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Thu May 23, 2013
by Justin Holcomb
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by Mark Driscoll
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by Justin Holcomb
Get To Work vs. It Is Finished
The Heart of the Gospel
The utter uniqueness of the Christian message—the heart of the gospel—is found in the three words of Christ from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Every single other religious message, without exception, is predicated on some variation of another three words that stand starkly opposed to the gospel’s three words. Religion’s three words are: “Get to work.” This is the heart of the bad news behind every approach to spirituality, enlightenment, or salvation that is not Christian.
Most Christians see this quite readily when it is pointed out. What is more difficult to see is when the gospel’s three words become supplanted by religion’s three words within the church. The edging out of gospel by religion is not just a problem for the world. It is a problem we face “in house.”
An “In House” Problem
The book of Galatians is probably the best biblical case study for this phenomenon. A group called the Judaizers was troubling the fledgling Gentile believers of the Galatian churches by adding elements of the Jewish Law—most notably, circumcision—to the qualifications for saving righteousness. In essence, by requiring religious works for entry to God’s saving graces, they had obliterated the meaning of grace itself, provoking Paul’s anger at the false teachers and exasperation with the deceived students.
What stands as a warning to us modern readers of the New Testament is how easily, how plausibly, and how effectively the Judaizers were able to accomplish the planting of a false gospel. We are not smarter than the Galatians. We are not more enlightened. The gospel Paul delivered to them is the same one that saves us today, and we are just as much in danger of “muddling grace and law,” to quote Martin Luther, and thereby “eliminating the gospel of Christ entirely.”
Muddling Grace and Law in Sanctification
Nearly every evangelical Christian would affirm, if they couldn’t express, that Christians are saved by God’s grace through their faith in Jesus Christ, apart from their own good works. But the place we most often see the muddling of grace and law is in the area of sanctification.
The implicit idea seems to be that the gospel is our entry ticket, but law keeps us in line for the ride. But this belief, Luther says, is “As though Christ were a workman who had begun a building and left it for Moses to finish.” With the authority of the God of the universe, Paul has this to say about such a concept in Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
No, what the Christian church needs today in its imperfect fumbling back to the beauty of gospel-centrality is a stubborn un-muddling of law and grace. We cannot continue to treat the gospel as if it is the power of God for a conversion experience and not for total life transformation. Sanctification and justification are “events” in the golden chain of salvation, sure, but both are equally powered by the gospel of grace.
The Gospel Empowers Its Implications
Are Christians commanded to obey? Yes. Are there demands upon our life in service of God’s kingdom? Yes. And the enduring law of commandments, which is good, provides our blueprint for what life built in worship of God looks like. But the law itself is not able to supply what it demands. The law will not change a heart; the law will not cure the idolatry at the root of every disobedience. This is why, for instance, Paul says to Titus that it is the grace of God that “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:11-12).
The gospel empowers its own implications.
It Is Finished
As long as we are clinging to “Get to work,” we will live powerless lives. We can no more wring life-change out of religion than we could orange juice from an apple. But if we cling to that cross, remaining aware of our own powerlessness and desperately trusting in “It is finished,” we will find the power and peace to worshipfully work in freedom and with joy.
Tullian Tchvidjian expresses it this way: “Imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities . . . Gospel obligations must be based on gospel declarations.”
We will not experience freedom in religion’s three words. “Get to work” doesn’t work. We must be set free by the gospel’s three words first: “It is finished.”
John Bunyan heralds the gospel of sanctification sweetly with this bit of verse:
Run, John, run. The law commands
But gives neither feet nor hands.
Better news the gospel brings;
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
A variation of this text will appear in Jared Wilson's book Gospel Wakefulness: Treasuring Christ and Savoring His Power, forthcoming from Crossway in 2011.