I became a Christian in 1996. Between then and now, I have bobbed and weaved off the path on several rabbit trails, eventually getting back to some semblance of a good baseline. Some of these bobs and weaves were heretical. But, I can confidently look around and find myself in good company. In fact, when I look around, I see the same sort of errors I held. The two big ones are the error of believing God's love is heavily conditioned and the error of believing God's love makes obedience a nasty word.
The Christ Plus Crusader
It's not uncommon to hear a sermon or read a blog warning followers of Christ of God's wrath over their own human sin where human sin and avoiding hell becomes more of the focus than the actual Gospel. Usually, it entails the overthrow of peace with God procured by Christ on the cross, by human failure. But it necessarily implies that if you believe you can experience the wrath and anger of God as a follower of Christ, then the blood of Christ cannot be a sufficient atonement for sin. At worst, you might even entertain the evil though that because of your sin, it could be His atonement wasn't sufficient for you, a distasteful and demonic thought I have had in response to those promoting this sort of heresy. The shed blood of Jesus may be a temporary disinfectant for past sins, like pouring alcohol on a wound. But whatever peace you have with God from Christ's work on the cross is tenuous and easily disrupted by your own moral failures, just as that same wound can grow new infection. Of course this entails legalism. But the most heretical part of this view isn't legalism: It's denying the power of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It reduces the love of God to a performance-based conditional arrangement that is susceptible to and possibly even subordinate in power to human sin. This view usually raises human sin to a place of power equivalent (or even greater than) the finished work on the cross. And, ironically, it usually is presented as the biblically faithful view, although it is at odds with scripture as well as sound orthodoxy.
What's the motivation for it? Guilty people tend to make other people feel guilty. When secret moral shortcomings seem impossible to conquer, it's human nature to shift attention on other people's shortcomings. That's more of the psychological profile. But, from a corporate or institutional level, I think the concern is fear over antinomianism (rejecting the law of God). If the law is no longer a means for God to condemn His own people, then His own people will have no regard for the law of God. Of course, that assumes the only motivation a follower of Christ could have for revering the law of God is fear of being condemned by it. So, under this view, the law of God must still be a means for God to condemn even His own children...and His own children's sole motivation to be obedient is fear of getting condemned and, in some circles, possibly losing their salvation. Although the Gospel is preached and demonstrated in scripture as a life of selfless service, this view results in appealing to vested self-interest. The Gospel to be have new, redeeming life in Christ as a servant to all and participating in God's plan to redeem the whole world becomes, rather, a gospel of saving your spiritual and metaphysical butt.
The Wounded Anti-Authoritarian Poet
You can imagine the abusive conflicts caused by this, especially within a church environment. This view usually ends with many believers getting beat up pretty by those protecting Scripture and the Bride from ecclesial windmills of the mind. Those beat up folks react in such a way as to embrace antinomianism and unwittingly play right into the fears that led to the reaction in the first place. Grace is reduced to nothing more than a permanent good standing with God without any reference to grace also being constant overtures of power God gives His people in order to live obedient, abundant and flourishing lives, despite circumstance. The word 'obedient' may even become distasteful and a trigger word. Any teaching that discusses obedience is considered too close to the heresy described above and harmful, rather than helpful. Of course, holding this view requires changing your mind about the nature and extent of the atonement, sanctification, trustworthiness of Scripture, the existence of hell and even God. In other words, it is escaping the frying pan by slipping into fire.
But it's all reactionary. Reactionary positions are usually ones you really don't believe down into your borns...they are accepted for their temporary utility in firing back at the ones who hurt you. The are meant to be more of the last word in an argument than a real life lived. The more hurt, the more powerful they feel to us. Is it possible a wounded Christian really does reject the verities of the faith and walks away? That's a difficult question to answer. You have to believe it is logically possible to receive new life and somewhere down the road, walk away. It may be logically possible but it's existentially improbable. It's possible the somewhat trite saying that you can't lose what you never had may have some appeal. Notwithstanding, one way to know if one of these folks are true believers is how they respond to actually getting what they want...defeating the abuser. What is there reaction when the ecclesial perpetrators are vanquished by them? If it is joy and satisfaction, they're probably counterfeit. Usually, retribution for a believer entails mourning and a process of second guessing most of our motivations and visceral positions. It's impossible to experience the love of Christ and not have empathy for even your worst enemy when they are down.
