The Sinfulness of Sin by Ralph Venning
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First published in 1666, The Sinfulness of Sin was written in the time of the Great Plague of London. Originally titled Sin: The Plague of Plagues, the book bolstered a demanding statement. It suggested that beyond any other human pain, even death, sin is the most serious of all epidemics.
I have to admit, this book has sat on my shelf for nearly two years because I feared its truth. The darkness of sin, while ever-present, is often veiled in the monotony of life. Sin is our default setting; sin often seems so reasonable. Just as Adam and Eve, we too often seek our own way and try to create a world that feels comfortable for ourselves, even though as we do we shun God’s law and what he knows is best for us.
The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wish I had known about this book when I was in high school. For much of my formative years I have struggled with seeing free will in the Bible, being taught about the “age of accountability” and told that it was very explicit in the pages of Scripture. It came down to a single decision: stand alone on the argument against free will or submit to the teaching of the church. Submit was what I thought was my only option.
Happy I was to find out more than a year ago that I was not alone: there are many people who agree that there is no free will in the face of God’s omnipotence. Not only that, but it is not a new idea at all. Martin Luther does a masterful job in this classic of laying out the teaching of the Bible and its very staunch view of God’s action in drawing us to himself as the only way to be reconciled to him.
It would stand to reason that Christians who hang with reformation theology would have a problem with talking about “works.” One blogger recently suggested that reformed Christians have a “fear of works.” Even from its inception, the Reformation was reactive against the authority of the Papacy and the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church regarding penance and works as being a payment for sin. At that time the Catholic church was the only option in terms of Christian teaching and worship, and its intimate relationship with the ruling powers easily allowed the false doctrine of justification by works violate and tarnish the gospel. Martin Luther, John Calvin and others challenged the church’s position and many were burned at the stake for their challenge.
But the Bible does teach us to do good, in fact (dare I say) it requires Christians to do good works. Surely without good works there would never have been a Reformation and no one would have taken up the banner of the true gospel even to death without them. There is a dramatic difference between justification by works, which is outright heresy, and justification by faith. Indeed we are justified by our faith, and it is this gospel that is so clearly defined in the book of Galatians.
At a Bible college I went to in St. Louis for a year, I had a series of talks with the professor of Old Testament Theology about the importance of keeping the rules of the college regardless of how ridiculous or irrelevant they were. They were good talks. I completely agreed with the importance of submitting under authority. But as the days went on, I began to see the impossibility of my actually keeping all of these unrealistic rules. I expressed my concerns to him and was answered with this statement: “Nobody said that holiness was easy.” I left crushed and defeated at his reply.
Later on I was thinking about this situation and what came to my mind was what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light
I couldn’t see how this reconciled with my prof’s adamant retort: even though holiness is extremely difficult, we must pursue to achieve it without wavering. Needless to say, my understanding of the gospel was rather limited at this time and in retrospect, I much more understand what was going on, namely that the gospel was absent. There was a lot of talk of holiness and righteousness and piety, but little (if any) of the atoning work of Christ on the cross for our sins.
So before I talk anymore about the goodness of the law or our need to pursue sanctification, I want to clearly explain what the gospel has to do with the question of “Why Should I?”