Archive for the ‘grace’ Category
The Love of God in Christ
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
“But Paul’s vision of God’s love, rising here like the sun on a clear summer’s morning, shines through all the detail that has gone before…God’s love has done everything we could need, everything we shall need. As Paul continued to explore the meaning of the reconciliation that has taken place between God and human beings, he delves down deep into the depths of what God had to do to bring it about….When we look at Jesus, the Messiah, we are looking at the one who embodies God’s own love, God’s love-in-action.” (NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, pt 1 chapters 1-8, 86)
Paul has spent a great deal of space telling the world, telling the church at Rome, telling anyone who would listen exactly how terrible is the predicament of man. It is bad. One might say that if it was bad in Paul’s day, it might be worse now. I doubt it. All bad such as Paul is speaking of is relative to the age. That’s not to say bad is relative, it is to say that the nature of the depravity is relative to the age. I agree with many who think that there is something terribly amiss in this world, in our culture, and in the church in general. I am not so pessimistic to think it is beyond redemption-in fact, I think that might have something to do with Jesus and why he came in the first place.
That’s what I love about Romans 5:6-11. If one were to read Romans and suddenly stop at the end of Romans 4, one might be left despairing and hopeless although, to be sure, Paul has dropped hints and given us glimpses of the beauty of what God has been planning for humanity such as chapter 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And perhaps also this in chapter 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” But these hints in these places are hints. Here in Romans 5:6-11, Paul blows the lid off the whole thing: Here’s what God did despite all that I have written about in the previous paragraphs! And we are stunned. We are stupefied. We are knocked down; thrown for a loop. Our entire world is shattered by these few sentences concerning God and his actions.
How can we not be bowled over by such statements? How can any single one of us, any of us, read such passages of Scripture as this and think that it means anything but what it says at face value? In the midst of all the wrath, in the midst of all the sin, in the midst of all the hate we have for God, in the midst of all the pride and boasting, in the midst of all the immorality, lying tongues, open grave throats, in the midst of all the convoluted ways we have chosen to live precisely because of our free-will-there is God. There is God! Standing at the dawn with his arms opened wide welcoming home all those who lived in the manner Paul described in chapter 1 is the God who loves. There is God! I don’t know about you, but when I read how God demonstrates his love (which leads me to understand how he really, truly feels about me) I am stunned into silence, humbled, humiliated; wrecked.
At just the right time God did the most inconceivable thing: No eye had seen, no ear had heard, no one could even imagine what God had planned for us; many still find it impossible to believe. Yet God was not even willing just to say ‘I love you.’ For God it was not enough to give lip-service to his great love for us: He demonstrated it. He made it visible. He made it concrete. He put his love on display for all to see. He so loved the world that he didn’t bother to ask anything of us. He so loved the world that he sent, essentially, himself. Paul will later express this love as such: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:31-32)
Have any of us plumbed the depths of love this God has for his rebellious children?
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians)
Is it possible to read Romans 5:6-11 and be anything but overwhelmed? Is it possible to read these verses and be anything but destroyed, thrown down, overwhelmed, unraveled, and undone? Is it possible to consider that God loves us quite in spite of ourselves and be anything but humiliated and humbled? And so Paul can rightly ask in these verses: If God loved us this much while we were yet sinners, then ‘how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?’ Or if God demonstrated his love for us while we were yet rebellious, then how much more ‘having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’
I’ve been thinking about these verses because it seems to me that this God is rather amazing. Paul hasn’t written, in these particular verses, about the pride of men. He has written about how utterly confounding is this God who loves and forgives and heals and justifies and resurrects despite the worst man has to offer. “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
So there it is again: Hope! Forgiveness! Healing! The love of God towards a people who are decidedly against him. He continues, time and time again, to astound us and reverse all our conceptions of himself. We hate, and he loves us. We run away, he chases after us. We curse, he blesses us. We sin, he forgives us. We deny he exists, he shows Himself in Jesus. We kill him, he Resurrects! We can’t really make out this God can we? We cannot really, truly comprehend a God who goes out of his way to make himself real to us, who so desires that we be his people and that he be our God that he will be crucified to make the point and to make it possible, who is so wildly in love with us that he himself will deal with our sins instead of asking us to. He makes a way where no way exists. He creates a people where none is. He extends mercy where there is none.
I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us quite in spite of ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us. I’ve been thinking about this God who thought it necessary to demonstrate his love to us, and did so in the flesh; in Jesus. If there is anything that dispels pride in humans, it is this amazing God who loves; the God of grace. This is the God we need to preach and share and adore. This is the God who saved us in Christ.
The best irony there is is that God loves us. In spite of all the worst that Paul wrote we are, in spite of all the devastation we manage to conjure up because of sin, in spite of our creative habit of inventing new ways to die and kill and run away from God-in spite of it all: He still loves us. The Hound of Heaven dogs our every step and won’t relent; pressing in on every side.
Dare we imagine a God, dare we submit to a God-this God of the Bible, fully come in Jesus Christ? Dare we love such a God who dared to love us?
Soli Deo Gloria!
“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.
Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid. (I’m sorry if you had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of reading it. I wish I didn’t have to link to it, but you may need context for my words.)
There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.
I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.
There I said it: The post is stupid.
I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.
Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.
There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*
For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)
I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of this blog. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at Life Under the Blue Sky, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:
- It is wrong to steal.
- It is wrong to have gay sex.
- It is wrong to lie.
- It is wrong to cheat.
- It is wrong to fornicate.
- It is wrong to commit adultery.
- It is wrong to be racist.
- It is wrong to get drunk.
- It is wrong to be arrogant.
- It is wrong to be prideful.
- It is wrong to be gluttonous.
- It is wrong to murder.
- It is wrong to get an abortion.
- It is wrong to lust.
- It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
- It is wrong to gossip.
- It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
- It is wrong to worship idols.
- It is wrong kidnap.
- It is wrong to disobey your parents.
- It is wrong to swindle.
- It is wrong to be greedy.
- It is wrong to rape.
Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.
But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.
Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.
None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.
Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…
We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.
We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.
Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)
I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.
Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).
We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?
Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?
I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.
Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?
The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?
She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.
The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.
So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.
You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.
“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.
“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.
[This is the text of the sermon I preached at the wedding of some dear friends. I trust they will not be angry that I have published the sermon here for others to benefit from. I admit that I took some liberties with my application of Isaiah 6, but not too many. I also confess to sneaking in a reference to David Crowder*Band song lyrics. I hope Crowder doesn't mind. Be blessed. jerry]
Marriage, Holiness and Grace
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t have much to say, relatively speaking, about weddings or marriage specifically. I suppose our concept of marriage and weddings is somewhat foreign to Scripture. To be sure, God did say that for this reason a man would leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. And, furthermore, Jesus did perform his first miracle, changing water into wine, at a wedding banquet. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in the book of Revelation the consummation of the church’s life and history is described in terms of a wedding between a man and a woman.
As images for the relationship between God and His people, Christ and the Church, marriage is an appropriate metaphor. It describes at once the beauty of intimacy, the glory of fidelity, the joy of friendship, and the grandeur of love. It at once shows us a picture of protection and comfort. We can speak on these things all day long if we like, but I’d like to talk about two other ideas that are married to the marriage and I think demonstrated for us here in Isaiah 6—a text that you may not normally associate with marriage and weddings.
These things might not normally be thought of in marriage. They might seem givens. They might seem irrelevant. They might seem out of date, but I believe that in a marriage that is blessed by Christ they will be evident and courageously practiced.
The first is holiness. I firmly believe that at the heart of marriage—given to us at the beginning by God—is about holiness. Most people get married in today’s world because they fully hope and expect to be happy forever. I’m not suggesting we should get married with the expectation of being unhappy as if unhappiness will make us holier. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. But I am suggesting that in the divine economy, marriage is far more about your holiness in the Lord than it is about your happiness in each other.
This is why so many marriages fail, Christian and not-Christian alike.
It seems to me that after 17 ½ years of marriage I have had to learn that someone else matters in this world far more than I do and that as such there were aspects of me that were ugly, terribly ugly. We see that in the presence of God—our true selves, our true ambition. Marriage has a unique way of teaching us that we are not quite as important as we, in our own eyes, presumed. Marriage has a way of opening our eyes to the truth about ourselves.
To love someone else more than the self is, I believe, part of the essence of holiness. That doesn’t fully capture it, but it approaches it. Holiness means that we begin to shake off those parts of us that are imperfect, unrefined, and completely self-absorbed that we may give our whole self to another. Holiness means that we begin, actually, to be made complete. To be made holy means that we are at some level incomplete.
Marriage begins to make us whole—which is not to suggest that marriage is the only way to be made whole—but only to suggest that in marriage we are made whole.
Isaiah came into the presence of a holy God and was undone. I think as you wed today in the presence of God you are taking your first steps to being undone. Holiness is about God remaking what is broken and making you wholly alive, wholly other (as you two become one flesh), and whole.
This is what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of the water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Not to make her happy; but to make her holy.
The second is grace. Isaiah came into the presence of a Holy God and instead of that Holy God striking him dead, that Holy God cleansed him and made him pure.
If misconceptions about holiness and happiness cause the downfall of many marriages, lack of grace causes the downfall of most and the rest. We have created a culture where the sin of Genesis 3 and the blame of Genesis 3 have triumphed over the grace of Genesis 3. In other words: we find it much easier to sin and to blame than we do to assume responsibility and to forgive. Much of this has to do with pride. Marriage has a way of breaking down pride. Grace and forgiveness go a long way to humbling the arrogant and deepening the well of grace we can dispense to others. Marriage is a lifetime of grace and forgiveness.
You know, one of the things that bugs me about my own marriage is that it seems I am the one who always has to say I’m sorry. It seems that when there is an argument or a fight or a disagreement I am always the one who has to go to Renee and say, “I am sorry; will you forgive me?” I don’t know why that is. Oh, wait, yes I do. I am nearly always wrong. Seriously. A temper tantrum here, a harsh word there, a snide remark instead of a loving brush, and inconsiderate avoidance instead of a compassionate caress, or a selfish consumption of time instead of a generous display of affection.
But this has taught me about Christ, because I can honestly say that there is nothing that Renee hasn’t forgiven me. She has spared no amount of grace. She has reserved no amount of mercy. She has retained no right to double-jeopardy. She has always received my apologies with grace and kisses, with affection and quiet rebuke. Marriage is humbling. She has, time and time again, shown me the necessary grace to allow our marriage to grow in holiness. Time and time again, because of her grace, I have been undone.
If I put the burden of holiness in the marriage on the man, then I put the burden of grace upon the woman. I think this is why Paul told wives to ‘submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which is the Savior.” It is no secret, and I have bared my heart, that men are often in far more need of grace than women when it comes to marriage. Paul’s words here do not mean ‘be a doormat.’ They mean, be a savior; demonstrate grace; come under his care and protection; be an instrument of grace. If the husband protects the wife through holiness, the wife protects the husband through grace.
