In Defense of Rules, Part 1

First posted October, 2009. Discussion here.

Fundamentalists and evangelicals of my generation are generally not fond of rules, especially in ministry settings. Exactly why this is the case is an interesting study in itself. In the case of fundamentalists, perhaps it’s due to the fact that many of them grew up in rules-heavy Christian schools in an era full of glowing idealism about what these highly-disciplined, conscientiously spiritual environments would produce. The inflated hopes of those days were sure to result in some disappointments. And maybe the current rules angst is the result of a generalized disgust with the whole concept and all that seems connected to it. In defense of those who feel this way, it is only too easy to find examples of rules excesses and absurdities.

Whatever the reasons, young fundamentalists are often eager to cast “man-made rules” in a negative light and to argue from Scripture that these rules are dangerous at best, and downright hostile to Christian growth at worst.

My aim here is to offer a perspective that differs from that of many of my peers, but one that I believe answers better to both Scripture and experience.

Points of agreement

I count myself among those who believe any Christian ministry that seeks to grow believers must strive to develop principled and discerning disciples. Young people (or old ones, for that matter) who merely conform to a slate of rules in order to avoid punishments have not arrived at “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (NKJV, Eph. 4:13), no matter how wise and comprehensive that slate of rules might be.

In fact, seeking to instill understanding of the reasons for rules is not aiming high enough either. Since we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), we’re not truly living the life unless we obey in body, intellect and affections. We are not fully obedient until we do the right thing driven by both faith and love.

But should we conclude that “man-made rules” do not contribute at all to walking in a manner worthy of our calling? Is it accurate to say that rules contribute nothing to sanctification? Should we even believe that they are—as some suggest—inherently dangerous and often hostile to growth in grace?

Argument from the nature of sin

Sin interrupts fellowship with God, dulls spiritual senses, weakens resolve, perverts affections, damages body and mind, poisons relationships and forms enslaving habits. I’m taking it for granted that I don’t need to prove that here. We’ve all seen it in our sins if we’ve been paying attention, and finding examples in Scripture is almost as easy as opening the Book at random and reading.

Given that sin does so much harm, may we not conclude that it is always better to do right than to do wrong? To put it another way, isn’t a believer who avoids a sin because of a rule-and-penalty better off than a believer who sins?

Perhaps some confusion on this point is due to binary thinking about the relationship between the inner man—the heart and mind—and outward behavior. Is it true that a believer either obeys with faith and love or sins? What if he obeys without faith and love or—as is more often the case, obeys with incomplete faith (and understanding) and less than pure love? Is this “sin”? Even if it is, is it no better than the sin the rule is intended to prevent?

I believe the dynamic between inner man and outward conduct is far from binary (all or nothing) and looks more like this:

  • Best: do right out of faith and love
  • Good: do right to avoid punishment, etc. (lacking in faith and love)
  • Bad: do right with some evil motive
  • Worst: do wrong

Many gradations are possible between these levels, and it’s debatable whether “doing right with some evil motive” is doing “right” at all, but this scale illustrates the complexity of the possibilities.

To make the idea less abstract, suppose a teen is invited to a drinking party. Scenario A: The school has strict rules against this. The teen knows if he attends and is found out, he’ll be expelled from school. He skips the party for no other reason than that. Scenario B: The school has no rule, the teen attends the party, goes on a drunken joy ride that ends in the death of several of his friends. Of course, scenario B doesn’t have to end that way, but that sequence is only too common. Even if he doesn’t drive and doesn’t hurt anyone, sin does its damage. Fellowship with God is interrupted. His desire to live for God is dulled to some degree. His conscience is, in some measure jaded. His resistance to committing the same sin again is weakened. The joy of his Christian experience is sullied. The list goes on.

So has the teen in scenario A been helped along in his journey toward Christlikeness? Absolutely. Would it have been better if he did the right thing out of faith and love without a rule? Definitely.

But this is where an important point comes into focus: the truth is, he can act out of faith and love without or with the rule. If he has the necessary faith and love, the rule is useless (1 Tim. 1:9) but harmless. If he lacks the necessary faith and love, the rule is a lifesaver, and those responsible for his care have done him a great service.

The argument from the nature of sin, then, is this: sin is so damaging that reducing it by means of rules is a genuine spiritual blessing to believers. Not sinning is always better than sinning, even when understanding is lacking and love is not the primary motivation.

Argument from the nature of holiness

Just as sin is inherently damaging and habit-forming, every act of obedience is inherently helpful and habit-forming (1 Tim. 4:8). Obedience deepens fellowship with God (1 John 1:6-7), sharpens spiritual senses, strengthens resolve, tunes affections (1 Pet. 1:22), nurtures body and mind, enhances relationships, and forms liberating habits.

And let’s not undervalue good habits. Habits are simply choices we make repeatedly until they become so much a part of us they no are longer made consciously. Growth in sanctification consists largely of old habits losing out to new ones (this includes habits of intellect and affections as well as habits of body). This is the Lord’s work in us, but our obedience is required and that obedience is frequently the tool He uses to produce yet more obedience (Phil. 2:12-13).

Admittedly, it is possible to obey a rule—even in the sense of “a generalized application of Scripture” (see part 2)—and not obey God in the fullest sense. That is, pleasing God could be furthest thing from the complier’s mind. He is not obeying fully because his affections are not God-ward in the act. But even though he is not obeying subjectively, he is still obeying objectively and making a better choice. By doing so, he is getting a taste of clean living whether he wants one or not. I believe these “tastes” are always at least a little habit forming in the life of a regenerate, Spirit-indwelled person.

The argument from the nature of holiness, then, is this: obedience is so helpful that increasing it by means of rules is a genuine spiritual blessing to believers even when their faith is incomplete and love is not their primary motivation.

Summary

I’ve argued here that rules in ministry settings (especially schools) are not as dangerous or hostile to growing in grace as many suppose. I’ve done so on the basis of the nature of sin and the nature of obedience. But the case is far from complete. It barely scratches the surface.