Two Loved Tribes Go to War
The first heretic's crippling problem is a serious lack of faith that the Spirit of God can actually change people to become obedient. It's a sort of deistic view of sanctification. We just don't know if the Spirit can win over the heart as it relates to daily living. The Spirit needs may need our help and persistent nudging. It may not be a part of their statement of faith. But, regardless of what you say you believe, what you actually live out is the final arbiter in what you actually believe.
The second heretic's crippling problem is a serious lack of trust in any authority outside of their own thoughts and feelings. It was authority that wounded them. It was authority that wounded those they cared about. Authority must be the problem. But authority isn't always the jack-booted tyrant. That's abuse of authority. Death on a cross, for those He came to save, is authority...it was enough of an authority to disarm and make public spectacle of the powers and principalities running this world. Actually, authority and love are not mutually exclusive. In fact, authority is an unavoidable fact of reality. And God's love for us entails authority: authority in His Word, His provision and His plans for us and for others. Love is how authority is perfectly manifest, rather than being contrary to it.
What happens to God's children when they fall into serious error?
He loves them.
That's what happened to me...in both cases.
But that doesn't sound compelling to the human mind. To the legalist, love is something conditional that can be completely withdrawn. To the antinomian, love cannot have anything to do with authoritarian correction. Maybe love is misunderstood. The concept of God's love is really what's at issue here. What it's not is as important as what it is. God's love is not conditional. If you think it is for salvation, there's probably no Good News to preach. Although sanctification is cooperative between God's Spirit and us, as we go through life, if you think that cooperation is withdrawn from us because of behavior, we probably already abandoned sanctification long ago...probably right after we came to faith. God's love is desiring the absolute best for us. For the antinomian, that means His love entails correction. Love isn't always a big hug. Sometimes it is redirecting you away from the landmines you are about to step on. And this isn't always a wonderful experience. Sometimes it's painful. But the pain isn't a reflection of God's anger, but His lovingly pulling us away from harming ourselves and possibly others.
When I identified with both of these views (and I have at some point), I would probably have even conceded to it. I would have simply wanted you to let me work through it with God. And, that really is the best answer and advice well headed by well meaning folks.
What's the overall problem here? Wounded people wound others. Pride is a very strong part of being human, even if we've been Christians for years. And the result is divisiveness. Unity is lost, unless it is about unity within our camps that have separated from the other camps. And, eventually, our camps will divide. There's nothing more humiliating than surrendering our chosen battles...and nothing more healing either. We are called to be a people united in the Lord we give our allegiance. Not only does that set us apart from the rest of the world, it necessarily requires a life that is opposed to the natural life we all know and live without much thought. But it is this life that changes that. It changes us. And it's God's love that's the cause and the effect. Unity is established in Christ's love for His church (His people). Unity is supernaturally produced and obediently maintained. You have to quit your project to receive it. And you have to intentionally want to protect it once you do. The world (how the world operates and thrives) rejects this love and is at odds with it and us. That means the principles of this world and its powers will throw everything they have to evaporate our unity. That's something to remember as we are about to climb on our chosen hobby horse for Jesus. He doesn't need us. He's done just fine without us and will continue to do just fine with us. We need Him. It's easy to get that backwards in the quest of distinguishing ourselves from the rest of the herd.
Don't get the idea that because I am writing about errors I once held that I don't hold any errors now. In fact, there are a few I am in denial about and many more I am completely unawares. My comfort isn't in eliminating all my false beliefs. My comfort is in the unconditional love God has for me. This love isn't just a safe standing before a righteous and holy God. This love is also what's changing me into something I can't possibly imagine, even as I finish writing this sentence. And I have hope. That's a big deal for me.