By Larry Ray Hafley
Critics imagine that the cross of Christ is foreign to teaching on godly living. In fact, the worldly minded critic sometimes defends social drinking, adulterous marriages and immodest dress. Thus, they offer their criticism, saying that we need more preaching on grace and less on worldliness because they do not want their association with the world exposed. Peter prophesied of this type. He said there would be scoffers “walking after their own lusts” (2 Pet. 3:3). These who so criticize preaching on the church, baptism and godly living appear as paragons of piety, but, deep within, their heart is in sympathy with “their own lusts.” The Holy Spirit said so! “Corruption … is in the world,” saith the Spirit, “through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4).
Their call for “more grace” is beguiling. After all, who can oppose the need for a greater emphasis on the love and grace of God as expressed in the cross of Christ? When the call for “more grace” is done at the expense of the truth of God on the application and reception of the blessings and benefits of grace through gospel obedience, something is rotten up the creek. Watch those who make such calls, for they walk “after their own lusts,” “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof ” (2 Tim. 3:5).
The Cross And Moral Issues
Is preaching devoted to modesty and moral issues a vacation from preaching on grace and the cross? Some would have us to believe that when we preach on godly living, when we preach against immodest apparel and social drinking, that we are taking precious time away from the preaching of the cross. Remember, those who so argue often are squirming because their conscience is being stung and stuck by preaching that condemns worldly living. To take the pressure off, they say that such preaching is neglecting the grace of God. “What saith the Scripture?” Philippians 3:17-19 says:
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
The “walk” of these people was sordid, sinful and shameful. Paul was discussing their manner of life, their conduct. Their god was their fleshly appetites, their worldly lusts. They gloried in deeds that were unholy, disgraceful and disobedient. Their mind was not on godly, spiritual, heavenly activities. They were devoted to devilish, sensual, “earthly things.” In this condition, what were they? The Spirit says “that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” To preach godliness and to mind heavenly things is, therefore, to be a friend of the cross of Christ.
It was in this same context of thought that Paul said, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). One’s behavior is related to the gospel and to the cross. Preaching that emphasizes virtue and godliness adorns the gospel and the cross of Christ just as living it does (1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:5, 10). Hence, there is no neglect of “the preaching of the cross” when one preaches on moral issues. L.A. Stauffer echoes this conclusion:
The life or teaching of anyone who hinders faith in the word of the cross, who perverts the meaning of the cross, or turns men away from the benefits of the cross is an enemy of the cross.
Space denies opportunity to speak of sprinkling for baptism, infant baptism, hypocrites in the church, division and a host of other religious conditions and viewpoints. Any system of thought or way of life that draws or repels men from the cross of Christ severs them from the atoning power that God graciously manifested for the salvation of the world. Such views and lifestyles are enemies of God and the cross, and in eternity will reap sudden destruction from the face of God and glory of his might (2 Thess. I :7-9) (“Enemies Of The Cross,” Guardian Of Truth, October 15, 1987, pp. 639, 640).
In the article by brother Stauffer, he cites the following as “enemies of the cross of Christ”: Those who are self indulgent, Jews, pagan Gentiles, humanists, infidels, modernists, millennialists, Calvinists, denominationalists, moralists and the “Eucharistic Mass.” As he said in the quote above, “Such views and lifestyles are enemies of God and the cross.”
The book of 1 Peter connects the cross (redemption “with the precious blood of Christ”) to moral issues. Peter links forgiveness and the hope of salvation with “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3; 3:21). Redeemed by the blood, the saints stood, he said, in “the true grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:12). From 1:13 through 4:19 of his letter, Peter emphasizes and italicizes the need for purity of life. He contrasts their “former lusts” and the lives of pagan, idolatrous Gentiles with the lives they are now called to live (1 Pet. 1:14, 22; 2:1, 9, 11, 12f.). “The time past of our life” was when we lived as the world lives in immorality, uncleanness, lusts, drunkenness, riotous dancing and drinking parties and disgusting practices of idolatry. Now, though, “they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot” (1 Pet. 4:3,4).
