Tertullian, the ancient church father, is sometimes quoted as saying, “Just as Jesus was crucified between two thieves, so the gospel is ever crucified between these two errors.” (It seems he may not actually have said this, but the principle remains sound). What are these two errors to be avoided? Tim Keller calls them religion and irreligion: legalism (living by law) and antinomianism (living without law). Or we could think of them in the Bible’s categories of unrighteousness and self-righteousness.
Those of us who have been brought up with the gospel outline Two Ways to Live instinctively protest that there are only two ways to live – not three – and that they are ‘our way’ and ‘God’s way’. However, what Keller rightly understands is that there are two distinct ways of living ‘our way’. They are illustrated for us in the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, where the younger son is a model of irreligion (“give me my share of the estate”), while his elder brother is a model of religion (“All these years I’ve been slaving for you”).
The first imagines that we don’t need to be righteous at all, while the second imagines that we can establish our own righteousness. Meanwhile, the gospel is ‘crucified’ by both errors: in the gospel we are given God’s righteousness. To say that we don’t need his righteousness, or that we can provide our own, are both equally offensive and mistaken.
Yours warmly, in Christ,
Chris Hobbs (Senior Minister)