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.

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We’re trying to save you!

I’m often intrigued by the story of Lot in Genesis 19.

Abraham’s nephew, Lot had been living in Sodom for years by the time God decided to bring punishment to there. In desiring to uphold his promise to Abraham, God sends two angels to the city. Lot insists that they stay with him so as to not spend the night in the city square. After seeing the vileness of Sodom, the angels tell Lot to leave, quickly. But watch what he does:

As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” (Genesis 19:15-17 ESV) (emphasis mine)

Get out of here!

These angels had been sent to Lot in order to save his life, and he lingered. You can almost picture them yelling at him, “GET UP! LEAVE! We’re trying to save you, dang it!” Lot was holding so closely to Sodom that he almost was caught in the destruction. He would even ask the angels not to destroy another nearby city so that he could go there instead of fleeing to the hills (where he had been told to go).

That’s what God does

God rescues sinners. Period. He shows up in their lives and, if he has too, he drags them out of their rejection of him- we call that mercy. As God mercifully dragged Lot out of Sodom kicking and screaming, so He compels us out of our sin and rejection. And just as Lot tried still to keep hold of the world in which he lived, so we too, desiring the things of the world, hang on for dear life the things which are deadly to us. As CS Lewis said:

I was the object rather than the subject in this affair. I was decided upon. I was glad afterwards at the way it came out, but at the moment what I heard was God saying, ‘Put down your gun and we’ll talk.’”

Let go of your rejection of Christ, put down your gun, cling to Jesus.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

Basically Evil

I am once again working in customer service where I’m consistently surprised (but shouldn’t be) at some things that people say when working with the public. One such comment that I have heard a few times goes something like this:

Working in customer service, you really get to see how bad people are.

Should we be surprised?

People have reports of theft, mean customers, complaints and so on. And the general reaction is shock. People are surprised that others can be that bad! Most would tell you that people are naturally good and sometimes do bad things. But that is not what God has to say about us. Realistically, we are naturally evil and sometimes do good things. See the difference? The best passage on this is Isaiah 64.6-7:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.

But God…

This is the most beautiful phrase in all of Scripture: But God… After this phrase we might hear something like, “…was merciful”, “shows his love”, “shows mercy”. He is faithful and covers our iniquities if we trust in him.

Here’s a great bit from Chandler on the issue:

God IS Sovereign

After I wrote this post I received a comment asking about God’s Will. I deleted it because the person was not so kind in the second half of the question and they asked it again. Here are sections from both comments:

So are you saying that God lets some people die? Not everyone makes it out alive, so are they not special?

So if God saves who he wants to save, that means he also lets some people die right? So why bother looking both ways when you cross the street? After all, it’s all up to God… you could have killed someone. Or I guess ultimately God would have killed someone.

God’s purpose

Because God has orchestrated life in such a way to bring himself the most glory, we can know that there is a reason behind everything that happens. As for the “special people”, the person who commented is wrong: just because someone dies, does not mean they are not special, it just means that God had other plans. He apparently still has more work for me to do, which ultimately is why Emmalie, other believers, and myself are still alive.

There are many things that happen in this world that are initially meant for evil, but then turned good. I know that my flipping the car last week was something that could have had a very evil end, but it did not. God did have other plans, and they are still being worked out. Like Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, I can say that God meant this for good (see Genesis 50.20).

Some live, some don’t

The truth is that God does allow people to die, but the greater truth is that he lets sinners live. We all deserve death because we all consistently fall short of the glory of God. So God graciously reaches down and saves some. This does not, however, mean that God does not love those who are not saved.

God has chosen those whom He would save from before time began, so they are special in one sense of the word. But God loves all of mankind and is patient with them because of that love. Romans 9.22-23, one of the richest texts in all of Scripture, says:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…

God is looking to show his power and glory. In this, He must also show His justice and mercy. He did this on the cross where Christ died to take on the sins of the world. God knows who will not come to Him, but instead of killing them off and immediately sending them to hell, He puts up with them and allows them to live so that those that do come to Him can more greatly see His mercy.

Stupid Faith

Although God is sovereign, humans still have their responsibility: this is why evil and hell exist. For those who believe in Christ, the punishment is removed, and we must learn to follow Him. However, having this faith does not mean that we go about life without regard to danger (we still look both ways when we cross the street). What it does mean is that God even controls the things that we consider to be under our control. When we fail, He prevails.

What does it look like?