The man confronted with his burden, ‘woe is me,’ he cries. And there, in the marriage, he finds grace and salvation even as Isaiah found grace and salvation even as the church finds grace and salvation, even as you will find grace and salvation.
So I charge you today not with wishy-washy sentiments about the bliss and joys of marriage. Marriage is hard work. Holiness does not come in a day; it is a lifetime project. Grace is not a one time coupon; it is an every day project. I charge you today in the presence of God and these witnesses: [Man], protect and perfect holiness in your marriage. [Woman], proffer and practice grace in your marriage.
If you keep holiness and grace before you, you will constantly be undone. But if you keep them before you, what will happen to your love? Even though you are undone, your love with prosper, Christ will truly be honored, and you will become the One. When holiness and grace collide, it is a beautiful collision.
May all your collisions be for the glory of God.
As People Moved Eastward
Genesis 11, Luke 10
The first time we read of man moving ‘eastward’ it was in Genesis 3 and in direct relation to the curse which was a direct result of the sin. The eastward march continued with Cain who ‘went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden’ (4:16). Here, a few chapters later, and a significant narrative distance removed from the flood, man’s march continued, ‘As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.’
God drove Adam and Eve east, and seems to have done so with Cain. Here in chapter 11 it appears that man’s eastward march seems to be under his own power. And not only is man ‘moving’ eastward, but now he is ‘settling’ in the east; a place geographically ‘out of the Lord’s presence.’ I don’t see anything here that suggests God is behind man’s eastward pilgrimage. I guess it is fair and safe to conclude that perhaps man is simply starting to feel far more comfortable in the east, away from God’s presence, away from Eden.
I’ve often wondered if Adam ever sat outside the Garden of Eden staring at the flashing sword as it flashed back and forth and sighed with regret. I wonder if he ever tried an end-around or tried to out-flank the flashing sword and sneak back inside the Garden.
It’s that word ‘settled’ that has me rather unsettled. I think that is the author’s way of saying that the people made a permanent residence away from God. Thus, they start building a tower. I have had this Sunday school image in my head forever that they were trying to build a sort of stairway to heaven or maybe a stairway from heaven. Maybe they wanted to climb up or maybe they wanted God climb down. Then I got to thinking, dangerous I know, what if that tower were more like a watchtower built to keep watch and make sure God wasn’t coming? What if the tower wasn’t so much an attempt at salvation as it was an attempt to keep guard against God moving in or against God destroying them with another flood?
I know they wanted to make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the whole earth, but what does that mean to us? Maybe they were simply marshaling their forces and efforts and power against the prospect of God moving in and outflanking them?
Frankly that seems to make a lot better sense to me. They were moving east, settling east, building a watchtower, trying to make a name for themselves, and prevent scattering—these aren’t people who were building a tower to climb to heaven or bring God down, these are people doing everything they can do to war against God. Bricks and mortar suggest permanence and defense. They were building defenses. Against whom? I suggest at this point their enemy had become God. They were no longer running: they were fighting. They were fortifying, building defenses.
These are a people who had come to see God as the enemy. That is a long way from Eden.
But what is perhaps the worst part of this, at least as far as the English translations are concerned, is this: ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’ Do I hear God saying that he, at least in a sense, feared what man could do when united together in such an effort? Well, of course a God who has the power to confuse language and accomplish the very thing man feared (‘scattering’, see vs 4 & 8 ) is not a God who fears man. Rather, it seems to me that what God is doing here is preventing this united, unified effort against himself. I suspect that this is actually a picture of grace at some level.
And no matter how far east they moved, no matter how impressive their fortifications against him, no matter how unified their efforts they cannot thwart God or hide from him. They cannot, as it were, win. Or, maybe we look at it this way: No matter how much they waged war against him, no matter how much they tried to defend themselves against him, he was still gracious enough to come down among them. He still cared about them. He still heard them. He still saw them. Instead of waging war against them, he demonstrated grace. He came down among them
Isn’t that like God?
It’s the same sort of picture we see of God in Luke 10 if we imagine ourselves to be the man in the ditch (as suggested by William Willimon). God climbs into the ditch and rescues us: “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).
Or, Jesus in Luke 10 does this: He sends out seventy-two others to go out ahead of him and gather those who had been scattered. Tell them, he said, “The kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). In Genesis 11, God came down. In Luke 10, the Kingdom was near. Isn’t it like God: The further we move away, the more he chases after us?
The further eastward we wander, the more defenses we build up against him, the more he chases after us. He pursues us. He comes down, destroys all that we build against him. He comes down, and breaks all united fronts. We can stand against him. Our best efforts against him are nothing. He laughs at our efforts against him because he is not the one sending us east any longer. Now he is gathering to himself. Now his kingdom has come near.
As people moved eastward, God went with them. They tried to run away, he was already there. That’s grace.
Here are some thoughts on grace. I just cannot believe, at times, how abundant God’s grace is. Strangely enough, I think it is the church many times that is most afraid of this grace. My prayer is that the church will learn grace not only saves but that it empowers us to live freely. Too often the church condemns to hell those whom God has not condemned to hell. The church needs to recover the message of grace and soon or there will be no one left to enjoy what God has planned for those who love him, for those He will save through Christ.
There is a real sense in which grace is simply wasteful. That which is freely given can be abused, discarded, and rejected; grace can be scorned. The irony is that for some reason we are prone to reject that which we have no inherent claim to in the first place. It is the Lord who gets the bad end of this deal so to speak. Grace scarcely makes sense to the saved, much less the lost. Sadly, it is Christians, the very ones who are the beneficiaries of this saving grace, who misunderstand it the most. I am included.
I have been preaching now for roughly 13 years. I have a Bible college degree. I have been a Christian since I was 13. I have hardly missed a day of worship, a summer of church camp, or a day of Bible school since I was 5. Despite this remarkable list of credentials, I am not convinced that I had any inkling of what grace really means until about two months ago. It was there in plain sight yet I missed it. I have preached sermons about it. I have claimed to be saved by it. Yet for all this I was still oblivious. It was one thing to believe that I was saved by grace; however, it was something entirely different to believe that I continued to be saved by it. I always thought that God did the hard part and it was up to me to work it out with fear and trembling.
I call it salvation hokey-pokey. And it is terribly difficult to stay in.
The problem is that I do not believe the Enemy had any intention of allowing me to know what grace was let alone see it in is abundance, sufficient for salvation and sufficient for living. That is a fine game for him to play: keep people blind, oblivious, working, working, working. People who are so busy working out (earning) their salvation have very little time left to actually enjoy it let alone give praise to the one who qualifies them for it in Christ.. As such I did not even realize that I was trying to climb out of a hole that I could never climb out of. I was trying too hard and enjoying no rest. It is not easy constantly reminding oneself of their guilt and thrashing about inside that guilt trying to make amends that can never be made, trying to win approval already granted, trying to re-qualify for a race already qualified for on the basis of someone else’s effort. Sometimes it is much, much easier to live by rules and regulations than it is to live by grace. It is nearly impossible at times to believe that God is willing to continue loving me in spite of me or precisely because of me. In this sense, grace seems wasteful. Now I am beginning to understand Annie Dillard’s words, “Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 82)
Needless to say, grace is now the prime-mover in my life. Whereas at one time grace was ‘there’, but not, now I cannot stop thinking about it. I see grace in places where I had not imagined it before. I keep finding myself talking about grace in sermons even when I had not planned on talking about grace. It is not nearly as difficult now to offer an invitation at the end of a sermon because now it doesn’t sound so formulaic, so contrived, so forced. Now invitations at the end, the beginning, or in the middle of a sermon are invitations not to a list of chores and a life of drudgery but rather to the freeing love of God both for salvation and being saved. Not only is this true, but even the manner in which I understand Scripture has changed. Again, I see grace where I had not seen it before.
Just this past weekend, I preached from Colossians 2:16-23. I took two extra weeks preparing for this sermon because I could not figure out what Paul was saying even if what he was saying was clear. The passage was not making sense until I remembered what Paul said at the beginning and end of the letter: Grace! (1:2, 4:18). It is rather simple to understand what Paul is saying in these verses (16-23) if they are approached with an understanding of grace: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthen in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (2:6-7, NIV). More than one commentator suggested these are the ‘theme’ verses of the letter. Not ironically, then, Paul next writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:8). This thought is continued in 2:16-23. His point, I believe, is that when we allow people to pile on us rule after rule after rule we are effectively and essentially declaring our independence from God’s grace. “These things are shadows…he has lost connection with the Head…they are destined to perish…they lack any value in restraining the flesh” (2:17, 19, 22, 23).
When we submit to those who impose such regulations we are declaring that Christ is not enough, that he is insufficient. This is not living in Christ as we received him. This is not living free. This is salvation by slavery which is no salvation at all. This passage, in my estimation, makes little sense apart from grace and 6 months ago it is likely I would have missed this altogether. In the grip of grace, preaching has taken on a whole new life, has a renewed stamina, and new vibrancy. Knowing and understanding grace has altered my objectives in preaching because preaching has taken on an entirely different meaning in light of grace.
Another aspect of my life that has been radically altered by grace is in my relationships with others. This has only just started working itself out in any tangible way, but this is of major importance in my work as a minister of Christ. In a word, I am free now to love without an agenda. Now I can be as much a giver of grace as a receiver. I can be free with everyone and demonstrate the same freeing grace that God has shown me. If grace happens to appear wasteful at the moment that is fine and presents no problems. I can love not because everyone is particularly lovable but because grace loves. Practically speaking, grace has not only freed me from judgment but it has freed me from judgmentalism and this, I should add, is as freeing as being set free. I did not even realize how judgmental I was until I learned that grace is not just for saving but also for living. People do not have to conform to my rules, my standards, my objectives in order for me to love them. My love for others is now proactive. It reaches out before being reached to. It is most remarkable being freed from the notion that others must live up to my standards of holiness and rightness in order to be considered God’s child. “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge.” (William P Young, The Shack, 159) Colossians 2:16-23 taught me that if I am saved by grace, and so also everyone who is saved, then the only opinion of anyone that matters is that of Christ Jesus, and I am not Him.
There is an older couple who recently left the church I serve. Their departure has been terribly difficult for me because the rumor as to why they left evidently had something to do with the most recent church budget and a certain line that had something to do with my education expenses. I have put off visiting them for 4 months because I have had no idea what I should say and I did not want to say the wrong thing, and given the closeness of our relationship at one time and my typical prone-to-defensiveness, reactive nature, I was bound to say something wrong. What I have learned is that I can go to them without an agenda. I do not have to go and ‘win them back’ or ‘persuade them to return’. Nor do I have to think that they are somehow apostate because they have chosen to worship elsewhere—even if their reasons for doing so are strange. Instead, I can go to them and offer them my love regardless of the outcome of the conversation. I do not have to have a particular agenda in mind. I can love them, comfort them (the husband has cancer), encourage them, and pray for them. I can demonstrate grace because it does not matter if I am to blame or not. What matters is grace and it is grace that I will speak of when I visit them this week. “Let your conversations be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6a).
