Have you ever heard someone say, “The mental patients are running the asylum”? What does it mean? Simply stated, it means that the place being run is crazy. The exact wrong people are in charge.
In the case of some contemporary American Evangelicalism, the statement needs a slight alteration; the dealers are running the rehab.
Years ago I had the honor of serving as a high school diploma instructor in a live-in rehab facility. Many of the staff were former addicts who had gone through the program and had a full recovery. They understood the addicts’ minds better than a person who has not struggled with addiction. It was quite an education for me. In that circumstance, they were the right people to run the rehabilitation facility.
The adjusted statement doesn’t read, ‘The former addicts (or, ‘recovering addicts’) are running the rehab’; it is the dealers who are in charge.
The question is, what is the addiction? What kind of crack are they on?
Gerhard Forde explains in detail that many are addicted to works. They are addicted to following the law to make themselves right before God. His book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross is short but foundational.
Romans 7:12 states,
“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
There can be no doubt that God’s law reflects His divine Holiness and perfection. It is critical that church leaders use the law in the church. Synonyms for law are; command, demand, and expectation in the biblical context. More to the point: these are God’s commands, demands and expectations for you to live a holy righteous and good life.
Many gravitate to the law because in a society which is morally degrading, it offers an objective standard to prove one’s mental soundness (“I’m not crazy, the world is crazy!). That is quite understandable.
Others have taken it a step further. They believe that the law is not just a standard of goodness that we can observe, but that the Christian life is all about following the law. “I have to prove my faith somehow, so I will use the scripture as my personal moral code for living. This way, God will have to accept me.”
Now, the confusion sets in. You might have “received Christ”, or “made Him your personal Lord and Savior”, but after this, it’s time for chores. It’s time to sanctify yourself. It’s as if God made you holy to start with, and then you got dirty again. You have to find a way to get clean and stay clean.
The insidious nature of this belief lies in the faith one places in one’s own efforts to keep clean. In other words, a person starts with the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, but is then bound to keep the demands, commands and expectations of the Law.
Some find comfort in something so predictable. The Law operates on the principle, “If you do this, (then) you will live”. But, if you understand the nature of language, the prior statement is called a conditional statement. It is conditioned on your behavior. It infantilizes the user. But that is not the life God has for you.
Perhaps the user wants to be a child. They want to have a rewards and punishments chart. They want to re-live their childhood.
Some of the ‘some’ become leaders (dealers) in the church. They consider the Law to be good news. They want others to hear this good news of living by conditional behavior to appear righteous before God. They expend amazing, and even, admirable effort at the study of Scripture.
All the while, they are in the business of making more crack addicts. Many in the seats come to hear “what their itching ears long to hear”. They want to hear that they can do something about their failing marriages, repetitive sinning or their depression.
So the dealers direct them to a self-improvement program based on law-keeping. They tell themselves and others, “You got yourself into this mess, now you can get yourself out” (with a little help from Jesus). “Give it a spin, see if it works”.
Church leaders can only be aware of the outward behavior of the church members, because that’s all they can see. In fact, this environment produces victims and victimizers
All the while, they bind the consciences (i.e., victimizing) of those who are already troubled with sin. Momentary successes encourage the users to continue using. And, if they fall, they add another layer of ‘accountability’ to get back on track. The increasing demands and deepening guilt over failing brings on hopelessness for those of sensitive conscience.
But that is not the life God has for you.
Instead, He sends His Only Begotten Son to rescue you. He has come to rescue you from the demands, commands and expectations of the law. He comes to fully fulfill all of the law on your behalf.
Beyond this, He becomes your sin. He becomes all of that failing. He becomes all of that self-idolatry. He becomes the repetitive sinning. And He received His Father’s eternal punishment for all of it. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
Jesus, Himself said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life“. He is the sum and content of the Christian life. You live by His continued faithfulness to you. You do not live by your continued faithfulness to uphold the law.
Anyhow, why would you want to? It’s requirements are not just demands for the hands, but demands for the heart. It’s only a great way to find out that you are a hypocrite! The good news is that the Savior came for hypocrites!
And He will sort out the hypocrites who are dealing the crack of Good Works to display one’s holiness before God.