I used to be mystified by Greg’s inhuman standard of “precision obedience”.
Charles and Greg,
Here is what I hear when Greg speaks of “precision obedience” —
1. Greg believes the progressive churches teach that obedience is not important. He gets that from our teaching on grace. Every time we say that “X error is forgiven and so not a barrier to unity,” Greg hears us teach, “We can do X because God will forgive it.”
2. Thus, I understand Greg to perceive himself, in contrast to the progressives, to be obeying the scriptures to the best of their abilities, whereas he perceives the progressives as engaging in license, that is, sinning in reliance on grace.
It’s a common mistake. You see, the key distinction between the two movements is the progressive understanding that grace does not allow you to intentionally sin (God forbid!) but that grace allows you to be in fellowship with those who honestly disagree.
Thus, if congregation X believes that instrumental music is a sin, and they use instrumental music in reliance on grace, they are in rebellion against God and their souls are in great jeopardy.
(Rom 14:23 ESV) 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
However, if congregation Y prayerfully concludes that instrumental music is not sin, and it turns out that they are mistaken so that their worship is sinful, they are not condemned by Romans 14:23. Rather, they are saved by grace.
Now, to someone raised in conservatism, this line of thinking can be uncomfortably subjective. It makes someone’s conscience matter far more than a confirmed conservative would want. Indeed, it’s often argued that “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” — as though the common law of England were the standard for such things.
No, God judges the heart.
(1Sa 16:7b ESV) “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
The conservative responds that such a theory rewards ignorance of God’s will. It looks like a loophole, because the conservative sees the world through legal eyes. He assumes people respond to God based on his laws, rather than his love.
But we, as parents, judge our children by their hearts. If a child tries to do right but errs, we forgive because we parents judge the heart as well as we can.
It is, you see, quite impossible for a child to take advantage of this grace that we naturally extend to those we love — because if she were to intentionally sin in reliance on our grace, she’d no longer be acting with a pure heart. Hence, there is no loophole at all. You cannot be penitent and simultaneously sin in reliance on grace.
Moreover, my child loves me, and since she loves me, I know that over time she’ll come to better understand me. An error I would easily tolerate in a three-year old might be outright rebellion coming from a nine-year old. But children mature at different rates, and there’s no way to make up laws and standards that govern such things. You see, it’s all about the heart.
And while a mortal parent can’t know his child’s heart perfectly, he can know her heart well enough to raise her well. God, however, knows our hearts perfectly, making it entirely impossible to fool him.
Children who love their parents will learn their parents’ will and become more and more obedient in fact, that is, objectively obedient. Subjective obedience — attempted obedience in error — becomes obedience in fact for those who love because those who love seek to learn the will of the person they love.
Thus, grace does not provide license to sin. It’s a false assumption that comes from thinking in terms of law rather than relationship — and forgetting that penitence is always required of God’s children.
And it misses the Spirit entirely. A century of denying the personal indwelling necessarily produces a theology with a huge gap. You see, it’s the Spirit who changes our hearts and minds so that we’ll be the children God wants.
It starts in Deuteronomy —
(Deu 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
The passages speaks of a time, after the Jews rebel against God, when God will restore his Kingdom. The prophets spoke about the fulfillment of this passage.
(Eze 36:25-27 ESV) 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
(Jer 24:7 ESV) 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
Notice the recurring theme: God himself will change the hearts of his people to return to him — and this will happen with the giving of God’s Spirit. This is at the very heart of Christianity! It’s Acts 2 and baptism. Which is why Hebrews 8 – 10 is a lesson built on —
(Jer 31:33-34 ESV) 33 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Again, the theme is God’s action within his people to change their hearts, but now it’s also about a covenant and about God’s law. God’s people won’t write God’s laws on their own hearts by diligent work. No, God himself will write his law on their hearts!
Paul also picks up on this theme —
(Rom 2:29 ESV) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul is more explicit than even Jeremiah. Our hearts will circumcised (conformed to God’s will, softened) “by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The letter is inadequate because we humans can’t sort it out all by ourselves. We can’t transform our own hearts — not nearly well enough.
But this also means that the laws that matter most, the ones so important that God began talking about them 3,500 years ago, are the ones that God writes on our hearts — not necessarily the ones that handed down by the preacher schools, academies, and periodicals.
(2Co 3:17-1 ESV) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
What does God do in our hearts through his Spirit? Well, he transforms us into the image of Jesus. What is the law that God writes on our hearts? Jesus.
Jesus the physically circumcised? Jesus who kept kosher? Jesus who honored the Torah scrupulously? Is that the law written on our hearts? No, it’s Jesus on the cross.
(John 13:34-35 ESV) 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(Rom 13:8 ESV) 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
(Gal 5:13-14 ESV) 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(1Jo 3:16 ESV) 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
You see, by the Spirit, those who have faith find their hearts transformed to love as Christ loved. And those who love as Christ loved obey precisely. He’s the standard.
They don’t engage in license, relying of grace to sin (which damns) but instead seek God with all their hearts.
They may disagree about how to conduct a worship service, but they all agree that Jesus is Lord, the Son of the Living God, and they all strive to love as Jesus loved them — sacrificially.
And that accomplishes God’s purposes. God did not send Jesus to impose an order of worship on Sunday mornings. He sent Jesus to transform the hearts of God’s people to become like Jesus — because it’s only with God-transformed hearts that precise obedience is possible.
(Phi 2:12-13 ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Eph 5:2 ESV) 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.