September 29, 2020

Jail Break

A little while ago I was up late at night and caught a TV special on the making of Johnny Cash’s album, San Quentin. When it came to Cash performing the song about California’s infamous prison, I listened intently—and then came undone. I wept and wept. I went to iTunes and downloaded the song, listened and wept all the more. Why was I crying over this song? What made it so poignent for me?

Watch Cash perform the song for yourself, and then we will continue.

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I found myself, as I listened to this song by one of the greatest storytellers of all time, hating San Quentin prison. I found myself hating all prisons. And that’s when I realized just what was getting to me. Prison. Man was not made for prison, and I felt as if the walls and bars were closing in on me. But just what was this prison I felt I was trapped in?

Then it came to me.

In a word: Legalism.

Oh, we can dress it up if we like. We can call it

  • Obeying the Lord
  • Following his word
  • “To obey is better than sacrifice”

But it comes down to this: If I am the one in control, then I am in a prison of my own making.

I have come to this place in my life: I either want to let go of my life and let God be in total control, or I want to be in total control myself. Splitting the duties just doesn’t work. “Balance” is not the way. (That is another essay for another day. Just know that the “B” word is not welcome with me.)  I can try to earn my way into God’s good graces by doing all of the good and prudent things that Christians are supposed to do, or I can have God’s good Grace simply by receiving it.

Balancing grace with my efforts is like balancing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar licks with my out-of-tune strumming.

Or put it this way. You have two barrels sitting side-by-side. One contains the world’s greatest wine, the other contains raw sewage. If you put a drop of wine in the sewage, you still have sewage. But if you put a drop of sewage in the wine, you have … sewage. My efforts are nothing but sewage.

And we have a really hard time accepting this.

I am accused of being “all grace, but no good works.” Guilty as charged. I am coming out of my prison. I’m not going to “do” Christianity any longer. And I’m not even going to “be” who I am supposed to be, other than “be dead.” Jesus didn’t come to make me a better person. He didn’t come to improve me, make me more moral, or help me to be “a good witness.” He came so that I could die with him, and then experience his resurrection with him. Nothing else matters. Nothing. The only thing that can be raised from the dead is that which has died.

I don’t give a rat’s furry backside any longer. I’ve been in prison for so long and I want out. Legalism is sin. Let me say that again. Legalism is sin. It’s putting me in charge of my life. I did that for oh so long, and it was miserable every moment. There is always something more I was supposed to be doing. Just when I thought I had “that” down, something else would crop up. It’s the same for you, you know. Ok, so you quit doing “that.” Good for you. Tomorrow “this” will be before you, calling your name, taunting you. And you’ll have to deal with it. Get an accountability partner to keep you honest. And, in time, you will conquer it. Only to find the next day there is yet another “it.”

It never ends. The only way to stop the madness is to die. Die to your identity as a sinner. Stop embracing the idea that you are still in sin. Instead, embrace the notion that God has forgiven you totally: Your sins of yesterday, your sins of today, your sins of tomorrow. It really is true, you know. The Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world. We were forgiven from the start. The prison doors are unlocked. The only thing keeping you behind bars is your refusal to see yourself as dead to your sins and alive to Christ.

Your works, the efforts you make to impress God by keeping the rules, are a life sentence in San Quentin. Wouldn’t you rather sing with Johnny Cash:

San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell.

May your walls fall, and may I live to tell.

May all the world forget you ever stood.

And may all the world regret you did no good.

San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.


  1. Jeff,

    I loved this post. You are spot on about the problem that we have. There is NO FIXING IT ourselves. We need to die. Jesus said as much himself. “If you would gain your life, you must lose it.

    How can this happen? Read Romans 6.

    There it is. Death, and resurrection. Done to us, outside of ourselves, in our Baptisms.

    But Christ Jesus loves and died for sinners…like us. We are totally sinful..yet totally justified in Christ. (the Simul). Don’t worry about being sinful… repent of your sin, and know that because of Christ the sinful are DECLARED RIGHTEOUS !

    Very nice job, Jeff…THANKS!

  2. Great lines from the San Quentin song at the end, Jeff.

    I feel your heart in this post and I pray that you are able to step outside the prison and stay outside. And then, help those of us still hanging around that prison.

    I love the passages in Acts 12 where there is a prison break created by the angel of the Lord. (I do feel badly for the soldiers guarding Peter, though, in that Herod had them killed. It wasn’t their fault! I wonder if they were able to witness anything of what happened to Peter or if the angel of the Lord kept them sleeping? I hope he let them see what happened so when they died, at least they had that amazing happening to give them hope and peace.)

    I love the book of Acts, period. Such amazing things happen with the Holy Spirit and the angel of the Lord helping the disciples of Jesus.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and words with us, Jeff.

    • “And then, help those of us still hanging around that prison”

      Yeah…..we can think we got out, but we still play with matches, cuz deep down…..we’re not sure Jesus actually accomplished it ALL. That message is so radical, so scary, so rebellious……how could it be?

