The two thieves of the Gospel

I believe this will all my heart!  But at the same time I know the world will continue to expect the performance paradigm of me. Lord, help me to have the freedom to express myself in a Gospel way to the world and ultimately to share the Gospel with others without adding any personal baggage to your Gospel message.

These are words from Tim Kellers documents “The Centrality of the Gospel”. In Gal 2:14 Paul confronts Peter about not being in line with the truth of the Gospel message. Paul was livid and passionat  about correcting Peters error.

The two “thieves” of the gospel. Since Paul uses a metaphor for being “in line” with the gospel, we can consider that gospel renewal occurs when we keep from walking “off-line” either to the right or to the left. The key for thinking out the implications of the gospel is to consider the gospel a “third” way between two mistaken opposites. However, before we start we must realize that the gospel is not a halfway compromise between the two poles–it does not produce “something in the middle”, but something different from both. The gospel critiques both religion and irreligion (Matt.21:31; 22:10). Tertullian said, “Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.” Tertullian meant that there were two basic false ways of thinking, each of which “steals” the power and the distinctiveness of the gospel from us by pulling us “off the gospel line” to one side or the other. These two errors are very powerful, because they represent the natural tendency of the human heart and mind. (The gospel is “revealed” by God (Rom.1:17)–the unaided human mind cannot conceive it.) These “thieves” can be called moralism or legalism on the one hand, and hedonism or relativism on the other hand. Another way to put it is: the gospel opposes both religion and irreligion. On the one hand, “moralism/religion” stresses truth without grace, for it says that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, “relativists/irreligion” stresses grace without truth, for they say that we are all accepted by God (if there is a God) and we have to decide what is true for us. But “truth” without grace is not really truth, and “grace” without truth is not really grace. Jesus was “full of grace and truth”. Any religion or philosophy of life that deemphasizes or lose one or the other of these truths, falls into legalism or into license and either way, the joy and power and “release” of the gospel is stolen by one thief or the other. “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe” (vs. antinomianism) “I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope” (vs. legalism)

The moralism-religion thief.

How does moralism/religion steal joy and power? Moralism is the view that you are acceptable (to God, the world, others, yourself) through your attainments. (Moralists do not have to be religious, but often are.) When they are, their religion if pretty conservative and filled with rules. Sometimes moralists have views of God as very holy and just. This view will lead either to a) self-hatred (because you can’t live up to the standards), or b) selfinflation (because you think you have lived up to the standards). It is ironic to realize that inferiority and superiority complexes have the very same root. Whether the moralist ends up smug and superior or crushed and guilty just depends on how high the standards are and on a person’s natural advantages (such as family, intelligence, looks, willpower). Moralistic people can be deeply religious–but there is no transforming joy or power.

The relativism-irreligion thief.

How does relativism steal joy and power? Relativists are usually irreligious, or else prefer what is called “liberal” religion. On the surface, they are more happy and tolerant than moralist/religious people. Though they may be highly idealistic in some areas (such as politics), they believe that everyone needs to determine what is right and wrong for them. They are not convinced that God is just and must punish sinners. Their beliefs in God will tend to see Him as loving or as an impersonal force. They may talk a great deal about God’s love, but since they do not think of themselves as sinners, God’s love for us costs him nothing. If God accepts us, it is because he is so welcoming, or because we are not so bad. The concept of God’s love in the gospel is far more rich and deep and electrifying than the relativist, irreligious person could ever experience.

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One thought on “The two thieves of the Gospel

  1. Pingback: Robbing Paul to Play Peter « Gospel Centric Thinking

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