Sunday, January 15, 2012

Conversionalism: Shall we sin so that grace may abound?

You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me
Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography
See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded
Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted
See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness
But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness

(Jeff Bethke, in his video poem)

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

(Rom. 5:20-21; 6:1)

Christians ought to live godly lives. We are all sinners saved by grace alone. Yet, what is the nature of our testimony? What are we to make of Jeff Bethke's idea of "boast[ing] in ... weakness"?

First of all, we note that whatever the legitimacy of the substance behind the lyrics, the phrase itself as used in Scripture does not fit what Bethke is doing. Here is what the Apostle Paul wrote,

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses —though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Cor. 11: 21b-27; 12:5-10)

We note here that the weaknesses that the Apostle Paul boasts in are his suffering and trials on behalf of the church. It includes a "thorn in the flesh" (whatever that means) that impairs his ministry effectiveness. What the Apostle Paul boasts in as we can see in verse 10 are "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities."

Notably absent from the list for boasting are any indication of former sins that the Apostle Paul has now overcome. Bethke's usage of the phrase "boasting in weakness" therefore is biblically illegitimate.

The sort of testimony seen in these lyrics is a boast in that the person (probably Bethke) was formerly addicted to pornography while acting like a church kid with everything being all right. In the sense, the person who does this is living a double life — pretending to be a good person while engaging in all types of sins. Now that he has known Jesus however, he boasts in the fact that Jesus has delivered him and he does not need to pretend and be a hypocrite again.

The problem here however is that such is not a true boasting in weakness but rather a boasting in conversion. It is glorifying a type of Damascus Road Experience with all its attendant problems, a type of hagiography.

In Romans, Paul addresses a similar issue in that God's grace is magnified through the forgiveness of sin. While slightly different, there is a disturbing similarity to the type of perverse boasting in conversion experience in the poem. Shall we sin that grace may abound? It seems that Bethke will have to answer YES, as long as the person later changes. So the person who was formerly addicted to pornography is superior to the person who has never even watched pornography, even if both are now Christians by the grace of God. In fact, the person who was formerly addicted to pornography is spiritually superior, since he has a testimony to give.

Shall we sin so that grace may abound? Well, why not? The more I sin, the more God's grace will be magnified in my conversion and transformation! Pity the poor obedient kid raised in a Christian home who was taught the Law and the Gospel since young; he has such a lousy testimony to give. The more sins I commit, God's grace will be magnified when I repent and turn to Christ! Why stick to pornography? Why not actual visiting of prostitutes, partaking of orgies and other such sins? Wouldn't God be glorified when such a sinner turned to Christ? What's more, he can go around "boasting in his weaknesses," with much more "weaknesses" than the sinner in Bethke's lyrics!

As it can be seen, this whole idea of "conversionalism" is ridiculous! Scripture never tell us that we should "boast" in this manner. Certainly, the one who is saved from a life of debauchery may treasure the grace of God more as he sees how God has saved him from his former sins. He is probably more grateful also, and his testimony more touching. But all this is not grounds for greater boasting! In the sight of God, is the sin of lying less deserving of damnation than the sin of pornography, or the sin of murder even? It is not. All sinners come to the cross on a level field, for all sin deserves hell-fire. There is no room for some perverse boasting in one's former sins, as if God's grace abounds more because of our greater sins.

Logically and consistently, if this is the type of teaching that is believed and taught, imagine how one approaches unbelievers and "nominal" church folks? These people ought to be encouraged to sin more, in order that when they feel guilty for sinning and if they repent and turn to Christ they would then have a testimony to give. Does any Christian seriously want to adopt this modus operandi with its encouragement of sin?

Bethke's boasting through the lyrics therefore is un-Christian. If someone is saved from a life of sin, praise God for that. But that is not (perverse) grounds for boasting but of gratefulness and thanks to God to save such a sinner. Amen.

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