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Oct 23 2006

It’s not your sin…it’s the stiffness!

I get a good deal of criticism for what I teach.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I get a whole bunch of very kind and affirming letters too.

Billy Martin, when he was the Oakland A’s manager said, "You’ll have ten guys who will run through a wall for you: five who hate you and five who are undecided. The trick is keeping the five who hate you away from the five who are undecided."

I guess, at least on the subject of grace, very few are undecided.

One of the comments I get often is that I must be careful in my teaching on grace or people will take advantage of it. "If you’re not careful," they say, "you will provide people with an excuse for their sin."

Sometimes I’m even accused of causing specific sins committed by people who heard one of my broadcasts, read one of my books or listened to one of my sermons.

We got an email recently from someone whose friend had done something really, really bad. The person who wrote the email was quite "concerned" (when people are "concerned," I know what’s coming next and it isn’t pleasant). The person about whom the email writer was concerned had said in response to the shock of his friends, "I’ve been listening to Steve Brown teach!"

It’s one of the services I provide for people, to wit, an excuse for their sin.

Maybe you have used me when you were disobedient. Perhaps you said to your friends or family, "Don’t blame me. I’ve been listening to this preacher and he says that I can sin all I want and God still loves me. I’m testing out his theory."

It’s a service I provide.

First, I didn’t say that.

Secondly, that may work with your friends and family…but try it on God and see what happens! God is loving and gracious…but He isn’t always nice. Anybody who comes into the throne room of God with that kind of attitude is stupid; and, as Billy Sunday said, "A sinner can repent, but stupid is forever."

Thirdly, they may have a point.

What?

Wait and let me explain.

The Apostle John said something profound in his first letter, things that would give a legalist pause…like, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1:8), "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1:10), and "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake" (2:12).

I can identify with what John wrote. He doesn’t want to give permission to sin…but, on the other hand, he doesn’t want the people he loves to miss the astounding and almost unbelievable nature of God’s grace and mercy either. "I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. In other words, I’m your pastor and I don’t want to tell you that it doesn’t matter. But if anyone does sin, duh, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (2:1-2, italics mine).

Erik Guzman (the producer of our talk show and involved in much of the other broadcasting and recording that we do) said something really good about grace the other day. He said that those who say that one should be careful about grace are like a doctor who says, "I’m giving you this prescription, but don’t use it."

Good point, that!

Now let me say something quite controversial.

The people who say that I encourage sin are right! Not only that. I think most Christians are so obsessive about sin and about their own goodness that their main spiritual problem is an incredible pride.

I had lunch with a man not too long ago who has been through four or five (whose counting?) divorces. He spent most the lunch defending himself and cutting down his last wife. He also had some really negative and choice words for his pastor and his Christian friends.

I listened and finally said (if I had remained silent, the rocks would have cried out), "Jack [not his name], just shut up. Okay? I can’t throw rocks at you without being self-righteous, but can we talk? You are a serial divorcee, you are incredibly insensitive and selfish, and you have committed your sin publicly as if God never said anything about divorce. All I’ve heard is what’s wrong with everybody else. For God’s sake, don’t miss this great and grand opportunity to say, ‘Man, I’ve really blown it big time. It’s not my mother or my father…it’s me. It’s me. I’m so ashamed.’

"Jack, God has given you an opportunity to deal with your self-righteousness and to repent publicly. It’s not your sin…it’s your obsession with your need to be right and pure. I understand that I’m the old, religious guy and you don’t want me to think less of you. I even understand how embarrassed you are. But you’ve blown it…and, not only that, you aren’t even willing to say that you’ve blown it."

He started to say something and I said, "Don’t even say it! We won’t speak of this again."

I probably won’t be having lunch with him again anytime soon.

It’s not your sin, dummy. It’s your attitude toward it.

But, as I was saying before, I really do encourage sin sometimes. I don’t mean to; it isn’t intentional. The truth is that those who have been bound by legalism, manipulation and guilt, when they first understand God’s amazing grace, often really do sin more. It’s like a college student who goes away for the first time. The freedom is quite heady.

Those who continue to cringe in the presence of God sure that He will break their legs if they get out of line may "walk the line" better. Those who think their name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life in pencil will try harder and harder, and will, maybe even for a long time, maintain their obedience to the law.

Isn’t it better, then, to fear God and watch for His big eraser in the sky?

No, not at all. Let me tell you why.

Everybody hits the wall, as it were, of their own sin, rebellion and disobedience…everybody. Then they slip into the darkness. Those who have lived only by their own obedience will stay in the darkness.

Often they never come back!

But those who know about God’s grace, after a period with "the prostitutes and pigs" as in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, always and without exception will come back. Maybe not tomorrow or the next day or even next month.

But they always come back.

So, I guess there is a sense in which I encourage sin. Sin isn’t the issue. Sin is covered by the cross. The problem isn’t sin…it’s stiffness. God’s grace, mercy and gentleness are always available for His own.

Try not to forget that when you’re in the "far country" and, when you come back, you’ll thank me.

Don’t thank me. Just put me in your will.

He asked me to remind you.

Bless,

Steve

(C) 2006 Steve Brown | KeyLife

About the author

Steve Brown

Steve Brown is a radio broadcaster, seminary professor and author. He previously served as a pastor for over twenty-five years and now devotes much of his time to the radio broadcast, Key Life. With such varied experience and unique perspective on life, Steve is an original. He refuses to be a "guru," doesn't want to be anyone's mother and gives, in his teaching, the freedom to think. Overall, Steve has become known for his refreshing and practical Biblical applications. Steve serves as Professor of Preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He sits on the board of the National Religious Broadcasters and Harvest USA. Traveling extensively, Steve is a much-in-demand speaker. Steve is the author of numerous books including Born Free, When Being Good Isn't Good Enough and When Your Rope Breaks. His articles appear in such magazines and journals as Leadership, Decision, Plain Truth and Today's Christian Woman.