In Part 2, I’ll offer an additional argument—this time, from the nature of rules themselves, then address a series of objections, including these:

  • If what you’re saying about rules is true, shouldn’t we make as many as possible? (We know that leads to disaster!)
  • Doesn’t Jesus’ handling of the Pharisees show that rule-making is inherently hazardous?
  • Doesn’t Colossians directly forbid rule-making (Col. 2:20-23)?
  • Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 13:3 teach that doing good without love is worthless?

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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Shaynus's picture

Aaron, 

Part of the concern for those who argue there are too many rules is that sometimes a rule is elevated be on par with scripture. I have no objection to a school or church placing a teen under discipline who goes on a drunken rampage. That's far too easy. What he did was illegal in society and immoral from the Bible itself. So the precense of a rule against it shouldn't be controversial to any Christian because it mereley repeats the clear teaching of Scripture. 

Why might be (and is) controversial is a rule that isn't in Scripture at all but the following of those rules have attached to them spiritual weight in the school/church. Can you think of another scenario where rules might be more arbitrary and unhelpful?

Shayne

 

Steve Newman's picture

A useful way to think of this is by using a histogram for diagramming.

One axis could be attitude/motive

The other axis would be the rightness/wrongness of the action

If you diagrammed this you would have what is called a "magic quadrant" of right actions/ right motives.

I tried to upload a diagram from my computer, but couldn't figure out how.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Shaynus wrote:

Aaron, 

Part of the concern for those who argue there are too many rules is that sometimes a rule is elevated be on par with scripture. I have no objection to a school or church placing a teen under discipline who goes on a drunken rampage. That's far too easy. What he did was illegal in society and immoral from the Bible itself. So the precense of a rule against it shouldn't be controversial to any Christian because it mereley repeats the clear teaching of Scripture. 

Why might be (and is) controversial is a rule that isn't in Scripture at all but the following of those rules have attached to them spiritual weight in the school/church. Can you think of another scenario where rules might be more arbitrary and unhelpful?

Shayne

Thanks. Part of the difficulty of discussing the subject is that different points are in dispute among different people. The idea that some institutions have too many rules is mostly agreed I suspect, as is the the point that some institutions intentionally or unintentionally create the impression that rules with a very distant relationship to actual passages of Scripture (and maybe only very broad ones even then) have the same authority as Scripture itself. And few dispute that it's a bad thing when that happens.

Also not in dispute: lots of rules are arbitrary and unhelpful.

What I aim for in this couple of essays is to go after a specific set of claims I've seen/heard many in my generation make:

  1. that rules have no value in helping believers grow in grace
  2. that rules are inherently hostile to growth in grace
  3. that seeing rules as having an important role in sanctification is legalism
  4. that Phariseeism consisted primarily of attaching importance to rules
  5. that Christ's condemnation of the Pharisees constitutes a condemnation of this particular form of "legalism"

So it's this way of thinking that I'm mainly targeting. In reality, attitudes toward rules are all over the map and it's pretty hard to address the whole spectrum. But I hope with these ideas to encourage people not to shortchange the potential of rules that are wise, well administered/enforced, and accurately presented (the latter has to do with what sort of authority we give them)

Post is getting long, but I need to touch on one reason why we get the impression rules are being given equal weight with Scripture in some situations:

One common scenario really has more to do with authority relationships than it does with legalism, grace, sanctification (though not unrelated). When an employee or student joins an organization, he enters into a relationship that brings him under the authority of that organization. Col. 3:22 comes into play. The result is that when this organization has a rule that says "don't walk east on the sidewalks on odd numbered Wednesdays," disobeying the rule becomes a biblical issue. It violates Col.3.22 and other passages.

So when a conflict arises over a violation, the communication might put the issue in terms that sound like "You're disobeying Scripture when you walk East on odd numbered Wednesdays." Easy to conclude that these people think the Bible teaches something about what direction to walk on sidewalks. Actually, it's application of very clear principles regarding authority.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Steve Newman wrote:

A useful way to think of this is by using a histogram for diagramming.

One axis could be attitude/motive

The other axis would be the rightness/wrongness of the action

If you diagrammed this you would have what is called a "magic quadrant" of right actions/ right motives.

I tried to upload a diagram from my computer, but couldn't figure out how.

Is the diagram a graphic file? You should be able to click "File attachments" below, then click Choose File and browse to the file on your PC--then click Attach. Then Save the post.

If you can tell me where that process breaks, we'll see if there's something to fix there. It may be that with the site update just installed, that's not working right yet (It works for me, but there could be some kind of permissions problem).

Without seeing the diagram, I'm guessing that what I'm visualizing is pretty close. The "magic quadrant" would represent an ideal, though. I think I would not diagram the situation that way, myself because it might give the impression that all the other quadrants have a value of zero. But I think the biblical evidence is pretty solid that the arrangements of motives and actions is hierararchical.

Another problem is that it's not always possible to separate the right/wrong of the action from the motive. Sometimes the motive is the determinative factor, but not always. For example, I can "speak the truth in love" or speak it in spite. The latter would fundamentally change the character of the act. But consider another behavior: I can "refrain from comitting murder out of love" or "refrain from committing murder out of fear of the law (self-interest)." The latter is not evil, but is not as noble as the former. So in that case, you have a hieararchy or spectrum of possibilities.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I tend to be a 'by the book' kind of person. I want boundaries. I like boundaries, often for no other reason than I am a bit OCD and want to know what is expected of myself and others so there are no surprises. Not terribly noble. (Note- not talking about Scriptural/moral/ethical boundaries, which go deeper than just providing 'guidelines', capiche?)

 

One common scenario really has more to do with authority relationships than it does with legalism, grace, sanctification (though not unrelated). When an employee or student joins an organization, he enters into a relationship that brings him under the authority of that organization. Col. 3:22 comes into play. The result is that when this organization has a rule that says "don't walk east on the sidewalks on odd numbered Wednesdays," disobeying the rule becomes a biblical issue. It violates Col.3.22 and other passages.

So when a conflict arises over a violation, the communication might put the issue in terms that sound like "You're disobeying Scripture when you walk East on odd numbered Wednesdays." Easy to conclude that these people think the Bible teaches something about what direction to walk on sidewalks. Actually, it's application of very clear principles regarding authority.

