Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. -- James 4: 7-9 (NIV)
I often wonder what century some Christians think we are living in when they accuse the church of being too "legalistic." Legalism of course being when the church applies too much emphasis on works of the law and not enough on the grace of God. When I look across the Christian landscape today, I do not see an over-emphasis on law at all. In fact, I see the polar opposite. I see a church that has no understanding of sin as it relates to God and their walk, as well as an overly reactive judgmentalism when we see sin in someone else. In short, we like to stand around other sinners with stones in our hands but when it comes to our own walk, we think repentance is as simple as taking a dip in the pool.
I say this as a backdrop to the story yesterday about the resignation of Pastor Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian has been an enormously popular pastor on the national stage and in many ways was able to step out from behind the very large shadow cast by his grandfather, Billy Graham. Unfortunately, Pastor Tullian is also very human. In a sad announcement it was revealed that his wife had an extramarital affair and shortly after that, Tullian did as well. As such, he felt correctly compelled to resign. I say correctly because certainly at a bare minimum, he has disqualified himself from the pastoral office. It saddens me to see many Christians who have responded that somehow he should not have resigned. Does the Word of God mean anything to us anymore?
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. - 1Timothy 3: 1-7 (ESV)
God is very specific about the qualifications for being an under-shepherd of the flock of God. Adultery is a disqualifier on multiple levels according to these verses. Please, do not try and conflate issues surrounding our walk with our ministry. No one is suggesting that Tullian should not be forgiven. Forgiveness has to do with his walk with God, not his role as a pastor. His walk is of far greater importance. This is the point I keep trying to make regarding Mark Driscoll for example. To try and return to ministry six months after you fall, without a shred of humility or repentance is not just a problem for those that might be foolish enough to sit under his teaching again. It is more of a problem for Mark. It is a problem for his walk with the Lord. It matters not if you believe in "once saved always saved"; or what is known as eternal security. If you do not adhere to this belief then we fear for the very salvation of those who fall into such grievous sin. In the Driscoll example, we see a man who is now playing the victim, even though he clearly was the perpetrator. This is what sin can do to you. Without true repentance, there can be no forgiveness. Do we understand that today? True repentance is more than feeling sorry about our sin. Judas felt sorry. It means we look upon our sin differently now. We see it for how it offends God and we desire it no more. It does not mean that we sin no more but rather when we do, it causes a reaction like we see in our key verses today. We grieve over our sin. We mourn over it. We wail over it. Think about David's reaction to his own sin with Bathsheba:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. - Psalm 51: 10-12 (ESV)
David was so worried that God would take His Spirit from him! On the other side, even if we do believe in the doctrine of Eternal Security, we have a different problem with the same considerations. Consider this quote from Pastor Paul Washer:
"I have great assurance when I study my own conversion, when I discuss it with other men, when I look over the 25 years of my pilgrimage with Christ; I have great assurance of having come to know Him. But even now, if I were to depart from the faith and walk away and keep going in that direction into heresy and worldliness, it could be the greatest of proofs that I never knew Him, that the whole thing was a work of the flesh."
What thing? His entire ministerial life beloved! His twenty years in the jungle as a missionary. His entire stateside ministry as well. All of it a work of his flesh! Why does Washer say this? Because he believes in eternal security but understands that sin without true repentance indicates something. In the previous doctrinal position it indicated a coarsening of the Holy Spirit but in this position it indicates an absence of it. The end result is the same beloved. One caught up in sin needs to get right with God in their walk. Forget their ministry. There will be plenty of ministers on the last day who will say that they performed miraculous works for the Lord only to hear Him say He never knew them. He says, away from me you who practice lawlessness. So do not tell me sin does not matter. There is a reason why the Bible says we are to take matters of our salvation very seriously:
Yet as we watch another mega church pastor fall, we are reminded of how poorly the church today understands sin at all. God warned Cain that sin is crouching at the door and its desire is to have us but we must rule over it. The Apostle John teaches us that if we try to pretend we do not sin then we make a liar of God and His Word is not in us. The Apostle Peter teaches us that we need to abstain from the passions of our flesh that wage war against our soul. The Psalmist teaches us that we need to hide the Word in our heart that we might not sin against the Lord. Solomon teaches us in Ecclesiastes that there is no one immune from sinning. The Apostle Paul painfully wrote about the struggles of sin and doing what he knows he ought not to do. The Prophet Isaiah teaches us that our sin separates us from God. The entire Bible beloved is a story about God saving us from our sins to be reconciled unto Him. To pretend sin is somehow irrelevant is to simply be biblically ignorant.
Yet that is what we see in the church today. The seeker friendly and purpose driven models of church management refuse to deal with sin. They refuse to preach about it for fear that some might be offended. Bill Hybels for example refuses to allow crosses to be displayed in his church because his market research showed that the cross offends unbelievers. It is supposed to offend unbelievers! Joel Osteen is on record as saying that he thinks people know what they're doing wrong as his excuse for not preaching about sin and repentance. Joseph Prince teaches to repent is merely to consent to be loved. He actually preached one time that if God chose to punish you for a sin, then He is being unholy. Creflo Dollar has told believers they should not pay any attention to the Ten Commandments. Perry Noble tried to rewrite them to make them more user friendly. Even Tchividjian has faced criticisms for his theology evolving towards the antinomianism that has made Prince a millionaire many times over. Then when someone has the temerity to actually preach as Jesus did, to repent for the kingdom is at hand, they are called legalistic. Or they are accused of sowing discord. Or they are accused of being sin focused. Beloved this is the backdrop of what we face in the church today. Sin is so marginalized in the life of a believer that we brush past Scripture after Scripture warning us. The devil prowls like a roaring lion looking for whom he may devour. That is not some cute Christianism. That is a fact. When you choose to ignore sin, you leave yourself open to be the next victim.
The law is not a bad thing. God created it so that we might be able to know what sin is. While no one wants to be eternally judged by it, we ignore it at our own folly; as Pastor Tullian has now learned. So let us turn to our key verses today for some Godly insight into sin. Forget the celebrity pastors telling you not to worry about your sin. Forget the charlatans trying to tell you that we should just focus on Jesus or any other catch phrase that scratches our itching ears. No beloved, let us reason together and listen to what the Word tells us, even if man is too afraid to do so anymore. The first lesson we see from the key verses is we must submit ourselves to God. The word submit is defined as "to yield to governance and authority." It is not just another verse fragment. Jesus Himself once lamented why people bother calling Him Lord when they refuse to do what He says. Yielding to His governance and authority is more than lip service. It is also more than cherry picking verses about grace and ignoring all of the repeated admonitions Jesus made regarding obedience to the law. The reality is that we ought to preach the law because Jesus instructed us to:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5: 17-20 (ESV)
We are not supposed to relax a single dot of the law. Not in terms of thinking adherence grants us salvation. That is the false strawman argument put forth by the wolves in the pulpits today. We do not relax the law because it still serves the purpose God designed it for. It warns us of what is sinful. It is the guardrails on the highway of our lives preventing us from going over a cliff.