I read a book last week called The Shack. This remarkable book contains a lot of dialogue, but one particularly short section near the end really rattled me.
“Mackenzie!” she chided, her words flowing with affection. “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn’t think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you?”
“Well, I thought so, sorta…” he said sheepishly. “But you gotta admit, rules and principles are simpler than relationships.”
“It is true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you.” (William P Young, The Shack, 197-198 )
The hardest part of grace for me is God. I, after all, know exactly where I have been, what I have done, and those I have hurt. I know myself all too well and I figure that if I know myself this well then God can only know me better. What gets me is that he wants me to be saved. What gets me even more is that he went out of his way to make certain it was a reality. It is hard, very hard, unbelievably hard at times to think that not only do I not have to make up for my sins but that ultimately I cannot. If the enabling power of God’s grace has freed me to love people, and to preach graciously, how much more has it freed me from the guilt of sin? And yet it is this very guilt that I seem to be reluctant to let go of.
Yet there it is. Philip Yancey comments, “Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing…Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World, 223) I think the reason why grace makes so much sense is because it makes no sense at all. “…God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to saved those who believe…we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks” (1 Cor 1:21b, 23, NIV). This is what the world finds so difficult to believe. It is also what the church finds so difficult to believe. We thus end up worse than those ‘visitors’ in Colossae who piled rule after rule upon the church, worse than the Pharisees who in their haste to make disciples of law and order instead made children of hell, worse than the Judaizers in Galatia who insisted on a “Jesus…and” plan of salvation. I suspect this has, based on this evidence, always been a problem among those God calls.
I, no less than anyone else, struggle with grace. But I am learning. I am learning that God will not fail to finish in me the good work he began. The church needs to awaken to this message of God’s grace that is testified to abundantly in Scripture. Grace has taught me that God loves me and wants to save me. The question is whether I will let him do so or not, and on his terms. Grace may be difficult to understand. It may be wasteful by human standards. At the end of the day, however, we have nothing else to cling to. I am learning each day to trust that God loves me and His word to us in Christ that by grace we have been saved through faith. I am learning to trust that if in the course of writing a paper or a sermon I forget to capitalize all personal pronouns relating to God, he will not hate me and hold it over my head until I confess. I am learning that grace covers a multitude of sins. I am learning to trust Him for that which I cannot trust myself. Living free is far better than living in guilt. It frees me to love without an agenda. It frees me to be loved.
Annie Dillard wrote, “So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69)
Soli Deo Gloria!
I have read the entire post by Pastor Silva and I am prepared to make some remarks about it in a longer post later. I’d like to make another quick observation about what I believe to be the Pastor’s main issue and the point of his writing.
The main question the Pastor seems to be trying to answer is this: What is the foundational and functional basis of unity in the Body of Christ? I honestly believe this is a valid question to ask. In this particular essay by the Pastor seems, on the one hand, to be very discontent with Roman Catholic theology only he does not spend any time at all actually critiquing Roman Catholic theology. I don’t happen to disagree that Roman Catholic theology is wanting in a lot of ways, but I can also make a strong case that the Pastor’s so-called Reformed Theology is too–as many in the evangelical world have.
On the other hand, the essay seems to be mostly concerned with ecumenical movements that are afoot and seeking unity with the Roman Catholic church. I don’t happen to be familiar with them (except the ECT that moved among us for a short period of time a few years ago) and so I won’t comment on them except to say that in many ways they are meaningless gestures and that in other ways ‘who knows what the Lord has in mind’.
So the main question is: What is the foundational and functional basis of our unity in the Body of Christ? This is important because the Church has been struggling with it since the days when Paul wrote to the Ephesians that Christ had destroyed the dividing wall that existed between Jewish and Gentile Christians and the Jerusalem council struggled over how to include Gentiles and Paul wrote in Galatians that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be fully incorporated into Christ. For Pastor Silva, the foundational and functional basis of our unity in Christ seems to be doctrinal purity. I will quote his words:
What applies here in relation to our discussion of unity in the Body of Christ is the phrase–’all those who believe in him by the doctrine of the apostles.’ [He is quoting from the footnotes of the 'famous Geneva Bible used by the Pilgrims who founded this nation...'] This would be someone who believes in Christ according to what His Apostles taught. And this ‘doctrine of the apostles’ is what we Protestants now refer to as Biblical doctrine. Someone who believes in Jesus Christ according to what the Holy Scripture teaches is the one brought into that unity the Master is talking about in John 17:23…[Quote]…So we can see here that someone who holds firmly to the dogmas and sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church has excluded themselves. [All emphases belong to Pastor Silva.]
But have they? I don’t disagree with Silva that there are serious errors in Roman Catholic Dogma and Catechism. What I do disagree with is the idea that ‘true unity in the Body of Christ’ is based on some supposed doctrinal purity or a point by point agreement in every theological dogma. I say this for a couple of reasons.
First, whose dogma shall we all line up and subscribe to?To which theological formulation shall we rise and fall? The Apostles’ Creed? Westminster Catechism? Nicene Creed? Church Dogmatics? Lutheranism? Silva-ism? Presbyterianism? Papalism? Shall it be Charismatic? Pentecostal? Ephesians? Galatians? Nazarene? The Way? Baptist? And then, which kind of Baptists? Free-will Baptists? Southern Baptists? Do you see the point? Is Pastor Silva suggesting that the only way any of us can achieve unity is by giving assent to a theological formula that he develops? Are all of these divisions lost because they do not all share a point by point agreement with the Apostles’ teaching [Edit] as formulated by any particular teacher, say a Pastor Silva.
Second, who is the arbiter of ‘correct’ theological formulation?The ‘Protestants’ that Pastor Silva refers to have no final authority as Roman Catholics do. We have no pope, nor do we want one (which is why such things as ECT can never work). So who then becomes the arbiter of this theological doctrine to which we all must subscribe? There are so many variations of ‘protestantism’ that it is impossible to decide which theological formulation is the ‘correct’ one. And how shall we decide? Who will decide? It is my contention that this is why God gave to the local church Holy Spirit gifted leaders who will humble themselves under His Word and teach it properly in accordance with His will. [Edit] And that is a ‘risk’ that the Lord is willing to take. That’s why later I will argue that at it’s core, Christian unity centers on the fact of the Atonement (Justification) and our trust in the Person (Jesus) who did the work and not necessarily man’s theological formulations of it. (And I think there is a difference.)
Third, even Pastor Silva does not do this, that is, agree at all points with a particular theological construct. I will give a mere example. First, Mr Silva evidently thinks he is a Reformed theologian (pastor-teacher) who subscribes to the ‘historic orthodox Christian faith that Luther and the Reformers risked their very lives to recover and defend.’ Mr Silva would then, evidently as a consequence of this position, he would accept the teachings of John MacArthur (who is noted for his dangerous pre-millenial eschatology and otherwise rather orthodox point of view) and D James Kennedy (RIP) (who used his pulpit to bully people into a political position instead of preaching Christ Crucified; preached a “Gospel in the Stars” series of sermons; and more. But he was orthodox!). Then, being the good Reformed pastor-teacher that he is (I wonder if he knows what a ‘pastor’ is in the NT), he denies one of the fundamental tenets of Reformed Theology, namely, the perseverance of the Saints: “The sad and pitiful fact is, there are so many of those today who consider themselves Christians [later he acknowledges that we should 'examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith'] because they attend the Mass, keep the sacraments, do nice things for poor people, or once walked down an aisle, said a little prayer and they think–’I'm in now, so now I can just do whatever I want to.” You know–the old ‘once saved; always saved.” He then quotes Scripture ‘proving’ that we are not ‘once saved, always saved.’ (Here we see Evangelical, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Reformed. Whose theology should we all buy again?)
My question is: What theology are we supposed to abide by? And since Mr Silva cannot make up his mind which one to follow, how are us ‘little folk’ supposed to know? Mr. Silva, would you please become the protestant pope and tell us? I don’t understand how someone can accept ‘Unconditional Grace’ and in the same breath deny the ‘Perserverance of the Saints.’ Of course that is easy to do when you are accountable to absolutely no one but yourself.
Fourth, there is no church hierarchy to make these decisions which is why the local church matters and has the ultimate say in their theological formulations and ultimately Christ will judge each person. It is at this point that the Roman Catholic Church most miserably fails. My question is this: Mr Silva, what authority did Christ give you to be the judge and jury of who is and is not Christian, to monitor every single congregation on the planet? Do you really visit every congregation you criticize or do you just ’surf’ around until you find something that really irritates you personally? Do you think that because you have a blog on-line and read stories and write about them that somehow you are suddenly an authority on all matters theological? I really don’t get where it is that you gather such hubris, but I doubt it is from Christ or the Scripture. If you belong to a local Church, you should use your skills to govern the local Church. That is what a pastor does. As it is, you are trying to act like a protestant pope. In the local Church the Lord Jesus has entrusted faithful men to do the work of feeding and shepherding the flock. Not every flock, but only the one entrusted to them; the local church. I need to say more on this later because the Pastor’s issue is that he doesn’t understand how a church is organized according to the Scripture thus he assumes he has a right or an authority to make the judgments he makes.
Fifth, if I dropped a bible on an island, what would the church look like after the people read it and started to develop in Christ (assuming they all accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord)? I don’t know either. After they read the book they would probably say, “Wow, we need to repent before this holy God!” I doubt seriously they would say, “Wow, we certainly hope this God performs a miracle in our heart to save us.” They would say, “Wow, we are sinners. This Jesus died for our sins. We owe Him our lives.” Sola Fide!
The issue is this: What is the foundational and functional basis of unity in the Body of Christ? I contend that it is not doctrinal purity; it cannot be doctrinal purity. A look at the denominations present in this world demonstrates abundantly that doctrinal purity is not the basis–even if there is such a thing as ‘the faith once delivered.’ If it is doctrinal purity, then there is not a single saved person belonging to the Body of Christ; not even Pastor Silva.
So what is it? Is there something more substantial, something more objective? Yes. “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:9-13) It is not doctrinal purity that binds the Church as one in Christ; it is not doctrinal purity that saves a person from the coming wrath. It is only God’s grace that saves us. Sola Gracia! Not sola doctrinal purity which there has never been since the inception of the Church at Pentecost 2,000 years ago!
Pastor Silva cannot possibly know what is in the heart of every single person he condemns to hell. Only the Lord knows this and ultimately the Lord will judge each person according to their works. I wonder if Pastor Silva’s works will hold up too? Or is he building a house of straw because there is no room for Grace in his ‘reformed’ theological position? I conclude that Pastor Silva is seriously misguided theologically and needs to go back to work and see if the Spirit has anything to say about the Grace of God.