I basically agree, but I do have concerns about some aspects of where I believe this thinking can lead. Rules should, IMO, have some reasonable explanation. Does the rule serve a utilitarian or organizational purpose? Is it grounded in Scripture- if not with a clearcut mandate, at least with some principle or example? Is it for the purpose of trying to instill what the authority deems as a 'good habit', or to avoid something that authority considers dangerous or detrimental or slippery slope...? 

My major 'objection' to arbitrary rules is that no one wants to admit when they are arbitrary. I can usually understand a rule that's arbitrary if authority is honest enough to admit it, or at least say "There is no direct correlation with this rule and Scripture. We simply think this is best for the student body/congregation". Okey-dokey then. But "Pastor said" is not the same as "Thus sayeth the Lord" no matter how you slice it, and I think it would help if that line was more clearly drawn. Yes, authority should be obeyed, but Christian authority also has guidelines they are required to follow, and the laity/student body knows that. I find that gov't authority and church/school authority are too often conflated. For example, Rom. 13 and Heb. 13:17  are used to extort obedience from a church or student body when the leadership has gone crackerdog. Paul may have submitted to an unGodly authority to a degree (note how he didn't actually obey the unGodly authority, he simply submitted to the consequences of his 'criminal' action of preaching and teaching Christ), but Paul never taught that the brethren should submit to a false teacher, or someone who doesn't qualify for ministry per 2 Tim. 3 and Titus 2. 

I think it is the "You must not speak against The Man Of God" thinking that has everyone itchy about the purpose of rules and proper exercise of authority. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

On communication: yes, it makes sense to have folks as informed as possible on the whys and wherefores of rules--not only so they can understand how they relate to Scripture but also for the sake of morale. People are just happier if they know why they have to dot their i's and cross their t's a certain way... a little happier at least.

About arbitrariness: I doubt that folks who run organizations really have time to make arbitrary rules! I suppose someplace there's an organization that has a "rule making department" that has nothing else to do, but generally rules happen in response to problems. So this has important implications:

  • It means those under authority should assume a rule is not arbitrary even they can't figure out what the purpose of it is
  • It means those in authority have to review rules periodically to see if there is any longer any reason for them.

Rules that seem arbitrary might be ones that became useless as conditions changed and nobody noticed... and nobody remembers anymore why the rule was made.

(Another reason to try not to have too many!)

Shaynus's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

On communication: yes, it makes sense to have folks as informed as possible on the whys and wherefores of rules--not only so they can understand how they relate to Scripture but also for the sake of morale. People are just happier if they know why they have to dot their i's and cross their t's a certain way... a little happier at least.

About arbitrariness: I doubt that folks who run organizations really have time to make arbitrary rules! I suppose someplace there's an organization that has a "rule making department" that has nothing else to do, but generally rules happen in response to problems. So this has important implications:

  • It means those under authority should assume a rule is not arbitrary even they can't figure out what the purpose of it is
  • It means those in authority have to review rules periodically to see if there is any longer any reason for them.

Rules that seem arbitrary might be ones that became useless as conditions changed and nobody noticed... and nobody remembers anymore why the rule was made.

(Another reason to try not to have too many!)

 

I grew up as a faculty kid at BJU, so I know a few things about living under rules, and many that seem arbitrary. One thing that I've learned is it's important for leadership to communicate reasons for rules so people know when it's the right thing to break them or be flexible with them. Different rules should be explained to have different levels of importance.

We had a guest come to the Dining Common at BJU once back when there was a rule against women wearing pants there. The hostess denied entry to the guest (it was a very hot day, and the woman was very pregnant I believe) because she was wearing pants. Common sense says that allowing someone in as an exception is loving and harms no one, but the hostess didn't know she had flexibility until after it was all over. 

My understanding is that BJU is trying to do a much better job of explaining rules, or getting rid of ones that no longer make sense.

 

 

 

 

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

About arbitrariness: I doubt that folks who run organizations really have time to make arbitrary rules! I suppose someplace there's an organization that has a "rule making department" that has nothing else to do, but generally rules happen in response to problems.

Ha. Ha.

It may not be in a handbook or church constitution, but let's not forget mandates blurted from the pulpit are often understood as de facto 'rulings'. After awhile, people just don't know what the 'rules' are, because one evangelist hates cell phones and Facebook, and another one voices his pet peeves about women's apparel, while the pastor refers to television as "hellivision" and Paris Hilton as one of Satan's minions. Jaded much?

I think it is common sense that there is a time for general guidelines, and a time for hard-n-fast rules. But to be blunt- I don't care if leaders 'don't have time' to explain their reason and purpose. They lobbied for the job, and part of the job is being reasonable, communicating with those under their authority, being humble and responsive. I'm a bit weary of authority that demands that those under them obey without question and grant them the benefit of the doubt, knowing that there will be a sale on mink coats in the Sahara before they will grant that same respect to those they 'lead'. The 'call of God' (whatever that means) is not enough to mandate how people should live their lives, especially when they refuse to lead by example.

Some rules are for our physical safety, some for mental/emotional protection, and others help to guard our hearts in the spritual sense. But these can get all confused if they aren't communicated properly. Instead of just saying "It's good for a man not to touch a woman" and declaring a 6" rule (until it's time to shake hands and then it's OK) why not explain all the issues and implications that Paul brings up in that chapter? Obviously it's not just 'touching', because what man worth his salt would let a woman who fell down lay on the ground, or drown, or refuse to do CPR because he would be 'touching' her? After all, CPR is called 'the kiss of life', and we can't have a guy kissing a woman he ain't married to, now can we? Let her croak- she's in God's hands! Trust the Lord and pass the offering plate!

Charlie's picture

Aaron,

 

I'm interested in your series. I think that the issue of rules is a perennially thorny one in the history of Christian theology, perhaps peaking in intensity at the Reformation. The issue is also wrapped up in a number of other tricky subjects: the nature and means of sanctification, the current proper use of the Old Testament, the lordship of Christ, the liberty of the believer, the role of the Holy Spirit, etc. 

