Obligated to Do

What do you think about this quote? “The degree to which you feel obligated to ‘do’ or guilty when you ‘don’t’ is the degree to which your heart is polluting grace.” I for one completely disagree with it, as it stands by itself. I don’t know exactly the context in which it was made, and there may have been nuance/qualification/etc. given in the sermon in which it was made. It was a sermon on Galatians 1:6-7, so I suspect that it was made in the midst of teaching on justification by faith alone. Thus it could have validity in a larger context. But taken by itself, out of context, I believe it contradicts God’s word.

Why do I disagree with it? Because I believe that the Bible teaches that Christians have an obligation to “do” (i.e., obey God’s holy law) and ought to feel guilty when we “don’t” (i.e., when we disobey our heavenly Father). I marvel at how anyone could read the Bible in any other way. How can you read Psalms 51 or 38 or 130 and not see that guilt when we have broken God’s law is a proper and right feeling? How can you read the New Testament, say the Sermon on the Mount or any of Paul’s letters, and think the concept of duty has somehow been dissolved by the gospel of Jesus Christ? Of course, we must never think that our obedience is in any way meritorious, and we must never forget that God in Christ has declared us to be “not guilty” through faith alone, and therefore at the same moment in which we feel our guilt the most we must rest all the more in the righteousness and blood of Jesus that have taken away our guilt (cf. Isa. 6). But this doesn’t mean that we are free to disobey God’s law with impunity (cf. Romans 6:1ff.), or that it is improper to feel guilt when we sin (cf. II Cor. 7:9).

The Westminster Confession of Faith has the best and most balanced comment on this question in chapter 19, sections 5-7:
V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

VI.  Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.

VII.  Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.”

Feeling an obligation to obey and guilt when we disobey is not a sign of your heart polluting grace; it very well could be, however, if your obligation is slavish as opposed to gospel obligation, and if your guilt is slavish as opposed to gospel guilt; that is, if you feel like your obligation to obey is the obligation of the covenant of works, that if you don’t obey God, He will not accept you, or if in your guilt you forget that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But in terms of a general statement I’d go as far as to reverse it: to the degree that you don’t feel obligated to “do” and you don’t feel guilty when you “don’t”, to that degree your heart is polluting grace – because the grace of God teaches us to say NO to ungodliness and worldly desires (Titus 2:11-14).

Sometimes I think pastors can take Lloyd Jones’ statement about preaching the gospel (something to the effect of, “If you aren’t being accused of antinomianism, then you aren’t preaching the gospel”), and preach as if Romans 6-8 are not in the Bible. Yes, we are called to unbalance truth for the sake of application, and this preacher must have thought that his people needed to hear of their freedom from the law’s condemnation (especially as he was preaching from Galatians). But we must be balanced, brothers, and not be so afraid of falling into legalism that we fall in antinomianism.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Katy Brink on April 8, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I agree with you. Taken alone, contradictory to Scripture. Taken in a larger context of relying on God’s grace for our salvation and the assurance thereof, true.


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