Note it carefully: Peter speaks of godly living, denounces specific lusts and makes the application to the lives of the Christians, saying that they are not to suffer as thieves, murderers, evil doers and busybodies. He directly condemns “drinking parties” and wanton lewd lusts. Then he says their former life of lust was the reason “the gospel (was) preached” unto them (1 Pet. 4:6). “The ungodly and the sinner” are equated with them “that obey not the gospel of God” (1 Pet. 4:17,18). A righteous life is in harmony with the gospel; an unrighteous life is contrary to the gospel.
Therefore, critics who plead for “more grace” and less “condemnation of people’s lifestyles,” understand “neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” “Good stewards of the manifold grace of God” are those who use their lives, gifts and abilities in service to the Lord (1 Pet. 4:10). Thus, those who live in immoral lusts, who engage in social drinking and attend riotous, drunken dancing parties are contrary to the gospel and the grace of God. One who does not teach and preach pointedly and directly against lustful living is not preaching the gospel of the grace of God!
In 2 Corinthians 6:1, Paul said, “We . . . beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” How could they receive the grace of God in vain? They could receive the grace of God in vain by living an ungodly life (2 Cor. 6:2-7:1). How could they retain the grace of God? In part, “by pureness,” by purity of life, by avoiding fellowship and association with the immoralities of idolatrous Gentile temples. In short, “Having therefore these promises dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Elsewhere, in Titus 2:11-14, Paul also connects “the grace of God that bringeth salvation” with the denial of “ungodliness and worldly lusts.” To receive “the grace of God that ‘bringeth salvation,”` one must live “soberly, “” righteously, and godly, in this present world” while he looks for them of Christ. (For a more complete study,. of this text concerning the cross, grace and morality, see’ the author’s series referred to above.)
Those who piously plead “for more grace” and’ preaching on “social sins” are rank deceivers who would, if their advice were followed, turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness (Jude 4). That may not be’ their. conscious intent, but it is the constant effect of their counsel. Preaching purity of life is part of the power of the gospel. It allures the hungering heart and imparts grace to the sincere seeker for truth and righteousness.
Once brethren allow the critics to define the terms of “grace,” the battle is lost. If “grace” is a subjective, indefinable sense of general “feel goodishness” toward others, sin will not be reproved. If “grace” is unconditional acceptance and fellowship with God, behavior will never be reformed. If “grace” is the absence of the rebuke of sin and sinners, men will never be led to true repentance and redemption. If “grace” means that men must not be warned of and confronted directly with their sins and their personal accountability before God, the gospel of grace will have been shorn of its power in the lap of the devilish Delilahs among us.
Sympathy With Error
There is another factor that causes some to cry for more preaching about love and grace and less about immodesty and immorality. That factor is sympathy with error. The spirit of compromise animates this body of error. Some are losing faith in the gospel system of making men righteous (Rom. 1:16, 17, 10:1-3). They are ashamed of its unique, distinctive and exclusive nature. The wisdom of this world has allured them; the wise of this world have appealed to them. They love the sophisticated philosophies of theology and science. They long for acceptance in the fraternities of higher learning. This association is impossible as long as they “earnestly contend for the faith” without addition or subtraction from the word of God. These conceited critics, vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind, yearn for the applause and approval of institutional intellectuals. They cannot have the honor of this world if they do not accept its tenets. They cannot have the praise of men if they protest against the futility and foolishness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.
Craving acclaim,. their faith develops a slow leak. This leak may show itself in the inward denial of Bible miracles. It may secretly, at first, adopt the theory of evolution “as God’s process of creation.” It may revere the vast intellect, keen knowledge, wide experience and cordial personality of a denominational scholar or theologian. This affection, coupled with the pride of worldly attainment, leads to quiet, subtle compromises of truth. The straying is so slight as to be unnoticed at first. It is spiritual carbon monoxide silent, colorless, tasteless, odorless. It is deadly. Its existence may not be known or observed by others until it is too late to effect a rescue (Heb. 3:12, 13).
Resuscitation efforts fail.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory In-his presence.
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, the Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men (1 Cor. 1:26-29; 3:18-21).
Truly, “They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them” (Prov. 28:4). Keep that in mind. Men who praise the wicked, men who honor and support the false teacher, are those that “forsake the law” of God Almighty. There is no way to make it more palatable. There is no way to “pretty it up.” Those who praise the scholars, books and wisdom of men will criticize those who preach the things that become sound doctrine. It is the way the devil works.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 7, p. 7-9
April 7, 1994