Law and The Gospel – by Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from September 2015
The distinction between law and gospel is the highest art in Christendom. – Martin Luther
Have you noticed that when you take God’s grace seriously, you start to hear advice, offered with a sweet, patronizing smile, that goes something like this: “Of course God loves you, but his love is not a one-way street – you have a contribution to make as well.”
- If you are told you are in charge of activating, purchasing or producing God’s love, that’s law.
- If you understand that God’s in charge, that’s grace.
- If you are told that God’s love and grace are produced by a partnership between you and God, that’s law.
Warnings about taking God’s love and grace too seriously often come from those who are perched on a religious high horse, looking down their noses at naïve “simpletons” like you and me who trust that God loves us without measure. Religiously indoctrinated folks often feel obligated to “balance out” God’s love and grace by saying “be careful – don’t take advantage of God’s grace. You must do your part.” Any suggestion that God’s love is tied to or depends on our “part” or “contribution” is a legalistic perversion of the gospel.
Insidious smears of the gospel of Jesus Christ are endless. Some will piously say “God helps those who help themselves” as if Jesus said such a thing. Nothing resembling that assertion is found anywhere in the Bible – not even in the old covenant.
Suggesting that God restricts his help to those who “help themselves” is a counterfeit gospel that amounts to glorifying human performance and diminishing God’s love and grace.
THAT’S WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL!
The truth is, God helps those who admit that they cannot help themselves.
Some insist: “Do your best, and then God will do the rest.” When the power and purity of the gospel is preached, religious authorities whose religion is based on law cannot restrain themselves. The response of legalistic religion to the gospel of grace includes thundering, emotional and high-volume-laced threats about the importance of working harder and doing more, being diligent and always giving more energy, time and money.
THAT’S WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL! Jesus has already done all that is necessary and you can “rest assured” that what he did is the best. By God’s grace, through the work of Jesus, we are invited to rest in Christ. When we rest in Christ, God will do his best in and through us, as we become his handiwork, his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). And guess what? God’s best beats the heck out of our best!
If the emphasis of what you read and hear from a religious or spiritual teacher is primarily about human willpower, effort, involvement in programs and ceremonies, that’s law.
If the emphasis of what you read and hear is centered in Jesus, so that the message is primarily about what he accomplishes and produces in and through us, by his grace, then you’re hearing the gospel.
Legalistic religion can think of no more stinging rebuke than to call someone failing to measure up to its dictates, dogmas and dictums an antinomian (law-breaker). When I tell people that by the grace of God I am part of the body of Christ, and that church is what I am rather than a brick-and-mortar building I attend, they ask me, in all sincerity, “Well, how are you going to be accountable? Who will discipline you when you need it?”
What they really want to know is who is going to give me my religious report card? They are concerned that if I’m not a member of a religious institution then I won’t have an ecclesiastical woodshed to report to where I will take my licks. Because after all, if Christ-less religion is about anything, it’s about bending over and taking your licks!
THAT’S WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL! Religious report cards and taking your licks in an ecclesiastical woodshed is a counterfeit gospel of condemnation, not of grace!
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Dignified and respected religious authorities talk about how one must measure up and qualify for heaven – their underlying Christ-less teaching is summarized in that imperative so often preached, “You need to get saved!” Church after church features programs and schemes to help people “get ready” – to help people “qualify” for God’s kingdom of heaven.
THAT’S WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL! We have already been qualified!
…giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. – Colossians 1:12-13
People rebuke me for not preaching hell-fire and brimstone. They often say, “All you do is preach love-love-love. You are taking the ‘big stick’ of hell out of the hands of ministers, pastors and priests. People must be motivated by continually hearing that they will burn in hell!” I get it. I know that control of its “inmates” is one of the goals and objectives of religion. Without the fear of an ever-burning hell of eternal torture, religious authorities complain they won’t be able to keep people in line!
THAT’S WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL! That’s turning our God of love, mercy and grace into a mean-spirited, hateful god who takes pleasure inflicting pain and punishment.
HERE’S THE GOSPEL – God’s grace flows from high places (the eternity he inhabits) to low places (that would be where you and I hang out). God’s grace runs downhill. God’s gravity-fed grace naturally finds those who realize the low places they are in, and resists those who are proud and perched on religious high horses (see 1 Peter 5:5). People who are “riding high” are often unable or unwilling to accept their own need of God.
But along comes Christ-less religion, “watering down” God’s grace – “explaining” that God’s grace must not flow indiscriminately like rivers of living water because, “If there’s that much grace and if it’s there for just anyone people might take it for granted and take advantage of God’s ‘good graces.’ We can’t have people thinking that God’s grace will always be there.” So religious institutions build doctrinal dams, to “save” God’s grace for a time when it is truly needed (as decided by? Yes, you’re correct: Christ-less religion!). Big business religion decides that it is the custodian of God’s grace and it will dole God’s grace out, when necessary, as it determines to do so. Religious authorities build reservoirs, with vast networks of spiritual pipes, so they can “deliver” and “dispense” God’s grace to those who keep current with their religious payments.
Christ-less religion determines that God’s grace needs pipelines and “pumping stations” to help it get where it needs to go, because “spiritual gravity” alone cannot deliver grace. If you want to receive their version of grace, believe me, you will receive a bill for the “resources” they provide.
Christ-less religion often describes God’s grace as the initial boost that people receive when they “get saved” – but after that, religion will say, “you are on your own.” Institutionalized religion insists on redefining God’s loving relationship with us as: 1) an initial free-of-charge boost that God gives us, but after that initial jump-start (or down payment) big-business religion insists its followers 2) must prove they are serious about doing the right thing at the right time in the right way (according to the commandments of – yes, you guessed right again: legalistic religion!).
Building dams, channels and power stations for God’s grace – THAT’S WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL! God doesn’t need institutionalized religion helping him by building a delivery system to redistribute the riches of his grace.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. – Ephesians 1:7-8
God loves you. Embrace God’s grace and accept it – as it is, without redefinition. Reject any attempts to diminish, devalue and water down God’s grace.
You are forgiven – yesterday, today and forever. You are free in Christ. Let no religious power or authority take you captive (see Colossians 2:8), using vain and powerless religious threats and guilt trips to seduce you. You are not under the law. If you have embraced the grace of God, you are in Christ. He alone is Lord – there is no room on his throne of grace for religious laws, regulations or rituals.
If and when we take the really scary step of trusting in God, then we are free in Christ. We are then religion-free! We now rest in Christ. The risen Lord lives in you and me, and we, by God’s grace, live in him. My dear brothers and sisters, may you be comforted and assured with these words, as we thank him that we may collectively serve others in Jesus’ name, by God’s grace, proclaiming all Jesus all the time.
In His love and grace,