      Thanks Joanie…..I think I’ll start walking away now.

      Wanna join me?

      Anyone else?


  3. Jeff: Very good post. Called to die, not to do. That very thing has been on my mind and spirit for the last several months. I belong to the Unchained Gang Motorcycle Ministry. We conduct jail and prison ministry in 23 jails and prisons across Indiana. Recently a member of the Diablos ( and his wife were busted for drug dealing. They are being held in a county jail where we conduct Sunday night services. They were in separate blocks and can’t communicate with each other. We hold service first for the women, and then for the men. They attend the service, probably to escape boredom, who knows. The wife hears the gospel, responds, receives the gift of eternal life, prays for her husband. An hour later the husband walks into the rec room. Hard as nails. Face, head, arms tatted with demonic symbols. If you met him in a dark alley you’d poop your pants. Our senior pastor is ministering that night. Tells his story. He was a one-percent-er, president of his club. The Lord confronted him one night. Gave him a vision of scales. On one side all his good works, then all his sins. The sin side tipped the scales beyond the point of no return. There was no hope. Then the cross of Christ appears and tips the scales against the sins. He cries out; But Lord I can’t be good. The answer comes back; it not about being good, its about being set free. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. The Diablos hears it. Grace opens his heart. He too receives the gift of eternal life. He asks about his wife. The ministry team asks her description, he describes her; they tell him—joy unspeakable, full of glory. Jeff- you keep preaching that message. Death to the self life, death to the religious life. Pick up your cross, put the self-willed life to death and Jesus will make you alive. I covet the Imonk community’s prayers for this man and his wife. He faces many years in prison. But, right now, he is free.

    • Thank you for sharing this story Mike! My soul needs to hear more about the lost being found! In this manner! Not another alter call, or revival meeting! But cutting right into the heart of one who would never be found acceptable in a church……who finds Jesus! Anyways! Astounding! I love it!!!

  4. Amazing post! Cash was a great evangelist.. His songs did for me what a lot of preachers never could do. Thank you for the post. Well written.

    • True about johnny Cash. He did preserve a sincerity and genuineness in his gospel message. That’s why we need to give ear to a little more of what the Man in Black had to say:

      Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
      Why you never see bright colors on my back,
      And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
      Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

      I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
      Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
      I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
      But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

      I wear the black for those who never read,
      Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
      About the road to happiness through love and charity,
      Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

      Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
      In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
      But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
      Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

      I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
      For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
      I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
      Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

      And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
      Believen’ that the Lord was on their side,
      I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
      Believen’ that we all were on their side.

      Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
      And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
      But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
      You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

      Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
      And tell the world that everything’s OK,
      But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
      ‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

  5. Fantastic message! So many thousands of Christians caught up in the prison of legalism and churchianity. Messages like these are far and few between.

    May the Lord make your message spread across the Christian circles like wild fire, and may this message purify the hearts and minds of those Christians who live in such a prison, and burn all the impurities which are keeping them from attaining the freedom which Christ gave his life to give us.

    God bless you.

  6. I liked the post and the video, however: We have many false gods in our lives, and they are all destructive. But it would seem to me that many people living in self-made prisons in our society today might consider themselves lucky to get to the slammer where you are living. So many struggle with lives out of control from booze or meth or pot or sex or food or anger or materialism. After losing so much of their lives, some people wish they were able to have 4 walls around them. Jesus can give them that too.

  7. This reminds me of Phil Ochs’ hit “There but for Fortune”, popularized by Joan Baez in 1964.

    Show me the prison, Show me the jail.
    Show me the prisoner, whose life has gone stale.
    And I’ll show you, young man, with so many reason’s why.
    There but for fortune, go you and I.

    It is a fitting response to the Pharisee who says “Thank God I am not like one of those.”

    Here is Joan Baez singing it live in concert.

    • this link was worth the re-visit of “Diamonds and Rust”, circa ’75… Joan is golden….

      • I was in Africa from 1974-1978. My knowledge of the North American scene from that era is non-existent! Funny how that works. Thanks for drawing attention to her other song though. And sorry Jeff for getting off topic!

    • So, you really believe that? That the only difference between you and the ones behind bars is sheer luck? No decision they made contributed? All their bad choices were forced upon them by circumstance? Man as marionette of external forces – the perfect exculpation for postmodern times.

  8. Why does jail, with it’s bleak future and countless rules, become so comfortable to so many? Many don’t want to leave because they can’t fathom the reality of freedom I suppose. Maybe the dark of jail is a “safe” place to hide, away from the light of freedom, where everything is exposed and unredeemmable by anything we can do.

    Thanks Jeff for this. I keep working on this reality also. It’s hard.

    legalism is a hard jailer.

    • Jail is so predictable. They tell you when to get up, what to wear, where to stand, even where to look. The “social system” is just as predictable, you know who you can talk to and who you can not, who you can trade with and for what. There are no questions in jail.

