Christianity’s Gift to the World

thinkingI’m currently reading a book by Steve Brown titles What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. Brown’s books are wonderful. Like me, he is a conservative Christian who believes in the inspiration of Scripture. Doctrinally, I think we are fairly similar. Yet, his writing takes you to new levels of reflection. The first time I read anything by Brown I remember thinking to myself that he was either a heretic or a genius – and it took me a while to figure out which. I’ve settled on genius. Brown writes in a way that is provocative. It’s like he is intentionally picking on the scabs conservative Christians walk around with. What he says makes you angry until you slowly start to realize it’s not Brown that is angering you, but rather God’s Word. And faced with that realization, there is nothing left to do but repent.

Basically, Brown makes me think. I’m sure some people find him annoying – some may have even settled on heretical – but I appreciate him. Here’s a quote from What Was I Thinking? that I currently can’t get out of my mind:

“Our gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation. Our gift to the world is to find where the Holy Spirit is creating beauty, speaking truth, and manifesting goodness—and when we find it, to identify it, enjoy it, affirm it, and get involved in it” (p. 64)

It’s that’s first sentence that has stuck with me … “Our [Christians] gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation.” Too often, that’s the face we present to world around us – anger, judgment, and condemnation. When, in reality, the Church should be an extension of God’s gift to the world – grace, mercy, and salvation through His Son.

Brown makes the further point that because of our anger and disgust with the world around us, Christians often retreat to the Church. We take safe haven in our churches and our Christian subculture because we are convinced that’s where the Holy Spirit is. We do it because it makes us feel safe yet our safety comes at the expense of the culture around us. We create a divide between the sacred and the secular and then refuse to cross it for fear of sacrificing our own righteousness. But it’s important to understand that this divide is man made. From God’s perspective there is no “secular”. The gospel of John makes that clear:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

All things came into being through Him. It’s this fact that gives God the authority to speak into the hearts of every man and into the core of every situation. It’s that fact that gives Jesus the authority to forgive our sins. It’s that fact that gives God the right to determine that salvation must be accomplished according to His plan rather than our own. It’s that fact that is the foundation of grace. And when we retreat in disgust from the world around us and take refuge in our Christian subculture we are failing to take that gift of grace to the very people that need it the most. Jesus understood this. That’s why He hung out with sinners. That’s why He said,“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Even the Great Commission, our marching orders from Christ, instruct us to take His message of grace to the world, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

When Christian present nothing to the world but anger, judgment, and condemnation and then retreat back to the safety of our own Christian subculture, we are forfeiting the one gift we have to give the world. It is imperative that Christians refuse to forfeit our input and voice to the culture we live in. Music, arts, literature, science … all of these things stand to benefit from the input of Christians.

If we want to deliver Christ’s grace to the world, we must be engaged in the world. Jesus once prayed for His disciples, “14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus didn’t pray for His disciples to be taken out of the world; rather, He prayed that they be kept safe from the evil one as they engaged the world for Him. 

Christ’s prayer should be the strategy of the Church. Rather than withdrawing from the world and drawing imaginary lines between the secular and the sacred, we should engage the world. We should deliver Christ’s gospel to the sic and refuse to sacrifice our voice while tending to our own safety.

Genius.

Lessons from Genesis: Prayers of Intercession

sodom-and-gomorrah-painting
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, an 1852 oil on canvas painting done by John Martin

My study this morning included God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The wickedness of these cities had reached such a pinnacle that God’s wrath was imminent, but He used the moment as a tool to reveal His very nature to Abraham. Before destroying the two cities, God visits Abraham and reveals His plans. This visit leads to an incredible exchange between Abraham and God:

23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” 30 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (Genesis 18:23-32). 

I must admit this passage used to confuse me. I couldn’t quite figure out why God needed Abraham to remind Him of His own just nature. Quite frankly, the thought that Abraham had to negotiate for the lives of the righteous upset me. However, my confusion was born out of misinterpretation; what’s happening in this passage isn’t a negotiation – it’s intercession.

