A False Dichotomy

“If you love me…”

Has anyone said that to you? It’s usually followed by an ultimatum. “If you love me, you’ll let me do…” And if you don’t comply with the person’s request, then you are apparently a loveless monster who only wants to bring pain to others. But God’s people cannot be limited by such narrow-mindedness. Love will at times require difficult things to be said and won’t always come as apparent comfort to the one demanding that love. Those who desire love but don’t want truth are creating a false dichotomy that the Creator of all things would not approve of.

The truth of the Gospel

God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin so that we (all people everywhere who believe) would become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5.21). This is the beautiful truth that is at the very heart of the gospel message. And what does it mean to be God’s righteousness? God has done great things for us; if we believe in His power and Name and trust in His work (not ours) for salvation, then He gives us His righteousness and makes us a part of His Kingdom. No good work can make us more deserving, and no sin can separate Him from those who are truly His.

What message do we preach?

This truth is difficult in light of our immediate context to proclaim this message to those outside the Church. More often than not, a message of sin to be atoned for is seen as judgment and hatred; the message of love and grace is lost on the dying world that needs it the most.

I once had a conversation with a man who, upon finding out that I was in Bible College, defended his reasons for not going to Church and then proceeded to explain how he thought that good churches are ones that let you come and worship no matter what but then let you live your life the way you want the rest of the week. Sadly, this is what many would consider to be “good religion” (despite what James 1.26-27 says about it).

When I think of the message that we proclaim to the dying world, I always think of this:

So I agree that good churches are ones that let you come and worship with them no matter what your background is, but at the same time, Jesus wants to purify the rose. He wants us to be His Righteousness. “Come Just as you are,” cries the King, “but I will make you what you’re meant to be.”

Jesus saves us from separation from the Father, but not because of the good we have done (Eph. 2.8-9).

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit as a promise of His faithfulness to us (Rom. 8.15-17).

Jesus convicts us of our sin and lovingly calls us to repentance (1 John 1.9).

Jesus gives us the Church for the sake of encouraging our fight against sin (Matt. 18.15-20).

And why does He do this? He wants more and more people to come to Him and be a part of His Kingdom– a Kingdom which will never end!

So yes, to those who would condemn the adulteress woman (John 8.1-11), Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin… throw the first stone…” But He also said to her, “…go, and from now on, sin no more.” Such is our call: bring Christ’s gospel to the lost and remember God’s demand for holiness while we do it.

Jesus talked about the crane

I know it wasn’t you. But it was someone you know. Someone in the maddening crowd of social media-ites posted something about God’s judgment when the crane toppled over on Saturday killing over 100 people in Mecca and injuring many, many more. I know, because that is the first time I read about it. Someone (I don’t recall who) compared it with 9/11 and said it was God’s judgment for Islam’s actions 14 years ago.

The gospel of Jesus is opposed to this ultra-right-wing-conservatism that blames every bad thing that happens in the world on someone’s sin (cf. Pat Robertson after the Haiti quake).

What Jesus said about it 2000 years ago

Luke 13.1-5 (emphasis mine)

There were some present at that very time who asked (Jesus) about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

To be sure. There are plenty of examples in Scripture where direct, physical punishment occurs for sin (2 Kings 5.20-27; Acts 5.1-11; Acts 12.20-25). But the first inclination of Christ’s heart is compassion for those who suffer from seemingly meaningless pain. And through this, He ultimately desires that every Muslim, Jew, and Atheist (and everyone in between) come to repentance and follow Him as Lord and Savior.

They are no worse sinners than we, and daily deserve our prayers and compassion.

“… Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” — 1 Timothy 1.15-16

For what it’s worth

It has certainly been  a while since anything has come up on this blog. School is (sort of) ending for the year and I will be intentionally carving out some blogging time within the near future, as I have missed it. What I wanted to do with this post is comment on very recent victory by American Troops: the killing of Osama bin Laden.