      Death is full of questions.

      • @clutch: “death is full of questions” = awesome.

      • Jail, or prison?. Some things in county corrections are predictable in the way you describe them. In prison,not so much. 3 squares and a cot are pretty predictable in both. In my 11 years of working and living inside as a chaplain I found many inmates living with the question of who do I trust, who is this new cell mate who seems way too friendly, how do I stay alive in this place? But, death is full of questions that’s for sure. Except maybe the death to legalism Jeff is speaking of. Seems like that sort of death gives answers and life. I’m just rambling here Clutch, but you just go me thinking.

      • “These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. After long enough, you get so you depend on ’em. That’s ‘institutionalized.'”

  9. The gospel is radical.

    We don’t want freedom. But that is exactly why Christ died for us (Galatians 5:1).

    Since the law is written upon our hearts, and there is no free lunch in this world, we must hear the liberating news of the gospel over and over and over and over again. We need to be constantly put to death, and raised again…until we are laid down and raised for the final time.

    We must not forget that we are sinners, though, for that is part of the dying and rising process. (God’s process)

    • Steve (my Lutheran brother?)-
      Over and over and over and over. The highlight of my week is hearing the words from my pastors mouth, “Christ died for the forgiveness of sins, he died for sinners, he died for you my friends.” Where is communion? Is it bad form to push to get to the front of the communion line?

      I’ve been challenging my brother, who is from a charismatic church, about the need to hear the gospel proclamation every Sunday. He then spoke to his pastor because it was not being pronounced. The young pastor literally said, “we can’t do that, people will treat it cheaply”. The church’s message is the gospel, not law light.

  10. Plato’s allegory of the cave anyone?

    • Shadows!

    • There’s a ‘school of though’ I guess that supposes that Plato somehow influenced Christian thinking. The Philosopher King… Rising, seeing, returning. Self-sacrifice.
      Our King is a slaughtered Lamb.

  11. Thanks for the post. .I am rereading Michael Spencer’s book. I was struck by this in chapter 11. “Hello, my name is Michael, and I’m a big sinner wuth a bigger Savior.” Grace is unfathomable, but oh so wonderful. Some people don’t want to admit that they are sinning, but if they say this it means they are o.k. and don’t need grace or Jesus.

  12. Sorry, clumsy fingers. the quote is with a bigger Savior.

  13. I have to say, Jeff, I really don’t understand. I’m trying to wrap my mind around what it is you want to relinquish. Legalism – an ill-defined, nebulous concept whose definition depends on the person stating it? Action of any kind?

    • I think legalism is thinking that there is something we can do (anything at all) that can affect our standing before the Living God.

      To be freed from that sort of thinking, and to rely totally on the Savior, is to be free from legalism and is to be free, indeed.

      • At the same time, I think the things people do as Christians can be done as a logical extension of the faith rather than something on which salvation depends. And those things can be considered legalistic. Discipline can be considered legalistic. Evangelism can be considered legalistic. Ritual. Forcing yourself to do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. Etc. All these things have been accused of being legalistic at one point. None of these things are necessary for salvation, but the theory is that one puts in an effort to action when one has the Christian faith.

        Hence, my confusion.

        • It sure can be confusing. All those things you mentioned are fine, as long as they are divorced from the gospel and HAVING TO DO them, for righteousness sake.

          So many have a ‘ladder climbing’ theology, where they state that we are totally saved by grace, BUT you should, ought, and must be doing certain things as proof that you are really serious about God (to be a better Christian). That is very dangerous, and quite often results in legalism.

          The fact of the matter is that none of us are really serious about God. The only one who is serious is God. And He has done everything needful, for our sakes.

        • Amanda, it is the motivation of our heart. If we open the door for someone and think, “When I do this, God must really like me,” then that is legalism. When we do it and say, “I know God loves me no matter what. Now I want to love others as well,” then that is from a position of freedom.

          We can be the most moral, upstanding people on our block and be as far from God as possible. We can be filthy sinners and be closer than close to the Father. Having said that, once we have drawn close to God, I don’t believe it is possible for us to stay filthy sinners. The All-Consuming Fire will burn that out of us.

          Does this help at all?

          • I think it clarifies your position, yes.

          • I have never met a pure motive, yet!

            Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us that “all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags”.

          • @ Jeff D: while you are wearing the clarifyer’s hat and robe: put 17 writers/thoelogians in a room and get 19 diff views of what it means to “die to self” or “be dead”. I’m not trying to be dodgey, but in simple english (cuz I can be stupider than a bag of hammers), would you wax on about this ?? I’m not looking for religious nuance, be as blunt as you like. I’m with Amanda in some ways: this post is cool and all, but leaves me a little confused.


          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

            I’m glad Amanda brought up the issue. And I really appreciate Jeff’s answer. I really think that a part of God’s grace is that gradual transformation in his children that includes the enabling us to be more obedient in spite of ourselves.

