ambiance which projects certain moral convictions as the “great and powerful Oz” while suggesting we pay no attention to the hedonist ecclesiastical construct behind the curtain. And while any real and sacrificial prayer has become a myth about which no one wants to address, we can feed our religious hubris by parading the sins of others that provide a convenient distraction for our own powerless exhibition of a faith which once spread throughout the world by the power of God’s Word, the Power of the Spirit, and the testimony of believers many times written in their own blood.
And so the church here is America is in many ways an assembly line that effectively produces some moral pagans who in the long run will not even live up to the moral treatise they claim to embrace. And why is that? It is because the power has never been within any kind of morality or moral caste system. The power is in the gospel and the Person of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God. To say we have placed the cart before the horse would be an understatement. And why is there no real persecution in America for the visible church? It’s because the church no longer stands for anything that can be rejected by a conservative unbeliever. They are not confronted with the gospel so they feel welcome in an alliance with those who on paper say that “Jesus is Lord” but whose demonstration of that Lordship is so diluted and tepid that it presents no issue for political and moral coalitions. A covenant cut with votes is now more powerful than a covenant cut with the Savior’s blood.
Does that sound a little extreme and exaggerated? I suggest to you that the current spiritual condition of the visible church is so dire and so unbiblical that it may well be impossible to overstate. But if you are truly redeemed you are not moral except by the grace of God, and you are not pagan except by the grace of God, so as Paul said in Romans, “Where is boasting?”