I'd love to try to take an approach to this that acknowledges the history of this problem. It would be interesting to get a couple of people on SI, who perhaps see themselves as being in different places on this subject, to gather around some key historical texts, such as Martin Luther's Freedom of a Christian, Calvin's (or Turretin's) expositions of the three uses of the law, Lewis Sperry Chafer's He That Is Spiritual, and a modern book that takes the approach of which you are skeptical. We could note where real differences lie and what forms of expression get ideas across clearly, and then see if our literary journey has changed our minds or given us new resources for communicating.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie... not a bad idea at all (and throw in something from the Puritans as well?).  Volunteers?

Susan: the whole unwritten rules inferred from pronouncements thing... I see this is a completley different kind of "rule-making" that what I'm talking about. It's really doubtful that "opinion expressed from pulpit" is any kind of legitimate process for making a "rule."

For the most part, I'm not thinking of churches so much as ministries, etc. But some of what I'm saying would apply to churches--I just tend to forget that some churches are so large they really need some rules to run things. I guess we've got some rules at our church but they're all either in the Covenant or developed by a committee or something--operational/regulatory kind of stuff. In neither case is a pastor's decree involved.

I realize some churches/ministries operate that way. These have bigger problems than their understanding of how rules factor in the process of growth (!) though there tends to be plenty of confusion on that score as well.  

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Susan: the whole unwritten rules inferred from pronouncements thing... I see this is a completley different kind of "rule-making" that what I'm talking about. It's really doubtful that "opinion expressed from pulpit" is any kind of legitimate process for making a "rule."

For the most part, I'm not thinking of churches so much as ministries, etc. But some of what I'm saying would apply to churches--I just tend to forget that some churches are so large they really need some rules to run things. I guess we've got some rules at our church but they're all either in the Covenant or developed by a committee or something--operational/regulatory kind of stuff. In neither case is a pastor's decree involved.

I realize some churches/ministries operate that way. These have bigger problems than their understanding of how rules factor in the process of growth (!) though there tends to be plenty of confusion on that score as well.  

I agree that opinions expressed from the pulpit are not legitimate 'rule making'. I understand that we are not thinking about churches per se, but Christian ministries-  how often do Christian ministry dynamics and procedures become confused with church methodologies? We've seen that here at SI- how often have we had to remind people that SI is not a church? And we're just an online magaziney-forum thingy. Any time Christians get together to 'do' something, we trip over which Biblical principles are and aren't applicable to the situation.

So when Dr. Snodgrass makes pronouncements from the chapel pulpit or classroom lectern, there is often confusion about what is and isn't a 'real' rule. I had a professor who believed that no one was 'perfect', so even when I got every answer right on a test, he'd mark one wrong. The Dean kept telling him he couldn't do that, so he started marking down my reports to compensate. The problem I saw was that his 'authority' to do this was more respected than my right to have my papers graded accurately. 

So- going back to the 6" rule example- that is a case where the situation dictates whether or not 'touching' is appropriate or inappropriate. Obviously the rule applies to displays of sexual affection/attraction, not shaking hands, or helping someone struggling physically, or getting onto a crowded bus, or the ways we use touch to comfort someone in pain or grief. But Christian schools, Bible colleges and universities often do not even attempt to explain or address that, perhaps because they are afraid that any 'exception' will give the student body some kind of excuse engage in sexual activity? Which just makes the whole thing seem goofily prudish and undermines their credibility.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think another reason many institutions don't go into detail about exceptions is that it's just often completeley impractical to do that. Where would you stop? But the better institutions develop means for dealing with "violations" that are excusable or justified or not really violations at all. These are not always effective, but it's a way of going about the messy business of drawing lines and simultaneously having a little bit (but hopefully not too much) of flexibility.

For example, at BJU there is the discipline committee, which--last I knew--included several students. I think I only faced it once, but in any case I don't remember much about it except that certain kinds of infractions automatically went to committee, precisely because they tended to  concern matters where there is a lot of ambiguity. Other offenses left you the option of appearing before the committee if you wanted to try to get the matter excused or whatever. It was like getting a traffic ticket where you can either pay the fine or appeal to a court and see if you can get out of it... or get the penalty reduced due to mitigating circumstances, etc.

But going back to what is, to me, the bigger question: is there something in rules that is inherently hostile to spiritual growth or "growing in grace" (or inherently "legalistic")? What these few examples suggest is that while rule-making and enforcing is easy to botch, there are ways to compensate for tendencies... and I think this argues (though the biblical and experiential arguments are stronger) that rules are not inherently toxic to vital Christian living. The biblical evidence suggests they can have truly valuable role.

(By "experiential" argument, I'm talking about stuff like the fact that kids need rules to keep them safe until they mature enough to know to come in out of the rain, not play in traffic, etc. Since Scripture puts progress in sanctification in terms of maturing and growing up (Eph. 4:13-15, 1 Pet. 2:2, Heb.5.13-14, 1Cor.3:1-3) we should expect analogies from natural maturing to be instructive.)

Shaynus's picture

Aaron, but I don't think most students know about such a committee, even if there is one. Students tend to not know their "rights." I knew evough to get exceptions passed through administrative conference (and serveral times I was able to have exceptions granted). The only reason I knew to ask for an exception was because my own dad was on the committee (BTW, he rarely knew about the exceptions ahead of time). I'm just saying that there needs to be more teaching on what rules are general guidelines and which really are founded in scripture. I do think a very static set of rules is not "inherently" legalistic. But that doesn't mean it doesn't tend that way, and that legalistic hearts are drawn to legalities.

Anne Sokol's picture

I may get around to writing the piece on Martin Luther and rules, but probably not 'til fall. but it would be inneresting.

 

so i talked with Vitaliy about this thread, and he actually has a lot of good things to say about rules in general. They can be helpful in forming habits, in establishing a good reputation (social/cultural rules), for protection, and it could show some level of spiritual maturity that a person willingly submits himself to the rules.

 

It is a problem if a person puts their hope on rules that it somehow makes them more pleasing to God.