Later, I will go through his post and critique a few of his more salient comments and also point out a couple of areas where I am wholly in agreement with Pastor-teacher Silva.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS-I can state this rather simply: What matters most in our unity? Is it the fact of Christ’s atoning death on the cross and our humble acceptance of that work by faith? Or is it our theological formulations of that work? I contend it is the former, not the latter which is not to say that there are not theological formulations we should avoid. There are.
I realize that I am running a great risk posting the comments I am about to make. I realize well that it is not wise to cross certain Defenders of the Faith in the world of blogs. I realize full well the power of blogdom to ruin lives and to be judge, jury, executioner, prosecuting attorney all in one. But I recall that somewhere in the Scripture that Christians claim to live by, we were told to be full of grace. Oh, I have no doubt that we are to make judgments about one another to a certain degree (see 1 Corinthians 5:12-13). But I think it is this very Scripture that bugs me a little when it comes to some comments that I have been reading about a certain preacher named Tim Reed and a certain blogger named Ingrid Schlueter.
Evidently, there have been some barbs tossed back and forth between the two. Also included in the mix is Ken Silva at Aprising Ministries. Oh, and there’s also a rather lengthy post here at Old-Truth. I have a couple of thoughts about this since Tim Reed and I share a similar heritage in the so-called Restoration Movement churches. In fact, I went to college just up the road from the church Reed preaches among.
First, let it be stated that I am in no way defending Reed’s ‘drive-by’ comments or his use of derogatory language to designed to insult Ingrid, Ken or the author of Old-Truth. If in fact Reed is saying such things, well, he should be ashamed of himself. I preach in a Restoration church and I am only too aware of how difficult it has been in the history of our denomination to get our message across to people and to be accepted as sincere disciples of Jesus within the evangelical world. The last thing our denomination needs is set backs. I fully understand Reed’s point, but I think there is a better way to dialogue with those whom we disagree. So, I am not defending him in that respect.
Second, on the other hand, neither am I calling out Schlueter or Silva or Old-Truth for pointing out his (Reed’s) apparent lack of class (although, to be sure, I don’t see where in Scripture a lack of class is considered a sin or even name calling. I did read something about unwholesome talk, but none of them are quoting Scripture). It is one thing entirely to point out that some bloggers are beyond arrogant in their presumptuousness and in their judgmentalism. It is something else to merely ridicule them with salty language and other verbiage that does not befit a minister of the Word of God; Reed should hold himself to a higher standard even if he is a self-proclaimed watchdog of the watchdogs. Old-Truth is right that Reed doesn’t advance his cause by being immature. I have read some of Reed’s blog posts and he seems to be rather intelligent–someone with whom I could have a great conversation about aspects of the church that need to be changed, corrected, or otherwise done away with entirely. For that matter, the four I have mentioned so far have a lot to talk about in this regard. However, and here’s the point…
What is wrong with this picture? Ingrid at Slice of Laodicea has, in my opinion, really stooped to a new low in her recent post concerning Reed. I don’t know how she found it, but she dug up some post that Reed evidently made at some Gaming message board. I seriously wonder how much effort went into digging up the quote–which is a rather ridiculous quote from someone claiming to be a minister of truth. But what is worse is that she says, “If you want a taste of the new pastors today, here you go.” She then reproduces the quote.
Here’s the rest of her post sans the quote by Reed (I have linked it, so you can check it yourself):
A pastor, friends. He calls himself a pastor who sends out “vulgar missives” where he insults another with a claim of having had sex with his opponent’s mother, using what he calls “anatomically correct terms.” I understand Pastor Tim Reed’s vulgar attacks on me and Ken Silva in a far clearer light after reading this. We now have men in the pulpit who are showing by their fruit that they are enemies of Jesus Christ. Why are they enemies? Because they embrace the moral filth that Jesus died to save us from. Those who love Christ and His true church will warn about “pastors” like this.
Now, she is writing about one person, one man, one pastor, one preacher, and yet she says, ‘We now have men in the pulpit who are showing by their fruit that they are enemies of Jesus Christ.” No, you don’t know what men in the pulpit are doing. You have no idea what it means to stand in a pulpit week after week and preach the Gospel. You sit behind a mic or a computer monitor and contend for your versionof the truth from the relative safety of your home or office (did I read that you don’t even consider yourself an evangelical Christian; yet you judge it? Did I read that you criticize Britany Spears and the Church that decided to write her letters to tell her about Jesus? Can you have it both ways?) You have a man who has made some poor decisions with respect to his language and the manner in which he uses it. You don’t have men who have somehow failed in their calling. It is a terrible thing you have done to judge any or all of the ’new pastors’ because of one man’s transgression (s).
Men, friends. Is ‘pastor’, ‘elder’, ‘apostle’, ‘prophet’ Slice really saying that the only menwho are in pulpits nowadays are those who are enemies of Christ? Is the Watcher saying that those who are imperfect by her standards are disqualified from preaching the Good News? (I wonder where Paul the Apostle would be in her book. He calls his former way of life in Judaism something equivalent to ‘crap,’ Philippians 3; and in another place told certain Judaizers that he wished they would emasculate themselves. Have you read Scripture and the language it uses?) Is Slice really suggesting that Reed does not love Christ because he insulted her? Is she really suggesting that the Lord’s servants stand and fall before her judgment? To his own master does a servant rise or fall! There is a big difference between taking someone aside and quietly rebuking them and telling them to grow up and something else entirely to call their salvation, which the Lord Jesus himself secured at the Cross, into question.
I like much of what Slice of Laodicea has to say. I visit the blog two or three times a day looking for updates and quotes. I enjoy reading much of what Pastor (I don’t know if the ordained Silva preaches behind a pulpit each week or not) Ken Silva has to say at Apprising Ministries. I don’t know Old-Truth (or whether [he] has a pulpit either) so I don’t know if I like [his] stuff or not. But I have a couple of questions for the three who operate these blogs and a couple questions for all parties involved.
First, to Slice. Are you now without sin that you have the right to cast judgment on Reed? Do you really have the right to cast the first stone? Are you really suggesting that you are the ultimate arbiter of who does and does not love Christ? By whose measuring rod do you make such a decision?
Second, to Pastor Ken. Because you seem so well acquainted with the Word of God: Isn’t it a blessing to be insulted for the Name of Christ? Didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are you when people say all sorts of things against you because of me?” Are we now to return insult for insult? Or shall we now bless when we are cursed?
Third, to Old-Truth. Do you think that you have advanced the cause of Christ by printing the name of the Church that Reed preaches at and judging his entire denomination? Do you think that all the people whom he leads in worship are somehow guilty of his infractions; his sins? Do you think that his entire denomination is somehow demeaned by his behavior? (We should be happy that not all Baptists are guilty of the sins of Baptist preachers, and not all Presbyterians are guilty of the sins of Presbyterian preachers, etc.)
Fourth, to Tim Reed. Do you really think you are helping your cause by acting so immature? Do you really think you have a defense by using the language you use? I understand well the desire to connect with people at their level, but the sinners with whom Jesus ate came to Him and enjoyed His company. He elevated them; they did not lower Him. Maybe you should try to raise the standard of your conversation.
Fifth, where is the grace? Seriously. This is one of the main issues I have with all of blogdom–and especially this case in particular. I wonder what it is that the people who are not Christians who read these blogs of Christians think about Christians and Christ after they read these blogs? I can’t believe Reed publicly says the things he says about Ingrid, Ken, and OT. I can’t believe they have responded with nothing better.
Sixth, are there not people dying every day and going to hell? Is there not something better we can do with our blogs? Seriously?
What is all this hatred? (That’s what it is.) What is all this questioning of someone’s credibility or someone’s standing before Christ? What is all this childish name-calling? Why can’t there be honest, adult conversation and dialogue? Look, I’ll debate any of these people, for example, about Harry Potter books any day of the week because I happen to think they (at least Slice’s author) are wrong about them. On the other hand, Slice’s author happens to think I am wrong too. Or, I’ll debate the (de)merits of the Reformed doctrine of election (or any other aspect of TULIP Calvinism) which is absolutely horrifying and unbiblical. But just because I disagree with those who hold to it doesn’t mean we are not together in Christ. Nevertheless, isn’t there room for adult conversation? Isn’t there room for opinions? Isn’t there room for love? Shouldn’t all of our conversations be salted with Grace? Are any of us so without sin that we have a right to sit in the sort of judgment that calls one person who preaches the Gospel an ‘enemy of Christ’? Is that really what grace is about? Are either of us lost because we do or do not read the right books? Seriously, is there any room for grace among these watchdog types? I think God’s grace is enough for us all, but also think that we’d rather be right than for God to be Justified and Justifier. I really don’t think Christians like grace at all. For all we talk about being saved by it we sure don’t want to live by it when it comes to our theological mountaintops. We’ll die for our Calvinism, but nor our Arminian brothers and sisters. Sad. How did I hear it said? The Church is the only army in the world that shoots its own wounded. Sad.
Jesus said one time, ironically on the night he was betrayed, the night before he died for all our sins, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus could have mentioned a lot things in that space, but He chose to tell us, over and over again, to love one another. Well, if we demonstrate that we are his disciples when we love one another then whose disciples do we demonstrate ourselves to be when we hate each other? Here’s how Old-Truth ends [his] post:
It’s interesting that a foundational slogan of the Restoration Movement of which Tim Reed subscribes is “In Essentials, Unity. In Non-essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Charity“. That kind of talk sounds good on paper, but when somebody doesn’t agree with where the essentials begin and end, then charity is quickly abandoned in favor of the pursuit of a pound of flesh. In the end – Tim Reed’s treatment of Christians who have differing convictions than his own, will likely prove to be his undoing. Aside from the obvious pastoral incompatibilities, his methods bring a more revealing spotlight on his own public behavior than on the behavior of those he calls-out, name-calls, and watches.
This is a danger that I think was understood early by the likes of Dan Kimball who is an Emerging Church advocate with similar complaints as Tim Reed, yet Dan seems to be able to eliminate his own conduct as a potential point of focus for his opponents. The Dan Kimball types do this through actually trying to follow the bible’s pastoral directives (ie: being self-controlled, kind to everyone, and not quick-tempered or arrogant). So while I usually disagree with Dan and the Emerging Church, I can at least listen to his views and appreciate his genuine attempt at humility. Conversely, I would venture to say that there are a good number of people who no longer even hear what Tim Reed is protesting against, because they can’t get over the glaring lack of the fruits of the Spirit that accompany his protest. (Emphasis mine.)
I think that is precisely Reed’s complaint. It’s not only Reed who cannot tolerate other people’s opinions, but it is the people he is complaining against who cannot, indeed, will not, tolerate others’ opinions. Honestly, there is guilt here on both sides. Reed, to be sure, needs to mature a little (or a lot). He needs to speak with no unwholesome language only those things which are useful for building up the Body of Christ. The rest need to speak the truth in love. All need grace.