As I rode home from work this morning I pondered the comments I had heard from some co-workers regarding his death. There has been jubilation and rejoicing in light of this victory, and with good reason- our forces have been searching for him for a long time. But riding home, I couldn’t help but think of Ezekiel 33.11

…I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…

This turned through my mind and upon returning home, I read this from Denny Burk:

I think Christians are right to contemplate how jubilation (like we see on TV right now) is consistent with Ezekiel 33:11, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” It is no surprise that many Christians are asking, “If God is not delighting in the death of the wicked, then how can we?” I think there is confusion on this point because this verse is easily misunderstood. The second part of the verse is key to understanding its meaning. The text is not trying to say that God never delights in the death of the wicked. Rather, the verse means that God prefers for sinners to repent rather than to perish. If they refuse to repent, God delights in His own justice enough to punish them appropriately (e.g., Psalm 1:5-65:4-668:2Isaiah 13:1-22Jeremiah 18:11). For this reason, we have to be willing to praise God for His justice one way or the other (Psalm 139:19-22Proverbs 11:1028:28Revelation 19:1-3). (read the rest here)

As believers, we also need to remember a few things:

  1. All of us are evil and wicked at heart, and we should not seek the death or punishment of others solely on the basis of their injuring us.
  2. God does delight in sinners coming to know him, but (as Burk says) ultimately is glorified and delights in his justice (see the first comment below for a restatement). And,
  3. Christ took the brunt of God’s justice at the cross on behalf of sinners like me,  you, and even bin Laden. Our rescue is not based on our own goodness, but Christ’s rescue by his grace through our faith in him.
In light of these truths, we should indeed mourn the fact that bin Laden rejected Christ’s sacrifice, but also rejoice that God still gets great glory and praise in his justice being done in our world today.
For more in this vein: Christopher Morgan (GC blog) | Michael Wittmer (Don’t stop believing blog)

Don’t Judge, God!

A few of my previous posts here have presented possible issues. I have claimed that everyone is religious in their hearts and always want to prove their own worth and deservedness through their actions. Then we saw that our views of God can be tainted by what we know about the fictional fat man of Christmas. The danger with us talking about God’s hatred of man’s religion is this: we can easily think that God is a big pushover sitting on a Lay-Z-Boy and eating chips while everyone does what ever they want on earth. And if we hear of his wrath against sinners, our response can easily be, “Don’t Judge!”

May it never be!

Is it true? Can we get away with anything we want because God is gracious and doesn’t want us to get religious? Of course not. Paul writes against this in Romans six and seven saying that we should not impose on the grace of God and slack off. God does command works. His Law is in place to be followed. Granted, we cannot follow it on our own, but just because we are unable to follow the law does not mean we give up! If Christ is in our lives, we are to be serving him out of our love and gratitude for him.

If Christ isn’t in your life

Having heard this, it becomes easy to think that god won’t judge you if you don’t follow his law. For the unbeliever, the Bible is full of references to the torment the ungodly evil doers (all of us apart from Christ) will face in Hell apart from Jesus. But those who are in Christ are a new creation and have the ability to do good and follow God’s law as they are considered righteous. Let us not go into life thinking that we can be irreverent just because we want to hate religion. Yes, hate the work of aimless religion, but don’t stop believing in Christ for salvation and doing that which he has predestined you to do.

A note on correction

As I alluded to on Friday, there are times when people are in sin and need correction. But how do we do this? How do we bring people into repentance for what they have done? Jesus outlines a process in Matthew 18:15-20 that we as believers need to follow when dealing with other believers. After this, Paul gives us direction when dealing with those who are committed to their sins in 1 Corinthians 5.11.

This is never easy and knowing when to approach people is difficult, as I’m sure we all know. I don’t know when to confront some people or when to leave things alone, but Piper has some great thoughts regarding this. Here’s a video where he answers the question: When should you confront someone about their sin?

The Glorification of Sin

I know, I know, so much for consistency already right? My apologies, but the semester is coming to an end and I am pretty much freaking out, as most students do every year at about this time.   Anyway, to the post!

If any of you know me, you would know I’m not really one for politics, arguing yes, politics, not so much. But like most Americans at election time I pretend to know all the issues and all the answers.  The truth is though, morality tends to get the better of me…

And yes, I mean morality.

Funny thing about morality is that as Christians we seem very fond of doing the right thing, fighting social injustice and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my fair share of  good deeds. I’ve tried to be free with what money I have and I’m a veteran short-term missionary.  I even single-handedly saved the galaxy by destroying the death star… oh wait…scratch that.

