Category: Faith


Good News

People who are not familiar with the Bible tend to look at it as a book full of rules and statements that Christians accept as true. If they scratch the surface a little further, they see the rules of a seemingly wrathful God (mostly in the Old Testament), and the nicer, more gracious teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.

That understanding misses the meat of what the Bible is trying to teach us.

The Law tells us what we ought to do, and that’s great as far as it goes. God cares about humanity, and tells us to Do The Right Thing, both toward Him and in being fair to our fellow creatures. But our experience – held up against this righteous standard – tells us we don’t always do the right thing. Our selfishness affects our relations with people and separates us from God.

The Gospel (literally, “good news”) tells us what God has already done for us – that we have been forgiven since Jesus took our separation from God upon Himself. He broke down the wall. It’s not a rule: it’s an announcement. All we have to accept it.

Easier said than done. People often ask if Christianity is easy or hard, and the answer is… yes.

It’s easy because the justification we could not achieve has been done for us. Christ paid for our sin with His own life and the resurrection is the graphic demonstration that in defeating the sin that bound us, He defeated everything attached to it – even death.

It’s hard because to just accept that and live in the freedom it brings is completely against our inbred desire to justify ourselves. We have trouble feeling good about our lives unless we do the work. The task of the Christian is to unlearn this way of thinking; to let go, to rest, and to just thank God for what He’s done. And (I can’t stress this enough) Christianity is not just agreeing with what the Bible says about God: it’s about trusting the person, work and love of God Himself for us and in us.

And we need constant reminders. Our actions we see and live with every day; but trusting an unseen God doesn’t come as easy. That’s why even experienced, instructed Christians need to keep up the good habits of reading their Bible every day, prayer and getting together with other believers.

But what freedom as light gradually begins to dawn in our hearts! It’s like water to a person dying of thirst, and one senses purpose, love, and radical healing of the heart. And it is offered to all who will simply come, “just as I am”.

The Basis of Forgiveness

… is a recognition
1. of my own sin. These days it is unpopular to consider personal guilt; it is approached more like a neurosis than a moral fact. But all mankind displays this tendency to sin. No amount of education or social engineering can change that.
2. God really has forgiven me. This incredible gift is given not because I earned it, but because of His love for me.
3. Universal guilt also means we can’t brag about how much better we are, and none can judge. The Christian lives purely by God’s grace., and this is key if we are to avoid a holier-than-thou attitude.
4. As we live in this forgiveness, our hearts start to change for the better in practical fact. And that is just plain incredible.

Fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism is viewed by most modern thinkers as the starting point of many great evils; that if we did away with it, the world would be a better place.

But I think that depends on what your fundamental is.

A few years ago a gunman went to an Amish school and shot ten young girls, of whom a number died at the scene, before taking his own life.

The families of the victim forgave the gunman and took up a collection for his widow.

To say this goes against the grain is an understatement. And if the Amish aren’t fundamentalists then I don’t know who are.

The difference is that their fundamental is a Man dying for His enemies. The cultural and political baggage that has sometimes attached itself to Christianity (and there is plenty) aside, this is what lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. Christians are told to forgive the same way that Jesus did, and for his sake. If they don’t, they are departing from its teachings.

What’s your fundamental?

The Bible in a Year

A few years ago, I decided to read the entire Bible in one year. I was surprised at some of the insights I was able to get out of it.

The advantage was that you get what the Bible is saying in context: not individual texts lifted out like some sort of blessing box verse, but the whole sweep of the Bible’s narrative while it’s fresh in your mind. You get much more of a feel for what it is telling us. It was, and continues to be, a life changing experience.

I’ve slowed down a little, but continue to read it daily: It has been so profitable and encouraging I just can’t stop.

What stuck out after taking big gulps of the Bible? One thing that was striking was my view of God in the Old Testament:

– God is fair, and God is Love. If He’s mad, it’s because people are unfair or unloving.

– That people matter. They really do.

– That the moral law is not something we made up, but is as real and objective as mathematics. That it has a Source. Good really is good, and evil is, well, evil.

– That God is a covenant making God. He makes promises to His people, and that He is faithful.

– That He always has shown grace, even in the Old Testament.

