If you want to understand what is wrong with what most churches teach, this might help.
Institutional religion has never recognized the critical errors it made early on in interpreting the books and letters that became the New Testament. Following the resurrection of Jesus, all believers were Jewish. As Gentiles came to know Christ, there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile. But minor conflicts began to arise between the two groups; the animosity grew and became, at times, very bitter. Eventually, the two groups separated; the Gentile religious establishment even began viewing the Jews as the enemy. In this context, as the Gentiles tried to understand the writings of the Apostles, they did so with a Gentile mindset. They completely lost their understanding of the Jewish context of the New Testament.
This mindset led to the unbiblical mixing of Old Covenant law (self-empowered living) and New Covenant grace (God-empowered living). The Gentiles were teaching a religion they really did not understand because law is the opposite of faith (Galatians 3:12). What often shocks people is that trying to follow law actually causes sin in increase, not decrease because the power of sin is the Law (1 Corinthians 15:56). Church leaders failed to recognize that God had ended the Law and replaced it with a Covenant based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). They missed the central truth of the New Testament, the indwelling life of Jesus Christ. Instead, today's teaching is almost always about how to live a life pleasing to God; this may sound spiritual but it is self-effort works (law), not faith.
Old Covenant Law: The Never-Ending Struggle to be Acceptable
The blending of law and grace has led people to try to live by a law that has not existed for nearly 2,000 years. People believe they are following God's Law but they are really following man-made laws, and these vary from denomination to denomination. Faith is letting Jesus, who lives in your born again heart, live out His life in you and through you. New Covenant grace is no longer a self-effort attempt to follow a set of rules, as it was under the Jewish Law. The motivation is now internal rather than external; instead of "Do not steal," it is "I don't want to steal." This is possible because God has given you a new heart and has come to live in you.
There was nothing wrong with the Old Covenant Law. It was holy. The problem was that people could not keep it. The only way to be declared righteous under the Law was to keep it perfectly. This never happened until Christ came. He fulfilled the Law for us, and this is the reason God ended the Law. Now there is a new way to become righteous, by trusting in Christ as your Savior.
Beginning in the Spirit, Now Trying to be Perfected in the Flesh?
Many disparage New Covenant grace not realizing that it is the "ministry of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 3:9b) and the ministry of the life-giving Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6). They claim that grace "gives license to sin." This incorrect way of thinking says that if you who commit grievous or frequent sins, you probably are not really a true believer. But, if you commit lesser and fewer sins, you can confess them and get back in "fellowship with God." This is looking at life from a sin perspective, not the righteousness perspective that the New Testament teaches.
Grace does give freedom because it liberates you from the burden of trying to be righteous by your own efforts; some do abuse it. The Apostles Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1-2 "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" The key to this verse is understanding that when you trusted Christ as Savior, God literally removed your old sinful inner spirit; this is where you died to sin. God replaced that old spirit with a new heart. Then, Jesus Christ (the Holy Spirit) came to live in you, joining His life eternally as one to your new heart. Righteousness is a gift (Romans 5:17); God made you righteous when Jesus came to live in you. In fact, you can never sin in your new heart because you are born of God (1 John 3:9). It is your outer mortal flesh that has not yet been made righteous. Righteous living, then, is experienced when you follow Christ's indwelling life by faith rather than living life by your own human efforts.
Those who teach how to live the Christian life, the do's and don'ts of how to live a life pleasing to God, are really teaching law. They are inadvertently teaching bondage to sin and are guilty of exactly what the Apostle Paul is charging in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 3:2,3,11,12,5:4). Preachers throughout the world teach this same message week in and week out. Live the life of faith and you will not only be free (John 8:36; 1 Peter 2:16), you will live righteously; this is the kind of life that pleases God.
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