How to stay in the middle of the road

I have been thinking about the nature of Christian truth recently—in particular, what it means to live the Christian life. And I keep coming across these poles to avoid: one the one hand, legalism, and on the other hand, licentiousness.

But what would happen if you tried to drive your car down the middle of the freeway by adopting this strategy—whatever you do, avoid the right hand and left hand edges of the road? (The golfers all know the answer to this question already: “Don’t hit it left, don’t hit it left … Doh!”).

The problem is twofold. Either you spend so much time staring at the problem that you’re trying to avoid that it ends up snaring you, or you avoid the problem all together by ending up in the sand trap on the other side of the road (to mix my metaphors!). But how do you stay in the middle of the road?

The key is understanding the gracious Lordship of Jesus.

Let me ask you a question. What is the solution to legalism? If you answered grace, you’re not quite there. What is the antidote to licentiousness? If you answered, “the lordship of Jesus”, then you’re not necessarily thinking like an apostle.

Don’t believe me? When the apostle Paul wanted to urge the Christians in Crete to godly obedience, what did he say? He told them that grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-14). And when Paul addressed the self-righteous moralists who thought that their righteousness allowed them to lay claim on God, and judgement on others, he addresses them by reminding them of the absolute purity and impartiality of God’s judgement who is the true ruler of all (Rom 2:1-11).

The key to real godliness—to living in the middle of the road (or smacking it down the middle of the fairway)—is to understand that the Lordship of Jesus is essentially connected to the grace of God.

The ultimate problem for humanity is sin. It is sin that leads to death and judgement. And what is sin? It is removing God from the throne and placing ourselves upon it. The Bible keeps telling me that in spite of the apparent freedom of this maneuver, what I am, in fact, doing is binding myself in the chains of slavery.Pursuing my passions and desires means living in a set of relationships defined by each person’s independence from God (Rom 1:18-30)—it is a miserable existence. That is why, when Jesus dies for our sins, he also rises to send his Spirit upon his people—the Spirit who transforms hearts and leads his people to call Jesus Lord.

Submitting to Jesus as your Lord is the ultimate righting of wrong and the greatest display of the grace of God. What greater gift is there than knowing Jesus as our true and perfect Lord, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light? When we live with Jesus as our Lord, we find true grace in the joy of obedience.

Do you want to stay in the middle of the godliness road? It’s not about avoiding the ditches, but keeping your eyes on our gracious Lord, in whose service is perfect freedom.

3 thoughts on “How to stay in the middle of the road

  1. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for that post and the reminder to focus on Jesus.

    Just a clarification – in looking at the cross, we can wee both the high standards of God’s righteousness and the abundant grace of God. The standard of righteousness should remind all of us who are legalists (and self-righteous) to check ourselves and the grace shown should inspire obedience to those who live in licence? Quite counterintuitive?

    Is that a fair comment?

  2. I like Romans 6. You have basically 2 sections (vv 1-14 & 15-23) arguing strongly against licentiousness, but in case you’re tempted to slip into legalism both sections end with blunt reminders that we are “under grace” and that eternal life is “the free gift of God”.

  3. Hi Luke,

    Sorry for the late reply, I have been off air for a few days. Your take is basically correct. But I think I want to push it a bit further. I want to argue that Grace and the Lordship of Jesus aren’t mutual correctives to each other, but are part of the one big true picture about who God is and who we are.

    So legalism is dealt with both by understanding the gracious Lordship of Jesus and licentiousness is dealt with by understanding the gracious Lordship of Jesus.

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