I was also able to see how well the Old Testament meshes in with the New. How many of the promises made to Israel find their consummation in Christ, and how the promises made to the nation of Israel now open up to include anyone – Jew and Gentile – who will trust in Israel’s Redeemer.

– The New Testament, besides the gospel narratives (the actual teachings, work, and resurrection of Christ) shows us, especially in St Paul’s writings, the logic of redemption, and how it all fits together.

– That God is relational: the individual’s decision to trust God is crucial.

– That even Christians are still human and can get it wrong. Much of the New Testament contains letters written to correct imbalances that were showing up in the young churches.

– That there is an end to History. That death really has been defeated, and that we were made for happy endings because there is one.

– That despair is not an option. That there really is hope and meaning for life.

Just a few thoughts. If you haven’t Read the whole Bible, I’d encourage you to do it. Read the New Testament first, and Psalms and Proverbs. Don’t let some parts (the geneologies in Chronicles and some of the more nit picky rules in Exodus and Leviticus come to mind) bog you down. Set aside a little time, every day, and read. It takes a while to develop the habit, but it’s really worth the trip.

Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

A lot of folks these days want to emphasize Jesus’ teachings as if that was the main reason He came. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Bible actually says about His mission. What He taught was important, but the centre lies in what He came to do: to die an atoning death, and then to resurrect. But why did Jesus have to die before God could forgive?

Justice is a balancing of accounts. We’ve all seen the statue of Justice in front of courthouses. Blindfolded and holding scales, the image suggests the evening of accounts (the scales) and impartiality before the law (the blindfold).

The Moral law is at its heart a value system. The Law says people possess inherent value that goes beyond their usefulness or beauty: that everyone matters just because God made them.

But we have a problem. When I decide what I want is more important than someone elses’s rights and I act on it, I am basically saying that they don’t matter as much as my agenda. I offend against their worth as human beings. The Bible calls this sin.

If God is just, He must punish sin; the account must be settled. If He just lets it slide, He denies the value of the wounded party. We see this in everyday life when a criminal gets a slap on the wrist for some heinous crime. The outrage we feel at injustice is real and appropriate; it would be unfair to the victim for the Creator of the moral law to turn a blind eye to their hurt. And God is fair.

We all sin, in big and small ways, everyday. History gives ample proof that no utopian system of education or philosophy can change the human heart; our history is filled with guns and whips and wars. Granted that as moral beings, there are many instances of nobility and goodness, but we can’t get around the fact that none of us keeps the moral law perfectly. Humanity’s history is, to say the least, chequered.

And since we sin, God must judge us. Our actions have made Him our enemy. How then can God be just and yet show mercy? We’re in a hopeless position.

But what if another took our punishment? One who was sinless, and somehow suffered for us? Justice would be served, the value of the victim upheld, and God could then forgive.

That is why Christ’s atoning death is important.

People misunderstand if they think that in doing so God turns a blind eye to suffering and evil. This is where Christ’s atoning death is key: nothing less than the death of God incarnate was enough to account for the sin of humanity. He paid what we couldn’t pay so He could offer forgiveness to all.

And there is sort of a wonderful symmetry to it all: we were separated from God when we decided not to trust Him – that we knew better, and chose to ignore His law. But His atoning death only becomes effective when we decide that He knows better: that we accept our guilt and decide to trust in His justifying work for us instead of our our own attempts to justify ourselves through good works and religious acts. To choose to trust him is the exact opposite of what got humanity into its bind in the first place. It’s quite humbling.

And both Justice and mercy being satisfied, the choice to trust God changes our hearts in real ways; it’s the work of a lifetime, but we are being remade from the inside out. We look to Him, not our own selfish attempts to justify ourselves: and in doing so become sons and daughters of God in practical fact.

The Opposite of Religion

“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭149:4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

What is humility? It’s not, the saying goes, so much as thinking less of yourself but of thinking of yourself less. The humble look outside themselves, past their own abilities and agendas in concern for others and to seek grace to live lives that please God.

Religion seeks God on its own terms; I put God in my debt by my good works. Then I get bragging rights and can feel superior to others. But Christianity says there’s nothing I can bring to the negotiating table: I am accepted only by God’s raw grace.

The defining mark of God’s people is a conscious dependence on their Saviour. It’s not so much a prerequisite as it is a structural necessity: we have to be humble to look for help beyond ourselves.

