My Reformed friends dislike that I refuse to emphasize any law but Christ's Royal Law of love (see James 2:8) and that I resist any recognition of spiritual authority in the life of a believer other than Christ's authority. A few of my Reformed pastor friends seem to want to force service to God and the institutional church through exerting their perceived spiritual authority. As a result, you wind up with people who feel obligated to do what they do. I am not Reformed. I believe when the Holy Spirit motivates and empowers His people, Christians will serve freely, cheerfully, and generously with nothing expected in return from God. The Spirit doesn't need me to motivate God's people through guilt, and God's people will only truly be motivated by a comprehension of God's love, not fear. Christ does a good job of building His kingdom, and He came to set His people free from bondage. But it seems Christians finding freedom fosters fear in Reformed people like water fosters fear in cats.
The one thing all Reformed churches and people seem to have in common is an emphasis on law. Reformed leaders feel it necessary to keep their people obedient to a set of laws. Though the laws change from church to church, many Reformed leaders make the mistake of confusing their institutional desires with God's desires. Therefore, giving to the church becomes giving to God's kingdom; serving the church becomes serving God's kingdom; questioning the pastor becomes questioning God's king on earth, etc...
Why is there so much emphasis by Reformed people on the law? I believe one of the reasons is due to a longstanding misinterpretation of New Testament passages that seem to speak of God 'judging the works' of every individual, including Christians. For example, Romans 2:5-8 (NAS) says:
(5) Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (6) who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: (7) to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, (He will give) eternal life; (8) but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey righteousness, (He will give) wrath and indignation.Most Reformed leaders (Arminian and Calvinistic) believe the above passage teaches:
(1). Every person, including Christians, will be judged for the deeds done in this life.
(2). Those who do good will be rewarded by God with honor, glory and eternal life.
(3). Those who have been selfish and disobedient will be given wrath and indignation.
(4). Therefore, it is important for those in spiritual authority to keep people obedient.
This interpretation of Romans 2:5-8 is full of error in my opinion, and I'm not the only one who thinks this way. For example, the great New Testament scholar Henry Alford (1810-1871) writes in his brilliant commentary on Romans that "the Apostle is speaking of the general system of God in governing the world--punishing the evil, rewarding the righteous--but no question at present arises as to how this righteousness is to be obtained."
I believe Romans 2 is addressing sinners in general. I don't for a moment believe that Romans 2 is referring to judgment for sinners who are in Christ by grace through faith. God deems those in Christ perfectly righteous (see II Corinthians 5:21).
In Romans 2 Paul is slowly and methodically building an argument that the good and loving Creator measures a human being's works in this life for the purpose of reward or just punishment. Even those without the Law of Moses know by nature that they are to love their Creator and other people and that they are to do good. God gives reward for persistent, continual good works that are done with right motives (life eternal), but He gives a holy sentence of impartial judgment for a life of selfish disobedience. The final judgment before God is a judgment of one's works in this life. In the very next chapter, Romans 3, Paul draws his argument to a conclusion:
There is no one who is righteous - See Romans 3:10
There is no one who is obedient - see Romans 3:11.
There is no one who is good - see Romans 3:12.
I often hear well-meaning Christians say that at the final judgment, God will judge whether or not people received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are wrong. The final judgment is about one's works in this life. Does a person live persistently and continually in an unselfish manner and do good for others with the motive of bringing glory to God. If so, they are rewarded with eternal life. But who does that? Answer: Nobody. What are the consequences for not living this kind of good life? Everybody receives a righteous and impartial sentence of judgment from a Creator who purposed that the people He created were to live a life of goodness and love.
Every single person is without excuse.
I often hear well-meaning Christians say, "But what about that person who never hears about Jesus? How can God judge them? They didn't have a chance?"
When I hear Christians say the above, I immediately know they haven't spent a great deal of time thinking through biblically what it is that God judges in people. God is a good, kind, gracious and loving God. He treats people with kindness and love. He created us in His image. We are to be as unselfish, as loving, and as kind to other people as God is to us. Yet, everyone of us is selfish. Everyone of us is disobedient to God's royal law of love. Everyone of us violates our own conscience of what is right and we do the very thing we know to be wrong. We make excuses, but deep down we know we are guilty. It is our sin that God judges. It is our rebellion that God measures. Our sin and rebellion is not God's fault, it is our fault.
At the judgment, it will be proven there is no one good but God.
The good news is that the Creator God came to earth and lived life as one of us--and He lived His life the way life was supposed to be lived--but He died in darkness and isolation the death each rebel deserves to die because of his or her personal sin and selfishness. But, incredibly, after Jesus rose from the dead He promised broken and heavy-laden sinners some good news. I call it the Great Exchange. He said to broken sinners: I have taken your sins upon Me and I have given to you My perfect righteousness. You are delivered from judgment. You are free from the curse of sin. You are My people. Paul puts it like this:
"But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been manifested... even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:21-22). "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). And then he says, "For this reason righteousness is by faith, in order that righteousness may be in accordance with grace" (Romans 4:16), and "Therefore, being justified by grace through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
This is the gospel. This is the good news. God makes His love for broken sinners so captivating, so alluring, so charming, so dazzling, so enthralling, so mesmerizing, so spellbinding (gospel comes from "good spell"), so magnetizing, so enrapturing, so gripping, so compelling, so hypnotizing, and so absolutely "sweep me off my feet" enamoring that God's people cannot, will not, must not -- and indeed do not refuse to be transformed by His love.
Those sinners who believe in Christ will never stand before God in judgment. Believers in Christ will never have their works measured by God. Believers in Christ have been given perfect righteousness (i.e. "His righteousness") as a gift of His grace. Believers in Christ are at peace with God because of this righteousness, a righteousness that is granted to them by God Himself. Believers have been freed from sin and delivered from the consequences of their sins. Christ has set us free, and whom He sets free are free indeed. Of course, when this freedom begins to be taught, people who are oriented to law will ask, "What! Are you kidding me? If I believed that, I would just go on sinning, because no matter how much I sin, grace for me increases all the more!"
Sound familiar? That is exactly the objection Paul anticipates in Romans 6 and he answers it by saying that when we are "freed (there's that word freedom) from sin" we derive benefit from Christ, even our sanctification! In other words, the same amazing love that transformed our hearts will begin to be shed from our hearts into the lives of others. We become Christians - little Christs--and begin to love others as He has loved us. We can't help us. His love is that transforming. As our Savior from our sin and our selfishness has declared, "By your love will everyone know you are mine" (John 13:35).
Remember, the judgment of God for sinners revolves around works in this life and the ultimate determination that nobody is good.
On the other hand, the grace of God revolves around the works of His Son, Who alone is good. Those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life never stand in judgment.
As ancient hymn says:
"Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great high Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart."
Jesus Christ always stops when He hears a humble cry--because it was His love that drew from us that good and wonderful cry in the first place. For by grace have we been delivered from our selfishness and sin.
And now, we are free.