Richard Rohr says, “I have come to mistrust almost all righteous indignation and moral outrage. In my experience, it is hardly ever from God. Zealots motives are often filled with ego, self, power, control and self-righteousness. Resurrected people, on the other hand, prayerfully bear witness against injustice and evil but also agree compassionately to hold their own complicity in that same evil. It is not over there, it is here. It is our problem, not theirs. If you don’t do this, strangely enough, it gives you a very false sense of control and superiority because you’ve spotted the evil and, thank God, it’s not me, it’s over there, not here. As long as ‘they’ are the problem and you can keep your focus on changing them, correcting them, expelling them as the contaminating element, then you can sit in a reasonably comfortable and self-satisfying position.”
This is what the Pharisees were doing when Jesus called them hypocrites and white-washed tombs (Matthew 23:27). Jesus said, get rid of the log in your own eye then maybe you can get the sliver out of the eye of someone else. (Matthew 7:5) Only God can hold such an act together within us. The False Self, this small self, is always too fragile and too small. Only the True Self can live the gospel.
Rohr goes on to say, “Maybe our greatest disservice has been that we have given the Law and the gospel to the fragile self that is incapable even of understanding it. We end up condemning people to subterfuge, denial, mental gymnastics and trivialization—by preaching the Law without also offering people that ‘identity transplant’ that we call Good News! This is impossible except for the True Self, ‘hidden with Christ in God’” (Colossians 3:3).
Paul took some of his Letter to the Romans to struggle with this dilemma. “So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:14-15, 21-25 NLT)
Paul moves on to explain how the Spirit living in us helps us hold these two things in tension admonishing us to, “..let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…[and] I give you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourself, measuring yourself by the faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:2-3 NLT)
I write all this because of the coincidence of reading Rohr, then a set of Tweets over the past couple of days from Ed Stetzer, with which I resonate.
• “If your theology consistently creates followers who are contentious and argumentative, it is not a gospel-based theology.”
• “If your theology makes you haughty and not humble, it is not a gospel-based theology.”
• “If your theology has caused you to see your fellow Christians as your enemies, it is not a gospel-based theology.”
• “If your theology aggressively argues for right doctrine, but passively ignores bad character, it is not a gospel-based theology.”
• “If your theology gives you license to caricature and misrepresent others in the name of guarding doctrine, it is not a gospel-based theology…”
• “If your theology just makes you angry all the time, it is probably not a gospel-based theology…”
Law without gospel paralyzes and condemns to failure. May we be people of the Word; not just hearers but doers also.