Free to Screw Up?
Just six days ago a young woman stood before me clutching her Bible and smiling broadly. I’m pretty sure that tears of joy were filling her eyes, but the lack of slumber and saturation of coffee may have caused my mind to imagine things that weren’t actually there. In any case what I am sure of are the words that came pouring from her grin laden mouth: “I get it now… I am free to screw up.”
The title of this blog and the assertion of this young women have very differing affects on the whole of Christianity. The fundy fellows, of which I was once a part, would rise quickly to squash the joy in our sister and remind her that she must never, ever, EVER think that way. We are free to follow Christ, (though for some that freedom is the very anti-thesis of the definition of the word) not free to screw up. For a whole separate battalion of Christians the phrase from our sister would be seen as anti-nomian (against the law) liberation and they would wrap their arms of misunderstood grace about her shoulders and lead her to lawlessness. I nor she are advocating either.
We had just spent three weeks marching through the apostle Paul’s diatribe exposing the nasty nature of the human heart. Each week Paul went further until, as we identified last Sunday, he comes out like the little girl in the famed tale The Emperor’s New Clothes and heralds to all of humanity, “Your supposed robes of self-righteous…they don’t exist! You are naked. You don’t have any hope in yourself. STOP clinging to illusion. All you need is need. All you must have is nothing.” The point of Romans 1:18 through 3:20 is to drag all people kicking and screaming to see the universality of sin and the utter helplessness of humanity to remedy the situation. There is very little hope expressly stated in this onslaught against humanity, though the passage in context reflects back to chapter 1:16-17 and points forward to 3:21-26 (the passage we’ll be tackling at BLDG 28 this coming Sunday). However, each of the past three Sundays as we have wrapped down these “outing us” texts I have pointed folks to the hope that is found is God’s covenantal love for His people and His sovereign grace that pardons and promotes us.
The young lady that came to me Sunday is newer to the faith but is beginning to understand the gravity of Romans 3:20 where Paul declares: “by the works of the law no flesh will be justified.” Modern translation for a new believer: I thought Christianity was all about rules but it’s not. It’s all about Jesus and He covers me with His blood declaring me right. Therefore, I don’t have to live in condemnation trying to be “good enough” because Jesus is better than good enough and has been better than good enough on my account. So I get to live for Him.
Ok, so maybe she didn’t say all of that; but she did follow up her initial statement with the clarification: “I mean, I know I shouldn’t screw up because I want to please him, but…” she paused, “this is so freeing.” Then she rattled off a list of vices that she had relinquished because she loves Jesus.
I’ll attempt to be really clear (cause I know some folks are just waiting to torch the anti-nomian tattooed pastor): the Gospel is not liberation to “screw up” without thought to how this offends God (and it was pretty clear to me that this is not what she was saying). The Gospel, rather, is liberation from the requirements of the law because Jesus took our sin, absorbed God’s wrath, and wiped our slates clean. Therefore, when I sin, which let’s be honest, will happen (and that doesn’t make it ok), my sin is not credited to me thereby condemning me before God. Instead, my sin that I commit today, and the sin I commit tomorrow has already been credited to Christ “who became sin so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This alien righteousness is mine through Christ by faith alone. Many protestants today pride themselves on embracing intellectually and theoretically the doctrine of Justification by grace alone through faith alone; but it is far different to believe this truth doctrinally than it is to believe it practically. The young lady on Sunday was simply attesting to the reality that so many pastors and theologians claim today – justification is more than a dusty doctrine…it is the motive for sanctification (living for Jesus).
In a letter to his friend and colleague Philip Melancthon, the German Reformer Martin Luther wrote: “If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” Luther was not saying that we should possess a brazen nature to sin to our hearts’ satisfaction. Rather, He was saying to his pal that sin separates us from God until Jesus steps in, and that no manner of sinning less is going to aid in the bold Christ-accomplishing work of Justification.
So, should we keep on sinning crazily because grace has relieved us of eternal consequence. “Heck no!” Paul says (my paraphrase) in Romans 6:1. We live out of the reality of Christ obeying the commands of Scripture because Jesus is better (not to remain uncondemned). Are we “free to screw up,” though, in the sense of realizing that this journey began and will find resolution in Christ and nothing will be held against the children of God (because it’s already been held against Jesus). Most definitely. Our hope is not in the perfection of our conduct but in the accomplishment of His cross. Therefore, let’s live not from our guilt but from His grace.