Tullian admitted that he did not realize early on enough that he actually had an assigned topic for the conference, so with that in mind he went with his “go-to” topic: law and grace, looking at Romans 7:7-8:4.
“Ethical Behaviorism” defines righteousness exclusively in terms of what you do or do not do. It is most concerned primarily with external behavior. When applied to Christianity, may people have the idea that “Christians are people who do what is right because it is right to do what is right.” But God reminds us that the goodness of a deed can be destroyed by the motivation that inspires it.
For most Christians, righteousness is defined by what we do or don’t do. But Jesus turns this upside down in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus demolishes “Ethical Behaviorism,” an external form of righteousness. Though most of us think we’re theologically astute enough to avoid works-righteousness, we still tend to live this way in practical life.
The goodness of a deed can be destroyed by the motivation that inspires it. What motivates our obedience determines whether or not it is a sacrifice of praise. Christianity is so much more than simply a question of behavior; it is a question of motivation. Not just what we do but why we do it. Grace, not law is our motivation. When we strive to obey because of the law, we find ourselves actually being motivated by fear and guilt. But when we are motivated by grace, we are soaked in humble gratitude.
We often have the misconception that the law sends us to Jesus for justification and then Jesus sends us back to the Law for sanctification; as though the Gospel saves but doesn’t grow. But Scripture tells us that the Law shows us our sin but it does not change our hearts. If we don’t understand this, we will tend to revert to “ethical behaviorism” as our default. And yet there is a lot of mistrust of grace within the church these days. Many of have come to believe that grace can be dangerous and needs to be “kept in check.” Too much grace leads to bad fruit, many people believe. But the law, apart from the Gospel cannot cure it can only crush.
Desperate people love grace. Deceived people fear it. The law brings us to the end of ourselves and to look up to the Gospel. You will never find rest for your weary soul looking inward; only looking outward, to the Cross; outside of ourselves; Christ’s obedience for us. The determining factor in our relationship with God is not our obedience but Christ’s obedience. While we were at our worst, Christ gave us His best.