I’m not saying that good works are bad. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 5.16

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The real issue though, lies on the other side of this spectrum.  Sin.

Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin.  As believers we recognize this, appreciate this. But we seem to forget that those not following Jesus don’t have a concept of this, or what sin truly is for that matter.

We must stop thinking of sin just as political and ethical division. Sin offends God, it only irritates us, and only when we think it affects us.  The issue takes yet another turn, in regards to our outspoken nature.

We preach against Gay marriage, against the legalization of Marijuana, against all that God despises. Don’t misunderstand what it is I’m saying. I am most definitely NOT advocating an easy believe-ism. I simply want to  point out that people will not be drawn to our condemnation of them. Paul states it perfectly in 1 Cor. 5.12-13. How much more will Christ be glorified if we purge the malpractice within the Church? If we bring to light the shadows in which we hide? How brightly will our light shine if we are a people who declare that there is

no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus

Romans 8.1

So as the Church, what does this look like? It looks like we need to preach the gospel to each other, impact each other with the gospel, call out each other with the gospel. Then when those people who don’t know Christ see how we treat each other with a love only He can supply. Then they will see how beautiful Christ really is

When it comes to Phelps

In light of Fred Phelps and his numerous issues with… everyone, I thought it be best to touch on just some of the groups of people he hates.

Homosexuals

John Piper has some great insight on this topic. In the second paragraph (and at other times) Piper has affirmed that God will not judge America for accepting homosexuality, instead- the rapant tolerance of homosexuality in America (and the West) is due to our leaving of God. It is a part of His judgment of this nation. However, I would put the blame on so much more than just the nation- the Christians in this nation must step up and speak against sin in love and live the message of the Gospel. We have yet to do so as we should and thus bear a large part of the blame. In short, we never cease to love others- and by loving others, we mean focus on truly showing care for the people around us.

Jews

I seem to remember Paul saying something about the Jews… Romans 11:28 tells us, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” To be honest, I don’t know the exact meaning of this verse (and would welcome help with it) but Paul says that the Jews are beloved for the sake of their fathers. So if they are enemies in regards to the gospel (as is everyone who is unsaved) and beloved at the same time, we again find ourselves in a delicate balance where the Bible (which should be our delight) tells us that everyone is our enemy- but also tells us to love that others may come to know Christ. So it is wrong to hate people just for being Jewish (I didn’t think we had to cover that again).

Blacks

This will be shorter as it is similar to the above statement. We once had slavery in America, and everyone used the Biblical commandments regarding slavery to support their ideals. However, virtually every theologian holds to the fact that American slavery is vastly different than Biblical slavery (in which case, I agree with slavery- according to the Biblical standards). However, this idea of slavery sticks with us to the point that we like to hate people who are different because they are supposedly lesser than us. But that is not the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is that one day people from every tribe, tongue and nation will be glorifying Christ. This means man, woman, child, white, black, Native American, Jew, Gentile etc… will all be represented in the presence of Christ.

Catholics and Lutherans

Yes, we disagree with them (the Catholics more than the Lutherans). But to hate them and cause them pain is wrong. Instead, we should be showing Catholics that true salvation is only by grace and works are an outpouring of that grace. But I don’t know why he hates Lutherans- doesn’t he know that it was Luther who helped begin the very Reformation that allowed him to be Baptist?

Canadians, Swedes, Italians

That’s just silly. Regardless of what your stereotypes of these nations are- you should not neglect their needs. For instance, Phelps hates Italy because of the Mafia. But just because a notorious gang of criminals cam from that country, doesn’t mean that all Italians are Mob-bosses. I thought we had gotten away from ethnic stereotypes. But I guess if you don’t know the love of Christ, it’s easier to ignore loving people.

The U.S. Government

All I can do to speak against Phelps’ hatred of this group is quote Paul from Romans 13.1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

If Paul can speak like that regarding the Romans, we can speak the same regarding our president.

Think about it- don’t hate- that doesn’t accomplish anything.

A message to Mr. Phelps- Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Don’t ruin the message of the Gospel for your benefit.