          • “Having said that, once we have drawn close to God, I don’t believe it is possible for us to stay filthy sinners.”

            I think you just destroyed your whole argument & post.
            We are sinners, this world sucks, there is nothing we can do but have faith & wait to die. remember.
            THIS IS LEGALISM!

        • One way to think of legalism is that it’s making an idol of rules. What happens when you fail? Can you be forgiven? Are there even more rules attached to receiving that forgiveness? Do you “raise the bar” on the quality of discipleship by makng the rules stricter and more exacting? It goes on and on and never ends.

          Compare Isa 46:1-2 and 46:3-4 for a contrast between “burdensome” idols that are “a burden for the weary” and the Lord’s promise to “sustain”, “carry”, and “rescue” us, which anticipates Jesus saying “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). Jesus’ ministry also contrasts with that of the legalistic Pharisees, who “tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:4). That’s a metaphor for what legalism does to us, burdening us without “lifting a finger to help.”

        • very true Amanda, we need more Dietrich Bonhoeffer to understand the tension between works & faith.

  14. Wow. I share your struggle and the difficulty to put into words what “it” is. What’s the use when “it” will change identity in the morning. Death is the only solution. Staying dead is the only battle. Keeping the old man down is a work of love, discipline, and Holy Spirit power. Right now the fight is so hard, so bleak, that I wondered if I was really saved. Either grace is complete and Jesus saves completely or else I shall remain most miserable.

    The church has taught, believed, and perpetrated far too many myths and put far too many in bondage. Freedom is indeed only in Jesus as we live in Him moment by moment.

  15. Here’s the problem…many Christians have come to expect to be told what they shouldn’t do. Many Pastors or ministry leaders are used to telling Christians what they shouldn’t do. It’s easier!!! Talk about do’s and don’ts, etc.. On the flip side grace is something that can’t be talked about easily. It works against evangelcal normality. “Fundgelcials” may knows versus such as Ephesians 2:8 but many don’t know how to live that out. That’s where part of the problem lies, and so many go back to telling people what they shouldn’t do or what to do… Not only that but that’s in part why the church drives away agnositcs, doubters, people dealing with homosexuality, porn, alcohol, etc..

    • And how I tend to see it, the people opposing legalism are still telling people what to do and what not to do, just a different set of actions and inactions. Which leads to more confusion on my part.

      • DreamingWings says

        I grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Gloating about how our denomination had successfully conquered legalism and ‘works righteousness’ was almost common enough that it could count as an official part of weekly services. And would regularly be followed by a nest of contrived rules and extra-biblical commands from the SDA founders.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Like worship on Sabbath instead of “Keeping Sunday” and No Flesh Foods?

          (The first would be important as part of the SDA group definition and recognition mark, keeping them separate and distinct from all those Sunday Keepers on the Outside; the second was very common as a sign of Spirituality in the mid-to-late 19th Century offbeat religion scene. Even Spiritualism claimed “flesh foods” interfered with the vibrations necessary to channel the spirits.)

  16. I am mildly confused about this.

    It does not seem to be a far step from this to say ‘go live whatever way you want, because you have your insurance policy’

    And it seems to me that from that attitude springs the reason why people say church goers are just as bad if not worse than the rest.

    If Christ does not meaningfully transform us then what is it about? If people atre not loving their families and neighbours more as a result of their encounter with Christ whats it all about?

    • We all live anyway we want, anyway!

      None of us live on a thin margin of income and give the rest to the poor. None of us spend all our spare time seeking out the lost. visiting the prisoners, visiting the sick and elderly, inviting our enemies to dinner.

      We all live exactly the way we want to live.

      Now, the believer does want to run roughshod over the neighbor, even though that might happen. The Holy Spirit does inspire us. But that doesn’t erase the fact that we are in bondage to sin and cannot (will not) free ourselves.

      But the Lord has freed us, the slaves to sin. He declares us to be righteous for His sake.

      When we concentrate on our religious performance, or our good works, because we are supposed to be this way or that way…our motives are shot. We are not doing out of pure love, but because of something in it for ourselves, or appear a certain way to others. This is religion, and God hates it…He is after faith.

      • But if we all live exactly the way we want to live and we continue to be slaves to sin, has the Lord freed us?

      • Is living on athin margin of income and giving the rest to the poor going to save us? Is spending all of our time seeking the lost while not taking care of our family going to get us into heaven. We can’t accept being saved by Grace, we have to be in charge. That’s legalism. I know I am saved, I may want to treat the people I meet differenty because of that, but my actions[ works] aren’t what saved me.

      • So basically I give my life to Jesus and I can go along living whatever way I want.
        All this business of being a new creation and walking in a new life is just so much nonsense.

        Or in other words Jesus must not have meant it when he told the woman caught in adultery ‘go your way and sin no more’.

        The problem I can’t get my mind around is that it sounds like Jesus just becomes an add on, kind of like an option when buying a new car, a no fault insurance policy that says treat this vehicle any way you want, drive it into the swamp or run over your neighbour. You are covered no matter what.

