Friday, July 7, 2017

John Stott on Hyper-grace Sanctification and Legalism

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For some time evangelical church leaders have expressed various concerns with the theological trajectory of the free-grace (hyper-grace) sanctification movement.  In recent years certain Christian authors and preachers have attempted to outdo one another in effort to be  even more "gospel-centered" than the next guy (or gal).  In view of this, a large number of books have been published on gospel-centered preaching, gospel-centered parenting, gospel-centered counseling, gospel-centered athletics, gospel-centered dog rearing, etc.  No Christian of course is against genuine grace-orientated ministry.  But just like at the local super market not every product that claims to be "organic" is truly pesticide free.   Such is the case with gospel-centered literature.  We must be aware so we can beware.

In the judgment of this Christian blogger, Bryan Chappell and Jerry Bridges slightly over-corrected their theology many years ago in effort to avoid the potential ruts of "legalism."  Elyse Fitzpatrick and Tullian Tchividjian went much further then either of the aforementioned authors and as a result have gotten themselves into trouble (see sanctification, grace, and the obedience of faith;  The continued folly of hyper-grace sanctification).  Tullian was removed from the Gospel Coalition and Elyse was uninvited to the annual Woman Discipling Woman conference.

As with all areas of theology and Christian living discernment and biblical balance is crucial (see Col. 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:12-13 for great examples of balanced living).  This past week while reading a Christian classic on expository preaching (John R.W. Stott's, Between Two Worlds) I came across the following quotes.  They are especially relevant in view of the current debate over law and gospel, indicatives and imperatives, obedience and faith, delight and duty, striving and trusting, etc.
"It is of the utmost importance that we follow the apostles by keeping these two together in our preaching ministry and by refusing to divorce them.  When we proclaim the gospel, we must go on to unfold its ethical implications, and when we teach Christian behavior we must lay its gospel foundations.  Christians need to grasp both that their faith in Christ has practical consequences and that the main incentive to good works is to be found in the gospel.  God's saving grace in Christ is actually personified as our moral teacher, 'training us to renounce irreligion and worldly lusts, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world'." (Titus 2:11-12). Stott, Between Two Worlds.  The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, p. 157.
"It is already quite evident that, although good behavior is an inevitable consequence of the good news, it is not 'automatic' in the sense that it does not need to be taught.  The apostles who proclaimed the gospel gave clear and concrete ethical instruction as well.   The law and gospel were thus related to their teaching.  If the law is a 'schoolmaster' to bring us to Christ, placing us under discipline and condemnation as to make Christ our only hope of salvation, Christ now sends us back to the law to tell us how to live.  Even the purpose of his death for our sins was not only that we might be forgiven but that, having been forgiven, 'the just requirement' of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3, 4)  There are many pastors today who, for fear of being branded 'legalists', give their congregation no ethical teaching.  How far we have strayed from the apostles!  'Legalism' is the misguided attempt to earn our salvation by obedience to the law.  'Pharisaism' is a preoccupation with the externals and the minutiae of religious duty.  To teach the standards of moral conduct which adorn the gospel is neither legalism nor pharisaism but plain apostolic Christianity." Stott, Between Two Worlds.  The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, p. 158.
Article originally posted on 9/22/15.