Christian Freedom Part 2

I saw this saying on a fellow blogger’s site, beautybeyondbones, and thought it summarized God’s grace and our freedom beautifully:

Living FOR acceptance and love is bondage.
Living FROM acceptance and love is freedom.

The reason there is a cross in Christian freedom is that we are radically insecure. We seek to justify our existence based on what we and others think of us. It never quite works, though, and we try to dull the pain with toys and distractions.

But if we realize this soul-sickness for what it is, we can put it behind us by turning to God for our justification. What greater statement of our worth could there be that the very Son of God would die to secure our forgiveness and to give us a real hope?

But there has to be a letting go of self: it’s not just enough to turn over a new leaf, to force ourselves into moral compliance. The illness is such that the only cure is for is to come to the end of ourselves and our self-justification.

Insecurity and self-centredness are two sides of the same coin. We constantly crave affirmation, to be told we’re all right. But the praise fades and like addicts, we need more.

It’s a big step to realize this, and a bigger step to be willing to let it go, to die to it, finding our justification – our reason to live – outside ourselves: God Himself loved us enough to die for us. But when we finally do let it go, what freedom! Worry and striving evaporate, and for the first time we can live deeply: not trying to drug ourselves with distractions and toys, but to live life down to the roots, secure in His acceptance and living for Him, not because we have to but because it is perfect joy to do so.

THAT is real freedom. That is what we were made for.

Christian Freedom

“Whom the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36)
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

We hear a lot about how Christians have been set free, and it’s gloriously true. But we need to think about what that freedom really means.

Christian freedom has a cross in it. We are free because we have died to our old lives with its desires and pride, and our new lives are bound up in His. That means the Christian admits Christ’s primacy in and over every area of their lives.

Many take the gospel to mean they can do what they want because Christ has taken the consequences of our sin. But how can we be truly Christian if we remain centred on the self and its desires?

The gospel is far more radical than we are sometimes willing to consider. We are called to a complete humility: my old life with its desires and self-seeking is dead, and I am called to look to God for my affirmation. I don’t have to prove anything to myself or others because my identity and my future rests in His hands.

Our new lives, then, are entirely in Christ. Until we are willing to give ourselves completely to Him – to follow Him to the cross in practical fact – dare we call ourselves His followers?

Parallels

2 Cor 4:7-18

Sometimes life is hard. Bad stuff happens to good people, even those who want to do their best to please God. And this troubles us.

But nobody wanted to please His Father than Jesus Himself, and He suffered more than anyone. And everything in the Christian life has to do with our identification with Him, of our being “in” Him, part of Him, part of His body.

Jesus suffered on earth and died – and rose again.

So do we. This should hardly surprise us. If our Lord suffered on earth, do we think we shouldn’t? And if we suffer the same way – suffering injustice, trial and mortality – we are also promised we will also share in His resurrection.

Jesus endured, for what followed was greater. Likewise our “light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”. So must we endure, for what lies ahead is greater. We have been promised nothing less than an eternal, physical existence with Him: this is the hope of every Christian.

Heaven

“There is nothing in Heaven that the mercenary soul can desire”. CS Lewis

Is it selfish to desire Heaven? I think not, and a moment’s thought makes this plain. Let’s unpack it. A few quick thoughts:

a) God is love.

b) If you think about it, the nature of love is to look outwards, to the other. The Father loves the Son; the Son honours the Father. The Holy Spirit exalts all. God sends His Son for us; Jesus lays aside His glory, is born in a barn and is killed on a cross. He puts us first.

c) This self-abandonment, so evident in the Trinity, is essential to the nature of love. A letting go of ourselves is not so much a requirement as a structural necessity if we are to know God as our Redeemer and Friend. We can’t see Him when our own lives block the light; when God commands love, He invites us to the kind of self abandonment that has always existed in the Trinity.

The culture of Heaven is love and is therefore essentially other-centred. Nobody there seeks their own advancement since they are focused completely on living for and glorifying God.

When Jesus said there was no greater love than the laying down of one’s life for another, He illustrated this and then demonstrated His total commitment to us on the cross. If that’s the kind of love we must have to dwell in Heaven, it’s not hard to imagine there are many who wouldn’t like it there. Those who do desire it already display God’s work on their hearts.