        • If you give your life to Jesus and follow Him you will want to be like Him. Jesus associated with sinners, but He wasn’t a libertine. Even though we continue to sin we try to be like Jesus.

          • Really?

            How are you doing?

          • Steve, I am a sinner, but I have a better Savior, Jesus Christ. I am saved by Grace. Legalism, antionomism are just words. I know I am saved, I continue to sin, usually I don’t want to ,but sometimes my sinful self overpowers me. I am still forgiven. That certainty keeps me going.

        • very true, This post & many of the comments here are way far on the antinomian side of the grace argument. if you disagree or say I Jesus said …… They jump up & down & screem LAW, LEGALISM, WORKS-RIGHTEOUSNESS !!! this post from Jeff Dunn & many others are so far in this “antinomian land” (purposely so) that there is no coming back to the real world of discipleship that Jesus calls us to try.
          YES, I said TRY! we try, we fail & Jesus picks us up. he saves us again & again, everyday. he calls us to experiment with his kingdom, with his teachings, & most of all with his LOVE.
          That is what these over the top grace alone messages miss. That grace produces more grace, love produces more love, & faith produces more faith. all because of Jesus.
          nothing against Jeff Dunn, I just can’t agree with his understanding of discipleship. peace.

          • briank, I usually really appreciate your comments on this site. (If I remember correctly, you’re a Mennonite, right? Or at least Anabaptistish?) , and I think I understand where you’re coming from here, but I will say that you are reminding me of why I ultimately decided against being involved in a Mennonite church after being pretty certain that was where I was going to end up.

            Look, I understand your fears here. When I read posts like these, I immediately picture the suburban family feeling smug and secure as they float easily from their golf games and spa treatments, not giving a second thought to those outside their inner-circle.

            Not taking care of the poor, not loving the unlovable, not making an effort to get to know people outside of your class, ethnicity, or sub-culture – these are all very real problems in the American church. My immediate response is always to assume that this reality is because people do not feel guilty enough about their failure to follow Jesus. That they feel guilty about promiscuity, so they don’t sleep around, that they feel guilty about drugs or drunkeness, so they avoid both, and that they feel guilty about porn, so they at least pretend not to look at it, so obviouly if they felt more guilty about the poor, they would stop ignoring them.

            I no longer believe this. If I did, it would crush me.

            Posts like this mean a lot to me. But I don’t think they would have a few years ago. I think you have to be brought to the end, to be done, in order to understand what Jeff is really saying.

            My faith has been hanging by a thread for the past year and a half, and the only reason I haven’t gone full-on agnostic (though I do often have agnosticish days) is that I can’t shake the memory of the Jesus I’ve loved. It’s a very strange feeling to love someone you’re not completely sure actually exists, but it’s what I have right now.

            I can honestly say that if my behavior has anything to do with how God views me, then I am f****d. He’s going to just have to do his worst, because I have nothing left. Really nothing. All this talk of being dead, and of not being able to do anything can sound very pious, like choosing to die is that last step that good peolpe have to take to be really good. It’s not pious at all. At least it isn’t for me. It’s not that I’m tired of trying to follow the rules and be good, it’s that I can’t do it anymore. If God were to try and make me, it would crush me.

            Where this brings me to is that life is hard, really hard, for almost everybody. Even those who don’t feel it now, they will soon enough, and I don’t wish that pain on anybody. I feel the pain and the dispair that comes with failure, uncertainty, and complete helplessness and it has brought more compassion for other people than I ever had before. I no longer feel like I “have to” take care of the poor, or love people, but I want to. I want to because the only thing keeping me here is Jesus. Not my reputation as a Christian (what’s left of it anyway), not my rules, not my guilt, Jesus. A Jesus who is compassionate and understands full well my significant limitations and failures, and will love me even when I continue to be selfish and grumpy and lazy. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about loving my neighbor. It means that I am more able to love my neighbor when they are selfish, grumpy, and lazy, because I know how much I need to be loved when I am the same way.

          • Marie, I think you know where I’m coming from & you seem to see my concerns. the wierd thing is I almost completely agree w/ what you have written here. Brokeness in everyone – check, Jesus will love us in our sin – check, we are all sinners – check, we all need Jesus’ grace – check.
            it is the tension between faith & works, love & grace, discipleship & grace alone – this is where I think the dial has been moved too far. thanks for your response. peace.

