10 years ago my life and ministry were turned inside out by a single conversation. A godly friend took me for a walk in the country. In the course of our conversation he said "Marcus I believe God wants me to tell you something." Curious, I asked what it was. I wasn't prepared for the answer: "you are an unpleasant legalist who really needs to repent and receive of God's grace." As soon as he said it I knew he was right, uncomfortable though it was. Far too easily I tired to do ministry that looked godly rather than was godly. And as a result the programmes I led and the students I trained were usually motivated not by knowing the love of the Lord, but by my picture of "successful" ministry - the right programme, the right speakers, bums on seats, number of conversions, etc.
My conversation with my friend blew that definition of success out of the water. I realised that without knowing the love and grace of God in your life there is no minsitry. Because the news of God's glorious grace to sinners is the gospel. There isn't any other one. I decided back then that, as much as possible, whenever I give an address or sermon for the rest of my life I will talk on what I have been asked to speak on AND the grace of God. Because the grace of God is the gospel.
Over the interveneing years I have noticed in my own life and the lives of others four basic responses to the message that the gospel is about unmerited grace:
- Licence. Like the people in Romans 6-7, the temptation is to say "I can do what I like then. Holiness doens't matter any more." Have a look at those chapters to see what the Apostle Paul thinks of that
- A return to Law-righteousness in response to licence. If I am concerned about holiness an easy knee jerk reaction is to return to strict standards of rule-keeping in order to try to keep my heart in check. The trouble is, it doesn't work. Read Galatians 3 to see what Paul (and God) thinks about that.
- Oscillating between the two extremes of law and licence, extending too far one way then, like a wild pendulum, too far the other. Some folk more readily default to being Pharisees, strong on law-keeping. Others too easily meditate on their sin and failures alone and therefore live their lives believing they are disappointments to God. How cold God possibly love them and want them in his family? My own experience is that I can do both of these in reaction to each other.
The fourth, and right response, is worship. Delighting in being adopted by God and receiving the spirit of adoption and sonship makes us want to be like the Father on the inside. My legalism was marked by a distinct lack of worship and a disdain towards others who emphasised the place of worship in the Christian life. How wrong could I be?
When we are worshipping we are unlikely to knee-jerk into licence because we are enjoying God too much. And we are unlikely to knee-jerk into law-righteousness because we are enjoying adoption and the privileges of being sons too too much to ever want to try to earn our way with God. The pendulum swings begin when we forget our adoption as sons and the fact that we are clothed with royal white robes as childen of the king.