When pastors attack sin, they are either attacking sin outside the church, calling sinners to repentance, or attacking sin inside the church, calling sinners to repentance. While there is a crucial difference between talking to a corpse and talking to a resurrected corpse, the sin is still sin. And the sin is always a crutch, always a cover, always an idol: an attempt at finding safety, security, comfort, peace in something or someone other than Christ. And almost always, those crutches were snatched up from family, friends, television, celebrities, etc., grasping for what looks safe, what looks secure, what looks cool.
Which means that what we’re really talking about is the age-old heresy of Judaizing. The Judaizing tendency starts off with Jews following Jesus who cannot believe that God would not continue to require the complete keeping of the law as part of their full membership status in the people of God. Surely, the followers of Jesus must still be circumcised, surely they must keep the kosher food laws and refrain from trimming the sides of their beards.
But what Jesus lives and teaches implicitly, and the apostles proclaim freely is that Jesus is the end of the law for all who believe. Jesus is enough. It’s not Jesus plus sacrifice. It’s not Jesus plus circumcision. And therefore it’s not even Jesus plus baptism or Jesus plus the Lord’s Supper or prayer or organic popsicles.
The Reformation slogan of “Christ Alone” was a war cry, a defiant shout for joy, insisting from the bottom of souls made free, that what Jesus accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection is complete freedom, complete joy, complete forgiveness.
But we receive this forgiveness, we receive this freedom in history, in our bodies, in communities, and it is the pleasure and glory of God for this freedom and forgiveness to permeate our circumstances, to transfigure all of the details of every life, every moment, such that Jesus is living in and through us in all things by the Holy Spirit.
I know some of you fell asleep already, but this has everything to do with twitter bombs, telling the truth, and fighting sin. Paul reserves some of his most lethal invective for Judaizers. He calls the circumcision party such unflattering names as dogs, mutilators of the flesh, and at one point suggests they get sloppy with their scalpels. He calls their ‘gospel’ a “different gospel” and “another gospel” and has no problem telling the Galatians that people who preach this false gospel are damned to Hell. God damn anyone who preaches another gospel than the free, supernatural grace proclaimed by Paul.
We live in a world full of lies, and we are so used to hearing lies and speaking lies, that the truth comes like a freight train, like a bucket of cold water, shocking and offensive. Jesus says that the truth sets people free, and if we live in a culture of slaves (and we do), then we are clearly a culture full of lies. We are enslaved to the opinions of men, we are slaves of our fears, afraid of being wrong, afraid of sin, afraid of pain, afraid of shame, afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of getting sick, afraid of dying. We’re afraid of almost everything. We are slaves of pleasure, and most of our addictions are just covers for our cowardice and insecurity and fear.
And this explains why there can be so many professing Christians in this country who are so embarrassingly impotent. We are churches full of Judaizers who have taken Paul’s advice and castrated ourselves. How are we Judaizers? We have abandoned the gospel of Christ Alone. We have added to the Word of God. It’s Jesus plus liturgy. It’s Jesus plus icons: Jesus plus organic food: Jesus plus football: Jesus plus pleasure: Jesus plus respectability: Jesus plus beer: Jesus plus being cool: Jesus plus classical christian education: Jesus plus Reformed theology: whatever.
And it’s not that Jesus doesn’t like any of those things; rather, it’s that Jesus knows that none of those things are strong enough or secure enough by themselves to guard your heart and mind. To add anything to Jesus is always to dilute Him. And ultimately, this is to scorn His grace, scorn His blood. And Paul says God damn that. Did you begin by the Spirit and now will you continue by the flesh? At the same time, Jesus comes to us in and through many circumstances. He grabs us through the preached word, in baptism, during a picnic, during a thunderstorm, at the piercing beauty of a sunrise.
But people love their idols. False prophets don’t dress up like they crashed into a Hot Topic shop. They aren’t in permanent Halloween mode (most of them). They go to church, they go to small groups, they dig Christian education, and they know about Reformed theology. And every son of Adam is a natural idolater. As Calvin insisted, the human heart is an idol factory, churning out fetishes and figurines without any effort. And this is why pastors must be vigilant and fearless in lobbing grenades. And let’s be clear: the aim is not to destroy people. The aim is to destroy idols and the sinful clutches people have on their idols. But you can tell when you’ve found an idol when people start whining that you’re targeting them or you’re being too harsh. But we have no business being nice to idols or sin of any kind. We insist on describing sin in all of its disgusting vulgarity because Jesus really was flayed alive and suffered hell for that sin. And He really did rise up triumphant over that sin, conquering the power and curse of death and darkness.
There is no safe place outside of Christ and Him crucified. His death is sufficient. His blood atones for every sin. And if that doesn’t put a lump in your throat, you need your heart checked. Stop being defensive. Stop your whining. You’re a filthy, foolish wretch. But God is good, so good, and there is freedom in the blood of Christ. Light that up and let it explode.