God is just. He knew exactly what He was doing when it came to Sodom and Gomorrah; but by allowing Abraham to intercede on their behalf, he revealed His gracious nature to Abraham. Yes God demands justice for sin, but in doing so He never sacrifices His own grace. God allowed Abraham to intercede for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and by doing so, He allowed Abraham to become a channel though which God’s grace flowed.

Abraham’s intercession for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reflection of Christ’s intercession for those who call Him Savior:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6) 

Just as Abraham interceded on behalf of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus Christ intercedes on my behalf. With his prayers of intercession, Abraham was displaying a particular kind of Christ-likeness that I far too often fail to display. My prayers tend to be selfish, “God bless me!” – when a proper prayer of intercession should read, “God bless them!” 

My goal is pray less selfishly. I want to pray more for others. God knows exactly what He’s doing when it comes to His justice and His grace, but when I pray a prayer of intercession it shapes my heart to resemble the heart of Christ who prayed the most famous of all intercessory prayers …

“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

[View all posts in the Lessons from Genesis Series] 

Lessons from Genesis: What's it Mean to "Walk with God"?

from newyorker.com
The generations that followed Adam and Eve became defined by sin. In fact, sin became so pervasive that God sent judgement by way of a flood. Yet, in the midst of that judgement, Noah stood out:

“9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Genesis 6:9-10. 

That phrase, “walked with God”, has been the focus of my study today. Noah stood out in a world that was defined by sin as righteous and blameless; not sinless, but blameless. I found myself asking what it was that Noah did differently to stand out. What does it mean to walk with God? I ask the question because I want to be a Noah. Whatever it means to walk with God, I want to apply it to my life. I want to walk with God!

Noah is the second person in Genesis to be characterized as walking with God. Enoch, being the first, is described as being taken by God rather than dying (Genesis 5:24). Just as Noah escaped the flood, Enoch escaped death. God preserved them. God preserved Enoch and Noah because of their walk.

When the Bible speaks of walking in this manner, it is talking about the way we live our life. In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul writes that when we are dead in our sins, we are walking “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Like Noah and Enoch, we have a choice; we can live a life that is characterized by our walk with sin or by our walk with God.

Noah’s walk was exemplified by his obedience. When God told Noah to build the ark it wasn’t raining; yet Noah obeyed anyway. The writer of Hebrews wrote this:

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7, emphasis mine).

Noah was obedient to God’s commands even though he couldn’t see the rain. It seems that “walking with God” is directly linked to our obedience. On some level, Noah chose to walk with God by being obedient to His commands. We make that same choice today; will we walk in obedience or will we walk according to the ways of this world?

Jesus tells us to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2, 4:17; Mark 1:15). That word “repent” sums up our choice. When we repent we change our mind. We choose to begin walking with God rather than the world and our choice inevitably impacts our actions and behaviors. When we repent our walk becomes defined by our relationship with God. It is a choice we make and will continue to make daily until Jesus calls us home. When we live in repentance we walk with God.

In His Son, God commands us to change our walk. We can continue to walk in the path that leads to destruction or we can choose to walk with God by accepting His Son as our Lord and Savior. The more I allow my life to be defined by my relationship with Christ the closer I will walk with God.

If we want to walk with God we must “2[fix] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

My prayer is that my life would be defined by my relationship with God and the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. My prayer is not that I would be perfect, but that I would be blameless and that God would be glorified by my walk; that people would see me as a sinner, saved by grace, living in relationship with God Almighty through Jesus.

Noah’s obedience was an act of faith. That faith allowed him to live in relationship with God; righteous and upright. He walked with God and his walk stands as an example for the rest of us.

Mental Health and the Church: The Need For Christ

IMG_1235A proper understanding of mental health as it is presented in the Bible must begin with the Doctrine of the Fall of Man. As the story unfolds, Satan, in the guise of a serpent, tricks Adam and Eve into eating the one fruit that was forbidden by God (Gen 3:1-6). It is through this act that sin entered the world and mankind has been afflicted with a sinful nature since. Charles Ryrie writes, “Every facet of man’s being is affected by this sin nature. His intellect is blinded. His mind is reprobate or disapproved. His understanding is darkened, separated from the life of God. His emotions are degraded and defiled” (Ryrie, 1986, p. 252). Because of this fallen state, mankind suffers from total depravity. In other words, our entire person is affected by our sinful nature – body, mind, and spirit. All illness, whether physical or mental, is a result of The Fall of Man. The Apostle Paul confirmed this when he wrote, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscious are defiled” (Titus 1:15, NASB). Because of sin, our minds are defiled.