        • Ken…

          Or you can live a double life, say one thing to your brothers, Bible study, etc.. and live another way privately!! I would suggest that there are many who do that out of necessity of survival. In part it means you have to lie your butt off and challenge and come down hard on those who are honest. To be that “New Creation” exhibiting the “Fruits of the Spirit” you have to mislead others. You may cry “FOUL!!!!” but that’s what Campus Crusade and some of the churches I’ve been taught me. My honesty screwed me, whereas others lied to thrive and survive in that cutlure. But I will say that act takes its toll…and maybe that’s why many people (including agnostics such as me…) put great distance between themself and other Christians becuase they can see through the “New Creation” bull crap. Is that what Jesus meant by being a “New Creation” living a facade of instant transformation with no problems what so ever?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I would suggest that there are many who do that out of necessity of survival. In part it means you have to lie your butt off and challenge and come down hard on those who are honest. To be that “New Creation” exhibiting the “Fruits of the Spirit” you have to mislead others.

            JMJ/Christian Monist blogs a LOT about this exact thing.

            You may cry “FOUL!!!!” but that’s what Campus Crusade and some of the churches I’ve been taught me.

            Christian Monist went through the Navigators; even among Campus Crusade the Navs had a rep for being the most extreme — and the highest flunkout/burnout rate.

            My honesty screwed me, whereas others lied to thrive and survive in that cutlure.

            You, me, and Christian Monist. It eventually led both JMJ and me into a more mainstream church where we could be more honest (though no church is going to be an exact fit). I suspect you’re in the full-strength swing away from what burned you bad.

          • You have a point and I can share your sentiments, but I do not see how it means coming down on others. God works with us where we are at, and in His time brings us along.

            And the point I make is that God does bring us along and transforms us into a new creation. It may not be instant, and is a life long process, but He does change us. You can try to do it in your own strength, I wish you luck. It did not work for me.

            I speak this as I have lived it. I came to Jesus utterly messed up. I tell my kids that their mother never would have dated me. People warned their kids to stay away from me. My family is rife with alcoholism, and some drug abuse.

            But I had to give 100% to God. There was no ‘let me keep my drugs, booze and lifestyle’. I just surrendered all. Bit by bit, year by year, as I sat at Jesus feet he changed me. He had to get inside my head and heart and work at cleaning the inside. And as that happened, so did the outside.

            What it has meant in practical terms is that I have had to walk in obedience. If he said ‘give this up’ or ‘stop this’ I have obeyed. And when I don’t, I end up at the same point again and it is ‘give it up now?’

            Do I fail, yes. But I have a promise of forgiveness and it keeps me going. I know that I am poor and blind and naked. And that He mercifully works in me.

            And yes, I am a new creation. But my salvation and God’s grace is not cheap, my master tells me that I do not have a license to go on sinning. Falling is one thing, going into it head on is another.

      • +1 Steve I love reading your posts bro…if you were in some of the circles I moved in…maybe my faith would have gone a different direction!! 😀

    • Randy Thompson says

      It seems to me that this little eddy within the larger discussion is missing something crucial, and I think it’s this: The Cross.

      We are indeed raised with the risen Jesus when we come to him, and we are filled with the Spirit and are made new creatures. And, I suggest that Jesus describes what this new life looks like when he invites us to take up our cross daily (!) and follow him. New life in Christ never wanders too far from the cross. If you’re in the habit of taking up your cross daily, you’re also not in the habit of trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye–or even advise them as to the best way of doing so (both of which are kinds of legalism).

      It seems to me that the beginning point of Jesus’ teaching is “blessed are the poor in Spirit.” They’re the happy ones because they have no illusions about themselves. (Too many Christians have illusions about themselves!) And, they’re happy because they’ve been set free from trying to perform to please others, or to get others to perform to please them. They know it’s futile. They’re the ones who are working on the lumber in their own eyes.

      I don’t think evangelicals take dying seriously enough, or, if they do, it’s understood in legal terms–stop doing what you want to do, and start doing what you don’t want to do. Dying to self is a matter of slowly replacing old desires with new, deeper, and finally, joy-bearing ones, and that happens only over the long haul while humbling walking (often, seemingly, uphill) with God.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        …if they do, it’s understood in legal terms–stop doing what you want to do, and start doing what you don’t want to do.

        Like the X-Treme “Mortifications of the Flesh” you see over and over in the history of X-Treme Monasticism.

        Onward, Forward, Toward used to post that in his experience, this manifested itself among Fundagelicals in the idea that God demanded you only do things which you not only hated but which you had no ability or skill. The rationale was that this forced you to depend on God/”Do things in the Spirit”, while doing something you actually knew how to do and wanted to do — especially what you had a passion for — was “doing things in the Flesh”. The usual result of this was fall-flat-on-your-face failure and incompetence, which gets explained away as Satanic Attack or Godly Humility. And made the name of Christ a shanda fur die goyim.

  17. The Bible itself seems to be part of the problem. On one hand we read where salvation is by grace through faith period. On the other hand the same writer, often in the same book will say that every man will receive what he deserves whether good or bad. Romans is a good example. Contrast Ro. 2:6-10 with the “Romans road” versus for example.

    • Tim Becker,

      Check out this link.

      Very helpful in my opinion.

      • Yes, I think that page you sent us too is helpful, too, Ben C.

