This past weekend I endured another imbecilic “ice-breaker” in front of the sermon. Normally I merely tolerate these weekly excursions into the sophomoric, quietly suffering the now-standard pulpit goofiness to entertain the goats and avoid the stigma of taking eternal things too, you know, seriously.
He related the Internet urban legend of the guy who supposedly flushed his car keys at a highway rest stop and proceeded to get stuck in the septic tank in an attempt to fish them out. As the story goes, the fire department rescues the fellow and hoses him off, only for him to realize that his car keys were in his back pocket all along. The pastor joked, “Now there’s a guy who’d like a ‘do-over’ in life!”
The pastor then pronounced: “God’s word for a do-over is grace!”
My heart sank, for my fellow church-goes, for the preacher and for my own prospects at ministry in today’s Christless Christianity. According to last Sunday’s sermon—so implied—the LORD’s solution for our mistakes (our grandparents used to call it “sin”) is to just give us another opportunity to work harder the next time around; another “do-over” to try and get it right the next time. And the next time. And the next time. Ad nauseum.
This anti-Gospel message of self-effort is nothing more than the filthy rags of self-righteousness. This leaves the sheep to attempt their “do-over” over and over until they either despair of their inability to get it perfect as God demands, or smugly rest in the pride that they did it right on their second or fiftieth “do-over.” The tax collector and Pharisee—the despairing sinner juxtaposed with the prideful soul who thinks he’s done everything right—are the only two outcomes of preaching the Law instead of the Gospel.
|The LAW:||What God demands (sinless perfection) and the consequences of violation (the shedding of blood).|
|The GOSPEL:||The announcement (lit. “good news”) that Christ lived in sinless perfection and the gift of “peace with God through Christ” by complete faith in His death in our place.|
As Ken Jones (pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church and regular on the White Horse Inn show) put it succinctly:
“The law is what God demands, the Gospel is what God has done, and what God has done is what He demands.”
When a preacher speaks of “do” he is preaching the Law. So it is not until he proclaims the “done” of the finished work of Christ that he is preaching the Gospel: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do!” (Rom. 8:3)
So, what would have been a Gospel-centered conclusion to this story? Something like this:
Unlike the hapless fellow in that story, when Christians find ourselves wanting a do-over we need only look to the perfect life of Christ to know that we don’t need a “do-over” because it’s all done!
God doesn’t have a word for “do-over” because through Christ crucified God gives us “done!”