“Fear and False Doctrine”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
As nearly every preacher with a brain has observed, the response to false doctrine too often is itself false doctrine. Just because Johann Tetzel promised works-based salvation through the sale of indulgences does not mean that you should conclude that salvation is by faith alone, without any human interaction. Instead, the Scriptures commonly call us to more nuanced convictions that hold two paradoxical truths in tension.
Consider, for instance, opposition among brethren to the Calvinist doctrine of eternal security, also known as perseverance of the saints, the P in TULIP. Countless sermons have been preached (by me, among many others) examining the passages that show that falling away is indeed possible. Hebrews 6:4-8, holla!
So far, so true. However, in focusing on the passages that highlight the holes in Calvinism, we have not paid equal attention to the passages that Calvinists like to use, which are no less true than Hebrews 6. They interfere with the clarity of the message we want to promote, so rather than explaining them, we explain them away. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith BUT WE STILL HAVE TO BE BAPTIZED. Yes, no one can snatch us out of the hand of Jesus BUT WE CAN STILL FALL AWAY.
It certainly is true that we must be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins and that we must live faithfully thereafter. However, a distorted emphasis on those truths at the expense of others leads us to a distorted view of our own salvation and our relationship with God.
This view maximizes the importance of right action and minimizes grace and the mercy of God. No longer is He a God who longs to have compassion on us, who lavishes on us the riches of His grace. Instead, He becomes a God who is a spiritual miser.
He yields His grace reluctantly, always asking, “Can’t you do better?” He watches our spiritual journey with gimlet eyes, and as soon as we set a toe over the line (“Even now it may be that the line you have crossed!”), wham! Down comes the executioner’s axe! Severed from Christ, fallen from grace, toast.
The spiritual and emotional consequences of this distortion are profound. I know brethren who are wonderful A-list Christians yet nonetheless spend their lives staggering under the weight of fear and guilt. “What if I haven’t done enough?” they ask.
They sense, correctly, that they haven’t done enough. No one has or ever will. The problem is that they’re looking for justification in the wrong place. Our sufficiency is not in ourselves. It is in Christ. We are not reliable, but He is, and because He is, we can contemplate the future with confidence and hope.
Rather than being so concerned about defeating false doctrine, we instead should open our mind to the full truth of the word. Yes, it contains warnings, and those should concern us. However, it also contains promises, and from those we should take great comfort.