Friday, June 16, 2006

Would You Rather?

From Marcus Honeysett, Finding Joy, IVP 2005, p53:

In this first diagram the sinful person on the left wonders how he can ever be good enough for God. He is taught that he needs to perform well and do good works so tat God will be pleased with him. He tries to put this into practice in Christian living. Unfortunately it doesn't work, because law has now power to produce good in us, so he wears a mask of works in order to be seen to measure up, but he knows no joy.

In this second diagram the sinful person wonders how he can be good enough for God and hears that, because of the death of Jesus, God will accept him freely by grace. In his heart he humbles himself, asks God to forgive him. He goes on to live as a Christian because he expects to recieve all the benefits that flow from God's grace, through the cross of Jesus. He know sure hope and the joy of realizing Jesus has done everything he cannot do for himself.

These two people could well appear quite similiar on the outside... but could not be more different. The second is costly. It means confessing your sin and honestly vonfronting the fact that you can never be good enough for God and admitting that you are totally dependent on him and his grace. But it is the only way. And it is the joyful way.

Would you rather slavery, or freedom?


  1. 'doing works of the law' is such an unhelpful way of talking though. It is only a specific (centuries dead) breed of the more common problem of legalism (which is really what Marcus Honeysett is describing) and some other things. Besides, there are far more roots to 'joyless Christian legalism' which do not take the form he describes.

    In contrast the cross (and resurrection) is the only way to find joy. This makes me wonder if we are not being a bit reductionistic in placing them as the two opposing ways to live. I think Matthias Media is much closer to a balanced and deeper picture.

    The other unfortunate thing in the description Marcus Honeysett provides of joyless Christian living is the sinfulness of that which leads to it. As you posted some time ago no-one seeks God!

    I got a lot out of the half of Finding Joy that focused on the joy to be found in the cross. I found his description of joyless Christian living much less convincingly based in either the bible or experience.

    Phew... that was a rant.

  2. I'll grant that much legalism is not just doing law... and further that joyless christianity doesn't just come from legalism... to my mind the key is that we don't get joyful christianity without grace.

    What's the Matthias Media picture?

  3. Yes that is the key!

    But Marcus lines up grace as primarily the opposite of legalism. I think this unhelpful in a number of respects:

    1. There is an implication that if we did obey the whole law we would deserve something. This is implied because legalism is criticised on the basis that it presumes that you can meet the criteria – that you can be good. Better to criticise it because it makes God into an idol and does not accept our creatureliness (i.e. it makes us god, who owns the world).

    2. It also implies that the reason grace is good is because it means we can stop trying/struggling with holiness (because isn’t struggling with holiness a symptom of legalism which is the opposite of grace). Grace is good because we do not struggle or try hard enough and will not do so.

    3. Legalism is not the biggest threat to joyful Christian living in my experience. My biggest sources of sadness in my Christian life are my continual choosing sin over life. I am not sad because I am striving for God's approval and not reaching it. I know that is mine in Christ (and like most Christians take that for granted rather than doubt it – though not all granted). My sadness comes from worrying about the things of this world, and not trusting my creator. It comes neglecting others and then seeing how I hurt them. The way round this (I think) is to look to the future holiness bought by Christ, and trying to bring it into the present by doing the good works set before me.

    We so often think Jesus' main disagreement with the Pharisees were that they were trying to 'do the law' and that made them think they were due something. Jesus actually criticises them for not doing the law. Their biggest problem was not that they did not accept grace but that they thought it was their birthright. Marcus H would find very different things wrong with the Pharisees than Jesus did.

    Is suppose I would like the diagrams to be

    sin/rebellion -> joyless Christian living (death) :(

    the cross and resurrection -> joyful Christian living (the death of death, and new life) :)

    I think that sounds less clever but it is more well-rounded. That is how 2w2l describes how you can live your life (The MM picture).

    To round off yet another poorly written/thought out comment. 'works of the law' are just a small subset of sin. Of course that means that the diagrams are perfectly correct. However, the whole of Finding Joy treats the small subset as the whole of sin. Or at least the whole of the sins that besets the Christian.

    If you are only watching the left flank in a battle you will get overwhelmed by the right.

    In the meantime you find that Christianity has become defined as 'the opposite of legalism' and has lost its own identity and routing in the biblical story. You find CS Lewis saying to a gathering of various religious supporters that the Christianity is to be marked off by the concept of grace (which in the context means 'the opposite of legalism') rather than the God of grace.....

    I'm sorry I can't help rambling and I probably have only muddied the waters, not made them clearer. But if I don't respond today I probably won't get to for a while and you'll think me rude.

    Please tell me if you get what I am getting at – because I don’t!

  4. "The Pressure's Off" by Larry Crabb is a remarkable book that helped me to understand this topic better.

  5. James - thanks.

    Dave - agreed. Marcus is mostly responding to legalism, with his book. However I think you're right that the issue is not just that we pursue formal legalism but also that we pursue sin. I think there is much in the argument of Galatians 5 to support what you're saying.

    I find it interesting that Paul seems to align the affects pursuing law, gifts by law, Spirit by law, and also pursuing sin - as all leading to death.... as opposed to the Spirit-led life of cross-boasting that leads to life.

    I'm sure Marcus would agree that sin is a problem in the same way that legalism is. And perhaps more so.

    Since legalism is a form of sin just as indulging the sinful nature.... perhaps your diagram is more broadly helpful... but I wonder if it is still helpful to look at both separately and together....

    So some sin by legalism, other sin by license... but God would have us live by grace & the Spirit at the Cross....