The Fork in the Road: The Progressive Line, Part 3

Fourth, we need to spend just a moment regarding obedience. We have a tendency to insist on perfect obedience to the least important commands and to tolerate poor obedience to the most important commands.

Thus, we want to damn those who worship God with an instrument, while we accept those who are hateful, bitter, and divisive, that is, very unloving.

Indeed, the idea that instrumental music is sin is at best an inference built on top of other inferences. There is no command. But love is commanded over and over.

Paul declares as “acts of the flesh” “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions” (Gal 5:20) and says that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21). The 20th Century approach to Christianity evidenced by the Churches of Christ is far closer to “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions” than “faith expressing itself through love.”

I mean, just look at our history. Read what we wrote about each other.

Why on earth do we suppose that instrumental/a cappella music establishes the border of the kingdom of heaven, when the scriptures speak in entirely different terms? I mean, when the Bible is addressing whether our salvation is secure, it does not ask whether we have five acts of worship or proper church organization.

Well, what we argue is that a failure to sing exclusively a cappella means we aren’t being obedient. The argument is that Christians must be obedient (true) and so must sing a cappella (not true). You see, what we unconsciously do is subtly shift the meaning of “obedient” depending on the context and the outcome we wish to achieve.

When the context is love, “obedient” means “diligently try to obey.” When the subject is love, we are confident that God’s grace will cover our failure to get it right. Indeed, God’s grace will cover our failures even when we know better and even when we don’t know what the loving thing is.

When you come upon a homeless beggar, is it loving to hand him a $20? Or are you enabling laziness? You don’t really know, do you? We know we are supposed to love, but we often aren’t always sure how to love. Grace covers that.

However, when the context is worship, “obedient” means “obey perfectly, even if you are unaware of the command you are to obey.” Thus, if I infer that God approves instrumental music and worship him with a guitar in all good conscience, completely unaware of the arguments in favor of a cappella music (they are far from obvious, you know), I’m not “obedient” and so I’m damned — my penitence and faith are of no avail at all.

We damn those who disobey commands that aren’t even commands (they are inferences at best), while honoring those who disobey the plainest of commands.

What does John say?

(1 John 2:3-6)  We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

This verse, and parallel verses in the Gospel of John, have frequently been cited to argue that if we disobey (don’t sing a cappella) we are damned. There are two reasons this syllogism doesn’t hold.

First, read the next passage —

(1 John 2:7-11)  Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

What command does John have particularly in mind? Love. Obviously. And yet — of all the commands — this is the one we obey the least perfectly. If “obey” means “perfectly obey,” we’re toast.

Second, John just wrote,

(1 John 1:8-10)  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. … 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

John begins his letter by telling us that we’re all sinners and we have no business pretending otherwise. To determine whether we’re saved, we start by admitting our sinfulness.

Obviously, therefore, “obey his commands” does not mean “obey certain commands perfectly.” It just can’t.

Rather, “obey” means the same thing as “repent” means the same thing as “listen to us” — means that we submit to Jesus as Lord and turn our hearts, and therefore our obedience, toward God, realizing that our obedience will always be imperfect and incomplete.

Therefore, if someone — a penitent believer — who listens to the apostles — misunderstands God’s will regarding how to worship him, he is still a penitent believer, and he is obedient — not perfectly obedient, but obedient — and so he remains saved.


12 Responses

  1. Great post. Right on. Let everyone in the C of C read this and CHANGE.

    The only thing I would add if I could, because it makes me cringe every time you say it Jay, is that Grace isn’t only a covering for our mistakes or lack of knowledge. God does cover, but He also PROVIDES a means to know His good, pleasing and perfect Will and the CAPABILITY to DO it.

    Titus 2:11-14
    For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us (what trains us… GRACE TRAINS US… it doesn’t just “cover us”, it TRAIN US) to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to set us free (not JUST to forgive, but TO SET US FREE) from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a PEOPLE who are truly his, who are eager to do good.

  2. Our sins are not only covered but taken away.

    It is the great exchange. My sins on Jesus, his righteousness on me. (Rom 4)

    Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that “God was in Christ reconciling to world to himself…’. How was he doing that? By “not counting their sins against them”, thats how. In Romans 4:8 is this statement, “blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin”.

    Who is this man, some OT figure like Moses or Abraham. No, it is you, it is me, it is anyone who has faith in Christ. Paul continued saying of this righteousness which is by faith That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his(Abraham’s) sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification”. (Romans 4:22-25).

    It is only this transfer of sin and guilt that makes the Christian completely free. The charges against us have been canceled. There is no condemnation now and we shall not come into condemnation. This is the word of God.


  3. Jay,
    Amen. And Pilgrim’s post reminded of a book by Jerry Bridges of The Navigators, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role And Our Role In The Pursuit Of Holiness. I recommend it. Good Bible class material.