        The first part of the Conclusion on that page sums it up nicely. The author, Paul F. Pavao, writies, “Faith alone, sola fide, is how we entered Christ. It is how we were delivered from our old sins, born again, and given life by God. Works are what we will be judged by. Works are produced by walking in the Spirit so that God himself, by his grace, can be the source of the good we do. We have over-applied sola fide as though it applied to the judgment as well as to being born again. We need to change our understanding so that we stop confusing ourselves and everyone else.” Pavao says that he is an evangelical and wants other evangelical folks to understand this.

  18. I really appreciated this. Because of my background, my tendency is to panic a bit and wonder if this will all lead to us being of bunch of libertines. Then I return to sanity and realize that the One who frees us does so to draw us to him. That’s all I need. It’s all anyone needs. From that all else flows.

    On the flip side, I track a few rather calvinist-leaning blogs in the interest of keeping up with where one family member is spiritually, and there seems to be a fair bit out there about godly living, slaying sin, etc. I think the intent is good but therealways seems to be a sense of intense striving and things seem a little bit “off,” though I’m not always able to put a finger on just what it is. It think this post has helped me begin to unravel at least some of this.

  19. “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.”

    I don’t care how many “have given their lives to God”, nobody loves God and their neighbors as themselves.

    So, we do live the way we want, instead of the way that God demands.

    But God knows this. That’s why He came and hung on a cross.

    Because of Christ we are free. free to love the neighbor…or NOT ! (which is quite often the case)

    • “Because of Christ we are free. free to love the neighbor…or NOT !”
      this is wrong, against what your Savior says, & you know better.
      again, put down the Law & Gospel decoder ring & read the gospels!

      • What’s your excuse, briank ?

        Why do you so often refuse to love your neighbor?

        (this should be good)

        The fact of the matter is that WE ARE FREE. Christ is the END of the LAW for all those who have faith.

        You don’t believe this do you?

        You are still in the jail.

        • My excuse is my broken humanity. But I TRY & I know God forgives because of the cross.

          but I’m not in prison or a slave to the law:
          Romans 8
          12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an OBLIGATION—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

          14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does NOT make you SLAVES, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we SHARE in his SUFFERINGS in order that we may also share in his glory.

          & of course Jesus Matt 5:17-20:

          17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven

          Love you anyway. peace. I’m going to bed.

      • Behave and place nice with others, Briank, or you will get to go to the “time out” chair. Disrespect will not be tolerated.

        • Jeff, that’s cold, You should have said that to Steve, but I guess you get the last word.

        • Jeff, you are out of line.Since Michael left us this site has deteriorated. Briank has every right to speak his/ her mind.

        • Yeah, I thought that was a little harsh also. I see some differences in interpretation perhaps, but nothing beyond the kind of give and take we’ve all experienced on this site.

          • Briank is a welcome iMonk, and we love to hear his insights. But sometimes i have to tap the breaks to keep things from escalating.

            Read the FAQs for a good review of how we moderate the comments. And neither Chaplain Mike or myself are as quick with the “delete” button as Michael Spencer was. We still have a very full list of those Michael banned from the site.

            All ideas are welcome–but done in a respectful way. And, for better or worse, Chaplain Mike and I are the ones who decide what is respectful.

          • “We still have a very full list of those Michael banned from the site.”

            Jeff and Chaplain Mike…there was a woman that Michael Spencer booted off this blog and I felt very sad about that. I think her name was Suzanne or Suzanna. I never saw her do anything disrepectful at all. I think what bothered Michael is that she often referred to how she prayed/worshiped which was in a quiet type of way. i think she enjoyed a Taizé service, too. I don’t think you were here then, Jeff, but if you were here then, Chaplain Mike, and remember who she is and can match her up with your list of banned people….can you ask her to come back? I think she would be very welcome now. She may have been Episcopalian, but I am not sure.

      • Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo…..

        No problems…no difficulty with sin. Everything is hunky dorey and the act that many legalistic Christians show to the world really fools no one. I think those who are not Christians (ie..atheists, agnostics, people of other religions, etc..) can see right through the acting and call it for what it is. Maybe its me..but I would suggest that those who think they can conquer their sin are just in denial about their sinful nature. (Don’t ask me why but as an agnositc I have no problem with the concept of people being sinful…) But the world knows and maybe that’s why many people like myself create great distances to keep themselves away from many Christians.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          (Don’t ask me why but as an agnositc I have no problem with the concept of people being sinful…)

          There’s an old posting over at Christian Monist where he writes about a (neo-punk?) song he heard at a street concert on his island. The title and chorus went something like “I’m F’ed up, You’re F’ed up, We’re all F’ed up, Everybody’s F’ed up.”

          And this is a common theme through a LOT of the Bible (though expressed in R Crumb’s Illustrated Book of Genesis rawness), from the whore in Proverbs who wipes her mouth and says “I have done no wrong” to Christ’s slams against those who say they have no sin.