 

Obedience deepens fellowship with God (1 John 1:6-7), sharpens spiritual senses, strengthens resolve, tunes affections (1 Pet. 1:22), nurtures body and mind, enhances relationships, and forms liberating habits.

I think these results of obedience could be by God's gracious intervention but they are not automatically true. Someone could obey and just get angry and bitter in so doing.

 

Also, i'm not sure it's true that it's always better that we don't sin. It would be better if we could learn deeply and experientially about God without sinning, but I'm not sure it's possible in this life. For example, I was thinking about my girls and what I would do if one became pregnant out of marriage, and I really started praying that this wouldn't be, and God posed the question to me, that what if that was the sin needed to bring that child to Himself for salvation? . . . I don't know. It's something to think about.

 

I guess I would question two things, generally, about rules, and I do acknowledge that they are needed. First, I think that very often people do get sucked in to thinking that because they obey the rules they are more righteous somehow before God. I think it can lead someone into a false idea of spiritual maturity or righteousness. . . . maybe I need to explain that with examples . . . and I'm not sure how or if that implication could be avoided.

Second, I started to wonder why clothing and music had *hundreds* of rules, but there are few to no rules about things like caring for orphans. The emphasis seems a little cock-eyed generally, but maybe that's the nature of "rules."

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Anne wrote:
 so i talked with Vitaliy about this thread, and he actually has a lot of good things to say about rules in general. They can be helpful in forming habits, in establishing a good reputation (social/cultural rules), for protection, and it could show some level of spiritual maturity that a person willingly submits himself to the rules.

It is a problem if a person puts their hope on rules that it somehow makes them more pleasing to God.

Which if these is not "more pleasing to God"?

  • good habits
  • good reputation
  • protection
  • the level of maturity expressed in willing submission

To put it another way, how is it possible to use a rule to accomplish good in our lives and that good not be more pleasing to our Lord?  .... and if it is not more pleasing to Him, why should we bother?

Anne wrote:
 i'm not sure it's true that it's always better that we don't sin

I'm not sure what to say to that one. Almost by definition, it is always better to not sin than to sin. By "definition" I mean we can almost define sin as "that which we should never do."  There is no meaningful definition of sin that can allow it to be "sometimes right" or "sometimes better."  But Paul already answered that question. Shall we sin that grace may abound? May it never be!

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I agree, Aaron- and I qualify that by saying learning from our mistakes, and allowing others to learn from theirs, is not the same as 'sinning so grace may abound'. That is more of a boundaries issue. We can't live other's lives for them, and we aren't qualified to do so if we could, as each of us are just as prone to sin as the other. 

On a side note, it's fair to say that the problem is usually with 'rules' themselves, but how we approach and implement the concept. We sometimes associate 'rules' with an 'obey, no questions asked' policy. Authority should be happy to explain the foundation and purpose of rules, instead of viewing questions as insubordination. Questions are an opportunity to teach, to open the mind to possibilities, to sharpen oneself as well as others. Too often we want to teach people what to think instead of how to think. The way we handle rule-making and rule-enforcing hinges on our objectives.

Anne Sokol's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Anne wrote:
 It is a problem if a person puts their hope on rules that it somehow makes them more pleasing to God.

Which if these is not "more pleasing to God"?

  • good habits
  • good reputation
  • protection
  • the level of maturity expressed in willing submission

To put it another way, how is it possible to use a rule to accomplish good in our lives and that good not be more pleasing to our Lord?  .... and if it is not more pleasing to Him, why should we bother?

This is the crux of this issue. In what way does our obedience make us more pleasing to God (if it does) and in what way does it not?

This is the crux of this issue. Charlie can probably write it better than I, but I may take a stab at it later if I can wrap some words around it and children are sleeping.

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Anne wrote:
 i'm not sure it's true that it's always better that we don't sin

I'm not sure what to say to that one. Almost by definition, it is always better to not sin than to sin. By "definition" I mean we can almost define sin as "that which we should never do."  There is no meaningful definition of sin that can allow it to be "sometimes right" or "sometimes better."  But Paul already answered that question. Shall we sin that grace may abound? May it never be!

Erm, I think you probably know I'm not saying we ought to sin Wink This is the heart of redemption. If I had a miscarriage and learned many incredible things about God through that, would it be better for me if I had never had a miscarriage? If I were imprisoned for my faith and learned many things about God I would never have otherwise thought about, would it be better for me that I never was imprisoned?

The fact is that we do sin every day. We shouldn't try to sin and we should pray not to enter temptation and put ourselves to look at Christ. But God does use it to teach us deeper truths about Him and to know Him experientially. He does redeem it.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

To put it another way, how is it possible to use a rule to accomplish good in our lives and that good not be more pleasing to our Lord?


Simple. If the unintended or unforeseen side-effects of such a rule end up causing more trouble than the good that looked like it would come from the rule, then I would still argue that the rule is bad in spite of the fact that some good came from it.

We don't have to worry about the side-effects of God's rules laid out for us in scripture -- we know they are perfect, regardless of the consequences. We can't say that about our own, no matter how good-seeming or well-intentioned. That's why they have to be carefully crafted, and used with much wisdom, and we have to be ready to replace them if they don't work or have outlived their usefulness.

Dave Barnhart

Anne Sokol's picture

Some of this is relevant, and the wording an clarity of thought is very compelling: 

 

5._____ The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations and the corruptions of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself; and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for other just and holy ends. So that whatsoever befalls any of his elect is by his appointment, for his glory, and their good.
( 2 Chronicles 32:25, 26, 31; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; Romans 8:28 )

 

 

6._____ Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise shew them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man's doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.
( Romans 6:14; Galatians 2:16; Romans 8:1; Romans 10:4; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7, etc; Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 3:8-13 )

7._____ Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.
( Galatians 3:21; Ezekiel 36:27 )

 

3._____ And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God's displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.
( Matthew 26:70, 72, 74; Isaiah 64:5, 9; Ephesians 4:30; Psalms 51:10, 12; Psalms 32:3, 4; 2 Samuel 12:14; Luke 22:32, 61, 62 )

Anne Sokol's picture

Chapter 16: Of Good Works

1._____ Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word, and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intentions.
 

