In a fallen world, there must be an antithesis. But since the devil is the accuser, we should therefore see that his power rests in accusations that misplace the antithesis. Seeing this is the heart of all spiritual wisdom, and the beginning of all spiritual life.
The only liberation from accusation is to accuse the spirit of accusation. This is the only thing that can bedevil the devil. Everything else is from him — this is the only thing that strikes right at him. So it is no self-contradiction to judge judgmentalism, to condemn condemnation, and to accuse the spirit of accusation.
We see the right spirit of accusation in James 4:4. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Don’t you see? The whole world runs on accusation, and so friendship with the world is friendship with that system of accusation. “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19, ESV). The only foundational accusation that may be permitted is therefore the accusation of that. Everything else degenerates into moralism, which is diabolical.
So there are three things to remember in this regard.
First, this is why the thundering accusation — you adulterers and adulteresses! — is not diabolical. It is an accusation that strikes at the root. It is a radical challenge. It is only this kind of efficacious challenge that can overcome our inveterate self-righteousness — it is the challenge offered by a vicarious, substitutionary atonement. Only this can enable us to receive the word with meekness, to the salvation of our souls (Jas. 1:21). It presents the antithesis, and it places that antithesis in the right place — our desire to be friends with the whole system of condemnation that the world runs on. We must break with that, and the declared word must command us to break with that.
Second, since we learn of this from the holy law of God, the grace of repentance is brought with it. What is repentance but the grace of the right kind of self-accusation? The wrong kind of self-accusation means dabbing around the edges of sin, an activity that the flesh indulges in regularly. There is a sorrow or grief that leads only to death. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” ((2 Cor. 7:10, ESV). You can dab around the edges of your petty repentances in grief today, you may do it some more tomorrow, and the day after that. More than one person has gone off to Hell dabbing at their sins, and sometimes picking at them. Repentance, real repentance, goes right to the heart of everything. Real repentance sees that the devil, the accuser, is right here, under your breastbone. That is repentance unto life.
And third, the only place where it is safe to hear this word of condemnation is that same place where Jesus spoke the glorious and final word — it is finished. You look at the cross and you see an unjust condemnation. But when you step into the cross by faith, what happens? Now it is a just condemnation. I have been crucified with Christ, Paul says (Gal. 2:20). The cross was unjust because Jesus was on it, but it entirely just because I am there too. Oh, the wisdom of God!
When you come to the cross, what are you coming to? You are coming to the place of no condemnation — precisely because it is all condemnation. Again, the wisdom of God! No condemnation is etched in stone over the doorway as we come in, and that is why we were so glad to come in. But turn and look over the doorway from inside — now it says no condemning. As we entered, we saw the word forgiven engraven there too. But turn, look, now we see the word forgiving. When we came in, it said debts expunged. But now, looking out, it says to expunge debts.
How on earth can that be right? What is going on? I am looking out the door of Christ’s cross, and I am looking at a world full of fornication, and adultery, and dealing drugs, and porn, and lies, and blasphemies . . . whatever can the Lord mean, no condemning?
Lay the ax at the root! The real issue out there is self-righteousness. The issue is friendship with the world. The issue is that whole system of self-superiority, lies and accusations. We may (and must) address those other defined sins in our preaching and in our witness, but only as they relate to this central thing. And that is why this efficacious grace found in the cross is the only thing that has the power to uproot all those other sins. So for those pitiful moralists who are worried that too much cruciform grace will make room for sinning . . . are you kidding?
This is why Paul said that he resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. We should give ourselves to the same resolve. And why? We have come to the cross of Jesus, which is all the condemnation we could ever want.