There is almost nothing that drains me more than participating in Social Media debates. There is nothing so impersonal, so separated from body language, so relationally toxic. Such activities are so draining to me that I tend to avoid them all together – though I will follow along as a silent “Thumbs Up” supporter in the shadows (lol). That said, this week I was sucked into one such debate. The topic up for debate was not new, in fact, it’s been an ongoing discussion in the Adventist church and all of Christianity for hundreds of years:
Is faith in Jesus enough to save?
If y’all haven’t gotten around to seeing Wonder Woman yet, get on that! Personal opinion, but the movie may have saved the entire DC Cinematic Universe. The story was solid, action scenes did not disappoint, and Gal Gadot was practically born for the role.
(Minimal spoilers from here on out, you have been warned!)
I’m not going to go into to many spoilers, (check out Derek Rishmawy’s full Theological analysis on the movie if you’ve seen it and interested, it’s real good), but one of the key moments in the movie is when Diana is confronted with the nature of mankind; we are broken creatures with a natural tendency to hurt one another and even cause evil, independent of any little devil in the shadows.
As she wrestles with whether or not to save a humanity who does not deserve her help, Steve Trevor, her male co-star and borderline sidekick (it’s Wonder Woman, what did you expect!), blurts out probably one of my favorite lines from a movie in a while:
“It’s not about what they deserve–it’s about what you believe.”
(End of spoilers)
This simple statement moved me. Could it be that the guys over at D.C. know and proclaim the gospel better than the church sometimes?
Which brings us back to our Facebook debate. At one point an anonymous participant commented something along the lines of: “there are some churches where people go just looking for grace and Jesus instead of truth and obedience, what a tragedy!”
This type of statement reflects a certain perspective among members of our church that says grace and obedience are mutually exclusive. In other words, you need to pick one over the other, and to many truth and obedience are of more value.
However, what the Bible says is actually pretty different; the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Jesus tells us plainly, if we’re searching and elevating truth over everything, we don’t need to look any longer; He IS the truth (John 14:6). Paul reminds us in Thessalonians that there are actually eternal implications for those who don’t “obey the Gospel” (1 Thess 1:8).
This debate was actually the cause of a huge crisis in the New Testament and almost totally sabotaged the Jesus movement. In fact, the main reason why Paul even wrote the letter to the Galatians was because Jewish Christians were trying to force non-Jewish Christians into circumcision and saying you couldn’t be saved unless you obeyed all of the Torah (See Acts 15, Gal 1).
To these claims, Paul responds pretty directly:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
– Galatians 1:6-7
Paul tells us plainly, this different gospel was the “gospel” of legalism. A counterfeit gospel, a distortion that answers our original question with a “no” or even a “…sort of” instead of a resounding YES. Over and over and over Paul reminds the Galatians, we do not earn favor with God by keeping the law. At the end of the second chapter, he even says:
“…for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
Woah. The implications here are massive. If I live as if I can earn God’s favor by law-keeping, that means I’m actually rejecting the cross and making the death of Christ meaningless. Another way to say that would be, “Religion without Jesus is idolatry.” Empty. Powerless. Heavy words.
It was for this reason – the danger of the different gospel – Paul wrote so passionately. And Paul wasn’t, and isn’t, the only one. I’m thinking about my boy Martin Luther. A.T. Jones. Waggoner. Morris Venden. (Insert a Project with Jesus in the slogan here, too). Different men, at different times and places, all trying to stay faithful to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, to the gentleman on Facebook whom shall remain anonymous, I’m praying that you encounter a Jesus who is radically both. Grace and obedience. Law fulfilled and gospel. The one who IS truth but also the way to go and the place where LIFE is found.
I’m praying that for me, too.
If you’re reading this, and you skipped all the Bible-y stuff, that’s cool. You know I love you so here’s the TL; DR:
Wonder Woman reminded me this weekend that though I desperately need saving, I don’t deserve it. And ain’t that the point? She’s not the hero we deserve, but the one we need. My God is a lot like Wonder Woman. Don’t listen to religious people who don’t think they need a superhero.