If Rusty really heard from God (and I believe he did), why even bother to be good? “Antinomianism” (a word coined by Martin Luther which means “anti” = “against” and “nomian” = “the law”) refers to people who ignore the law of God and who believe that it no longer matters. It is reflected in Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”
(And by the way, if Paul had not said something that gave people that impression, he never would have had to reply to the criticism. That led Martin Lloyd Jones to say that if what we preach doesn’t sound like Antinomianism, then we aren’t preaching the Gospel.)
Why not sin if we enjoy it so much? There are a number of reasons.
First, because of fear…and not fear of God. He’s gone through a lot of trouble to cover our sin, we really are forgiven and loved, and we really are clothed in the “righteousness of Christ”…but he has not, thereby, erased the law of gravity.
If you jump off a building, you are going to make a mess on the sidewalk.
The moral law of God is like that and the Jews always said that the greatest gift God gave them was the Torah…the law.
Do you know why? Because they knew that the law told them how to live in the best possible way with the most happiness that one could get in this world. The law isn’t the place where God tells us that everything we enjoy is sin and everything we don’t enjoy couldn’t be sin. It is a gift telling us where the minefields are. God didn’t say that we shouldn’t commit adultery, for instance, to make us unhappy. Just the opposite. He said, “Don’t do that because it will really mess up your life and the lives of everybody you love.”
The law, by the way, drives us to God’s throne of grace. Every Christian I know wants to be better than he or she is. How does one define “better”? By using the law of God as it applies to our lives. When we apply the law of God to our lives, God always gets the credit and the praise. When we don’t live it, we run to him and he always forgives us and restores us…thereby, he is praised. When we do get better (as defined by the law) we know that we didn’t do it by ourselves and we run to him to thank him…thereby, he is praised. Paul calls the law of God “our tutor/teacher” because of the way it always drives us to a God of grace.
We do all we can to be good…because good is better.
If an unbeliever tries to live by the law that is a good thing. (A lot do try, by the way, and that’s the reason for the true statement that one knows unbelievers who are better than Christians.) In so far as they can live by the law of God, they will be happier and better adjusted than if they didn’t.
There is another reason for being good when God isn’t angry and that is the motivation of love.
My friend, Jill Briscoe, is one of the best Bible teachers and most godly women I know. One time she told me that growing up she ran with a bad crowd. Her sister told her that if she got pregnant, it would kill their father.
Jill said that her boyfriend tried everything to get her into bed and she always refused. Finally he told her that the only reason she wouldn’t sleep with him was because she was afraid of what her father would do to her.
“Oh no,” she replied. “It isn’t what my father would do to me if I slept with you; it is what I would do to my father.”
Spurgeon said, “When I thought God was a monster, I kicked against the goads. But when I found out how much he loved me, I couldn’t believe how I had rebelled against him so.”
Do you know why I want to please God? It has nothing to do with my fear of punishment. That’s what Jesus did…he took my punishment. I’m not afraid that God would reject me, turn away from me and no longer love me. The reason I want to please God (and I do) is because it is my natural response to his great love in the face of my being so unlovely.
When one first hears about God’s grace, one may often sin more than one did before. We say, “Way cool! I like to sin and God likes to forgive. That’s a great deal.”
And not only that, those who are afraid of God and who think that God might give them a speeding ticket, to wit, punish them and reject them if they sin, will often sin less than those who know grace.
But here is the important thing.
Both those who know God’s love and those who fear God will eventually hit a wall.
That’s universal. It always happens. First because of what I wrote above about the law being a map of the minefields and second because nobody can be that good.
Both types will “slip into the darkness”…but only those who know God’s grace and love will come back. Those who fear God and know they can’t please him (and we can’t by our goodness) will eventually give up and stay in the darkness.
One other thing that I think reflects the danger for many Christians…and very much for me. Many of us grew up in the church and are reasonably good people. That is a very dangerous place to be. In our “social goodness” we have a tendency not to see the horrible depths of our own sin and depravity. We don’t run to Jesus very much because…well…because we don’t think we need to. He loves us…and of course he does. That is what Jesus is supposed to do.
There was a young single in a church I once served who was the most religious person in the church. She was at church every time the doors were open. She taught a Bible study, was a teacher in the Sunday school and an officer in the singles ministry. And more than anything, she wanted to be married.
I’ll never forget the time she came to me…and she was quite angry because God had not brought a husband into her life. She said, “I just don’t understand. I’ve done everything God has told me to do and, of course, he loves me. But I’m still not married.”
No matter what I said, she just didn’t get it. She left my office angry and shortly thereafter left the church. Not only did she leave the church, she went into the “far country” in some very dangerous and destructive ways. One of them was that she slept with her boss who was married.
What you would expect to happen happened and she hit the wall. Her life was a mess. After almost six months, she came back to me with her confession…and tears. I told her the same thing I told her the first time, but this time she understood and rejoiced. When she really knew there was no reason for God to love her and forgive her, and he did, it changed her life. Now she is walking with Christ and doing it, not with perfection, but with joy.
A very important prayer is the request for God to show us the way we really are. He generally answers that with a very unpleasant and depressing revelation of who we really are—the pride, the arrogance, the self-righteousness and a lot of other unpleasant stuff. When I’ve prayed that prayer I have almost always asked God to stay his hand…because it is more than I can handle.
But then I understand because the good news is only good insofar as we understand the bad news about ourselves.