The relationship between sin and mental health must be properly understood before there can be any hope in understanding our subject. While, in many (if not most) cases, it would be inappropriate to attribute a person’s specific mental illness with specific sins, it should be understood that all illness is ultimately the result of mankind’s sinful nature. Thus, there is a spiritual element to mental illness. To ignore this fact would be detrimental to everyone touched by mental illness. In fact, any treatment plan for mental illness that does not address spirituality falls woefully short. Daniel J. Simundson writes:

What can be fixed by human effort? Not all guilt can be removed by better therapy. No amount of treatment by doctors, drugs, electric shock, or group therapy can turn us into loving human beings who act only out of concern for the other. The effects of sin cannot be completely removed, though to a greater or lesser degree, they can be modified and their impact ameliorated (Simundson, 1989, p. 145).

The sinful nature of illness necessitates that salvation must be included somewhere in the discussion. Namely, if sin is to blame for the presence of mental illness in our fallen world, Christ must be offered as an essential element on the path to mental health. Simundon writes, “As Christians, we must include an eschatological hope in our discussion of mental health. What we really need is ‘salvation,’ something that reaches beyond the promises of this [fallen] world” (Simundson, 1989, p. 145). Of course, the “eschatological hope” Simundson writes of has a name – Jesus Christ.

Jesus is essential in our discussion of mental health. He is the ultimate healer. Scripture presents Christ as the face of salvation. Thus, if spirituality is to be included in a complete treatment plan for mental illness, a generic and general spirituality will not suffice. Those suffering from mental illness must be offered nothing less than Jesus Christ.

When Christ as offered on the path to mental health there is hope, healing, and forgiveness.

View all posts in this series.


 

Sources

Ryrie, Charles. Basic Theology. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 1986. Digital.

Simundson, Daniel. “Mental Health in the Bible.” Word & World Spring 1989: 140-146.

 

Lessons from Genesis: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

expulsionfromeden
image from thegospelcoalition.net

“… but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17, NASB).

The history recorded in the second chapter of Genesis tells us that God formed man out of dirt and then placed him in a garden of God’s creation (2:7-8). The garden contained trees that were good for food and pleasing to the sight; including the tree of life which was the means by which God sustained Adam and Eve. However, in the garden was another tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat because it would lead to their death. This famous tree presented Adam and Eve with a choice; they could listen to the instructions of God or to the whispers of the serpent, “You will surely not die.”

I’ve often pondered how things would have been so much easier had God not planted that evil tree. Why was it there to begin with? Certainly its presence reveals how much God values free will and choice and, of course, we know that Adam and Eve ultimately chose to eat from the tree. We may be tempted, however, to ask what the big deal is with their choice to eat the fruit, after all, the tree was only off limits because God said it was. They ate the fruit, so what?

In my last post, I wrote about God blessing mankind through His creation. God created the universe, the sun, the earth, and all of creation because it was good for mankind … and then He prescribed the best way for us to live within that creation. In the case of Adam and Eve, the best way for them to live was to avoid the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God is free to issue such prescriptions because He is the God of creation. He and He alone is God. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit it was more than just a simple act of disobedience. They were asserting that they knew better than God Almighty Himself when it came to what was good for their lives. In his commentary on Genesis, Bruce Waltke writes, “”That famous tree symbolizes the ability to discern good (i.e., what advances life) and evil (i.e., what hinders life)” (p. 85).

And guess what folks, we’ve been eating from that tree ever since. God’s Word prescribes for us the best way to live our lives and yet we keep pretending to know better than Him. Sex, gluttony, hatred, lust, greed … when we choose to sin we are asserting that we know better than God what is good for us.

Surely we won’t die … right? 

Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. When we claim to know more than God about what’s right and wrong for us we are choosing a route that will lead to our deaths. We would do well to learn the lesson of Job:

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ (Job 42:3-4). 

