Thursday, October 17, 2013

That Transgression Might Increase

It says in Romans 5:20 that the Law came that the transgression might increase. This initially seems totally backwards. We want to think that if we preach the commandments of God, if we hold out high standards of moral behavior, then people will sin less. But we are told that there is something in us that rebels against the Law (Romans 7:4-25; 3:10-12; Jeremiah 17:9). It is easy to see this effect in the pure rebel. The person who takes the attitude, "No one can tell me what to do," and when told what to do immediately seems to want to do the opposite. (All of us have some of this inside us.) Yet we do find people who have a good, moral facade, who look good from the outside. How does this work in their case?

The general tendency, if you want to convince yourself that you are keeping the Law is that, like the Pharisees, you water down the Law so you can keep it. You emphasize tiny details and miss the main point (Matthew 23:23,24; 15:1-20; Isaiah 58:3-12). You emphasize looking good on the outside, but ignore the things of the heart (Matthew 23:25-28; 6:1-18; Mark 12:38-40). You come up with loopholes so you can get around having to fulfill the Law in strict terms ( Matthew 23:16-22; 15:3-6; 19:3-12). You forget that the basic concern of God's commandments is the attitude of the heart (Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 5:21-48; 7:12). C. S. Lewis describes this as treating God like the taxman. We try to give Him only what is clearly required and to keep enough for ourselves so that we can still live our life our way. This does not work. So even though it produces an outer veneer of morality, this view ultimately also ends up increasing transgression because it ends up offering only a distorted picture of what God really wants.

The only real solution is the gospel. Where transgression increases, grace abounds to cover it (Romans 5:20). God sent His Son to pay the price for sin (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21), that we might be saved through faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). As a result, God is no longer the taxman, but we belong to Him totally (1 Corinthians 6:20; Titus 2:12-14; 1 Peter 2:9), and He begins to work in us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:29). This change comes from a new attitude of love of God for what He has done for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). This does not mean everything will be easy or automatic; there is a process involved (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). But it does mean we do not have to kid ourselves into believing we are keeping the Law when we are not, or water down the Law so we can keep it. So that we can, being motivated by grace, actually change.  


  1. Good stuff Mike! I liked this ...

    "We try to give Him only what is clearly required and to keep enough for ourselves so that we can still live our life our way. "

    The tithe is one of the most overt evidences of this in modern day Churchianity.

    1. It certainly can end up being understood that way.

    2. IMO, it does not get more legal that specifying 10%. Not sure that there is a non-legal way to understand the tithe.

    3. I am convinced that how legalistic something is depends on you attitude toward it. I do give 10% usually a little more and I find if I do not plan to give something it becomes spotty and I can end up coming up with all sorts of excuses not to give anything. We live kind of hand to mouth and if we had lots of money I think I would consider higher percentage. All of our money comes from God, but I do think there is a principle we ought to give out of what we receive based on how God has prospered us. I would not guilt anyone into giving 10% and would not claim once people have given 10% they have done their duty and do not need to consider giving more. But I do not think using 10% as a benchmark is wrong.

    4. "I am convinced that how legalistic something is depends on you attitude toward it."

      I think that Paul agrees when he speaks of being a cheerful giver who gives from the heart and is not compelled by others or by rules/laws.

      So if 10% or more works for you as a goal then cool. I have read of folks who give 90%. Yet if one cheerfully gives 1% or 2% from their heart (even if they do not know the percentages) I think that is okay too. The point is, as you speak of, the attitude with which the gift is made.

      So what do you make of church leaders who speak of "God's tithes and our offerings". Is not a reflection of legalism? In that context, is not 10% a reflection of Mosaic law?

      Netting it out, I think that you are the exception Mike. When most people tithe they do it as an obedience to the law and are not challenged to really be generous. IMO, generosity is what is lacking amongst religious folks.

    5. I do not like to judge and do not claim to know people's hearts, but I rather suspect that much of what is done in most churches comes more from a vague sense of duty than love of God and other people and true generosity. I am convinced the cure for this is more teaching of God's love and grace and less of a legalistic moralism. But I do not know the main issue is changing the specifics. How many of the things mentioned in the Law of Moses still apply is a debated issue. I do not see the tithe as clearly commanded but we are to give as God prospers us (1 Corinthians 16:2). It is not very clear what that means, I suspect that those who have more should be giving a higher percentage. But while I do not want to judge anyone, I think 10% is a reasonable place to start.

  2. "I think 10% is a reasonable place to start."

    It may be a reasonable place for you to start but it may not be for others. In fact I think that it may be way too much for many who are struggling to make their rent each month. And for such as these teaching about the tithe creates an environment where they feel like they are not measuring up and failing as a Christian. Better that our message is "be as generous as you can be - God loves it when we give!"

    As far as the law of Moses, I agree with Paul when he says ...

    But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. -Romans 7:6-7

    So I guess it would be valid to say that we have died to the law of tithing. ツ

    Hope you are having a great weekend Mike!

  3. I hope you have had a good weekend also.

    I do think that preachers can go overboard trying to guilt people into things and not giving any consideration for individual situations.

    As for wondering where the money will come from for the rent check I have more times than I can count. I do not at all want to in any way want to sit in judgment on anyone in this situation, they may be far worse off then I ever was. But I know from experience how easy it is to use lack of money for an excuse and be generous at all. I think having some standard to shoot for helps.

    As for being dead to the law, Paul then says in Romans 8:4 that the requirements of the law will be fulfilled in us that walk by the spirit. I would conclude we are no longer condemned by the law but it can still be the standard of proper behavior. As I said what parts carry over from the law are debatable and the tithe is certainly one of the debatable parts. But if we throw out everything that is written in the law, we have to throw out love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

  4. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

    I do understand how this verse supports the idea of following the law. It seems to indicate just the opposite - following the Spirit and not the law.