          Now I KNOW I’m F’ed up. Never been wrapped all that tight, never have been. Just got in trouble on a Guild list over something I said in residual pain. I never did get along with Those Who Have No Sin — except as the Omega Male to their Alphas, and I had my fill of that in high school.

  20. Did you ever see the movie “Natural Born Killers”? It involves a prison break, and the audience is meant to sympathize with the escapees–who are the vicious killers of the title–and cheer the mayhem when, for example, the guards are dragged down into the mass of prisoners, to be raped and slaughtered. Is this wicked of us? (Of course things would be different it we were talking about NON-fictional atrocities.) But you probably have in mind something rather more Gandhian.

    The Jewish understanding is that law is beautiful. Altogether they amount to a description of how to live a fulfilled life, and even the most antinomian critic hopes for others to respect his rights.

  21. Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

  22. The practice of freedom is the practice of ‘being gods’. What is The Father doing? Who is He asking about which way He should go? This relates back to the will of God discussion. What is Your will for me Father? He may well ask what our will for Him is. After we have grown to solid food we begin to act; to choose; to determine. We become miniature creators. We are people of authority. Authors. Freedom is not a willy-nilly opportunity to sin like bratty kids. Freedom is the giant responsibilty to author the kingdom of Heaven on earth. Jesus wants us to take charge like Him. He wants us to heal like Him. He wants us to minister like Him. Where does sin enter into that equation? Sin is what we do when we get off the track. Our freedom is about being little #1’s. Little Alphas and Omegas. That is a scary freedom because we are the ones steering the ship. “I no longer call you children (the law) but friends (ye are gods). If you want to experience freedom in Christ make a decision to do something beneficial for someone else and do it . Without fanfare. Freedom.

  23. so i read through all of the comments, and then did something that i usually don’t do. usually i track through the comments, have a thought and immediately start responding. but this time i walked in to the kitchen and started doing some dishes. i swear this the altar in my home. God always seems to meet me there.

    so i stood there doing dishes, thinking over all of the comments that i had just read and clear as day the words ‘what do you think dying to yourself looks like anyway? dying to self is dying to the belief that you are a part of this battle. have I not said that the battle is Mine?’

    • Nice. Lately I’ve been letting go of some things that used to get me pretty wound up. More room for God.

      • “Lately I’ve been letting go of some things that used to get me pretty wound up. More room for God.”

        That’s a good idea, Roger. Thanks.

    • Yes. Inside each of our even christian hearts is the voice of Abraham, the voice of one already counted righteous by faith, when he says, “Oh that Ishmael might live in thy sight.”

      And God said … “No.”

      We bring so many of our own Ishmaels before God asking Him that they might live in His sight.

      But “dying to self is dying to the belief that you are a part of this battle. Have I not said that the battle is Mine?”

  24. I have been thinking about grace/works a lot this week. We have a well-worn path her at iMonk: someone (Briank, Mark, Matthew Johnston) suggests that there is an expectation of holiness, the piranhas descend and feast on him, and then we all go home satisfied that grace has triumphed.
    First of all, what of the concept of “cheap grace”? If it’s supposed to be expensive, what was the price? Bonhoeffer decried grace without repentance, Christ without a cross. Well, if we insist on zero expectations from God, aren’t we saying that the grace is cheap?
    But I’m more concerned about the real-world consequences. People with the “sola gratia” mindset seem to be trying to practice “tolerance”, in which they disapprove of something without publicly condemning it. But experience shows that tolerance is unstable. It usually progresses to approval, or reverts to open condemnation. In the real world, lack of open condemnation is tantamount to acceptance. But, it turns out that stigma and condemnation work.
    So, in an issue near to my heart, our increasing reluctance to actually condemn single motherhood – and ridicule of those who do condemn as, well, “legalistic” – has resulted in an explosion of single motherhood. When we stopped condemning divorce and started calling it liberation, it exploded. Prohibition worked, too: liver cirrhosis declined precipitously in the mid 1920’s and rebounded in the mid 1930’s. In short, whenever we propound grace with no expectations and no condemnation, undesirable behaviors (sin) increase, to the detriment of all.
    My question, then, is: how do we reconcile this? How do we preach grace without opening a Pandora’s box of social pathologies? The whole mindset of this post seems to presuppose unilateral disarmament against any concrete sin.

    • there is a difference between agreeing with some one and accepting them. as christians, we are called to accept everyone, irrespective of whether or not we agree with them.

      you had asked: ‘How do we preach grace without opening a Pandora’s box of social pathologies?’

      answer: love. love wins. always has, always does, and always will, ultimately speaking and despite what it looks like from the outside. love wins.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        there is a difference between agreeing with some one and accepting them

        What happens when the other party demands “acceptance” as not only agreement but participation in his sexual kinks? That situation happened to me in late 1982, and I bailed out on the arrangement. Lost several friends by the time the dust settled. Including the closest thing I’ve ever had to a girlfriend, who got hounded out of town in the resulting feud.