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Late-Night Legalism

Just how well does one have to keep God's law in order to be saved?
Is, say, 95 percent good enough?
Or does one have to be perfect?


One night recently I couldn't sleep, and after an hour or so of tossing and turning, T got up and went to the kitchen. I stared into the fridge for a minute or so, then stared into the freezer for a while and finally into the food cupboard, and then started over, At last, sometime during the third or fourth survey 6f the fridge, I pulled some leftover meatloaf from behind the milk, made myself a sand witch and went to see if anything good might be on TV at 2 o'clock in the morning.

Flipping through the channels I ran past a Star Trek rerun, an old M.A.S.H. episode and a Steam Buggy infomercial. Then I came upon a bespectacled, white-haired preacher who, with furled brow, was pointing threateningly and warning his listeners with an air of authority that they had better "wake up" and start "keeping God's law," including, he emphasized, "God's holy Sabbath day," or they would not be in God's kingdom.

He was scary. He had a string of verses lined up, right out of the Bible, that sounded like God was mad at just about everybody, and that the only way out of the horrible mess we've gotten ourselves into is to "repent" and "start keeping God's law."

"Oh, you've heard that it's just by faith, but that is not true," he said. "All those preachers are just preaching an empty faith, without meaning. God will not save you if you are not keeping his law."

Just what does this preacher count as "keeping God's law," I wondered. Does he really mean what he says? Does he mean that even one sin will doom you to hell, regardless of your faith? Just how well does one have to keep God's law in order to be saved? Is, say, 95 percent good enough? Or does one have to be perfect?

To be fair, he finally admitted that nobody can keep God's law perfectly, "at least not on our own," but with Christ in us keeping the law, he said, we can. I felt sick. This finger waving, professing prophet was telling people that if Christ lives in them, then not only can they keep the law of God perfectly, but they must, or they will assuredly not be saved.

Wait a minute.

I would like to point out that no Christian, not even the sober-faced, stone-jawed preacher on the TV screen or the apostle Paul himself, has ever, EVER, finally gotten to the place, even with Christ living in them, that they no longer sinned.

I am baffled as to why the Law Brigade has never seemed to notice that. Or maybe they have, but quickly put it out of their minds, since it doesn't fit their tidy view of how salvation works. Or maybe it's never occurred to them, and they really do believe, that somewhere, somehow, somebody finally, at last, with the Spirit's help, actually overcame all sin, became perfect and died without ever sinning again.


Only in Christ

The gospel teaches us that "because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5). The righteous us-the sanctified us, the perfect us-is a miracle of grace performed by God in Christ. That perfect us is "hidden with God in Christ" and won't be seen by us or anyone else until Christ comes back (Colossians 3:2-3). We do not get perfect in this life by trying really hard, by setting goals for overcoming, by following Preacher Fear monger's seven-point program or any other form of Christian work, jargon or platitude.

We are accounted righteous by God for the sake of Jesus Christ-and Jesus Christ alone and that is only because God is holy and good and full of grace and loves us and did it, period (Colossians 1:19-20). That's why we trust our salvation to him alone and not to the latest overcoming model. With a sense of peace, I went back to bed and fell fast asleep.