When We Minimize Obedience, We Promote Lawlessness
The Bible says that "without vision…people perish." Steve Gallagher and Mike Johnston talk about a similarly destructive trend in today's Church--a minimization of the need to obey God.
Pastor Steve, one thing you discuss in your book Intoxicated with Babylon is the difference between genuine and false faith, and you begin this discussion by describing two conflicting messages in today's church. What are these two messages?
There is a cry, I believe, going out from sober and godly people who understand how the spirit of the world has infiltrated the church and how it's affecting people's lives. They are passionate about the need for Christians to return to holy living. It's like a refreshing call to repentance and holiness going out from some. But unfortunately, there is another voice that is so loud and so dominating in Christian circles that it really smothers out the first voice, and basically, the message that they are propagating is this: "You don't have to be holy. You don't have to obey God. You can basically live how you want to live. As long as you go to church and just follow some basic outward rules, you don't have to get yourself in a strain about living a holy life. That's what grace is there for. If you have few little sins in your life, don't be too concerned about it. God loves you, and His grace will cover it all."
There is a kernel of truth to this message of grace you're describing. So would you say that the problem is one of overemphasis
That's exactly what it is. Of course, we appreciate God's grace, and it does cover us in our lapses. But his grace is meant for sincere believers. We're talking about a holy God, and He does not wink at sin. Paul said, "God is not mocked." And the message here is basically that you can live for yourself, that you can live selfishly, that you can live a worldly, carnal and even a sinful life...and none of that really matters because God's grace is going to cover you no matter what. And this just simply not in Scripture.
You mentioned Paul's writings. Didn't Paul warn us about this kind of teaching becoming common in the last days?
Yes, he did. In one of his passages of Scripture where he started referring to what Christianity was going to look like in the end times, he gave Timothy what has become a famous warning—that the time would come when "they will not endure sound doctrine." Why not? Because they "want to have their ears tickled." And so, therefore, they will "accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires," and they will turn away from the truth (2 Timothy 4:3). And that's exactly what we see happening in America today.
If you look at the American church today, it seems like we think we can do whatever we want without any consequences. Is that where this false teaching has brought us?
Let me take it a step backwards. Our prosperity has affected us. There's a reason Jesus warned about the "deceitfulness of riches" (Mark 4:19). We have become accustomed to a certain type of lifestyle, and that lifestyle is very much to please the flesh. So what has happened is that there's been a subtle change in Christianity over the last forty years. We started with Christianity being Christ-centered and revolving around a sovereign and holy God—the Almighty. We had a huge perspective of the Lord forty years ago. And little by little, that has been withered away by this selfish desire for worldly living, until now, by and large, the Christian faith in the United States has become man-centered. Richard Baxter, an old Puritan, encapsulated what I'm talking about when he said, "As much as God desires the salvation of men, he will not prostitute heaven and set the gates of it wide open to those who only fly to it in extremity but never sought it in good earnest, nor indeed do now care for it or desire it for any other reason but to excuse them from going to hell."
You're talking about our need to do more in order to seek God. But someone might ask, "Wait a minute. Are you talking about works? I thought we were saved by grace?" What's your response?
Yes, that is very true. We are only saved by grace and by putting our faith in Jesus Christ. But James makes the point that if there is true saving faith, there is going to be works accompanying that faith. And if there are no works, then it's a good sign that there is no true, saving faith. And so it seems like a contradiction with all that Paul says about works. But actually, there is no contradiction. Because when Paul is saying that we are not saved by works, he is referring to the Jewish system of trying to earn your salvation through works. If I could put it this way, what we're talking about is before and after conversion. If you have not been converted and you are trying to earn your way to heaven, you will never do it. You will never make it there. But if you have truly been converted, then there is going to be proof of that conversion in the way that you live your life. So there really is no conflict between what James is saying and what Paul said.
In Intoxicated with Babylon, you give three proofs of true conversion. What are they
These are three of many proofs of conversion, but they are maybe some of the bigger issues.
One proof is a continual growth in obedience to God. We begin this Christian life as spiritual babies, and of course, at first, God gives us a lot of latitude for mistakes and sin issues that are still hanging on our lives—the struggles we have to work through, and so on. The Lord understands. But he expects growth, and for a person that has truly been saved, there's going to be that growth, because Jesus Christ is living within.
Another proof of genuine conversion is the development of an eternal perspective. The genuine believer is just simply going to have eternity in the back of his mind. It's going to shape his worldview and the way the sees the rest of his life. He's going to have eternal values in the equation. What many so-called Christians do is live with a temporal, earthly mindset, and that makes me wonder whether they have really been converted.
The last characteristic that I mention in the book is love. Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). And here, again, the temptation is to take a superficial perspective of what love is: "I'm a nice guy, and I love people." But that's not the fiery love of Jesus Christ that burns through a real Christian's heart. That kind of love causes you to get out of yourself and meet the needs of other people in one fashion or another. So a true love that compels you to see the needs of others and to help other people is a sign of healthy Christianity.
Now let's take a quick look at dead faith. Why is "self-will" one of the things you mention as a sign of dead faith?
Because it's very easy to just do the "church thing"—you know, the evangelical thing—and to really keep God at arms length, where you refuse to submit yourself to His authority and His lordship. When that's not happening, we need to examine ourselves and determine, "Why? Why has there been no true spiritual growth?" That's a very pointed question that we all should consider.
If someone considering these things doesn't see evidence of genuine, saving faith in their life, what should they do?
If there is reason to doubt whether or not you have truly been converted, there is only one thing to do, and that is to get on your face before God, to begin to cry out earnestly for the Holy Spirit to make Himself real to you, to repent of your sins, to repent of your self-will and your worldliness—anything that you have allowed to get between you and God—and to refuse to get up, so to speak, until the assurance has come to you that you are a child of God. And then, you can go forth with the confidence of knowing that you have crossed that line, and that you belong to Jesus Christ.
This excerpt is from our podcast episode, "The Church Addicted: When We Stopped Caring About Obedience” Episode #348.
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