Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ed Welch on legalism (1)

Around Easter this year, God turned me inside out. I was listening to a talk on legalism by Ed Welch (part of his series on biblical counselling).

I'd been doing a lot of navel gazing during the last year and a half: why am I feeling anxious? why am I feeling depressed? why am I feeling overwhelmed? I'd identified all kinds of issues: pride, perfectionism, people-pleasing and so on.

But the day I heard this talk - around the time, in God's grace, that I read the chapter on legalism in Tim Chester's You Can Change - I realised what was at the root of them all: legalism.

That day I rejoiced. If the root problem was legalism, there was a very simple solution: grace. I was forgiven and made new! I didn't need to prove myself to God, others or myself any longer. I didn't need to try and change through yet another list of rules.

Here's how Ed Welch begins: with the story of a friend.

A friend of mine was meeting in a small group. They were going to talk about and do repentance … I thought he was my spiritual mentor. To wake up and confess sin on Friday mornings with other brothers! …

But I noticed that after 3 weeks or so, he started getting a bit numb. ... The weeks go on, and he’s feeling depressed. The weeks go on, and he’s feeling really depressed. The weeks go on, and he’s feeling certifiably, institutionisable depression. ... Here’s my spiritual mentor, and he’s going through this process of repentance with other brothers in Christ: it didn't make any sense.

So we began to think about it one day. Here’s how it went. He would repent of his sins. He would repent publicly – grand thing! But then he would see that his repentance was selfish, that it was manipulative, that perhaps there was a bit of it that was trying to impress the other people in the group. So he would repent of his repentance. And then he would consider the repentance of his repentance and realize the selfishness in that, the self-centredness in that, and he would repent of the repentance of his repentance of his repentance.

Now he’s a fairly bright guy. My neurons would have gone on the fritz at that point. But he got to around the seventh level of repentance. …

So he’s repented for his repentance for his repentance for his repentance. He’s left me thoroughly confused. He’s hopelessly depressed and getting even more depressed, if there’s a lower point to go. We’re assuming that Scripture speaks clearly, ... and you don’t have to be a genius to grab on to it. The question is, what’s available to this particular person?

He needs to repent. The eighth level of repentance! But he doesn’t need to repent of his repentance. He needs to repent of the very thought that there is something he can do, some righteousness that he can bring to the finished work of Christ.

The gospel is 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: "Christ died for sins, and he rose again according to the Scriptures." That’s the thing "of first importance". The wondrous part of that passage is that it doesn’t say anything about us: ... “Christ died for sin, and he rose again according to the Scripture. And you must repent really well.”

Yes, there is repentance as our response to the gospel, undoubtedly. There is repentance as we turn from one kingdom and move towards the other. The thing of first importance, however, is what Christ has done.

In the book of Galatians, there was this tendency to add something – add something good to what Christ has done, but add to it. And any time we add to what Christ has done, the apostle Paul saves his most ferocious words for us. Because he has just been smitten by the gospel.
images are from flickr

1 comment:

Rachach said...

That is a cool story and very worth telling.
Love Rach