2._____ These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness they may have the end eternal life.
 

3._____ Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ; and that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is necessary an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet they are not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty, unless upon a special motion of the Spirit, but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.
 

4._____ They who in their obedience attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.
 

5._____ We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because as they are good they proceed from his Spirit, and as they are wrought by us they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's punishment.
 

6._____ Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God's sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
 

7._____ Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive grace from God, and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.
 

Rachel L.'s picture

God's desire is that we be in relationship with him. The reason that sin is a problem is that it interferes with that relationship. Focusing on SIN is a problem because it tickles our fallen desire to be in control of our salvation.

 

Rules focus on sin rather than on relationship, which is why standards/rules can be both helpful AND harmful. In some instances standards/rules help remind us to focus on things besides our desires, and at other times standards/rules take our focus off of God and on to ourselves. God can use our sin to help us "wake up" to the fact that our relationship with God is weak/non-existent -- would it be better to NOT wake up to that realization? Of course not! So if my sin can be used by God, then I am thankful for it.

 

I'd much prefer this conversation be titled "In Defense of Relationship: How Rules Can Be Both Helpful and Harmful." Wink

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

 Authority should be happy to explain the foundation and purpose of rules, instead of viewing questions as insubordination.

This is true when a question is a question. What complicates life for authority figures is that a question often is insubordination--because the questioner has already decided the requirement is daft and is not seeking understanding, only protesting. So there's substitute for discernment on the part of the authority figure. In any case, it's his or her call to make.

About the theology of obedience and pleasing God. Though there's a lot of confusion on these matters, these days, the Bible has answered that question already, too . . .

2 Co 5:9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

1 Co 7:32–33 But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.

Php 4:18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

Col 1:10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Col 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.

2 Ti 2:3–7 You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.

As for "emphasizing sin." The term is too vague to say much about beyond the fact that the Bible has a great deal to say about sin. We're called to emphasize it as much as Scripture does. There is no incompatibility between 'emphasizing sin' and 'emphasizing relationship,' because without the former, we cannot understand the latter. Grace (and the gospel) has no meaning where there is not an enormous debt to be freed from.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

What complicates life for authority figures is that a question often is insubordination--because the questioner has already decided the requirement is daft and is not seeking understanding, only protesting. So there's substitute for discernment on the part of the authority figure. In any case, it's his or her call to make.

Even when someone is protesting, it is a great time for mature authority to use that opportunity to teach instead of hitting the "How dare you question me!" button. A soft answer does turn away wrath, and in my experience, there is more to many protests than meets the eye. If an authority truly has the good of his students/congregation at heart, he will have the discernment, patience, and fortitude to seek out the underlying issues and address them. As leadership, we are also providing a template for handling conflict and disagreement when we are longsuffering, kind, and charitable, and don't assume that the reason someone is asking questions, regardless of their apparent attitude, is because they are rebellious. Confusion, pain, and discouragment can present as anger. If after the authority has exhausted reasonable, compassionate responses, and the person is still being obstinate, at that point one could probably declare them 'insurbordinate'. 

Of course, I am not talking about obviously necessary or Biblical rules such as "Don't commit adultery" or "No spittoons in the auditorium". 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Other than my kids, I don't encounter protest much. But since authority figures are outnumbered, I have to think there are serious practical problems if you let everybody question/protest the decisions you make. Even with two kids, we endure far too much of that. It's part of the foolishness bound up in the heart of the child that they think they know better than the parent who, though far from perfect, has learned a few things.

So while, often enough, there is truth in a protest, it's usually about "I just don't want to do what I'm supposed to do." It's the deep seated rebellion problem in the human spirit. I don't know what you can say in answer to a protest when the only answer the rebel will accept is "You're right; I'm wrong." Authority figures have to make a judgment as to whether they are hearing an honest objection to something wrong /an honest seeking of understanding or a whitewashed effort to be in control.

I don't think I can generalize that leaders need to be more accommodating toward protest... though I can agree that anger is often unhelpful. (But that gets complicated too. There are times when it's morally wrong not to be angry and conveys the impression that egregious behavior is not as bad as it really is... which helps no one in the long run)

I think the better emphasis is to stress to authority figures that we have enormous responsibilities to be wise, good and not overstep our sphere of responsibility, and emphasize with those under authority (all of us, in one situation or another) that we should strive to not give those over us grief.

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The Golden Rule is huge in all this, too, in both directions. As one under authority I have to ask "What would I want to know if I were the decision maker and what kind of response would I need?" As the authority figure, I have to ask "If I were the one under my direction, what would I need to understand? What would I find difficult?" 

It's interesting that we're really talking about the same thing here as in the thread on spiritual abuse... and maybe another somewhere (kind of all blurs together). It's a huge challenge of our times.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Dave wrote:
 Simple. If the unintended or unforeseen side-effects of such a rule end up causing more trouble than the good that looked like it would come from the rule, then I would still argue that the rule is bad in spite of the fact that some good came from it.

Oh yeah, there's always the problem of unforseen side effects. But these are not always the fault of the rule. Even perfect rules have unforseen side effects when they encounter sinners. First half of Romans 7 is fascinating on this point--in reference to "the law" of God.

But my point was to deny that there is a distinction between spiritual benefit and pleasing God. I was reacting to the teaching that takes the truth of our unchanging position as "accepted in the beloved" and extrapolates the argument that "we don't need to worry about doing right because it doesn't make us more pleasing to God," ergo rules cannot be helpful in sanctification. The argument is ultimately a passive-sanctifcation one where our responsibilities in growth in godliness exactly parallel our responsibilities in conversion: believe.

But I don't accept that view of sanctification and I don't think it answers well to the NT either. Once we are a new creation, indwelled by the Spirit, and well equipped for "all things that pertain to life and godliness," God is working in us and we are indeed called to work our our salvation with fear and trembling.

In part 2, I argue that rules are often just applications of Scripture and it's not possible to reject the spiritual potential of a rule without rejecting the spiritual potential of application in general... which nobody rejects.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

But since authority figures are outnumbered, I have to think there are serious practical problems if you let everybody question/protest the decisions you make. Even with two kids, we endure far too much of that. It's part of the foolishness bound up in the heart of the child that they think they know better than the parent who, though far from perfect, has learned a few things.

