Transformed or Merely Forgiven

Recently I published an article in the Guelph newspaper in which I argued that Christians must be careful to call for and expect life transformation, as Jesus did, as opposed to preaching a good news that only deals with the guilt of sin and never addresses the power of sin. A fellow pastor wrote me a detailed letter challenging me on some of my points. Below I have posted my response(edited to protect confidentiality) to him.

Dear Pastor,

Thank you for your courteous, gracious and rather thorough response. I will try and respond in kind, but you may be a nicer person than me. Not sure I can get to all the points you raise, but I will at least address the salient ones.

But, before I touch those I have to note that unless I missed it I did not detect your yea or nay to the fundamental point in the article…that the gospel involves more than forgiveness and grace, as important as they are, but it also calls for transformation. I consider the point to be of utmost importance for if the call to discipleship and transformation is ignored, or even just relegated to the back room, we will end up with antinomianism. Indeed it seems to me that parts of the church are already swimming in those dark waters. Interesting that you should mention Bonhoeffer for if he were alive to day I think that he would describe some parts of modern day Christianity as having fallen prey to cheap grace. He, as you know held up discipleship, and advocated going against the grain of popular culture in order to be obedient to Christ.

I personally think that relativism is one of the chief enemies of the gospel in our age. If it cannot be in some way answered all we have left with is a pitiful, “We have a belief too, we have a belief too…” which is a far cry from the apostolic preaching of certainty that there was but one Lord and one way of salvation.

As for Calvinism, I find myself standing with the great Charles Spurgeon who said (more or less), that Calvinism was nothing more than biblical Christianity.

We are in agreement that the gospel spreads by love. But, only by love? No, for surely we also must both agree that the presentation of truth was essential. A quick read of the Acts reveals that over and over again the proclamation of truth by the apostles was a major way that people came into the kingdom. Should we not always be careful to insist that it is Word and deed that has been committed to us?

The culture war is a big issue all on its own. I will limit myself to saying that every Christian generation is bound to in some way fight that war. For in a broad brush way of speaking the world constantly seeks to evade the truth of sin by redefining sin on its own terms or denying that it even exists. Yes, the church can sit passively by and speak of other things, but for my part I think she is unfaithful to her Lord and her calling when she goes AWOL. I further think that to not speak and proclaim the hard truths of scripture is a terribly unloving act toward our neighbor who by our silence is left to figure out on his/her own what God requires. By refusing to point out clearly God’s way to them we, who are called to be salt and light, essentially hide God’s light from them. Will all joyously receive our message? No, but some will. But some might insist that it would be better to mute our message so that it is more attractive to seekers and will therefore get a better response. For my part I am persuaded that it is a most dangerous strategy to attempt to be more loving than Jesus by muting truth, and accommodating sin. More comfortable for us to be sure, but dangerous in the long run.

You raise the question of sex and won’t the world think that we’re prudish because we insist on God’s guidelines for it. The answer to that of course is to preach the full message of how good it is, as well as the importance of guarding its God-designed use. But, should we speak of it so much and so often? Good question. Doubtless we must be careful to cover the whole panoply of sins. That said, when one of the overwhelmingly prevailing sins of our culture is precisely sexual sin in its various forms how can we be silent over this particular form of idolatry anymore than Christians could be silent to the Nazi idolatry in the time of Bonhoeffer. Sadly, you and I know that in the main, Christians in that time were muted except for a few notable exceptions.

I must bring this note to a close. I apologize for making it so long a response, but you actually rung a whole lot of different bells. Do forgive me where I may have spoken harshly or accusingly, it is not my intention to offend. Thank you again for your willingness to dialogue.

Grace and peace,

Royal Hamel

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