Sometimes one may believe things to be true on an intellectual level, but have a difficult time making practical application of those truths. The context that springs to my mind is the Word of God. I would argue many Christians today say they believe God’s Word in its entirety. They may say God’s Word is inerrant, infallible, divinely inspired, and sufficient for all life and practice. They may SAY that, I’m almost sure. The rub occurs, however, when that Word they just described must be applied to real, sometimes difficult, life situations. It is at this crucial moment one unveils to what extent they actually believe God’s Word.
Dr. David Jones, Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, once told me an equation that has proven to be frighteningly accurate: Stated belief + Actual practice = Actual belief. In other words, you believe no more of the Bible than you obey. Let that sink in for a moment. If that is true (and I believe it is) then, practically speaking, there would be virtually no Christians on the planet who ultimately believe God’s Word in its entirety. On what basis do I draw that conclusion? Christians do not live out the truth of Scripture in real life situations. This brings me to my reflection on law and grace.
It seems, while one desires desperately to affirm one’s belief in the truth of Scripture, the temptation remains to add one’s own opinions and standards to what God’s Word provides. I would venture to say most of the time this is unintentional, but it is practically unavoidable. Christians read the Bible, they make the effort to understand what it teaches through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and yet they still end up applying principles that may or may not be biblical. Situational ethics become more prevalent when one has not settled in one’s heart and mind that Scripture is the basis for all life and practice.
Here is one example. The Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. However, in the actual practice of the local church, it may appear an individual may also need to dress a certain way, act a certain way, or speak a certain way in order to “really” be saved. This is the subtle entrance of legalism. It is where believers inadvertently communicate that Christianity is more about new believers being like us than being like Jesus. I don’t know how widespread this concept is. It may just be me, though I don’t think it is. I believe there are churches all over the country filled with well-meaning people trying to be faithful to Scripture who are unwittingly slipping into the mold of modern day Pharisees. The problem is this: the Pharisees killed Jesus. That’s not really a group with which I want to be identified.
Therefore, I believe we should all exercise a reasonable level of caution. I believe we should all preach the gospel to ourselves each day and be reminded that no one can be saved by becoming more like you or me. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe God wants disciples rather than Pharisees.