God alone knows what’s best for our lives. It takes tremendous audacity for us to presume to know more about our lives than the very God that created us. God is God and we are not. He has the right as the Lord of all creation to tell us what’s best for our lives. When we presume to know better, we are choosing spiritual death.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). 

The best way for us to live our lives is the way our Creator has told us to live our lives. We would do well to listen to Him … after all, He is God and we are not.


Related Posts: Lessons from Genesis: God Delights in Blessing Mankind

Lessons from Genesis: God Delights in Blessing Mankind

genesisIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” These are the words that open the Bible’s account of creation. Far too often, we read these words and immediately try to turn Scripture into a science textbook.

  • When did He do it? 
  • How old’s the earth? 
  • How did He do it? 

I don’t mean to suggest these question are not important, however, I do believe there is a more important and better question … Why did He do it? 

Why did God create the heavens and the earth? One answer I hear quite often is that God created the heavens, the earth, and ultimately mankind because He was lonely and longed for companionship. I’m not sure about this answer. God is presented in Scripture as living a perfectly harmonious and unified relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a relationship so closely knit that the three persons of the Trinity are defined as One God. Three in one. God exists in the most perfect relationship imaginable so I tend to reject the argument that He was somehow lonely and needed mankind to complete Him. I also believe Scripture provides us with a better answer.

Over and over, God is presented as declaring His creation as “good.” God created light and saw that it was good (Gen 1:3-4), God created the earth and the seas and saw that is was good (1:10), God created vegetation and saw it was good (1:12), God created the sun and the moon and saw it was good (1:18), likewise God goes on to create all the animals of the sky, oceans, and land and declares them as good. Good for what we might ask? What is all this stuff good for?

It’s good for us. Mankind. The one and only creatures that were created in God’s image.

Chapter 2 of Genesis demonstrates to us that God created mankind from the dust of the ground and then “breathed the breath of life into us” (2:7). Then God proceeds to create the Garden of Eden for mankind in verse 2:8. He didn’t create man for the Garden, He created the Garden for the man!

Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:9).

God cause to grow trees that were pleasing for food and sight for mankind. He wasn’t just concerned with feeding us, He also wanted us to enjoy ourselves. I can imagine God thinking to Himself as He created:

  • “Oh yes, they are going to love this tree! It is beautiful! it is good!”
  • “These tomatoes are so juicy and ripe … just wait until he sinks His teeth into them!”

God created the world the way He did to bless us. There is something innate to His person that wants to see mankind blessed. He created us in His image and placed us on a planet that is conducive to our survival and enjoyment. He blessed us because that’s the kind of God He is. He is a God who blesses. The prophet Isaiah described Him as an Artist:

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). 

He is the potter and we are the clay. Carefully crafted in the image of the Father, Son, and Spirit and created to be blessed and to glorify Him. Isaiah also reveals we were created to glorify the God who created us (Isaiah 43:7). That’s the way it was meant to work. He blesses us and we glorify Him.

It’s easy to see how God blesses us. Just look out your window at the world we live in. Look up into the mystery of space in the night sky. Look at you family and loved ones. God blesses us. It might be harder to discern how we are supposed to glorify Him. Scripture tells us there is one vehicle between our blessings and His glory – Jesus Christ.

The apostle John tells us that nothing that has been created has been created apart from Jesus Christ for it is through Him that all things were created (John 1:1-5). All of our blessing came though Jesus Christ … He is the vehicle through which God the Father blesses us through creation. Likewise, it is through Jesus Christ that we glorify God. Jesus said that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one gets to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6). God the Father blesses us through Jesus and we glorify the Father through Jesus. There simply is no other way.

And here is the wonderful part. The same God who delighted in creating the world to bless us is still delighting in creating for us. Revelation tells us that we will someday inherit a new heaven and a new earth to replace the one we have tainted with our sin. Guess where that new heaven and new earth is going to come from …

“If I [Jesus] go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Just as God the Father created the heavens and the earth through Jesus to bless mankind at the beginning of time in Genesis, He is creating a new heaven and a new earth through Jesus to bless us at the end of time. He will continue to bless us and we can continue to glorify Him through His Son Jesus.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). 

Our God is a God who delights in blessing His creation. How can we not have the desire to glorify His Holy Name.

Amen?

