Christless Bloodless Crossless Christianity

I read a short devotional from Greg Laurie just now, so I decided to reflect on it. I don’t mean to nitpick. I’ve always heard great things about Greg Laurie. I’m not calling him a heretic or a legalist, I really have no idea. The point is, this post makes what I think is an extremely common error. Here’s the complete text:

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
— John 14:15
What a terrible thing it is when believers fall into sexual sin. After David fell into sin with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan said to him, “By this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14). In other words, “David, you just gave ammunition to the enemy.”

I wish Christians would think about that before they sin. Joseph did. When Potiphar’s wife made her advances, Joseph understood there were consequences to sin. He said, “There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has [Potiphar] kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Joseph was loyal to Potiphar. Of course, Potiphar would end up betraying Joseph. But Joseph wouldn’t betray Potiphar.

Joseph could have rationalized it. Hey, man, I had a rough childhood. I was sold into slavery by my brothers. I am here all alone in Egypt. It’s hard being alone. Egyptian culture—that is the way it is here. It doesn’t really matter.

He could have said a lot of things, but Joseph understood that God’s standards are absolute. They don’t change. He also realized that all sin is against God. This should be our strongest deterrent against sin—not merely our fear of the repercussions. The greatest deterrent against sin is loving God. If you love God, you want to do things that honor Him.

I like this statement of Augustine’s: “Love God and do as you please.” If you really love God as you ought to, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, then you will only want to do what pleases Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

Now, how could I take issue with this? Am I advocating sexual sin? No, of course not! Do I think we shouldn’t love God? Who would say that? I don’t have a single disagreement with what he has said here. I also wish that Christians would follow Joseph’s example. I wish King David hadn’t sinned with Bathsheba. I wish that all Christians would love God so much that they could do as they please without fear of sin. I wish I myself would do that. That would be fantastic! I also want every child to have their own pony and I wish there were flying pigs. “If wishes were fishes we’d all swim in riches.”

He has truly boiled down the whole problem of the law. If we loved God we could do as we please and there would be no problems. That is the greatest commandment. But loving God is the single most difficult law and it doesn’t work to save us, nor does it work to “sanctify” us. We are sinners. We love everything BUT God. We might pretend at loving God but truly when it comes down to it (if we are honest) telling us to “love God” is like telling us that we ought to clean out our garage on a perfect fishing day.

Some will say, “but in Christ we are new creatures and we DO love God! We are no longer sinners in Christ.” Au contraire! Why Romans 7? Why all the New Testament imperatives? Apparently, Biblically, we still have problems. If you think we are no longer sinners, and yet you still need NT imperatives and Romans 7, does that mean you’re not really saved? So many people struggle in their walk with Christ because this is what they think. However you end up theologically parsing this all out, we are real Christians and we continue to have real struggles with sin, and we still need forgiveness and an assurance of “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1).

If you say in the comments, “But you haven’t read all of Greg Laurie’s stuff! He is a great man of God and he has helped me more than anyone! Stop judging!” I’m going to say that you are missing the point here. He is a very popular and successful minister. I am so glad for Mr. Laurie’s ministry. Apparently people have come to Christ through his efforts. I am simply pointing out that here is a stark and shining example, in this devotional, of the normal evangelical mindset. It sounds great! You might be duped into saying, “Yes! I’ll just love God and do as I please! That’s awesome!” But loving God is a law, and this solution is not the gospel. It places the solution upon your shoulders. You are your own savior, and you know that later today you will fail at this and the stubbornness of your failure at this is what will define you. Mr. Laurie is basing this devotional on your love for God, not on God’s love for you.

Compare this with the apostle John:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

In case you skipped that verse, here it is again:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

One more time, for those who really skim Bible quotes – read it this time for real:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

In essence, he has found the core diagnosis of your problem: you do not love God enough. Then, in essence, he says, “figure it out.” He is the doctor who says, “yes, your x-ray shows you have a broken arm. Come back to me when you’re healed.” Where is the message of Christ and Him crucified in this? It is Christless bloodless crossless Christianity. I fished through a good number of Mr. Laurie’s devotionals, and there was not one mention, in weeks of posts, about the gospel of redemption through Christ’s blood. Even in one post where he talks about forgiveness, it is an injunction to be more forgiving, not an offer of Christ’s forgiveness. He may have times in his ministry where he has talked about the gospel a lot. He may have times when this has been an important emphasis. But he has forgotten it. He has moved on. The gospel has become a doorway into a stricter law. The cross of Christ and the redemption we have in His blood is simply not very important in his devotional writing.

