Sinners in need of grace

seekingIt’s becoming popular these days to leave sin out of the presentation of the good news of Jesus. Let’s talk about Kingdom. Let’s talk about becoming a member of the people of God. Let’s talk about taking part in the restoration of all things.

But let’s don’t talk about sin. That seems to be the spirit of the day.

As I’ve said before, it’s one of the usual pendulum swings that we get regarding theology and Christian living. One generation emphasizes one thing, so a later generation feels the need to reject that one thing and go to the other extreme. That’s the very tendency we have to fight against.

Many car wrecks occur due to what is called oversteering. It’s an overreaction to a situation that calls for a correction in steering. The panicked driver turns the wheel sharply, worsening the situation rather than helping. Instead of running off onto the shoulder, they veer across the center lane into a headon collision. Instead of sliding on the ice, they throw their car into an out-of-control spin. Instead of hitting a road hazard, the driver throws their car sideways across several lanes of traffic.

Overcorrection in the church is no better. Removing judgment and sin from our vocabulary is not the way to respond to a perceived overemphasis of those themes. Let’s talk about the Kingdom and Kingdom values and restoring a fallen world, but let’s not forget that the Bible teaches that each of us needs the forgiveness of sin.

We will never reach a lost world if we don’t admit that world is lost. We will never reach a lost world if we don’t admit that we were lost until God’s grace reached us. We will never reach a lost world if we delete sin from our vocabulary.

Law, grace, and pleasing God

gavelI don’t believe that the New Testament contains a law similar to that found in the Old Testament. Obviously the form isn’t similar; just do some reading in Leviticus, and you’ll see that. I don’t think the intent is similar either. It’s not about, “Do each and every one of these things exactly as written, or you’ll burn in hell.”

So if we’re not looking for ways to get ourselves saved or keep ourselves saved, why bother figuring out what God wants of us? For that matter, why did Paul and Peter and James and John write letters to the churches instructing them on how to live? Why bother? If most things aren’t salvation issues, then they don’t matter at all, do they?

In the article I linked to yesterday, the one about the Gospel Immunization Shot, Greg Boyd uses an illustration that I’ve used in the past: marriage. Can you imagine a marriage where each spouse says, “They won’t divorce me over this, so it doesn’t matter what I do”? That would be a horrible relationship. A good marriage comes about when each partner is looking how to please the other one.

I want to please God. And I know he wants what’s best for me. I know he wants what’s best for his church. For example, I don’t see regular church attendance as a salvation issue. But I do see it as a part of a healthy relationship. I don’t think that a congregation that doesn’t have elders and deacons will be left out of heaven because of it. But I do think that church won’t be what God intended for it to be. And we can go on and on.

I’m going to do my best to learn what God wants for me, what he wants of me, what he wants in his church. I’m going to do my best to practice those things and teach them to others. Not because I don’t believe in grace, but precisely because I do:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Jesus Christ is Lord. Because of that, I want to know what he wants me to do. I’m not afraid that he’s going to reject me at the last day. I just want to please him as much as I can until then. I don’t want him to say of me:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)

Sins of my past

file0002062790027I got a bit nostalgic the other day. Well, no, that’s not the right word. I got to thinking about the past the other day. And not the good things.

Images and events came to mind that made me want to crawl under my desk in shame. I felt the hot blush of embarrassment as I thought of things I’d said or not said, of things I’d done or failed to do. How many things are there in my past on which I’d love to have a “do over”?

I need to remember those things. Not to shame myself or keep myself humble. No, I need to remember those times as I deal with people who have wronged me in the past. I need to remember my mistakes, my awful mistakes, as I listen to others say things that hurt me deeply.

I think about my past mistakes and feel that I’ve grown and moved on from those moments. I need to give others the opportunity to do the same.

Image courtesy of MorgueFile.com

The Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he has to do

gavelAs we continue talking about baptism (I’ll get back to Acts 2:38), there is something important that needs to be said. The Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he has to do. Whether it’s about salvation, end times, heaven/hell, or the sun rising in the east, God continues to be God.

Specifically, God will have mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy. He will have compassion on whom he will have compassion. When someone asks, “Can a person in ___ condition be saved?”, answer is always yes. They can be saved. God is still God.

God has revealed to us that he cannot lie. He also does not change. But he does “repent” from punishment. It’s the story of the book of Jonah. He also forgives sin when the heart is right. Isn’t that the story of Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar? God can accept those who don’t meet all the requirements, like when David ate the showbread or when Hezekiah prayed for the people who weren’t ritually clean and God allowed them to participate in the Passover.

We need to remember how God described himself in Exodus 34:

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

Slow to anger. Quick to forgive.

And also a God who punishes. Even as we recognize the right people have to throw themselves on God’s mercy, we have no right to preach the exceptions. Jonah preached doom in Nineveh, despite being convinced that God would show mercy. We don’t get to decide when God will extend mercy beyond what he has revealed. God retains that right. Will he do it at times? Most probably. But only when he chooses; not when I choose.

The Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he has to do. Human logic doesn’t have that power either. In the end, we have to let God be God.

Law and Grace, Faith and Works

legalLast week we were looking at some unhealthy attitudes toward the Old Testament (and the Gospels, along the way). But it’s not just about the attitudes toward that (huge) section of Scripture. It’s really about how we look at the Bible itself.

For some people, the Bible is merely a book of rules, a legal code, the constitution for God’s Kingdom. Wade Tannehill said it well the other day:

But here is what has changed. The legal texts of Moses were in some cases highly detailed and prescriptive. Some would read the New Testament literature as if it were the same genre as the Book of the Covenant or the Holiness Code. This amounts to viewing the New Testament books, not as occasional literature written to aid disciples in a Christocentric reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, but as a flat law code of new legal stipulations for Christians.

Where the old law / new law dichotomy really misses the point is its misunderstanding of law in Scripture. Those seeking to understand the New Testament writings as a legal code are making a similar mistake to the Judaizers of old. The law is imagined to be in a position it was never intended to hold. The law has never been a means of salvation. No one has ever been saved by law-keeping, under any covenant. Salvation has always been by grace through faith.

Yes! Exactly. When we think that what Jesus did was substitute one written code for another, we fall into the trap that Paul condemned in the Galatian letter. When we depend on law, any kind of law, then we are no longer depending on grace. And that’s a dangerous thing: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)

I heard a man speak at a youth camp 30 years ago, presenting the argument that the New Law was merely an improvement on the Old Law. He argued that when Paul says we aren’t saved by works, he only means works of the Law of Moses;”obviously we are saved by works.”

No! The New Testament is not a revised copy of the Pentateuch. It’s about coming into a relationship with God through Christ, seeking to live out our lives as an imitation of our Redeemer. We do that not to be saved but because that’s who we were called to be.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Not saved by works, but created for works.

We don’t need a new legal code. We need a Savior.