I have some further meditations on this idea of the two universes.
First, to clarify EXACTLY what I’m saying.
The main point is that there are two spiritual universes, the universe where you start off unapproved, and the universe where you start off approved. I think of them also as the “world” and the kingdom of God.
Whatever shape it takes in the unapproved universe, under the rubric of the knowledge of good and evil, you act from a position of rejection and work to achieve acceptance. This is true in dramatic ways and in small subtle ways, in the reasons people speak and act and think. Some people may even believe they have achieved acceptance in the universe of merit-proving. The pharisees felt that they had achieved acceptance, they were just wrong. In the approved universe, you start off with the assurance that you are accepted. It changes the way you do everything, the way you act, the way you think, the way you play, even the way you sin.
If you live in the universe where you start as disapproved, it is the same problem that people respond to in different ways. You might see that the situation is impossible, throw in the towel, and seize whatever pleasures you can to try to put aside the noise of your conscience. This is actually quite an honest response. OR, you can try to water down the conditions of approval so that they are marginally possible, and try really hard to obey the watered down conditions. I think it is true that a great deal of evangelism is really just the camp of the religious inside the the universe of condemnation trying to convince the camp of the heathen sinful inside the universe of condemnation to come over and be even more miserable and condemned. Ironically, even the religious would easily admit that no one is perfect, which makes them virtually indistinguible from the carnal sinful pleasure seekers. From outside, in the universe of merit-giving, the religious in the merit-proving universe look like one more camp of sinners trying to prove their legitimacy, like a thief pressing a code of honor among thieves.
The problem with throwing in the towel and seeking fulfillment through pleasure is that the community of pleasure seekers has its own laws of acceptance. Tell me that addictions are not laws to be obeyed! They are cruel masters; as Jesus says, everyone who sins is the slave of sin (John 8:34). Even supposedly non-addictive pleasures are led on by communities with strict rules of acceptance; not all that defines everyone as a sinner is a Jewish law (Romans 2:12-13). Pleasure in other words becomes its own law.
As an aside, I want to note that you can be religious in the universe of merit-giving, in the kingdom of grace. This meme going around that true Christianity is different than and opposed to religion comes off as disingenuous. I think that you can go to church, recite liturgies, take communion, sprinkle babies or immerse adults, and whatever else, and be in either universe. In fact, you can be for or against cigarettes, dancing, and alcohol in either universe (Romans 14:1). The real question is: what place does Christ and Him crucified have in your religion? Is Jesus an example, or a propitiation to you? Perhaps you don’t care about theological concepts like propitiation, but you do like practical religion? Chances are you are in the merit-proving universe, not the merit-giving universe. So, let’s put it in simpler terms: does it seem like Jesus condemns you or saves you? Is your “sanctification” from shame to less shame, or glory to glory?
When either camp (pleasure or religious) in the universe of merit-proving casts their gaze at people in the merit-giving universe, they see problems. They have to judge, because as I’ve said before, that is what the universe of merit-proving is all about. When people in the merit-gifting universe look at people in the other universe, they see a lot of people doing a lot of unnecessary stuff that really has no joy and no soundness. As Paul says, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 There is a simplicity in humble devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).
Finally, to everyone who might want to nitpick at particular points of exegesis here, you really need to answer the fundamental question, and avoid taking rabbit trails. I know the full context of Romans 2 and I am saying that it is the principle of integrity and truth that our consciences judge us by, not religious law. The real question is, is Jesus’ blood enough to redeem us, or not? Does faith in Christ’s propitiatory death absolve us of all guilt, or is there something more we must do? If there is something more, what use is Jesus’ death? However, if I am right, and Jesus’ death is truly enough to absolve all guilt and every wrong, if the right wrath of justice is served in Christ, then it is a true game-changer. I am accepted! I am legitimate! I am made real! I am loved! I am forgiven with vengeance and power! I no longer need to work to prove my merit or legitimacy, it is a gift. If GOD died for me, isn’t that legitimate enough? He has declared me legitimate with great and unassailable authority, and I enter a very great rest from the world of criticism and judgement. I can freely acknowledge my imperfections and my sins, and be really forgiven and healed (Mark 2:17).
So I would appeal to you, if you are religious and still living in the merit-proving universe. Stop pretending like you believe in Christ while keeping your feet firmly planted in the universe of disapproval. Enter by Christ the door (John 10:9) into the universe of grace, and forsake the old universe of proving your worth and merit. He loves you (1 John 4:10). Believe it!