None of this is doing anything to advance the cause of Christ or to build His Kingdom. In my opinion, both sides are doing all they can to tear apart the very fabric of that which Christ died for: Oneness, Unity, Love, and Truth; the salvation of the World; the Glory of God; the Exaltedness of Jesus Christ; the Triumph of the Lamb! If we cannot speak the truth in love, then we are mere legalists who have left no room for grace. And if we have love without truth, then we are mere sentimentalists. I’d sure like to see Bro. Reed use his creative energies to uplift people instead of tear them to shreds with his sarcasm and language. I’d like to see Slice and Silva use their considerable influence to train up people in the way they should go with grace and love instead of not.
ps–I know I’m setting myself up for a dismal day with this post. But I cannot help it. I’m not trying to pick a fight with anyone, but I’m trying to bring some peace to this part of the Body of Christ. I’m not saying I’m perfect; I’m saying none of us are. There is so much hatred in the world that I wonder why anyone would want to find refuge in Christ, let alone the church. If this is what the Church is to people, why would anyone want to be a part of it? There’s more love and grace in Elk’s meetings or AA meetings or a Major League Baseball game.
I’m calling on both sides to fix this publicly. There needs to be some growing up on both sides, some repentance, some forgiveness, and some clearing up of the real issue at hand which is: How can we best Lift up the Name of Jesus in this desperately, spiritually perverse world in which we live? Are not all sides involved concerned with the Gospel? Do they not all, in their respective ways, preach the Crucified Lord Jesus? Then why enmity?
“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2) For the sake of Christ, clear up this matter and end it. Let forgiveness and grace and peace reign.
“Let he without sin, cast the first stone…” And one by one, they started to walk away, the older ones first until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. I ask you sincerely, when it is all said and done, won’t it be us and Jesus, one on one, with no one else left? Won’t Jesus ultimately be our judge? “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Friends, here is part three of my short series on Grace. It is taken from Luke 10:25-37 and the parable of the ’Good Samaritan.’ I hope it blesses you.
Grace as Undiscriminating Love
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26″What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28″You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36″Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
We have been talking on Sunday mornings about grace. If I reckon correctly, this will be the fifth sermon that I have preached on grace in the last two months having interrupted my previous series on Suffering to preach two rather impromptu sermons on grace and how grace works itself out in the lives of those who call themselves and who are called to be the church in and to the world.
I saw a certain author’s work yesterday. He was attempting to interpret this parable of the good Samaritan for his readers. He said the parable teaches at least four main lessons. One of his points, the first one in fact, is this: The parable teaches the impossibility of earning one’s salvation. The standard, which is perfect love, is too high. Well, on the contrary, the parable teaches no such thing. Matthew quite specifically tells us that Jesus’ parable was designed to teach the man who his neighbor was.
So in fact this parable has nothing to do whatsoever with a doctrine of salvation. It has nothing to do, for that matter, with another of the author’s suggestions: that the parable attacks racial prejudice. It wasn’t merely racial prejudice that prevented one man from helping another. In fact it was much deeper than that and I’ll get to that near the end of the message. To be sure, this story really has nothing to with even answering the Lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” as a careful reading of the verses demonstrates.
Jesus doesn’t tell the man who his neighbor is. Jesus asks the Lawyer, at the end of the parable, what sort of a neighbor he is. Listen: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The Lawyer replies, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” So the point is clearly not who is my neighbor, but rather to whom am I a neighbor. Darrell Bock rightly comments, “By reversing the perspective Jesus changes both the question and the answer. He makes the call no longer one of assessing other people, but of being a certain kind of person in one’s own activity.” The parable is one that forces us to probe our own discriminating proclivities. In this context: Everyone is our neighbor. There is no discrimination to be shown, no favoritism, no partiality. This parable points the finger right back at us and asks: Who is not your neighbor?
I think one of the reasons why we are so afraid to be gracious to other people is because we are typically, absolutely, terrified of getting involved in the messiness of others’ lives. I know from my own life that being involved with difficult people, messed up people, people who can’t not be involved in controversy is draining. I remember going on a field trip when I was still in college. We went around for Church Growth class visiting churches that were successful and had otherwise successful preachers.
I specifically remember one of the successful ones telling our class that he purposely avoided getting involved with what he called ‘high maintenance’ people. That is, people who took up too much of his time, people who never contributed anything particularly useful to the congregation life. They are the ones who always need, always want, always take. I remember very specifically that conversation: ‘I don’t do it,’ he said. ‘I involve myself with people who will make my life easier, better, or more successful.’ Some of that is paraphrase, but it is true to the point.
How can I be gracious to those whose lives I am unwilling to participate in? How can I love the ones I would rather observe than touch? Here’s what I read:
“One of the most insidious maladies of our time is: the tendency in most of us to observe rather than act, avoid rather than participate, not do rather than do; the tendency to give in to the sly, negative cautionary voices that constantly counsel us to be careful, to be controlled, to be wary and prudent and hesitant and guarded in our approach of this complicated thing called living.”—Arthur Gordon, A Touch of Wonder as quoted by Mike Yaconelli in Messy Spirituality.
Again the point becomes this: How can I be gracious to people if I am not involved in the messiness of their lives? How can I love the unlovely if I am not willing to risk being hated? How can I bring hope to the hopeless if I am not willing to risk being rejected? How can I carry the Gospel to those who haven’t heard if I am not willing to risk the very culture I inhabit being a barrier to communication? How can I have a conversation with those to whom no one speaks unless I open my mouth and initiate a conversation they may have no interest in? How can I be an agent of healing and reconciliation in the lives of broken and divorced people unless I am willing to touch their wounds, bind up their diseases, carry their infirmities?
Amazing thing about Jesus is that He spent a lot of time touching and being touched by people. People weren’t afraid to touch him; he wasn’t afraid to touch them. He wasn’t embarrassed by their diseases, their poverty, their shame, their guilty, or their age. He embraced and loved.
I’d like to share a rather lengthy portion of a book by Mark Buchanan. The book is called Your God is Too Safe. Listen carefully as Buchanan analyzes the problem and provides succinct solutions to it.
In order to escape borderland, it is not enough that you grasp a holy must, maintain faith, or forsake your pride. Living in the holy wild also requires a complete change of ethics…
A number of years ago, a wise man pointed out to me the root difference between the ethic of Jesus and the ethic of the Pharisees. Usually we think of the difference in these terms: the Pharisees had an ethic of externals, of ritual and rigmarole, and Jesus had an ethic of the heart, of the heart’s inner workings. The Pharisees were concerned about not committing adultery, while Jesus was concerned about lust, the root of adultery. He was concerned with adulterousness.
That’s true as far as it goes. Only it doesn’t go very far. The deeper difference between Jesus’ ethic and that of the Pharisees was this: The Pharisees had an ethic of avoidance, and Jesus had an ethic of involvement. The Pharisee’s question was not ‘How can I glorify God?’ It was ‘How can I avoid bringing disgrace to God?’ This degenerated into a concern not with God, but with self—with image, reputation, procedure. They didn’t ask, ‘How can I make others clean?’ They asked, ‘How can I keep myself from getting dirty?’ They did not seek to rescue sinners, only to avoid sinning.
Jesus, in sharp contrast, got involved. He sought always and in all ways to help, to heal, to save, to restore. Rather than running from evil, He ran towards the good. And evil, in fear, fled. Look at Legion, the man under assault by a demon mob. Everyone else fears Legion, tries to banish him to the tombs. But when Jesus shows up, it’s Legion who is afraid, begging Jesus not to torture him. Jesus has come to seek and save that which is lost, not to destroy. He heals Legion and restores him to community. Jesus is not the least afraid of Legion’s evil. Rather, the evil in Legion fears the holy power in Jesus and is subdued by it. Darkness always flees light.
Mark it well: evil isn’t safe in the presence of the God who is not safe. Nor—and this is the point—is evil safe in the presence of those who forsake the god who is too safe and follow the Christ. Legions all over the world live both in terror and in desperate yearning for those who dare to leave borderland and live in the holy wild. They’re the ones who set the captives free.
Jesus got close enough to unholy people for the spark of holiness in Him to jump. He took the tax collectors, the rough fishermen, the harlots, the demon possessed, and gave back to them dignity and life. He gave back to Legion his real name. The Pharisees avoided these people lest they were infected with their sin and were overwhelmed by their evil.
The problem is that we have often preferred the ethic of the Pharisee to the ethic of Christ. We have become self-obsessed in our doctrine of sin, as though sin were merely a personal flaw like acne, plantar’s warts, or crooked teeth. As those sin is merely about personal victory or defeat. We seldom see sin as a brokenness that’s bone deep and creationwide…
* * *
Jesus uses the marketplace to touch the sick with healing. There He is, Lord of the holy wild, iconoclast of the safe god, striding hugely, robes flying about Him, jostling with the crowds, spreading His hands wide, pressing those hands against flesh scalding with fever or icy with approaching death, letting clutching, disease-soaked hands grab hold of Him. That’s Jesus in the marketplace.
Then there are the Pharisees, lords of borderland, charter members of the safe god society. If they go into the marketplace at all, they take great and grave precautions. They avoid even the residue, even the shadow, of the sick people’s presence. There they are, prim mannered, mincing their steps, holding themselves tight, picking up items between the pinched ends of two fingers, rushing home to scrub up.
Jesus is about healing the sick. The Pharisees are about avoiding them and making sure, above all, that they themselves don’t get sick. (108-114)
Neighbors take risks. We need to change our thinking about who we are neighbors to.
Craig Blomberg makes a poignant statement, “Grace comes in surprising ways and from sources people seldom suspect.” But should it? Isn’t Jesus’ point here that grace should not, in fact, be so surprising? Shouldn’t our neighborly proclivities be so abundantly clear that it is surprising when we don’t do something for the man laying in a ditch?
Should grace be so strange in this world? And if it is, why? How does grace play in ten thousand places? How does grace play itself out in real life when hate lives right next door, or walks hand in hand with love? How is grace stronger in the lives of the weak, in the lives of messy people, the lives of the decrepit and broken?
Is it possible to really love God if we do not love our neighbor? And is it really possible to limit who our neighbor is? Doesn’t Jesus dispel the myth that we have the right to discriminate who does and does not receive the efficacious side of our love and mercy and grace? So Leon Morris, “Our attitude to God determines the rest. If we really love him we love our neighbor too.”
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
The measure of the depth of our love for God is taken by the depth of our love for neighbors. Perhaps it is thus time for us to love our neighbors. Perhaps it is time that our neighbors knew that we loved them by our actions.
