I recently watched an excellent sermon on Gospel-driven sanctfication from one of my favorite pastors, Matt Chandler of the Village Church in the Dallas area. During his address to the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference this year [see the full message here: http://fm.thevillagechurch.net/blog/pastors/?p=691 ], he quoted one of my favorite theologians, D.A. Carson:
“People do not drift towards holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate towards godliness, prayer, and obedience. They do not gravitate towards the Scriptures, towards faith, or delight in the Lord. We instead drift towards compromise and call it tolerance. We drift towards disobedience and call it freedom. We drift towards superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation. We slouch towards prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking that we have escaped legalism. We slide towards godlessness and convince ourselves that we have been liberated.”
– D.A. Carson (“For the Love of God” vol. 2)
This quote is haunting to me on a couple of levels – first, it is a scarily accurate depiction of my own heart; second, it is an indictment on the culture and faith that I celebrate and want to bring many others into.
What Carson is getting at, I believe, is the prideful anti-legalistic mindset of many in my own generation. Our parents and grandparents had Sunday School and strict Bible study guidelines, therefore we will abolish Sunday School and have ‘organic’ conversations about Scripture or our favorite podcast or Christian book rather than drive our minds to study Scripture itself. In doing so, we have lost the gumption and courage that it takes to continually war against our flesh and pursue heavenly goals.
To be sure, we have been liberated from sin, death, eternal judgment and suffering, and God’s wrath. But this doesn’t mean that we can traipse along without any care or affection for Christ or his Word. As a side note, merely professing a love for those things without following them up with action cannot and does not suffice – join me in repentance if you’ve seen that disconnect in your life. We have been liberated, which doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want and God will still receive us because he has to. Rather, we have been redeemed and we now have the privilege of knowing the living God, worshiping him, communing with him, and spending our lives serving him. Our license is not to sin, but to worship a God who has received us into his family.
We must be careful, however, to not overreact to this for the sake of reaction itself. We must not slide into the legalistic mindset of “well if this is what I’m prone to not do, then I will set my every faculty to do it.” In other words, we must not become intolerant in order to avoid compromise or syncretism. We must not drive ourselves to heartless effort so as to combat laziness and/or a lack of discipline.
Rather, the appropriate response to this penetrating insight is to first acknowledge the truth of our hearts, to repent to our Lord, and to see that our desire to know him is a grace in an of itself. Not only has God paid our sin debt and redeemed us for himself, but he has also given us the grace to desire to know him. Let us then put our minds to studying our own affections and rhythms, and how they affect our relationship with God. Where are you weak? Where are you strong? What cultivates your affections for God and puts your mind on heavenly things? What distracts you from thinking about eternity and spiritual things? With what does your heart resonate, and what leads you to spontaneous worship? Then let us finally turn our minds to those things which drive us Christ-ward and either redeem or leave those things which pull our hearts away from him. These will be different for each person, and we must not be legalistic in our pursuit of them, but we must exert ourselves under the banner of God’s grace.
For me, this will look like experiencing nature (seeing mountains, watching animals, etc.), early mornings with strong coffee and deep Scriptures (Ecclesiastes, Hebrews, Romans), and mutually sharpening Gospel-centered conversations. For you it may look very different, or somewhat similar. Whatever the case may be, study yourself and pursue your God.
Respond with me and let us follow our King with this grace-driven effort – the passionate pursuit of God by the power of the Holy Spirit through the grace of Christ Jesus according to the Scriptures.