The Benefits of Preaching Law
JULY 27, 2017
When my son Brock was 3 years old, he was unusually intrigued by power outlets. My husband and I had taken the normal precautions by covering them with plastic inserts, but Brock was a curious and tenacious kid. He figured out how to pry his little fingers in between the plastic and the outlet, and had successfully pried one of them off. I was in another room when I heard Brock’s dad (normally a soft-spoken and gentle man) rebuke him loudly and sharply. “No more Brockie! This (pointing to power outlet) means Brockie all gone! This is no no! Hurts Brockie very bad!”
My husband had come into the room to find Brock trying to insert a metal shaft from his erector set into the power outlet. Arnie reacted suddenly in anger and horror and fear. His harsh rebuke scared Brock so much that he cried for a long time and could not be comforted. When the danger had passed, my husband hugged him and reassured him of his love. Brock stayed away from power outlets after that. It was exactly the kind of rebuke he needed to keep him safe. It wasn’t out of hatred for our son that my husband reacted that way, but love, and fear of losing him.
The apostle Paul takes a similar harsh tone with the Galatians because the matter at hand (abandoning the gospel for law-keeping) was so serious. It wasn’t out of hatred, or jealousy toward other leaders, or a controlling temper tantrum that made him so forceful. It was love and urgency over the deadly, yet seemingly harmless, path they were on.
So…what is so bad about trying to discipline oneself to be a better, more godly person by pursuing a law (man-made or God-given)? Surely Paul was over-reacting. What’s the harm in giving oneself a few rules to live by? Prop up that old Adam. No big deal.
Everyone is either under law (earning one’s own way to God) or under Gospel (someone earned it for you). There is no mixing the two. There is no half and half. There is no third option (but oh, how we long for a third option). Mixing law and gospel results in only law. When Christians, who have been freed by the gospel, put themselves back under law, Paul says they have fallen from grace.
“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
This was not an open and obvious danger, like a power outlet to a 3-year-old with a metal shaft. It was a subtle poison, an odorless gas, powerful enough to intoxicate even the apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11).
I wonder if many Christians have actually read Galatians based on the many conversations I have had about law and gospel with them. Paul is so clear—Never ever, ever, ever, ever put believers under the law—Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave or free (Galatians 2:15-16). If you do, you quench the Holy Spirit by replacing desires with duty, joy with drudgery.
Paul was astonished that the Galatians had so quickly abandoned the gospel of grace for a false gospel of law-keeping (Galatians 1:6-7). And the worst part about it was that the apostle Peter started the whole thing by snubbing Gentiles when “those who seemed to be leaders” (Galatians 2:2) from Jerusalem came to town. Peter had regularly fellowshipped with these Gentiles before “certain men came from James” (Galatians 2:12). But when they showed up with their noses in the air, he feared their disapproval more than he loved those Gentiles (Galatians 2:12-13).
Maybe he loved himself most of all and didn’t want to relive the confrontation he endured in Acts 15 over the same issue. Seems like there was trouble every time these legalists <cough cough> I mean “leaders” showed up (Acts 15:5-11). They brought with them so much peer pressure that even Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, fell in line with Peter’s cowardice and was also led astray (Galatians 2:13).
Ahhhhhhh, towing the line, having a foot in both camps, tossing a bone to legalists for appeasement, riding the fence. Throw in a side helping of law with that gospel order. All of this is evidence of the fear of man. Why would Peter take even one step back toward the ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7) after the gospel had set him free? Why would he cower when legalists showed up with their angry demands? Galatians chapter six makes it clear why leaders do this, even to this day.
First of all, they want to boast in your flesh (Galatians 6:13)—translated into modern language, this means they want to brag about how much their congregation accomplishes for Jesus under their awesome leadership. Law is a great platform builder and money-maker. Look at all these Gentiles we convinced to get circumcised—they are on their way to becoming super Christians like us! These guys use guilt to motivate their congregations into doing a bunch of stuff they don’t want to do—mostly in the form of marketing and recruiting. It is a religion of strength, facades, academic smarts, activity and pride.
Second (here’s where the cowardice comes in) they don’t want to suffer for the cross (Galatians 6:12). Given the obvious desire people have to know “what do we need to do” (John 6:28)? It’s just easier to tack on a list, or a general call to obedience rather than remind people week after week of their inability to save themselves. We can’t tell them to rest and enjoy faith in a real Savior who did it for them—what if they take advantage of grace? We won’t be able to control them!
Oh how easy it is to bring the Law down from its place of perfection to give the crowds a little something to work on. No harm in a smidgen of self-help to keep them on that hamster wheel of performance and coming back to fill that offering plate. In most evangelical churches it’s no problem to preach gospel. Just make sure you throw in a little law at the end so the legalists can pat themselves on the back for a job well done, and look down their noses at those poor saps who are still working so hard to get their act together.
And here’s a bonus; you won’t have angry people pulling you aside and accusing you of being an antinomian (which means without law). Those poor saps in your midst? Instead of being refreshed by gospel goodness, they will hang their head, shake your hand on the way out and thank you for all the conviction they feel. They will try real hard to keep the law till they come back for more condemnation next week. They wish they could keep the law like you and your squeaky clean buddies seem to be able to.
Remember my 3-year-old son Brockie? Well now he’s twenty-one, six foot three, has a baritone voice and a full beard. He survived erector sets and power outlets. Brock (I have to leave out the “ie” at the end of his name now) has been nagging me for weeks to read the last chapter of Robert Capon’s book Between Noon and Three titled “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” “Mom! You are going to love it!”
I finally did this week and Eureka! I’ve found a kindred spirit. I’m so glad because this is the perfect place for a Robert Capon quote. Like Paul, he grew weary of trying to convince Christians of the truth of the gospel. Did you catch the irony there? I’m tired too. I get more push-back from Christians on the gospel than I ever do people in the world. I read the New Testament and I see this is nothing new. But thank God for Capon—I’ll let him offend you this time, and he’s dead so you can’t abuse him for it.
“For (I hope you see the point at last) the Gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race’s perpetual struggle to think well of itself. For that, at bottom, is what religion is: the human species’ well-meant but dim-witted attempt to gain approval of its unapprovable condition by doing odd jobs it thinks some important Something will thank it for…
I suddenly find I’m tired. Tired of fussing over your perpetually offended sense of the proprieties. Tired, as Saint Paul was, of having to come to you hat in hand and explain for the thousandth time that the jailhouse door is really open. And tired above all of having to apologize for God because he doesn’t run what you consider a respectable penitentiary…I shall tell you what I think. I think you’re a dummy—a great big ethico-religious klutz who really is dying to hear bad news after all…You are one tough, sour-pussed, foot-dragging, door-slamming, tire-kicking, belly-aching customer balking at the best deal you’re ever going to get…Until we can admit we are dead, we will, by the sheer necessity of pretending to be alive and well, invent a religion to protect us from what we cannot face.”
Find More from Marci Preheim Here.