Perhaps it is time for God to know that we love Him by our actions towards our neighbors.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Here is part two in my series on Grace. This sermon is from Luke 6:27-36. Thanks for stopping by. jerry
A Short Series of Sermons on God’s Grace
Grace as Undeserved Love
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32″If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
I like to read to you the story from Christian Post concerning the recent shooting that took place in a Colorado Church and mission training complex. I’m going to just read it as it is without comment and allow you to think about it while I read.
Members at New Life Church are not quick to question God’s authority, said one young worshiper. So when a gunman dawns on the church campus and causes the death of two teenage sisters before being shot down by a church security guard, the church isn’t angry or in despair and asking God “why?”
God didn’t do this. That was Satan attacking,” Savannah Miller, 14, of New Life told The Los Angeles Times. Rather than questioning God, New Life members are turning to God during this tragic time. Moreover, they’re celebrating the miracle of that fateful day.
“God protected so many people here that day,” said Miller. On Sunday afternoon, 24-year-old Matthew Murray shot and killed Stephanie Works, 18, and sister Rachel, 16, at the parking lot of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Twelve hours earlier, the gunman killed Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, at Youth With a Mission training center in Arvada Police in Colorado Springs believe the gunman intended to gun down many more victims at the megachurch before he was shot down by Jeanne Assam, a volunteer security guard, just as he entered the church building. He was carrying an assault rifle, two handguns and as many as 1,000 rounds of ammunition. An autopsy confirmed that the gunman died of a self-inflicted wound.
New Life members called it a miracle that hundreds of lives were saved that day. The shooting took place just a year after church founder and then senior pastor the Rev. Ted Haggard was fired. A male prostitute had alleged Haggard paid him for sex and methamphetamine. Haggard confessed to “sexual immorality.”
While attendance at the church has declined since the scandal, the prominent megachurch had set itself on a new course of recovery with new senior pastor Brady Boyd and 10,000 members. And then this happened.
“The devil has been really trying to break down our church,” said Tanner Vanbebber, 15, of New Life to The LA Times. “But I think we’re going to come up even stronger.” “This is building our faith,” said Chris Gordon, 16. “We must be doing something right in this church if Satan doesn’t like it.”
“The question, ‘Why did God let this happen?’ is a stupid one,” said Hayden Trobee, 15. “One of the cool things about New Life is, we’re not quick to question God’s authority.” On Wednesday, the church was packed with families and teens who said they had laid down their anger, fear and questions, to focus on worship.
Survivors at Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in Arvada are also moving past the tragedy and placing trust in God. “Lord, we don’t know why two of our dear friends died in this hallway. But although we don’t understand why, we trust you,” prayed Peter Warren, director of the Denver chapter of Youth With a Mission.
Just days after the shooting, students and leaders at the missionary training center shouted a message to the gunman: “I forgive you, Matthew!”
“The enemy has been defeated and death couldn’t hold You down. We’re gonna lift our voice in victory, we’re gonna make Your praises loud,” the students sang on Tuesday. They rededicated the dorm building, where the shooting took place, to God.
Speaking for the first time since the shooting, Charlie Blanch, 22, who was shot in the leg at the center, said on Wednesday, “In the midst of this, I know that God is good. And He’s helped my legs heal. I wholeheartedly forgive Matthew Murray, and my prayers go out to his family,” according to Rocky Mountain News.
The families of the two YWAM victims have also offered Murray and his family forgiveness.
Now, I would like to make four observations about the grace that you and I should be interested in showing towards others. It is a difficult thing to do this though because I think sometimes that sermonizing such an important issue as grace sort of ruins what grace actually is. In other words, I don’t want to reduce the scope of grace to a mere 3 or 4 points here and there. What I want to do for grace is not reduce it in your life but expand it. I want grace to be an all-encompassing lifestyle, an over-arching set of lenses, an expanse as wide as the sky, as deep as the ocean, and as never-ending as space.
I don’t want to restrict grace in your life, but rather I hope to set it free. I hope to unleash the shackles that have bound you to a life of laws that told you you can only show grace in certain situations or that you can only be gracious at certain times or that being gracious in all situations is illusory. I want grace to be the principle that governs your relations with all people in your life: friends, enemies, children, relatives, and yourself. What I am hoping to do with grace in these sermons is teach you that you have been saved by grace and that, as such, you continue to be saved by grace each day. When God saved you by his grace he did not change the rules after and expect you to live by law from that point forward. If you have been saved by grace, he expects you to live by grace too. When grace is your very life you don’t need and won’t need my silly bullet-points concerning grace. When grace is your life it will always be your first, second, last, and only option. It is terribly liberating to live in such a way.
This is what I hope to do with grace in these sermons. Now, on to the four points.
1. Demonstrate Grace in the way you respond to mistreatment by others (vs 27-30)
Jesus said: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”
These words of Jesus are dominated by action words, imperative commands. Love. Do good. Bless. Pray. Turn. Do not stop. Give. Do not demand. Our lives demonstrate to others a reaction. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t react.” No, he is quite content that we do react. He is concerned mostly with the nature of our reaction.
And here’s the thing: Our response is the polar opposite of the manner in which every other person on the planet responds to crisis. David Faust writing in the Lookout asks ‘In a dog eat dog world filled with pain and justice why would anyone make the unnatural choice to forgive?’ There’s only one answer: the grace that we have received in our own life. There simply is no other response for the person who has been saved by grace.
I have a sneaking suspicion that if more churches understood this, if more Christians lived it, there would be a lot less friction, a lot less discord, a lot less sin in the church. If we lived by the grace that we have been saved by our world would simply be a different place to live in every day.
Here’s another important thing to remember concerning this demonstration of grace. In order for us to be the type of people who love those who hate us, or bless those who curse us, or pray for those who mistreat us, or who give to those steal from us, or turn the other cheek to those who slap us once, we have to be close enough to them, involved enough in their lives, living in their sphere of contact. In other words, we have to put ourselves in a position to be taken advantage of, a place where we can be hit, a place to be robbed. In other words, we need to be involved in the lives of those who might do such things.
But when we are, Jesus says, our response will be different and it will make a difference.
2. Demonstrate Grace in the way you would have grace shown to you (v. 31)
Jesus said: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call this the Golden Rule. But you would think that most people in the world really truly expect to be treated poorly considering the way they treat others. Darrell Bock wrote: “The idea of simple service and unconditional love are not in vogue. When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, I have a hard time seeing that love in the way we communicate with those who possess different values from our own.”
Look, we wanted to be treated well. There’s not a musician on the planet who has not written a song with the words, “We all want to be loved.” But if we really want to be loved why are so typically unwilling to love? Why is it so difficult for us to demonstrate to others, concretely, that we want to be loved by the way we treat them? Do we ever really stop to consider what we are telling others about ourselves by the way we treat them?
Why do you suppose it is so hard for us to do the one thing that the Holy God found so simple? Yet we happen to think that for some reason we hate sin more than God who forgives sin. I said last week that forgiveness is in fact God’s prerogative. Now I add to that: It is God’s prerogative to deal with sin and God, as demonstrated by Jesus Christ, chooses to forgive. Do we think we are more offended by sin as to hold grudges against those who sin against us? Or do you think we should be forgiving as God has forgiven?
We live in a world that is most devoid of grace. This is so true that when grace makes an appearance it is usually front page news or accompanied by a book release. We should have such an expectation of grace in our lives that the expectation should be fully demonstrated in our own actions. The vaccum of hate and grudges in this world needs to be filled with a generous grace. The world needs just now a generous helping of grace. If there is anything we can afford to give away it is grace, mercy, love.
Demonstrate grace to the world in accord with the grace you expect from the world.
3. Demonstrate Grace in a way that is contrary to the world’s expectations (v. 32-36)
Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
The point is simple, isn’t it? Do something out of the ordinary. Do something that will make the world shake its collective head in disbelief. Here’s the thing, and I have said this before, love is the difficult choice; it is the difficult response; it is the difficult action we demonstrate. Furthermore, it is easy to love those who will reciprocate; it is much harder to love those who are ignored and brushed off as mere irritants.
But we see those imperatives again, don’t we? Love. Do Good. Lend. Love. There’s something about love in these verses that is irritating. There’s something about this love that Jesus expects us to demonstrate to others who are far less deserving than some we can think of in our lives. I think that what is irritating is that Jesus expects us to love without expectation of reward in this world. He says we live and love with only the expectation of being rewarded by God—perhaps not even in this world.
What sort of God is this who is even kind to the ungrateful and the wicked? And are we to be imitators of this God? Are we to demonstrate to others that this is the sort of God we serve? Would it please God if we showed kindness to the wretched and wicked and vile and contemptible and sinners and haters and enemies? Darrell Bock wrote, “The world is used to dealing with people either on the basis of power, utility, or equal exchange.”
Jesus says we should do different from what the world expects. Let’s respond not only contrary to the world’s expectations, but also contrary to the world’s standards, and contrary to the world’s experience. And let’s demonstrate it towards the ones in this world that the world typically overlooks and rejects.
Love does not discriminate even if we happen to differentiate. Love knows no bounds and no limits.
4. Demonstrate Grace in Accordance with the Grace shown to you (v. 36)
Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” In the very next chapter, we see an event in the life of Jesus that illustrates this perfectly.
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41″Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
I think it is simple enough to say, concerning the grace you are willing to demonstrate towards others, this: How much grace has been shown you? And lest we answer too quickly let us bear in mind that the standard of grace we demonstrate is God’s grace to us. Howard Marshall wrote, “The mercy of God supplies both a pattern for his children to follow and a standard of comparison for them to attain.” So when God Himself is the standard of comparison and the pattern for us to follow, I have to ask: Should there be anyone outside the scope of our grace?
Or I might ask: How much grace have you been shown? What are the depths of your transgressions that God has forgiven and forgotten as far as the east is from the west? I don’t need to spill profound theology or philosophical thoughts on this matter. All I have to do is ask you to examine yourself: What has God forgiven you?
I need not even preach the sermon except to say: Considering how much mercy God has shown you, how much he has demonstrated to you, how much are you willing to show others, your enemies, your friends, your children, your neighbors? But God demonstrates his mercy in this: While we were yet sinners Christ died for our sins. Do you wait for others to repent before you forgive or is your forgiveness proactive and preemptive?
How much have you been forgiven?
David Crowder Band has a new CD out called Remedy. I don’t think there are finer musicians on the planet right now than David Crowder Band so when they release a CD I listen carefully to their lyrics. Crowder sings on this CD that the world is a difficult place to live in just now. Crowder says that we, you and me, should be the Remedy to this broken world. He sings on the last song Surely We Can Change:
And the problem is this, we were bought with a kiss
But the cheek still turned, even when it wasn’t hit.
And I don’t know what to do with a love like that
And I don’t know how to be a love like that.
When all the love in the world is right here among us
And hatred too.
And so we must choose what our hands will do.