My Date of Salvation and An Unexpected Gift From My Mom

Save-the-date-stamp-2Occasionally, my Pastor or another speaker in church, or even random Christians in conversation will reference their salvation date (or date of rebirth) and I always get a little jealous. There’s a little part of me that admires them for remembering such an important and momentous date and there’s a huge part of me that is envious of them – because their salvation seems so clean and flawless. So clean and flawless, in fact, that they can remember the exact date it occurred – heck, I’ve met some people that can remember the exact hour!

That always astounds me because my own salvation experience has always seemed so murky and blurred in my memory. I can remember going to church with a friend when I was in high school. On that day, I responded to an altar call. I can still remember the sensation. It was as if my legs were moving under a power outside myself. I couldn’t have resisted and stayed in my seat had I wanted to! When I reached the altar my friend and another church member led me in prayer. I confessed to God that I was a sinner and accepted the salvation afforded me through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It was a big moment in my young life. I came home that evening and shared with my mom what had happened. She was the only person I told that day outside of the church.

But I’ve always wondered if that was actually my day of salvation. My life and actions following that day seem to suggest otherwise. I quickly grew distressed and dissatisfied with the hypocrisy I saw in my school peers who also went to my church. I would see them behave one way on Sunday and then completely different during the week at school and quickly ascertained that wasn’t what I wanted for myself. So I quit going. I also grew pretty bold in my rhetoric against the church and Christians. In looking back on that time in my life I’ve referred to myself as an agnostic at best and an atheist at worst. I wanted nothing to do with God and often said that if I wasn’t good enough to get into heaven based on my own merits I didn’t want to be there.

Eventually, at the age of 30, I was baptized into the Church as a believer in Jesus Christ. I was called to attend school and study the Scriptures and have become a teacher and staff member in my local church. As my understanding of doctrine and Scripture has grown I’ve come to realize that I really was saved back in high school. Salvation is based purely on the Grace of God rather than my actions. I’ve come to realize that once I accepted Christ on that day nothing could overpower Him:

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30 

Once God had a hold on me there was nothing I could do to escape. It just took me about 15 years to quit trying to wrestle out of His grasp. But that understanding didn’t help me where my jealousy was concerned. Whenever another Christian exclaims their date of salvation I feel little pangs of envy deep in my chest. I’ve learned to deal with that.

But I recently received a little gift from my wonderful mother who passed away sixteen years ago. Years ago, when I told her about that altar call, she made my dad go out and buy me a Bible. Because it came from my parents, that old King James Bible is now one of my most prized possessions. I was flipping through its pages earlier today when I noticed something scrawled inside the cover in my mom’s familiar handwriting. it was a date – May 7, 1985. The date of my salvation! In her wisdom, my mom knew that date was an important one and preserved it for me. When I realized what she had done I couldn’t hold back the tears of joy that flooded my eyes. My mother passed from this world into the presence of Christ many years ago, yet still found a way to give me an important gift.

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Thanks Mom! I will see your beautiful face again someday! I can’t help but praise God for His faithfulness and Grace.

 

Christ's Yoke is Easy, His Burden is Light

 

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭11‬:‭28-30‬ NASB)

When I read this passage I can’t help but believe we fallen humans too often make our faith walk with Jesus more difficult than it really needs to be. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, yet when we get ahold of it, we add so much unnecessary weight to the gospel that it’s hardly recognizable as the life-imparting message Christ preached.

My desire is for Christ to change me from the inside out. I want to be transformed by Christ into a new person. There is no amount of will I can exert that will inspire such change … It is purely a gift of His grace. It is a gift that will impact my outward behaviors … my speech and actions … but those externals will be a mere reflection of the change that will first begin deep inside my heart.

I’ve been fooled in the past by the lie that a mere change of behavior, a white-washing so to speak, would somehow cleanse me on the inside. This change was all dependent on my own effort to be better or to act better. That sort of change all depends on my own strength rather than Christ’s. And it stands in stark contrast to the change he can deliver to my innermost spirit:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. (‭Matthew‬ ‭23‬:‭25-26‬ NASB)

When we quit trying to save ourselves and stop being content with a slightly better version of ourselves and submit ourselves to the transforming power of Christ, we start to realize that the change He desires in us is far greater than anything we could imagine and realize on our own. This is the transformation I am hungry for.