You may also say, “this is just your pet theology. Other people with different perspectives can be right. Everything can’t be about your pet grace thing! Stop being so judgmental!” I hear this a lot. I often agree – I just can’t stop obsessing about grace. Here’s all I’m saying: where is the emphasis on the gospel of redemption through Christ’s blood? Where is the determination to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified? Where is the repeated remembrance of the bread and the wine of His sacrifice and love for us? Where is the emphasis on God’s faithfulness towards us? These things aren’t important? There is some other emphasis for Christians? You’re kidding, right? I’m thinking that Jesus and the Father and the Apostles were fairly united in their emphasis that the simple gospel of Christ’s death for sinners is VERY IMPORTANT. All I see when I look around Christendom, except for certain beautiful oases of grace, is law law law law law. More law. Oceans of graceless law dressed up as “gospel”. Love God more. Love others. There is just no effort to connect the dots between the root of the gospel of grace with the fruit of love. Everything is backdoor law, fruit-checking law, pull-the-rug-out buzzkill joy-killing law. Everywhere you look, the most popular and perhaps beloved and innocuous preachers, ignore the gospel of grace and preach some watered down version of the law that is dressed up to seem doable but doesn’t lead to the despair of oneself that produces hunger for salvation. It is truly and utterly pandemic.

So in the end, I don’t care if you are St. Augustine, or if you are Greg Laurie, or if you are John Piper, or if you are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or if you an angel from heaven, if you preach a “gospel” which neglects so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3), I am going to say so. I will refuse your yoke. I will insist on Christ, and Him crucified, as forgiveness and grace for sinners. I haven’t budged from this message since the day it dawned on me almost 10 years ago. I’m not going to treat the gospel as a door to some subtle form of legalism. I don’t mind calling error out – especially with popular and influential teachers.

So, if you are believer in Christ, watch for this. If a teacher is not making a big deal of your salvation, then they are pressing law and burden onto your back. If they are treating belief in Christ as a door into more law, recognize it and run screaming. Telling us to love God won’t work. We don’t need a Lord. We need a savior. He is Lord because He is bigger and smarter and more stubborn than our sin. It’s like people think it isn’t about God loving and saving us, it is about us loving God and proving we’re saved. Instead of trust in Christ, it is trust in ourselves with a Christian flavor to it. In truth, He is Lord and we didn’t make Him Lord. We simply sinned. He died for us, and He rose from the dead to love us all the more. We can’t stop him – not even our ragged and inconsistent and self-serving “love” of God can stop His perfect love for us. That is the gospel.

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  1. Great post Jim. Much of what you are giving constructive criticism to begins with the people reaching this believe in a “high antropology.” Laurie said, “if you would just think” then you could manage your sin better. THERE is no grace there. A “low antropology” would understand that people can be held in bondage to many things and can’t just shut off their pet sins. Fot instance, tell an alcoholic to put down the bottle, i.e.- the right thing to do. Our sins of bondave need grace, not “of you would only…” Although evangelical, I really think Luther had it right with the bondage of the will.

  2. I grew up on that stuff,,,,,,,,it makes us all more neurotic than we already are. My failures to achieve vcictory drove me into the arms of an extreme form of the holiness movement which promised complete sanctification in this life if we would only yield completely. The next step would probably been severe mental illness or worse…….thank God he brought me back to Grace and security.
    Don’t let anyone stop you Jim…………there are many of us out here who have been captured by Grace and we’ve got your back, Jack!!

  3. “Everywhere you look, the most popular and perhaps beloved and innocuous preachers, ignore the gospel of grace and preach some watered down version of the law that is dressed up to seem doable but doesn’t lead to the despair of oneself that produces hunger for salvation.”

    I’ve just re-read this excellent post and I’ve shared it with a lot of others. The section above is especially pertinent. It describes the sort of teaching which can be termed “Covert Antinomianism.” It is a form of lawlessness derived by taking the teeth out of God’s holy, perfect law, with its demands for absolute and constant perfection, and diluting it down to a hurdle which can be jumped. Instead of revealing your need for a savior, it becomes a check-list, not necessarily for salvation (so they say, although they will cast doubts upon whether or not you’re saved!), but for keeping in God’s grace, which is just as bad, in my opinion.

    I think you’d get a lot out of a book (if you haven’t read it already) by Gerhard Forde, “Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life.” He speaks to this topic a lot in Chapter 3. Of course, even within my own Lutheran (LCMS) church, many will say Forde got it wrong and side with Bonhoeffer, but I disagree.

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