Where there is pain, let us bring grace
Where there is suffering, bring serenity
For those afraid, Let us be brave
Where there is misery, let us bring them relief
And surely we can change, surely we can change
Oh surely we can change,
If we are going to be this gracious, then we are the ones who must change. If we are to be the Remedy then we are going to have to change the way we think about our salvation, our hope, and how that salvation and hope are lived out in this world concretely. We are going to have to alter the way we think, the way we live, the way we respond and react to the world.
The amazing thing about grace, I heard in another song this week, is that we are free to give it away.
The amazing thing about grace is that we have been empowered to demonstrate grace to the world around us. That we don’t need to be stingy with grace. We are free to be as grace-full as we want, as we can, as God has been.
The amazing thing about grace is that we should be eager to give it away, anxious to demonstrate it every chance we can. It should be first nature to us. We should not even need to be asked to forgive. It should be obvious.
Let me leave you with a thought. Six years ago on September 11, 2001, radical Islamic terrorists hijacked four airplanes. Two were flown into buildings in New York. One was flown into the Pentegon in Virginia. And a fourth was re-hijacked by the passengers and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The response of the United States was nothing short of terrifying. I remember rejoicing quickly and often at the retribution meted out against Mulsims in Afghanistan and later Iraq. After my initial shock and horror and sorrow at what befell us in the US I became angry and applauded the calls to arms.
Muslims do not know about grace. All they know is law and obedience.
I wonder how this world would be different if, instead of bombs and arms and war, the United States had responded to Muslim nations with grace. What if President, instead of going on television and announcing that our response would be swift against those who were against us, had gone on television and announced that the terrorists were forgiven?
What if, even to this day, the Christian response to Islamic terrorism was grace and forgiveness instead of hatred and violence?
The point is this: How big is grace? How much grace is too much grace? How can we be the Remedy in this world when our response to violence, hatred, and cheek slapping is nothing more than reciprocated violence, hatred and cheek slapping? I wonder if we need to change our thinking on this? The world, obviously, does not deserve our love. The world hates us. That is precisely why we must demonstrate it, because we did not deserve it either and yet that is the very thing God demonstrated to us.
Surely, we can change. Surely, we must.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Friends, here is an offering. I haven’t been posting much lately because I have been terribly busy reading for my seminary classes. I still need to finish those posts from the 90 Days with Jesus series. This sermon is about grace and will be/has been preached to my congregation December 9, 2007. I hope you are blessed.–jerry
Grace as Unmerited Forgiveness
“One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
“Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
We have studied deeply over the last 3 or so years. We have drunk deeply from the well of Scripture and I hope built a lasting theological foundation. I hope by now you understand what the Bible has to say about being a disciple. I hope the sermons I have preached over these last 3 years—sermons about the Cross Driven Life, The Resurrection Driven Life, the Missions Driven Church, The Church in Exile, 90 Days with Jesus, A Theology of Suffering, and many others besides—have strengthened and encouraged your walk in Christ.
Over the course of the next several months, I want to start fleshing out that theology for you. I want to put some legs to it, give it some flesh, give it a little color and depth. But this doesn’t mean the sermons will be easier to understand. I have shown you the world against the backdrop of Scripture, from the point of view of Calvary, from the vantage point of the Resurrection. Now, we must begin to see how this theology ‘works’, what it does, how it affects us, how it determines and guides our each step of each minute.
As we approach that aspect of our ministry together, we must make another stop along the road to visit an important marker that is easily overlooked and under-appreciated and all to often avoided altogether. I am talking of course about grace.
I imagine that all of us have some experience with grace even if we are too ashamed to admit it. And if we have not had experience with grace then perhaps we have missed out on the single most fundamental aspect of Christian faith—the one aspect that sets us apart from every other religion on the planet. Here in this world of Christ’s Grace there is no merit, no earning, no achievement. We are what we are, we become who we are, and all that we can every imagine is solely because of His grace. It is this grace I would like to spend the next 4 weeks talking to you about.
We begin today by looking at a short story from Luke’s Gospel—we have been in John and Matthew already this year—that demonstrates the first of our four grace points: Grace is Undeserved Forgiveness. This morning I’d like to note four particulars of this story as they relate to grace.
Obstacles to God’s Grace (17-19)
Whatever else we might say about this story we can say this: The man in the story, the paralyzed man, the man who never says a word, the man lowered through a hole in the roof, had all sorts of obstacles in his path to grace. Here’s what Luke tells us: “One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there.” Now, was this a literal statement? If every village in Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem had its own representation of Pharisees and teachers of the law—and there were representations from all of them that day—and they were all sitting there while Jesus taught—well, this was the first obstacle to this man experiencing God’s grace.
I imagine some hustle and bustle, some commotion. I picture these people running up to the house carrying this man on a stretcher—yelling, “Clear the way! Move! Coming through! Make space! Man on a stretcher in need of grace!” And there sits all the Pharisees and Lawyers around Jesus—not budging an inch.
Aren’t some folks like that? Aren’t some folks simply and utterly absolute obstacles to God’s grace? Aren’t there some people who will do nothing to make it easier on people to receive God’s mercy? The implication is, of course, that Pharisees and Lawyers actually made it harder on the man to get to Jesus. Doesn’t it rather boggle your mind that these people didn’t move out of the way so that the man on the stretcher could get to Jesus?
On the other hand, you have these man carrying the stretcher. These are the folks who will do anything to get someone before Jesus. I imagine this man waking up that morning and getting ready for the normal day of sitting outside the Dung Gate or the Fish Gate and begging. Someone gets him dressed, feeds him, takes him to the toilet, and then lays him out on the stretcher where he awaits his friends. They come to him. But that day, one or all or maybe even the man himself says: “Today, let’s do something different. Today we are going to Jesus. I hear he’s in town. Listen, I want you to do whatever it takes, with all that is in your power to get me in front of Jesus.” But the Bible says, “Jesus saw their faith.” So maybe the conversation went like this: “Today, we’re doing something different. No begging today. Today we’re taking you to Jesus. Today we are going to do whatever it takes to get you in front of Jesus.”
Some people are those types of people who will do anything it takes to get someone in front of Jesus. They will carry a man on a stretcher. They will ruin someone’s house by digging a hole in the roof to lower him right into the middle of the lecture hall. I can’t be sure, but I wonder if these men who carried that man that day had themselves experienced God’s grace in some way prior to this meeting. Some people will stop at nothing to get someone else before God so that they too might experience His grace.
“And the Power of the Lord was present for him to heal.”
The question before us is this: What sort of people are we? Are we the obstacle or the over-comer? Will we not flinch a muscle or blink an eye to help someone or are we the type who will stop at nothing to get someone before Jesus. Don’t you sense that excitement, the anticipation? This was urgent: This man cannot wait for the crowd to disperse, the man cannot wait until Jesus comes out, this man cannot wait until tomorrow: He needed Jesus right then and there, at that precise moment; there was no waiting—even if it meant ruining someone’s house to do it.
The Pharisees and Lawyers—they were sitting there.
I thought I would take a little space here to update you on some recent additions to the blog. First, I have added two new sermons to the page: Towards a Theology of Suffering. These sermons cover Matthew 14-25. Here’s an excerpt from the first sermon covering Matthew 14-18:
What I am saying to you is this: We cannot solve the problems of this world even if we are called to mount an offensive charge against the gates of hell. I am suggesting that the solution to the problem of evil and suffering is found in the cross of Christ because it was there that Jesus embraced suffering, gave in to evil, and eventually in the Resurrection transformed evil and suffering. But if we are going to grasp this, we must grasp it on God’s terms and not ours. No Lord, not you. Get behind me Satan, you have in mind the things of men, and not God.
If we are going to understand God we are going to have to accept God on the terms that he has established and revealed. Ours is a cross life. Ours is a cross faith. Ours is a faith that begins and ends at the cross. Ours is a faith that understands Jesus’ goal was for the Strong Man not only to be bound, but defeated.
The second sermon is from Matthew 19-25 and deals with the Word of God and suffering. Here’s an excerpt:
Suffering is all around us and we are the cause of all of it. We have trusted in ourselves to solve the world’s problems and we have neglected and ignored the Word of God. He gives us all the answers we need but we refuse to listen. We refuse to hear. We refuse to welcome the prophets who are telling us the truth. And Jesus says that because we are more interested in ourselves than God there is a suffering that will outlast this earth because we want it to. You see all that is necessary for the suffering of this world to end is submission to the Word of Christ: Haven’t you read? But we won’t do it. So many will be cast into the place prepared for the devil and his angels, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Finally, I added a second sermon I recently preached on Grace. I interrupted my series on a Theology of Suffering to preach these two sermons on grace. Here’s an excerpt from sermon #2 which deals with the Limits of Grace:
Do you think that if we are saved originally by grace that after we are saved by grace God all of the sudden changes the plan? That is, after God saves us ‘while we are yet sinners’ does he continue to save us each day on the basis of our meritorious behavior? Or does God continue to save us each day on the basis of his grace?
If I was saved by grace yesterday, am I any less saved by grace today? So the Scripture agrees: If I am saved by grace before I am Christian I am not less saved by that grace after I become a Christian. I’m not saved because I am a Christian, or because I attend the right church, or perform the right rituals, or because I ‘go to church on Sundays.’ I am saved by the grace of God. Period.
I hope you will find the sermons helpful and encouraging. Feel free to leave your comments and let me know what you think. I’ll be finished with the series on Suffering and Evil in about three weeks then, as I said above, I’ll be preaching a short series on grace. I’ll be posting all these sermons here. If you would ever like a CD copy of a sermon you read here, just let me know.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This is a must watch. D A Carson discusses sin, grace, the Cross and how misunderstanding of these can be threats faced by the church.
53Then each went to his own home. 1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
You know, as well as I do, that people are mean. People have very little conscience most of the time. It has been seared, corrupted, abused, and conquered by ourselves in complete cooperation with the Enemy. People will use any means at their disposal to attack and vilify Christ—or His church. I have always wondered about the man in this story. I’d like to know how it is that a woman was ‘caught in the act of adultery’ but a man was not. This alone shows that they have no real regard for the law. Sadly, we see a lot of this in our own culture. You might say it is a double-standard. Really, it’s a blatant disregard for the law, a thumbing of the nose at righteousness, an unmitigated scoffing at true justice.
That said, this particular pericope does not revolve around these mean, arrogant scofflaws. If they had read the law they would have seen this: “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death’” (Leviticus 20:10). They also would have read in the 10 Commandments that the command ‘do not commit adultery’ has no particular sexual identity attached to it. In other words, it does not say ‘a man shall not commit adultery’ or ‘a woman shall not commit adultery.’ It says, pardon the archaic KJV language, ‘thou shall not commit adultery.’ They were quite wrong that day to bring only the woman before Jesus. (Sort of makes one wonder if the very man she was caught with was among those wanting to stone her.)
