“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
In 1883, a historical document was found called ‘The Didache.’ It has been heralded wrongly as the greatest document find for the Church in the past 100 years, for obvious reason. It is a church manual that for historical purposes has some value, but overall it is a document that is non-canonical, called spurious by Eusebius, and reveals the church’s inclination towards moralism. Many erroneously think the document accurately reflects the practice of the Church. Those in Christian circles suggest that Christians ought to adopt a similar Didache guidebook, one that contains all the commands of the New Testament to define the life and practice of all in the Church. Why are some so motivated to push a command manual for the Churches?
For years now in Christian circles, the proposal for the Church to adopt some kind of command (didache) guide to tell them how to live, a fanciful list of rules and regulations, has grown in popularity. Many would declare, due to Evangelicalism’s sluggishness, “We are not impacting the culture as we ought! Christians are no longer distinct in the world…they need to know what to do and how to be unique…so, let’s tell them what to do and how to live.” They then want to proceed with a Jeffersonian- bible-type-dissection. They want to extract all the commands of the New Testament, place them before the believer, and encourage them to perform. A large group of so-called Christians see Christianity as a moral and ethical force in culture. They view Christianity as a cultural change machine. So, they reason wrongly, and ask how Christians can dynamically change the culture. The Church focus isn’t cultural changes but Gospel heralding proclamation and transformation. Cultural changes will occur simply by one soul saved at a time. Gospel change ripples out to the culture but as a by-product of Gospel message saturation and the Spirit’s work in transformation. To take the didache of the Bible and isolate all the commands is a line of reasoning that leads to a very dangerous biopsy of the Scripture.
The Scripture does not disconnect the commands from the indicative facts of the Gospel, as these proponents would like to do. This takes the Scripture as isolated ethics. Every command in the Scripture grows out from the glorious truths of who God is, what God has done, and who we are in relation to him. It speaks of our identity in Jesus Christ and sets our minds on things above where Christ is seated. It tells us who God is in all His glory and then how we should respond to this glory in obedience. God opens the windows of heavens, gives us a fraction of His majesty, and allows us to respond with joyful and glad-hearted submission. This is an attempt to flip-flop the foundation. The foundation is Christ and the Gospel facts, and from that spring flow all the commands for Christian living (Rom. 6:2, 12-13; Rom. 7:4; 8:2, 9-13; 2 Cor. 5:15; Rom. 13:14; Gal 3:27-28; Eph. 4:21; Col. 3:3-5). If we place the hammer and chisel in the hands of Christians, by a command driven methodology, it will distort everything in the Church.
To start new believers with a list of rules and give ethical instruction a prominent place, it will lead the next generation of the Church and all its ministries down the slippery slope of moralism. It will create religious moralist whose focus will shift from grace momentum (by the work of the Spirit) to a works-oriented self-help society (Gal. 3:3). The people will no longer be God dependent but self-determined, self-motivated, self-centered, and develop a system that has no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Christians will become carnally minded, deceived, thinking that they are growing upward in the faith, but in reality small toadstools, weak, infantile, and self-reliant. Evangelism would eventually diminish once people tank out after all their energies and resources have been spent. Quarreling, bickering, and unhappiness will escalate. Preaching will have to cater towards a motivational style, a kind of pump-up-the-crowd method to get them motivated for more energetic efforts to “do better.” The Spirit’s role will shrink since He isn’t directly causing faith or good desire for the good deed. God’s sovereignty will be an old cob web in the halls of faith. God will become puny as He will be depicted as a mere bystander in His Children’s lives, instead of the conquering King who moves us to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). It is a balloon that will grow and pop. Some kind of Twenty-First Century Didache Manual would dangerously create the self-made man or woman, dependent not on Spirit and grace, who hammers out his own spiritual development and progress. Why is this so attractive?
We must know this one thing. There is within each person a moralistic tendency. This tendency can be easily stoked. There is a desire for a person to call the shots, to carve out his own destiny, to grab the gusto, or to ‘Just do it.” There is a great Pharisaical propensity to stand by oneself, with head high and proudly proclaim, “I fast twice a week; and give a tenth of all that I get,” a parable that Jesus told to those “who trusted in themselves” (Luke 18: 9-14). For the Christian, who has been ripped from trusting in themselves, ought not fan that sinful tendency back into a consuming inferno. The Christian must live by faith through grace in Christ. The Scripture tells us how to think about this.
Galatians 3:3 is a rebuke against the line of reasoning that would have Christians, young and old, advancing in the Christians life by “human effort,” personal achievement, or from some list of rules. The Gospel of grace must rule the heart and move that very same heart away from its moralistic tendencies. Many Christians already fight at the wrong level of “don’t do that!” “Don’t go there!” “Don’t smoke that” “Don’t drink this!” “Can’t wear that!” In Colossians 2:20-23 it says, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—  "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"  ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Christians must focus on Gospel motivated obedience. They cannot add fuel to the flames of inward desire to live by human striving alone. It must be accompanied by and fueled by faith in the triumph and accomplishments of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that it is by grace alone that one can be saved, apart from human striving (John 1:13). Once saved, the believer must continue on in that fashion, clinging to Jesus, working-yes, doing good deeds-yes, striving to be like Christ-yes, obeying commands-yes (Philippians 2:12). Nevertheless, all that is done must be served on the plates of grace (Gospel, Christ, and indicative facts). There is a buffet of man-motivated obedience that will get the Church sick and messy when it eats like the rest of false religious institutions. God has given gold plates of grace from which He serves obedience on, and brings them to the proper table, for us to eat, digest, and grow up in all things of Christ Jesus (Romans 1:5; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 2:13). We must keep the foundation of Scripture right, defend against moralistic inclinations, trust Scripture, and maintain the health of the Church. The Christian life isn’t about ‘A-Manual,’ but all about Emmanuel. The hammer and chisel must stay in the hand of God.
* Taken from The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, Navpress, 2006, pp. 11