  4. Royce,


    My only point is that Jesus has not only taken away our sins, and has mercy when we bumble…

    He has ALSO provided a NEW LIFE WITHIN US to ALLOW US and CAUSE US to live LIKE JESUS. I can’t say “I’m only human.” I’m not. I am divine. There is a WAR for sure between flesh and Spirit. But it IS saddening that soooo many hide behind “grace” as a excuse. GRACE is God’s provision to EMPOWER and EMBOLDEN us to live RIGHTEOUSLY and LOVINGLY. THAT is the Good News. Set FREE from the bondage of sin… not just sin’s penalty and guilt, but from it’s Romans 7 bondage. We are FREE INDEED if we will BY FAITH tap into the GRACE that is available to us.

  5. This discussion is so vital.

    Jay said:
    When you come upon a homeless beggar, is it loving to hand him a $20? Or are you enabling laziness? You don’t really know, do you?
    Here is the truth. I CAN KNOW EXACTLY what to do because Jesus is ALIVE and HE LIVES IN ME and IN HIS PEOPLE. He didn’t die, resurrect and then send me a book via the apostles.

    He GAVE ME HIMSELF. And Jesus knows EXACTLY what I should do for that beggar. And WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST. (1 Cor 2)

    Will I nail it every time? Not a chance. I’d say I’ll probably mess it 75% of the time because my flesh (fear of strange smelly people, greed to keep my own money) can cloud my HEARING. But that is part of maturity and growing up in our discernment.

    BUT I CAN KNOW Father’s will and heart in very specific situations. Part of the mystery is depending on each each other. The hand can’t say to the eye, “I have no need of you.” We NEED each other to hear Father’s still small voice most of the time.

    But again, He has PROVIDED a way to WALK IN His Life and His Spirit…

    As many as are LED BY HIS SPIRIT are sons of God. Let it be TRUE for you and for me and for ALL of God’s people. Not just studied and agreed upon, but LIVED.

  6. Grace does not allow liberty to sin, it is rather a law to serve. God is at work in us, both to WILL, and to DO His good pleasure. The question then becomes will I submit my will to His will and work and enjoy the full measure of God’s fullness, or will I stubbornly attempt to live righteously by sheer determination in the power of human flesh. I assure you, the later is the path to loss of joy, uselessness in the kingdom, and a cycle of frustration and even doubting you are saved.


  7. …and, according to the Hebrew writer, a time will come when the one who continues to stubbornly reject the grace of God will have their self-will honored by God.

  8. There is coming a day when every man will be judged by the man Christ Jesus. Those who reject him will be lost and obviously outside of God’s grace.

  9. But if they claim to be believers, it is OUR responsibility to help them see their rebellion TODAY. (1 Cor 5, Heb 3:13)

    1 Cor 5: 11-13
    But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any *so-called brother* if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

    Hebrews 3:13
    But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be HARDENED by the deceitfulness of sin.

  10. So do YOU (place your name here) believe that is the EXPECTATION from Father for His Saints?

    I know it isn’t easy (and certainly isn’t the norm or experience of most) but can we all at least agree an unleavened loaf is His Desire?

    1 Cor 5:7,8
    Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

    He is saying, “You are in FACT, because of Christ, unleavened. SO BE UNLEAVENED. LOVINGLY Care enough to help your struggling brothers and sisters.”

    What love is harder yet more helpful than helping my fellow believer BECOME more like Jesus by helping him see and overcome the sin in his life?

    It is sooo easy to give money or participate in programs or attend Bible studies. It is hard to take the risk and say, “Brother, if I were you, I wouldn’t treat your wife that way. You just embarrassed her and that is not how Jesus treats His bride.”

    Stuff like that, in the trenches of daily life, is the only way I know how to BE a Christian.

    AGREED? If not, why not?

  11. Pilgrim,

    You are totally right.

    (Titus 2:12) [Grace] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age … .

    Grace is not license. The way grace trains us to say no is by the Spirit — but also because the love we learn from God drives us to want to honor and obey God. Therefore, by the power of the Spirit, we study God’s word. We grow in grace and in the word.

    We don’t grow because God will damn us if we don’t. That would be growing out of fear rather than love. And you can’t grow in love out of fear.

    Legalism changes behavior but it can’t change hearts. And loving or worshiping because of a command and fear of punishment is not really love or worship. Love and worship are, by definition, activities that much begin in the heart.

    (Heb 8:10) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

  12. Pilgrim,

    I entirely agree. 1 Cor 5 is about helping a brother escape from his impenitence. He’s disfellowshipped to shock him into repenting — and to escape his deliberate sin.

    Of course, it doesn’t work very well if he’s already left the church or if the fellowship of the church is no value to him.

    The doctrine of disfellowshipping the impenitent assumes a church that loves each other so much that loss of the fellowship will shock the member into giving us his sin.

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