I don't think authority can prevent 'protest' without in essence saying "My way or the highway". And my point is more about assuming that protests stem from a rebellious spirit. There are often other underlying reasons for protests, and if we are going to treat people as individuals and not a mob, I believe we are obligated to hear people out on a case by case basis and help them deal with their heart problems. Does this take time and energy? Yep- so anyone not willing to take the time and energy to do what is necessary to teach and train kids, students, or congregants, shouldn't sign up for the position. IMO the Biblical model is mentoring, not lecturing.

As far as kids go- what rules are they protesting? That they are not allowed to hit their siblings? That they can't have a cookie before dinner? Or jump off the garage roof with a trashbag parachute? 

I have alot of fun with questions like that. If brother #1 hits his sibling and thinks he deserves it, I just ask him if he thinks it's ok for brother #2 to hit him whenever #2 thinks #1 deserves it. Well, of course not. Duh. If he is stupid enough to say "Sure", then guess what happens? Oh yeah- kids are a ton of fun. 

If a kid has enough money in savings to pay for an emergency room visit and possible hospitalization, then they are welcome to jump off any roof they'd like. And what's a cookie but flour and butter and sugar? I don't make a big deal about that stuff, since it isn't an issue of morality or ethics. They know we have a limited number of cookies, that each person gets a certain amount, that if they indulge now they won't have any for later, and amazingly enough, they have learned to self-regulate. Ditto bedtimes. They can stay up as late as they want, as long as they can get up in the morning and meet their school/chore obligations. It takes about 2-3 days for them to learn what their bodies can/can't do. They understand why getting a good night's sleep is important to their health and well-being, and it isn't because "Mom said so". This plants roots that benefit later with The Big Questions of morality and ethics come up. IOW, it's a 'safe' way to let them experience making mistakes and learning self-control without anyone getting pregnant or arrested for armed robbery. 

The bottom line is that authority has the responsibility to teach and train those they are responsible for. Part of that is being able to wisely address protest and help folks internalize truths instead of just taking our word for it.

Anne Sokol's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But my point was to deny that there is a distinction between spiritual benefit and pleasing God. I was reacting to the teaching that takes the truth of our unchanging position as "accepted in the beloved" and extrapolates the argument that "we don't need to worry about doing right because it doesn't make us more pleasing to God," . . .

I am not sure that is the point of being accepted in the Beloved. The point of being accepted in the Beloved is that God's gracious pleasure with my obedience is really His pleasure in Christ's obedience through/in me and the Holy Spirit's working in me. My righteousness is filthy rags, Christ gets all the glory for any obedience.

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:
 

. . . ergo rules cannot be helpful in sanctification.

Rules are neutral and it is a personal matter (between a person and God's work in him) whether or not they help a person in sanctification.

Also, very important point: if you mean God's laws, then of course those are helpful. But do you mean rules as in man's rules? Like defining music or dress or activities or hair length? 

What happens is, men make rules extrapolated from principles, and then in that atmosphere, people begin to judge their own and others' "spirituality" or spiritual maturity based on conformity to those extrapolated rules.

Then the extrapolated rules often become more of the focus because they are more numerous, more exact, and visible. And then people get the idea that because s/he conforms to those extrapolated rules, s/he is "more pleasing" to God than the poor someone who doesn't conform or doesn't know that this is the more pleasing way in God's view.

. . . I think this is what people are trying to talk about when they talk about "rules."

Aaron Blumer wrote:

The argument is ultimately a passive-sanctifcation one where our responsibilities in growth in godliness exactly parallel our responsibilities in conversion: believe.

? I would like to explore that statement more . . .

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, we've kind been over all this several times.

I keep coming back to the fact that the NT is full of imperatives and the positional truths do not erase the imperatives. There is no way to passively obey a command. Though it is arguable that through our union with Christ our obedience is really His, the fact remains that He is not the one who reads a biblical command and decides to obey or disobey it. Things quickly dissolve into nonsense if we take union with Christ to mean "He is actually me and I am actually Him."

That was never the intent. Rather, through union we are credited with His righteousness (e.g., terms like "reckon" and "accounted" in Romans). Because of what is credited to us/imputed to us, we have responsibilities--an active role in making the positional actual. This is the whole point of Romans 6.

In other words, Christ's righteousness imputed to us is not a substitute for our actual, real-world obedience. God's agenda is to make actual in us what He has credited to us.

No glory of God is dimished by our genuine exertion in the process because it is only His working in us that makes our efforts effective (Php. 2:12-13) and it's only His transformation of us that makes us interested in this pursuit of holiness in the first place.

Nonethelss He does not obey for us. We obey or disobey. It's impossible to make sense of the NT imperatives with Christ as the actual subject of the verbs involved.

A few examples to make this less abstract.

  • In Rom. 6.13, Christ is not the one who must yield His body to righteousness (it's a present tense command written to real people who were supposed to obey it)
  • Rom.13.14, Christ is not the one who is supposed to put on Christ and not make provision for the flesh.
  • 1 Tim. 4.7, Christ is not the one who must train himself for godliness.
  • John 14.15, Christ is not the one who is supposed to obey Christ and, by doing so, show that he truly loves him.

There is no escaping the fact that in conversion we do not have work to do, but in sanctification we do.

About the protest topic... I think we're not understanding the difference between legitimate exercise of authority within its proper bounds vs. other. When the former is true, a person under that authority has no right to protest and doing so is inherently rebellious. It's like the Israelites telling Moses they don't want to go into Kadesh Barnea.

To use another real world example, as a school teacher, it's my role to assign work and student's role to do it without complaint. If I overstep my bounds and assign something wrong or truly excessive, I'm open to resistance because I don't have the authority to assign them all to do that. So what I'm saying is that whenever authority is legit. and within it's bounds--whenever it's actual authority vs. merely/falsely claimed authority--protest is rebellion.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think I've been over this one in this thread already, but maybe it was in the other.

Let's be more concrete.