Prayer: Change me My Savior, for Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. Clean me from the inside out as Your Word promises only You can. Remove the burden that I inflict upon myself by living in my strength rather than Yours.

Obedience Paves the Path Between Legalism and Cheap Grace

Matthew7_24We’ve all encountered those Christians that place legalism of one sort or another above God’s grace in their spiritual walk. Often times, this involves a minor point of doctrine that is treated so dogmatically that it overshadows all else. Legalism is the practice of creating laws where none exists. Paul addressed such legalism in the Book of Colossians, “So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important” (Colossians 2:20-23, Message).

On the flip side of that same coin, however, are those Christians that cry legalism anytime sin is exposed, explored, or preached. These Christians are so quick to charge others with legalism that practically all sorts of behaviors and practices are allowed. These Christians cite the ample grace of God as an excuse to do, say, and behave in any manner they choose. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” It is the practice of offering grace without requiring repentance or discipleship.

These issues are even more confusing when you consider that Christians from both vantage points can often be well-intended. In their honest attempts to honor Scripture and glorify God they have drifted into fringe territory.

In such issues, there is one word that cuts through the fog much like a lighthouse … obedience. 

Too often, in our zeal to mimic the grace of God, Christians confuse obedience with legalism. To study Scripture is to explore a consistent invitation to be obedient to God’s Word. The Bible communicates to readers how best to live our lives. God calls us to be obedient. In fact, it is through obedience that we demonstrate our love for God (1 John 5:2-3). Scripture clearly denotes that we are blessed not for simply knowing God’s Word, but rather for doing what His Word says (John 13:17).

So is it wrong to call on Christians to obey God’s Word? Surely not. There is nothing legalistic about confronting God’s people with His Word and expecting changed lives as a result. However, we should expect people to fail at times. The Apostle Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It’s for this reason we need a Savior! I am incapable of total and perfect obedience and it is by God’s grace alone that Jesus Christ bridges the gap between myself and God the Father.

But we should be careful not to use God’s grace as an excuse to continue sinning. In Romans Chapter 6, Paul asks, “Should we continue to sin so that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). We don’t have to wait long for his answer, “May it never be!” (Romans 6:2).

Paul goes on to teach that our old selves have died with Christ so that we may be freed from our slavery to sin. To be a Christian is to embrace a newness of life that’s found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that we may sin no more. We are freed from our slavery to sin so we may become bond-servants of Jesus Christ. Surely this involves changed behaviors, attitudes, and lives!

However, when we fail to live up to the expectations of this new life … and we will … this is when we should gratefully and liberally partake in the grace of God that is found though faith in Jesus Christ! This is the sort of grace that we should then offer to our fellow Christians when they slip up.

Christians would do well to remember that obedience paves the path between legalism and cheap grace.

 

Open Theology Part 4: Prayer

Orthodox Christianity identifies God as immutable and consistently unchanging. This image of God is drawn from the Bible itself. Many Scriptures assert God’s immutability. Among them is Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (NASB). Harold C. Felder writes, “Even God’s very name “I AM” implies that He does not change” (2011). This traditional view of God allowed A.W. Tozer to write, “God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed. He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer” (1961, p. 60). In traditional Christianity, an omniscient God knows what believers will pray before they even pray it. According to Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit rescues believers when they are too weak to know what to pray and “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (NASB). Open Theology shifts the emphasis in prayer from God to man.

Because the future is open, mankind has genuine freewill, and God has a limited knowledge of future events; Open Theology calls into question God’s immutability. In Open Theology, God responds to prayers often by changing His mind. Open Theology suggests that God’s limited knowledge of the future causes Him to genuinely interact with the prayers of believers in a way that emphasizes His relationship with them. Greg Boyd suggests, “this translates into people who are more inclined to pray with passion and urgency” (2000, p. 95). Boyd’s argument seems ironic when one considers that Open Theology endorses a vision of God that doesn’t know the future. In traditional Christianity, believers interact with a God that intimately knows the prayers of His creation coupled with a perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future. The awesomeness of this knowledge alone should be enough to inspire the believer to pray.