After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
—John 5:1-15 ESV
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
—John 8:2-11 ESV
There are two courses that the Church of Jesus Christ can take into a ditch as she travels along the narrow road. Those two erroneous paths are prevalent in the Church today. Sadly, as our culture diverges into warring camps, those who adhere to one or the other of these viewpoints are tossing increasing amounts of vitriolic rhetoric over each other’s ivory tower walls much the same way that warring armies would catapult anthrax-ridden livestock into impregnable fortresses. Suffice it to say, it’s not a happy day when your front yard is on the receiving end of what’s left of Farmer Eli’s mad cow.
I highlight the above two passages (the John 5 text being one of my all-time favorites), because true disciples of Christ cannot fall into either camp. That sinking feeling I get in my gut comes from watching folks stumble over John’s writing here without a second glance. No two passages illustrate the problem better than these.
The portion of both passages highlighted in blue italics is what you hear from a lot of Emerging Church folks, many of the hopelessly liberalized mainstream denominations, and all the “sensitive” Christians out there. Theirs is the rainbow at the end of the storm. It’s a message of grace. There is no finer message. If there were no grace in the Gospel, then it would be stripped of its very heart.
The portion of both passages highlighted in red italics is what you hear from many Christians who do a great job pointing out where people are wrong. They’ve got an eye for anything out of place. They are the modern oracles of God’s holiness and they want everyone to know that God cannot tolerate sin. There is no finer message. If there were no holiness in the Gospel, then it would be stripped of its very heart.
Where both sides err is that they believe that their particular emphasis is all there is. Sure, they say that’s not what they’re about, but some people see through the PR. Their tunnel vision is the perfect prescription for steering people into the ditches on either side of the narrow path. You can’t finish the race if someone knocks you into the stands or shoves you onto the track infield. Yet both these common approaches do just that.
A person can’t experience the grace of Jesus and go on living an unchanged life. If someone who claims to love the Lord and has experienced His grace can’t stop acting like the Marquis de Sade’s favorite nephew, then something’s wrong. Likewise, laboring under a checklist of do’s and dont’s without grace will effectively kill most people’s love for Christ deader than dead. It may not be immediate, but it will come eventually—as will a completely haughty attitude of “us” vs. “them.” And we all know who “them” is.
You can’t make blue and red distinctions, yet the Church is rife with folks who want to read only the blue part and skip the red, or vice versa. Christ asks us to bestow grace on them who know no grace and to warn of the dire penalties for ignoring holiness. That’s exactly what He says here in John 5 and 8. Anything less is not the Gospel.
No one is claiming it’s easy, but incorporating both colors in our doctrine and lifestyle is the only way to stay out of the two ditches and on the road that leads to life.
7 thoughts on “Two Paths Into a Ditch”
My perspective is small, but I share from it. I am part of a church that says it is going “emergent”. I can see that the emphasis is clearly on grace. God’s judgment is not laid aside, but is talked about in ways that are nontraditional, nevertheless still real.
For example they talk about God letting us suffer the consequences of having our own way.
I do agree however, that from what I’ve seen in emergent, there does seem to be some teeth missing from passages such as the ones you quoted.
They certainly believe in the “go and sin no more” message. It is more a problem of application I suppose.
We do have to cut people slack, however grace is not just accepting people where they are at, but also praying and working to see that they are saved from themselves and to God and his good will.
Excellent insight, Dan.
Well, you know that I am going to agree with you here as I have written so much on this topic, that I have probably alienated most of my regular readers.
We indeed have two polls of error in the church: the camp that stretches grace to the exclusion of practicing any obedience and the other that has eliminated grace for sake of obedience. Both are equally deadly, and both are those that the evil one is perfectly content to allow us to commit, as long as our eyes are off the Lord Jesus. Great post.
I’m glad you’re continuing to write on this subject. A voice of reason really needs to be heard. There’s this sort of false dichotomy being set up between emergents and traditional evangelicals/fundamentalists which has led to too many people being caught up in choosing a side and criticizing the other than to listening to each other. (Kind of like politics.)
People can rightly criticize some of the emergent church for being too wishy-washy, but emergent folks are also asking some very important questions that should not be dismissed. I really think the excessively critical attitudes stem from people being either too insecure or too arrogant in their faith.
I’ve just recently discovered your blog and really enjoy your posts. I think you have hit this one right on the head.
I was listening to an old sermon by my pastor today while driving to work and he was addressing this very issue. He used the great commandment as an illustration of this point that I really liked. The people who fall off to the side of the Law with no grace, love God, but they don’t care about people. The people who fall off to the side of grace without holding people to account for sin, love people but don’t worry about offending God. As you point out the true gospel requires both.
Keep spreading the word, and may the whole church continue to grow into the full ministry of Jesus, through His grace.
Grace and judgment (or, should I say, conviction of sin) can be discussed as if they have nothing to do with one another. In practice, in believers, they cannot be separated.
We all face (or faced) judgment. The only way out of it is by grace. Every day. The Holy Spirit is in our lives every moment of every day bringing conviction of sin and judgment (John 9:39, and yes, I know this is out of context. But if this is what He does and I have Him in me, is anyone going to make the argument that He does not speak conviction of sin to me, a believer?).
If I emphasize grace at the expense of judgment, I am rejecting the on-going work of the Holy Spirit in my life. If I emphasize judgment (and conviction of sin) at the expense of grace, I am rejecting the atoning work of Jesus on the cross.
Each day there is conviction of sin and every day there is grace.
I need to open myself up every day to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. And I need to open myself up everyday to His work of reminding me of grace.