Have you ever asked yourself, "Why do I draw sheep?". Probably not, but have you ever wondered why this "Webshepherd" guy draws sheep? Is it because I am some sort of extremist? No, itís actually because I refuse to be one. One of the reasons I draw these strips and write these editorials is because I am trying to spiritually survive in a very lonely place. I call this place "the middle".
For most of my Christian life, Iíve been caught in the middle of two extremes of thought which I have been exposed to in various churches: these are the extremes of grace and the extremes of law. One thing both extremes have in common is that they remind me of the new TV series "Survivor". Each side has staked out an intellectual "island" to live on, and they will each quickly vote you off their island if you donít fit in.
Letís visit "grace island" first. If you are a stranger to "grace island", they will quickly do their duty to preach to you the Gospel and make sure you "get saved". In order to become a member of this resort island community, you must complete the following steps.
First, believe the Gospel.
Second, say the "sinners prayer". At this point you "get saved" and you get "eternal security", which means you can never lose your salvation.
Third, you need to get baptized. Baptism accomplishes nothing on "grace island", but it is absolutely essential that you do it. Why? Because it shows others that you have been saved. Itís an "outward sign of an inward grace". It accomplishes nothing, but you must do it.
What if you donít submit to this "baptism that accomplishes nothing"? Well, that means that you probably didnít have "saving faith" to begin with. You donít lose your salvation, you simply never had it.
Confused? Wait, thereís more. Suppose you read the Bible and you come across Mark 16:16 where Jesus says "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." What if you actually believe this, just as it is written? Then youíre in big trouble. On "grace island" they say "Whoever believes is saved unless they wonít be baptized in which case they werenít saved." You end up believing and getting baptized, but itís the way you think about it that counts.
You see, on "grace island" you are saved when you "believe", and if you believe that anything more is required than "believe", then you are automatically branded a heretic who is trusting in "works" to be saved. If you persist in this "heresy", you will be voted off the island. There isnít much grace available for theological differences.
If you really believe that, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved", means that you have to both believe and then be baptized to be saved, then you are saying that what Jesus did on the cross is not sufficient for your salvation. When it comes to salvation, not even Jesus is allowed to add to what Jesus did on the cross. (Donít even think about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.) You either believe that "believe" is all that God requires, or you are a heretic "working your way to heaven" .
So, to become a full fledged member of the "grace island" community, you must believe the Gospel, pray the "sinnerís prayer" to "get saved" (a practice found nowhere in the New Testament), and get baptized only to show that you have already been saved (a purpose for baptism not found in the New Testament).
If you can get this all down just right, then you can relax in your "eternal security". Sin all you want, and donít let any "heretic" suggest to you that God requires obedience. Godís grace is enough to cover any sin you commit, even willfully, and even if you donít repent. But His grace is not enough to cover you if you believe that He requires more than "believe".
Now, letís get in our intellectual cabin cruiser and motor over to "law atoll".
If you are a stranger to "law atoll", they will quickly do their duty to preach to you the Gospel, and they will make sure you understand what it means to obey the Gospel. To obey the Gospel, one must believe and be baptized (so far so good). Once you obey the Gospel, you are added to the church.
And, as long as you follow the rules, you get to stay in the church. The most important set of rules one must follow are the rules surrounding "the worship". You must perform "the worship" on the right day and the right way. There are certain "acts" that are acceptable to God during the "corporate worship hour". Each of these "acts" must be warranted by a passage of scripture containing a command or an example. If an activity is not explicitly warranted by a command or example, it is forbidden.
Here is one example: Colossians 3:16 says "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."
Now, to an "ignorant" individual this may look like one of many commands Paul is giving the believers in Colossae as a general guide to Christian living within in a Christian community. But to the "experts of the law", this is really a command to sing during "the worship" on Sunday morning. Not only that, it is an implicit command to only "sing" and not "play". Bring your guitar with you to "the worship", and you get voted off "law atoll".
On "law atoll", the worst thing you can do is promote a "new idea" or an "innovation". The rules were made long before you arrived on this island, and if you want to stay you had better follow them.
Now that Iíve visited both islands, where can I stay? Only on a little island I call "middle rock". I arrived on this little island by studying the Bible.
I found that the way one obeys the Gospel is to believe and be baptized. This is what the Jews did when Peter preached to them in Acts 2:38. This is what the Samaritans did in Acts 8:12. This is what the Ethiopian eunuch did in Acts 8:38. This is what the household of Cornelius did in Acts 10. This is what Lydia did in Acts 16:14-15. This is what the Corinthians did in Acts 18:8. This is what Paul did in Acts 9:17-18 and as Paul himself describes in Acts 22. The circumstances surrounding all these accounts were different, but the sequence of first belief and then baptism is there every time.
Needless to say, I donít feel very comfortable on "grace island". Itís not that I donít believe in Godís grace. Itís that I object to the extreme of thought that reduces Godís word to "grace" and excludes everything else. I still havenít found that "sinnerís prayer" in the scriptures anywhere. Although the doctrine of "eternal security" means that I canít lose my salvation, it also means that I can be deemed to have never had it if I donít follow the program.
I also studied my way out of "law atoll". The worship rules I was taught are nothing more than scripture fragments taken out of context and recombined in a form that the writers never intended. All too often I have found that Jesusí words in Matthew 15:8-9 ring true, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
I believe what John wrote in John 1:12-13. "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." When we obey the Gospel, we become part of Godís family.
As Paul writes in Galations 4:6 ĎBecause you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."í Also in Romans 8:15, ĎFor you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."í Does the "Spirit of sonship" only exist in us just so long as we check into the church building every Sunday morning for 90 minutes of "authorized acts" of worship?
How does the "Spirit of sonship" worship God? As Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship."
A "living sacrifice" with the "Spirit of sonship" can worship God all the time in everything they do. Assembling with other Christians is part of that worship, but worship is not defined as an assembly. Christians can meet at any time and at any place to do things that edify each other. We are not called to fear a human created "law of worship" for 90 minutes a week, but rather to fear the Lord all the time because we have been adopted as sons (and daughters).
So Iíve visited both islands and I canít stay on either one of them. I canít live in denial of Godís commands as so many do on "grace island", and I donít want to be enslaved by fear as so many are on "law atoll". Iím in the lonely middle. Iím drawing sheep.