Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“Gospel-Sounding” Legalism

Do you ever hear something that you know is wrong but you cannot quite put your finger on it?  Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you knew you disagreed but you could not put your finger on what exactly the difference was?  I think I may have figured out what rubs me the wrong way so often in Christian circles.  We have a way of sounding biblical, looking Christian, speaking of Jesus while somehow subverting the gospel. 

Take for instance notes I found from a conference on tackling fear, worry, and anxiety.  It starts with the basics.  It is theologically sound on who God is.  It continues with a sound view of the importance of Scripture.  If we are going to tackle fear, worry, and anxiety we need to know who God is.  So, get in the Word. The entire speech (sermon) centers around this premise—know God.  Then it closes by saying if we know Christ, if we stay in His Word, then we will know the truth.  If we know the truth then we will be free from worry, anxiety, stress, etc. 

So, what’s the problem? 

All of the things that were stated are true.  At least they are true in a sense.  The problem with such teaching/preaching is that it starts in the wrong spot.  It is a misdiagnosis and a foundational misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what exactly He has already accomplished and intends to fully accomplish in redemption. 

The problem with such teaching is that it does not go far enough.  It applies cold medicine to cure cancer.  Better yet, it puts cancer into remission but you still die from it years later.  The problem is that many people that would disagree with Joel Osteen actually live based on the same smiley premise: your best life is now.  

God does indeed intend to conquer your fear, worry, and anxiety.  But He does not conquer your fear, worry, and anxiety by leaving you an owner’s manual, providing you the resources, setting an example, and then saying "get it done”.  He conquers your fear, worry, and anxiety by ACTUALLY conquering your fear, worry, and anxiety. 

There are principally two ways to encourage others in casting out fear, worry, and anxiety (or any other vice) and replacing it with assurance, trust, and rest.  I adapt this from Tim Keller.  The first one says I obey, therefore I conquer fear, worry, and anxiety.  (Or you can even make it sound gospel centered—“I obey the principles God graciously set forth, therefore God conquers fear, worry, and anxiety”).  The second one says Christ has conquered fear, worry, and anxiety, therefore I live in rest (therefore, I obey). 

Some day you will no longer fear.  Your best life is not now—no matter how many “biblical principles” you apply.  You will struggle with fear, anxiety, and worry this side of our complete redemption.  But that does not mean that you sit passively by and just wait until Jesus comes down on a cloud, blows a trumpet, and calls you home.  You respond to His work and you live in it. 

Whether you follow these principles or not really has nothing to do with whether you will ultimately be without fear, worry, and anxiety.  Those are conquered—eventually because of the work of Christ you will not have them.  Following these “biblical principles” are ways that you live in what Christ has already purchased.  It is a subtle difference but it is a difference between defeated, dead, and devilish faith and victorious, lively, and biblical faith. 

So, how do you preach/teach to conquer fear and worry?  You start with the work of Christ.  And every “biblical principle” that you give explodes out of this one glorious truth. 

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