Yesterday I talked about the need to deny oneself, do the good works set before us, and let the Spirit guide us to live right. But what does that look like? I don’t write this to say that I am doing everything perfectly, indeed, some of the things listed are ones that I struggle greatly with. But I write to show us just a few out of the many things that we need to do (and not do) and repent of in our lives. I’ll start with the positive.

The Positive (Do this)

First, if we expect growth as believers, we must be praying and studying God’s Word individually and most importantly together. For example- families pray together, husbands lead their wives in study of the Word, the family participates in small groups, the Church enables this through teaching, giving resources, setting up small groups, etc. We need each other, or else we have a cold, individualistic faith. Then, in reading the Bible, we will discover that the Spirit moves in us to give us great gifts for edifying others. A list of these is shown in Galatians 5. The thing with this list is that it is something every Christian is expected to grow in. The other lists of gifts that we are given are to show us the different gifts used for building up and growing dependency (i.e. not everyone is a pastor, and not everyone is a good administrator. See 1 Corinthians 12). But we are all to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we don’t have these things, we are going to be unable to exercise our faith and our individual gifts and callings well. Peter supports this as well when he says that we are to add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1).

Just as we are given much that we have to grow in, there is much that we have to give up. Some of this is gradual (such as denying self) but much of it we are told to stop all together. Before giving us the list of the fruit of the Spirit, Paul tells us what to leave behind- essentially saying, “Cut it out! This is how you should be living, not like that!” Unfortunately, people think it is enough to grow in the good, but neglect leaving the bad.

The Negative (what we must stop)

Here’s the list- “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, orgies, and things like these…” (Galatians 5:19-21). And the cost of living like this is a great one- “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is not teaching that you lose salvation, but that if you continue in these sins, the Holy Spirit is not being evident in your life- and you may not be saved… there is no better time to be working out your faith in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

I realized while I was typing that list that it could take a few blogs to cover all of these– so that’s what I’ll be starting to look at within the next few days.

Your flesh won’t like it. Neither will mine. Deal with it, or let the Spirit.

Being Justified

If you have been following events in Christianity recently, you know that there is something of a debate going on between John Piper and N.T. Wright about the doctrine of justification. The article in Christianity Today opened my eyes to what each man was saying, and gave me a good context to give this example of Justification by grace alone through faith alone.

My Car

I was just given a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse. As in, it was a gift. I did nothing to deserve it, nor did I pay for it. The couple that gave it to me is an extremely generous, God-fearing couple and they enjoy blessing our family as often as they can. It is in excellent shape with a new clutch, and four new tires in the trunk that need to be put on soon (see how awesome these guys are?). After going out of state to get this vehicle, I drove it home-contemplating all that needs to be done with it still.

I need to put the new tires on, fix both door handles, fix the glove-compartment, get it inspected, registered, keep it insured, give it an oil change, and make sure that it stays tuned up and in working condition.

Well, actually, I don’t need to do any of that.

See the car is mine. It was given to me, and it will be mine no matter what. If I don’t register it, I can’t drive it, but it is still mine. If I don’t pay insurance on it, I get in trouble for driving it, but it is still mine. At the same time, I can drive it with its present tires, I don’t need to change them, and when they get worn out, the car is still mine. Get the picture?

So let’s review. I did nothing to receive the vehicle, it was graciously given to me. And because there is no payment due on it, it remains mine no matter what I do with it.

Justification

Here is where I would agree with Piper who says that “Present justification is based on the substitutionary work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with Him through faith alone.” This seems to side more with Ephesians 2:8-10 then do the words of Wright who says it is “the announcement issued on the basis of faith and faith alone of who is part of the covenant family of God.” If I read that right, he makes it sound as if it is up to your faith to justify you when actually it is truly “by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8). Just as my car has been given to me and I can enjoy it only through working on it, grace is given to us through the “work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with Him through faith alone.”

Time for Work

Some people then say that this is far too easy- that we can just tell people to say a prayer and they are all set for eternity. But that is not what Piper, Paul, or even Jesus says. Piper says “the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be brought forward as evidence and confirmation of true faith and union with Christ.” This echoes Paul concluding that verse with, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” And again, this goes back to Jesus who told His followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). As many would say, this is the comfort and call of the Gospel. We are comforted that we can do nothing to lose our standing with Christ because we did nothing to gain it, but we are called to live life denying ourselves, doing the work set before us, and allowing the Spirit to take up residence in us to change us.