The Gospel + Something Else = Wrong Answer

In the spring of 1989 I plunged head first into the Greek system at Wake Forest University by joining a fraternity. True to what you may have been led to believe on TV or in books, many fraternities indeed ARE as crazy as you think, and my fraternity was on that list. Not all the fun that we had was destructive and evil - I have some really great memories and still keep up with some pretty awesome guys - but for the most part debauchery was the primary goal.

Now as a kid raised in a conservative Southern Baptist church, hedonism and Sunday school don't mix together too well. I knew all too well the lessons from the Bible and the truth that lay behind them, yet they were not enough to keep me from wanting to run to the dark side for a time and enjoy all of it's guilty pleasures. Was I properly taught the Scriptures? If I were truly saved, would I have gone down this wayward path? What went wrong?

You see, the Bible teaching that I received growing up was first rate and I would not trade it for the world. The problem that I encountered from many well-meaning Christians - and what many in Christian culture face as well - were all the "extras" that get pinned on the message of the gospel. Unlike the bonus features on a DVD or the hidden scene at the end of a the movie credits, these extras do not allow us to understand the greater extent of the gospel. In fact, they usually push us farther away.

The apostle Paul lived and ministered during a time when Christianity was beginning to explode in the Jewish and Gentile world in Asia Minor (the region including modern day Turkey). As he traveled throughout those countries, Paul would plant and oversee dozens of churches which were filled with new Christians, many of whom came from Jewish backgrounds. It was difficult for those new believers at times to forget all of the rituals and rules that they had to obey when they were followers of Judaism, and it was especially challenging for these new followers of Christ to believe that they no longer had to rely on the Jewish law for their salvation.

In his letters to the believers in Galatia and Colossae, Paul saw the need to address the issue that many were holding to: In order to be a Christian, you had to have the gospel + something else. For those churches that Paul was investing in, they had fallen into the trap that this "something else" they had to abide by was the ritual of circumcision. If they were to be considered true Christians then they MUST be circumcised. We often do the same thing today, although I'm glad it's not circumcision!

You fill in the blank with whatever "something else" you've been told that you have to do in order to be a "proper" Christian: Wear a coat and tie on Sunday, read a certain version of the Bible, avoid alcohol at all costs, sing to a certain type of music in worship, etc. Do you see how reckless and foolish this is? What if you fail at one of these? Does that mean you are aren't truly saved? Let me tell you why this perspective is truly dangerous: When we try to add anything to the gospel, then we are essentially telling Jesus that His cross was not enough. There has to be something that WE add to it in order to make our salvation secure. How ridiculous! How arrogant!

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul addresses this issue head-on:
Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore stand firm and don't submit again to a yoke of slavery...For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love...For you were called to freedom, brothers; only don't use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. (Galatians 5:1, 6, 13)
The gospel + something else is always the wrong answer. It's slavery because it adds to the gospel the impossibility that you have something that you can bring to bolster what Jesus did on the cross. In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul gives us this stern warning:
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Those people who try to be part of our spiritual upbringing by adding extra rules and regulations mean well but all they do is blur the lines between holiness and legalism. During my fraternity days I found that I could not live up to all of the extra spiritual expectations put on me by many well-meaning men and women, so I quit trying. It wasn't until a college pastor from my home church offered to walk alongside of me and extend to me a fresh perspective of God's grace that I began to walk out of darkness of that spiritual jungle.

The gospel is all that we need. If there was anything else that we had to bring to the table, then Jesus would not have bothered to go to the cross. And while almost every single Christian that I know believes this, most still live as if all those "extras" are essential if they are to be accepted by God. Indeed we are called to live holy and pure lives, not so that we can strengthen the salvation we have in Christ but rather as an expression of love and obedience to the One who has saved us.


scott said...

Excellent Sterling. WOW but for God's grace and mercy. He definitely worked in you.(Pun intended my friend.) Sad that as you said that most Christians with good intentions still just don't get it. Ray Blount wrote that when we mix the "law" or legalism with the gospel "grace" we often call these 2nd or 3 rd tier issues. He further suggests that it is actually heresy because just like you said we are adding to what Christ accomplished on the cross. Its Christ ONLY plus NOTHING.
Thanks for the great thoughts.

Sterling Griggs said...

Scott, I'll gladly take that :)

The honest hypocrite

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