They understood the Law: They were, in fact, required to stone the woman and the man. Jesus doesn’t deny that the woman should have been stoned. On the contrary, he issues the command: Stone her. Jesus was not going to abrogate the Law just because they were trying to trap him. However, neither was he going to allow them to abridge the Law just because they were trying to trap him. The Law is the Law—the Law cannot be done away with. ‘Go ahead. Stone her. Who will be the first? Don’t hesitate.’ Jesus has no qualms about the punishment of the guilty: ‘Go on. Stone her.’
So, why does Jesus do what he does? Why does he say what he says? Why does he allow this woman to escape unscathed by the smooth stones and jagged rocks they were about to hurl in her direction? (Can you imagine this woman laying there in the dirt: ashamed, dishevelled, hair matted and gnarly, tears cutting wadis across her skin, eyes bloodshot, afraid to look up, afraid to take her hands away from her face? Perhaps she had heard of Jesus—there was whispering and rumors of him all around (see chapter 7). Can you imagine how she felt when she heard Jesus say, ‘Go ahead. Stone her.’ I well imagine that a chill went up her spine.) But I think that is not entirely what she heard. Maybe it was more like: thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. One by one. One after another. Then some murmuring. Then some shuffling. Then some rustling of garments. What does forgiveness sound like? How do we hear it? What sound echoes through our ears when that water washes us clean? Annie Dillard wrote that man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall. It’s an overwhelming thing. A torrent of mercy. A waterfall of grace. A tsunami of forgiveness. It’s more than we can handle; it’s more than enough.
What does grace sound like? Can we hear it? Can we see it? Can we taste it? Can we feel it? Can we smell it? Thud. Thud. Shuffle. Murmur. Shuffle. Thud. Thud…
Amidst her crying and sniveling, amidst her weeping and whimpering, the sound of rocks and stones was heard. Those boulders hauled on carts to Jesus had miraculously turned to tiny pebbles when they hit the ground and yet their thud was heard—not least by those who had gathered around Jesus that morning to listen to him teach. Those stones carried in their hands and pockets had become giant boulders these men could no longer hold on to under the weight of their own perjury. I don’t suppose for a minute those men who accused her actually forgave her. I don’t suppose they were willing to extend grace because they did not want to experience grace themselves. They walked away because they had no choice: Jesus had vanquished them. Theirs was a grace not given freely but begrudgingly. My point is that they didn’t walk away because they were forgiving her but because the Bird had caught the fowler in his own snare.
If the LORD had not been on our side—let Israel say-
2 if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us,
3 when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive;
4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124)
Man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall.
But the story did not end just there either. There’s one more scene that takes place after the accusers had gone and Jesus was left alone with the sinful woman and those who had gathered that morning to listen to him teach. Jesus again acknowledges that this woman was guilty although he does not condemn her. Maybe this goes back to John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Yes. The mistake, however, is in thinking that Jesus did not judge this woman. He did, in fact, judge her. What he didn’t do was act in accordance with the judgment he leveled. He was perfectly ready to allow her to be stoned—on a certain condition. In this act, he also judged those men who wanted to stone her. Jesus did judge, but he did not condemn. This in no way means, however, that he approved her actions or condoned her indiscretion or applauded her sin. No. She was guilty.
Here’s what he did: He showed her grace and forgiveness. Still it did not end there because he also said: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” I take this mean this: Forgiveness and grace sets us free to a new life. Once forgiven, we can no longer remain in our old way of doing things. We can longer continue in the decrepit filth of sin. Once set free, we are no longer slaves. Free to live a new life, free to take on a new character, free to to pursue righteousness and holiness. There is no longer a sin life for the one forgiven. “Release from a life contrary to the will of God is always with a view to life according to the will of God” (Beasley-Murray, John, 147).
PT Forsyth has said this same thing rather beautifully in his book The Cruciality of the Cross.
“The feeble gospel preaches, ‘God is ready to forgive’; the mighty gospel preaches ‘God has redeemed.’ It works not with forgiveness alone, which would be mere futile amnesty, but with forgiveness in a moral way, with holy forgiveness, a forgiveness which not only restores the soul, but restores it in the only final and eternal way, by restoring in the same act the infinite moral order, and reconstructing mankind from the foundation of a moral revolution. God reconciles by making Christ to be sin, and not imputing it (2 Cor. v. 21). The Christian act of forgiveness at once regards the whole wide moral order of things, and goes deep to the springs of the human will for entire repentance and a new order of obedience.” (51-52)
Here is a beautiful thing: Set free. Go and leave your life of sin. If you have been set free by the Son, you have been set free indeed. From what do you need to be set free?
Just what does grace sound like to you?
Soli Deo Gloria!
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
To paraphrase an old friend, ‘Now that is remarkable. Here is a man who has been laying idle for 38 years and the first thing you Pharisees point out to him is that he is carrying his mat on the Sabbath. The man hasn’t carried a mat on any day for 38 years. He hasn’t carried a mat for 13, 870 days and you are worried about today? Did you praise him on any other 1,976 preceding Sabbath’s that he did not carry his mat?” Here is no miracle, for sure. The only thing that happened was that the law was broken. That is all they saw. They did not see a man set free, they did not see a man healed, they did not see a captive loosed from his prison, they did not see a man cured of a disease that had left him completely impaired and despairing for 38 years—a man who had, for all intents and purposes, simply lost the will to live. Of course he had no one to help him in the water when it was stirred—he didn’t want anyone to; it was easier to do nothing each day.
I quoted from an essay, in my previous meditation, written by Tim Keller. Here’s another helpful paragraph:
Moralism is the view that you are acceptable (to God, the world, others, yourself) through your attainments. (Moralists do not have to be religious, but often are.) When they are, their religion if pretty conservative and filled with rules. Sometimes moralists have views of God as very holy and just. This view will lead either to a) self-hatred (because you can’t live up to the standards), or b) self-inflation (because you think you have lived up to the standards). It is ironic to realize that inferiority and superiority complexes have the very same root. Whether the moralist ends up smug and superior or crushed and guilty just depends on how high the standards are and on a person’s natural advantages (such as family, intelligence, looks, willpower). Moralistic people can be deeply religious–but there is no transforming joy or power.
These are the people who find no joy in the ‘success’ of others because they are far too concerned with the sins of others. They are utterly incapable of being joyful—joy-filled. To these folks, life is a burden they must carry around as they trudge from person to person helping them work out their own salvation—with fear and trembling of a kind the apostle Paul was unaccustomed to. These folks are ‘holier-than-thou’ types. They care not about a person’s walking and leaping and praising God, only about his carrying a mat on the Sabbath. It is a terrible way to live, and sadly, it is a life completely devoid of grace.
They said, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’ I take this as their way of saying, ‘It is the Sabbath; we forbid you to carry your mat.’ I take these to be very cold, callous folks. Seriously, who is more concerned about a mat being carried than about a man being healed of a 38 years long trip to nowhere? My Lord! There should have been a party in the temple precincts! They should have killed the fatted calf! They should have invited Jesus to turn the Jordan River into wine so the party would not have to end! But, these sour-pusses stared down their pronounced noses, glared over the top of their gaudy bi-focals, stretched out their long, pointy fingers, and declared with the authority of a prophet, the justification of Scripture, and in the voice of God: “You would be better off still crippled by that pool in Bethesda than to be carrying your mat on the Sabbath.” Isn’t that really what they are saying?
I think those people still exist today.
But the man replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” Funny, isn’t it, how Jesus’ authority was good enough for this man when it came to getting well but afterwards Jesus is merely scapegoat. I take nothing positive from this man’s actions between verses 11-15. I think he became an ingrate or at least his true colors began to show. He evidently goes back to a life of sin—a life of sin that may have led to the condition that had laid him up for 38 years to begin with. Jesus did not set this man free from his prison so that he could go and pick up where he left off in sin. No he picks him up, sets him free, and demands, I think, a life that reflects that freedom. Instead, he went back to sin. Let’s read Mr. Keller’s essay again:
Relativists are usually irreligious, or else prefer what is called “liberal” religion. On the surface, they are more happy and tolerant than moralist/religious people. Though they may be highly idealistic in some areas (such as politics), they believe that everyone needs to determine what is right and wrong for them. They are not convinced that God is just and must punish sinners. Their beliefs in God will tend to see Him as loving or as an impersonal force. They may talk a great deal about God’s love, but since they do not think of themselves as sinners, God’s love for us costs him nothing. If God accepts us, it is because he is so welcoming, or because we are not so bad. The concept of God’s love in the gospel is far more rich and deep and electrifying. (There is a link in yesterday’s meditation where you can access the entire essay.)
I think those people still exist today also.
The guy is a tattle-tale, and Jesus is the one who is persecuted for it. ‘For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.’ There will always be someone who wants to persecute and kill. I don’t know about you, but I find it not one bit surprising that it was the religious folks who wanted to persecute Jesus. It was the religious folks who wanted to kill him. It was the religious folks who had no room for him in their scheme of things. They had it all worked out: the rules, the laws, the manner of obedience. There was no reason for this Jesus guy to come in and mess things up for them. He was only making matters much worse than they had to be.
I think those people still exist today too.
Seriously, there are too many religious folks in the church and too many irreligious folks in the church. Here’s Keller’s point: They are both folks who want control over their own lives and over their salvation. Religious folks want saved by their rules and laws and obedience to them; they tell Jesus what to do. Irreligious folks determine their own paths of right and wrong: They don’t need Jesus telling them what to do. You know what is scary? I have lived both ways. This is what I realized in that short van ride last night: For a very long time I did because I had to if I wanted to be saved. There was no joy in serving. It was all work. All burden. All trying to please God day in an day out because I could not grasp grace.
Then there was a time when I did because I wanted to. I confess, it is a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. So instead of submission (‘Go, and sin no more.’) out of love for what he had done for me that I could not do for myself, I simply did what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. Again, there was no joy because there was only ever guilt, shame, and the humiliation of having to come back to him again and again asking for that forgiveness I thought so easily obtained. Neither is a way to live properly in grace. This was an abuse of grace.
Up until about 3 years ago I never did because because God did first. In other words, I did not do because of grace. Life was either serve to be saved or sin and seek forgiveness later, but never saved to serve—gladly, freely, without obligation, simply because the love and joy of God had done for me what I could not do for myself, because grace had broken in, because I had been set free. I was a slave to law; I was slave to sin. Never was I a happy servant of the Lord. I realize that both of these folks were ingrates. The religious folk because they didn’t see a healed man; the healed man because he went back to sin. I think these are both ways of doing the same thing: persecuting Jesus, plotting his death, or turning him over the authorities who wish to do so. But never recognizing that one who claims to be equal with God has the right to set me free from slavery on any day of the week and determine the course of my life after I have been set free.
I think these folks still live in the church today. And shall they be set free?
Both parties missed grace—the leaders and the healed man. My hope is that we won’t: Neither you, nor I.
I hope this 19th Day of your 90 with Jesus finds you living in and because of Grace.
Soli Deo Gloria!