    And again I take no issue with anyone who has giving goals - be they 1%, 5%, 10% or 90%. My issue is one saying that one % is more NT biblical than another.

    1. My understanding of this passage is that the law id the standard and the Spirit gives us the power to keep the standard. Trying to keep the standard without the Spirit's power is useless. Paul says that the law is good but we are unable to keep it (Romans 7:12-14).
      As for the % of giving it is not something I have any desire to pound the pulpit on. I am just unwilling to dismiss everyone who teaches or gives 10% as mere legalists. It seems more like a Romans 14 issue to me.

    2. Do you see the whole of the law as the standard or just what the Spirit leads us to keep? My thinking is that the Spirit does not lead us to stone disobedient children. If that be the case then it is possible that the Spirit may not lead a person to commit to a goal of 10%. Agree?

      And regarding 10%, I simply do not see that as a NT standard of giving apart from the leading of the HS. But it can be good if one has that as a goal if they are doing it with the right attitude - as it can be good if they have rightly motivated giving goals of 1%, 2%, 5% or 90%.

      Regarding preaching of the tithe, I have never heard it preached as a goal but always heard it taught as a command. IMO that is a misunderstanding of NT theology. There are plenty of NT verses on giving. Why revert to the OT? Why not challenge people to be generous? Why tell people that God demand 10%? But perhaps you have heard the tithe preached differently? Perhaps you have not heard it as a commandment?

    3. I have heard the tithe taught many different ways with many different attitudes. I am not going to justify all of those attitudes. But I can say that for a lot of other things I have also heard preached.

    4. So you have heard the tithe preached not as a commandment? Was it taught as a goal to which one should aspire to? Or how was it taught? Again, I am not opposed to 10% being a goal that the HS can speak to a person.

    5. I am not sure I am dogmatic enough about the tithe to preach on it, but if I did it would run something like this:

      God has been incredibly loving and generous to us in forgiving us and making us His children.

      As His children He calls on us in response to His goodness to be a generous and giving people.

      The New Testament does not absolutely command a particular amount, but 10% is an example that goes back before Moses even to the time of Abraham.

      I would challenge you under the Holy Spirit's leading to consider this amount.

      Some of you may not be able to afford this or simply not feel comfortable with this. You should do what the Spirit leads you to do.

      Some perhaps many of you may have been blessed with abundance. You should consider giving a higher percentage.

      But the important thing is that we be open to what God wants us to do. And remember everything we have comes from Him in the first place.

      (And yes I have heard sermons perhaps not exactly like this but similar.)

    6. My issue with the tithe is really much more than the %. In the OT it was established as a way to feed the priests and Levites enabling them to minister at the temple. The tithe was never monetary but given in the form of grain and animals. When it is taught this baggage comes with it:

      1) The clergy are now the NT priests and Levites;

      2) Money is substituted for food;

      3) The storehouse is now a church instead of the temple.

      In my view this is simply not the way to challenge people to be generous but a way to keep the clergy employed and church buildings maintained.

      Why not simply teach people to be generous and then trust the Lord to meet the needs of the clergy? Why revert to OT methodology to feed them?

      The other aspect is how the clergy is often very poor stewards of the tithe. Pastors ask people to give sacrificially to support their own salaries then treat this giving as if there was no sacrifice involved at all.

      Instead, why not tell people to support the poor? As we are all priests, why not call pastors to be bi-vocational and reduce the need for tithes that support Levitical/Clerical salaries. Why embrace an OT style of worship when there is a NT model (of fishermen and tentmakers) that we can follow? Why follow the traditions of Judaism or Catholicism when we do not have to?

      Sorry for the long rant Mike. Guess I simply see talk of tithing and percentages as leftover OT baggage that has no place in NT theology.

      And of course one should teach people to give the way that you have outlined if people do not want to be taught to be led by the HS. But I would prefer that we teach people to hear God's voice and to not lean on the law for guidance.

      Here endeth the rant. ツ

    7. Regarding Abraham, if I am remembering correctly the story in Genesis tells us that he gave a tenth of the plunder. His own personal wealth (which was substantial) was not tithed to Melchizedek.

    8. I feel I am being put in the of defending something I am not that dogmatic about simply because I will not categorically condemn it. I still cannot. It may be that tithe is a clear evil and all those who support it are just doing it for the money but I do not see it. On the other hand I am not dogmatic enough about it to defend it to the hilt. So if you want to go on a crusade to abolish the tithe, don't let me stop you. But I am not willing to sign on, at least not yet. I have never recommended the tithe as anything other than a broad principle, so the specifics of the different ways it was used do not seem to me to be particularly relevant. I am not sure that I fully agree with the way you understand the Holy Spirit vs. the Law, but I am not sufficiently dogmatic about the tithe for it to be a good example on which to discuss it. I think my biggest problem here is unwillingness to be dogmatic on what I regard as a minor difference of opinion. Perhaps you do not see it as minor but I am afraid I do.

  5. We have probably debated this one into oblivion Mike - here anyways. :)

    That said I will go back to the point that I originally agreed with you on:

    "We try to give Him only what is clearly required and to keep enough for ourselves so that we can still live our life our way."

    And, as always, I have learned much through our discussion. I like to think that I am getting grayer but this chat has helped me see that I am somewhat still black and white on some things. ツ

    1. All of us have our own perspectives and our own journey. This has been an interesting discussion, and I am probably even less dogmatic about something I was never that dogmatic about in the first place as a result of it. But I think you are right that we have pretty well run this one into the ground.