I have a rule that I do not buy lottery tickets. This is a self-governing rule, but it's a rule. I have the authority to make the rule and enforce it. As head of my home, I also have a rule that nobody under my roof buys lottery tickets. Again, it's my call to make. So it's a family rule.

Is it God's law? No. It's an application of God's law.

It's actually just about impossible to make specific applications of Scripture without making a rule. I say "just about" because there are roughly two application scenarios:

  1. One-time situations when a biblical principle calls for a single act: a long-lost cousin calls me and asks if I'll help finance his human-cloning project. Not likely to happen at all but if it does, only once.
  2. Generlized applications that should govern my choices every time the conditions occur: whenever someone at the bank drops a thousand dollar bill, I should return it to him.

It's pretty hard to dream up one-time applications that aren't actually generalized (whenever someone wants financing for human cloning, I should say no).

And guess what: a generalized application is a rule. Just try to live the Christian life without them. 

So to get back to the question of God's rules vs. ours, it is impossible to live out God's rules without making our own. It's true that our own are not inspired, often need adjustment, often don't need to be formalized into a handbook or something, etc. Nonetheless, applications of God's word are indeed instrumental in sanctification.

Anne Sokol's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I keep coming back to the fact that the NT is full of imperatives and the positional truths do not erase the imperatives. ...

Nonethelss He does not obey for us. We obey or disobey. It's impossible to make sense of the NT imperatives with Christ as the actual subject of the verbs involved.

There is no escaping the fact that in conversion we do not have work to do, but in sanctification we do.

This is a very interesting discussion. I re-read through Luther's "Concerning Christian Liberty" piece yesterday. I really, really wish you would read that. It is not that long, and it would be very helpful to this discussion.

He actually would not agree that in sanctification we have to work in the way you are saying, but you also have to understand the entire truths he is explaining. And I think that  this is where we lack today in our understanding of faith and the gospel and why we are having this discussion about the necessity of "rules" or not.

Luther makes the point very extensively that works--outward works and even spiritual works like meditation, etc--cannot touch the soul. All these things can be done by hypocrites, unbelievers, or true Christians. All the needs of the soul are provided only by faith in the word of God. And what is that faith?

1.  He says that God gives the commands, God fulfills the commands, and only God can fulfill them.

Now, since these promises of God [how He fulfills the commands] are words of holiness, truth, righteousness, liberty, and peace, and are full of universal goodness, the soul, which cleaves to them with a firm faith, is so united to them, nay, thoroughly absorbed by them, that it not only partakes in, but is penetrated and saturated by, all their virtues. For if the touch of Christ was healing, how much more does that most tender spiritual touch, nay, absorption of the word, communicate to the soul all that belongs to the word! In this way therefore the soul, through faith alone, without works, is from the word of God justified, sanctified, endued with truth, peace, and liberty, and filled full with every good thing, and is truly made the child of God, as it is said, "To them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John i. 12).

He calls that the first virtue of faith. Then he goes on to explain 2 more virtues of faith.

2. Right faith holds God to be true, righteous, and honors Him above all (my wording).  "In doing this the soul shows itself prepared to do His whole will; in doing this it hallows His name, and gives itself up to be dealt with as it may please God. For it cleaves to His promises, and never doubts that He is true, just, and wise, and will do, dispose, and provide for all things in the best way. Is not such a soul, in this its faith, most obedient to God in all things? What commandment does there remain which has not be amply fulfilled by such an obedience? What fulfillment can be more full than universal obedience? Now this is not accomplished by works, but by faith alone."

3. The 3rd virtue of faith--"It unites the soul to Christ." Christ takes all the sin, death, and hell of our believing souls and makes that His own and conquers them. We gain, by belief, His grace, life, salvation, and righteousness.

He talks about how we are all priests and kings (in this life) through Christ and what that means. And how all this should be constant themes in preaching.

Then, he transitions and talks about good works and the outward man: "Here we shall give an answer to all those who, taking offence at the word of faith and at what I have asserted, say, "If faith does everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded? Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?" Not so. . . . To this part belongs the fact I have stated before: that the Christian is the servant of all and subject to all. For in that part in which he is free he does no works, but in that in which he is a servant he does all works."

1. "Here then works begin; here he must not take his ease; here he must give heed to exercise his body by fastings, watchings, labour, and other regular discipline, so that it may be subdued to the spirit, and obey and conform itself to the inner man and faith, and not rebel against them nor hinder them, as is its nature to do if it is not kept under. For the inner man, being conformed to God and created after the image of God through faith, rejoices and delights itself in Christ, in whom such blessings have been conferred on it, and hence has only this task before it: to serve God with joy and for nought in free love."

2. There must be no idea of good works justifying us before God, but for subjecting our bodies so we can be well-pleasing to the One we desire to obey.

3. Every man needs to instruct himself how he should chasten his own body to keep it in subjection and able to obey.

"His works are to be done freely, with the sole object of pleasing God. Only we are not yet fully created anew in perfect faith and love; these require to be increased, not, however, through works, but through themselves."

I'll skip a bunch of good stuff . . . then, outward works--we do them because we live as the servants of others in the example of Christ's life toward us on earth. We are free from works, but we subject ourselves to them as Christ did in order to love others.

Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith.

This is the ideal we move towards . . . I have to go, but i will include one point he makes towards the end:

Since then we cannot live in this world without ceremonies and works, since the hot and inexperienced period of youth has need of being restrained and protected by such bonds, and since every one is bound to keep under his own body by attention to these things, therefore the minister of Christ must be prudent and faithful in so ruling and teaching the people of Christ, in all these matters, that no root of bitterness may spring up among them, and so many be defiled, as Paul warned the Hebrews; that is, that they may not lose the faith, and begin to be defiled by a belief in works as the means of justification. This is a thing which easily happens, and defiles very many, unless faith be constantly inculcated along with works. It is impossible to avoid this evil, when faith is passed over in silence, and only the ordinances of men are taught, as has been done hitherto by the pestilent, impious, and soul-destroying traditions of our pontiffs and opinions of our theologians. An infinite number of souls have been drawn down to hell by these snares, so that you may recognise the work of antichrist.

 

 

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