I have noticed a weak link in some Baptist circles. Baptist theology is by and large a high praise of the glory of God’s grace. This is unsurprising since Southern Baptist theology and confessions, such as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, have their roots in Reformed Baptist theologians like James P. Boyce, John Broadus, and Basil Manly Jr. However, while this emphasis on grace is both biblical and praiseworthy, in some Baptist circles, an errant version of “grace” is taught and believed. Grace is wrongly understood as the doctrine that frees us to not worry about our sin, but to continue in it. The mantra may well be: “Show love. Show grace. Don’t bother with sin in you or others.” The idea of love radically changes into the allowance of sin in the name of cultural “tolerance.”
In such an environment, anytime sin is labeled, called out, or even discussed, those who gladly affirm grace deny obedience. This is a problem because Paul—the foremost proponent of salvation by grace through faith—desperately hated sin (Romans 7:7-25), debunked those who argued for an antinomian mindset (Romans 6:1-2), and urged believers to work as God works (Phil. 2:12-13). It is tempting to label Christian brothers and sisters who call for repentance as being judgmental or legalists when it is our sin that is being called into question.
The problem with this kind of thinking is what it produces—a culture of people praising God for his grace as a basis for continuing in their sin. This is utterly blasphemous. How can we talk so frequently and highly of God’s grace and ignore his people’s sin? Essentially, some Baptists want to have their cake and eat it too. Some Baptists are tempted on the basis of their own theology to continue living in sin while justifying it with God’s grace. I think one motivation for this, among many, is that it is hard for some to understand how mortifying the flesh, fighting sin, and repentance could be joyful. All of these things are painful, so how could there be any joy in them? That is an important question to ask. Can Baptists (or anyone) find joy in striving for holiness, dying to self, and fighting sin?
Let’s first take a deeper look at joy itself. The ultimate fulfillment of joy in man is found in the ultimate expression of love from God. Never say that joy cannot be found in suffering. Eternal joy is found in the suffering of our Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. In fact, joy is more profound, more real, more weighty and has more substance when found amidst suffering. Joy is by nature an end. Joy is the result of something. Joy in God is not dependent upon circumstances. Joy in God is dependent on the grace of the joy-Giver. Grace enables and fuels joy in God.
Where repentance goes, joy in God swiftly follows. Joy in God is found where repentance has left its mark. Joy in God is the footprint left by repentance. Repenting is not only necessary for salvation, commanded by God, and a requirement for admission into the Kingdom, it is also the most freeing, liberating, and relieving act one can make. Resting in repentance is breeding ground for a multitude of joy.
Joy in God is satisfaction in God. Satisfaction in God is contentment in God. Contentment in God results from resting in an eternal covenantal bond of which the Cornerstone announces: “I will never leave you nor forsake you!” Repentance is a marker of a member of this covenant. Eternal joy in God is impossible outside of a repentant heart. Holiness is the soil in which joy in God grows. Rich holiness leads to healthy and plentiful joy in God. And peace will always follow joy in God.
Pursuing joy in God is nothing more than the way of salvation, which is of the Lord. If you want to love yourself well, you should run not to your own defense when you sin, but to the eternal fountain of God’s joy and drink deeply. Loving yourself then can become holy and good and God-glorifying. Magnify the glory of God by being satisfied in him today. Be content in the Lord our God today and by doing so magnify his all-sufficient grace. Love God. Love yourself. If you do so in this joy-seeking way, then sin will become disgusting and distasteful. You will desire godly rebuke. You will gladly repent. Grace empowers holiness, not sinfulness.
If you want to love yourself well, you will love God to the end of glorifying him through your satisfaction of him. From here apply the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself. Seek their joy in God. Even better, seek your joy in their joy in God. Oh, the glory of God in the satisfaction of his people! May we ever revel in and spread the joy and glory of his grace. Under this theology we will enter heaven with full hearts and eager appetites, never to taste sin again.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.