By Faith Alone

What drives you? Are you working for the weekend (like everybody)? Do you run from fears of failure or inadequacy? Does social censure silence you? Are you paralyzed by worry? Does a need to please pull your strings? If you answered yes to any of these, then you are a sinner. In Romans 14:23, Paul declares that whatever is not of faith is sin. Now, you might say, “Wow, that’s a pretty stringent standard.” I’d agree. And yet, it’s not just a standard but a living reality with a definite experience.

I look at Paul’s indictment of most of my default motivation as stringent because I’m mired in a view of Christianity which just peers over the top of the hedonistic flood of our world. I am accustomed to the religiosity and moralism that masquerade as faith in Christ. The false religion that I’ve always taken for granted has given me ample excuses for my rejection of Christ. I’ve not seen any inconsistency in flailing about while elbow deep in “ministry.” I have been much like Peter, Christ’s most enthusiastic sycophant. But how did Peter deny his Lord or fall beneath the waves? Faithlessness will always produce unfaithfulness. The drive to survive will drown us every time.

Though Paul’s standard seems to border on impossible to the American Christian mind, he simply was describing a spiritual truth which could never be otherwise. Faith (implicit trust and loyalty) is the one thing that God requires of us. Through faith our ancient aspiration to supplant our creator reverses and creation begins to renew. In the garden, our native state was faith and to it there was but one alternative. Now, the alternatives have proliferated beyond number and there is but one place to find faith, at the foot of Christ’s cross. There the Son of Man (“adam” in Hebrew) rejected all other options and hung his fate on his God. Having been vindicated, he requires all who are his to accept his brand of faith.

God deserves our implicit trust but he doesn’t require it only for his satisfaction. Galatians 5:6 declares that the only thing that matters is faith working through love. Love is the goal and faith is the means. The eternal Godhead bound by self-giving love has poured out that love upon us inviting us into their fellowship. But we can’t give self without faith. Fear and worry, the antitheses of faith, pull all of my attention onto my own well being. Within that tunnel, the best I can do is damage control. I can feign love if it will advance my situation or forestall negative consequences. Without faith, I succumb to this world’s counterfeit for love, lust. As St. John says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

I want to ask you as I’ve been asking myself, can you abandon fear and worry? Can you abandon yourself to God’s faithfulness? Can we release back to Satan any version of Christianity that would excuse faithlessness and compensate with outward conformity? Can we confess that we’ve been no better than unbelievers as we’ve lobbied and campaigned against certain behaviors all in response to a fear mongering political machine? What if we did our best at work out of worship to our God rather than aspiration or intimidation? What if we loved our family rather than appeased them? We can. We must. It is the essence of our profession, not some state of super sainthood. To enter the experience of God’s kingdom under Christ, we must repent.  That is, we must turn away from our problem solving and pleasure seeking to hang our fate (both immediate and ultimate) on the faithfulness of our Abba Father. Go to the cross and once again be saved from this present evil age by the faith of Christ.

Mere Christianity – Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin” – C.S. Lewis

I know a man who is haunted by Matthew 7:21-23. He won’t declare with 100% certainty that he is destined for eternal life and there is nothing anyone can say to assure him. Having read this quote this morning, I wonder if he is not plagued with spiritual pride.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s not a bad person or an overtly arrogant man. I just wonder if he like so many others of us has been marinated in religious performance for so long that he has no idea that there is a difference.

My prayer for this man, myself and for you this morning is that all of us would have an encounter with the real and living God which would shatter our every illusion that we could merit his acceptance. That bereft of our relative worth we could come to the confidence that is also known as humility.

How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

via Mere Christianity – Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin” – C.S. Lewis.

Reflections

I don’t talk about Jesus primarily because I feel sorry for anybody who doesn’t know him or because I would feel guilty if I didn’t. I talk about Jesus because I can’t keep it in. I talk about him because he’s just so wonderful that the idea of a person disregarding him, misunderstanding him, or not knowing him is nearly intolerable to me. It’s like trembling before the majesty of a gorgeous ocean sunrise only to look around at so many facing inland.  Perhaps they’re consumed with concern over what the day might hold or perhaps they think they’ve seen it already. But they’re missing it and in a very short time it will be too late. Maybe you’re one of the people who’s missing it. If Jesus hasn’t wrecked your life, if he doesn’t consume your thoughts and dreams, if he isn’t the reference point for every decision you make or desire you have, then you’re missing him. I don’t have any light to give you but I hope to reflect him so that you might just turn (repent).

I’ve been attempting to follow Jesus for 28 years. I came to him because he was the only one who offered to give meaning to my life. Even as a child, I had little tolerance for self-deception. I want to see things as they are and to my way of thinking most people were living in denial over the one unavoidable reality of life that it would end. I couldn’t fathom the end of my consciousness. To describe it as “darkness” would not do annihilation justice since darkness describes the perception of the absence of light. Not only would such concepts cease to have meaning, they would never have had meaning from my standpoint. Other ideas about the afterlife such as reincarnation or nirvana were functionally the same outcome since they involve the utter loss of self. So, I pursued the One I’d heard about as a child in Sunday School but this time I sought him in the text of the New Testament. The man who shown from those pages was the one my heart had longed for. Jesus didn’t just offer pie in the sky by and by; he brought heaven to earth as he defied the pressures and pleasures of this existence for another plane of living that he called “blessed.” I gave myself to him and he reciprocated.

Sadly, the Dragon was there waiting for this child to be born and he quickly took me into custody with the promise of moral certainty. Satan used the very church in which I was baptized to lace the pure milk of the word with arsenic. My once-vital faith became feeble and sickly. My joy turned to disdain and the glorious picture of my Savior became hideously distorted behind a legalistic lens.

My Savior, it turned out, was more loving than I was self-righteous and he saved me again from my efforts to save myself. I discovered through the trial  of my errors that the faith that saves must be alone since anything else must be mistrust. At his cross my guilty plea released me from the guilt of my past. The power of his resurrection, the blessed Holy Spirit, is freeing me from the sinfulness of my present. It is this Spirit at work to make me like Jesus, that assures me that he will return to claim me for himself.

Today, I am more amazed at grace than the hour I first believed. My life in Christ is not one of fear, failure, guilt or judgment. That any of these experiences could be identified with the kingdom of God is proof positive that there are forces at work in this world to slander Christ Jesus. The word “gospel” means, “good news.” To be “gospel” a thing must be both good and news. The gospel of Christ is not a set of religious or moral injunctions. That would be neither good nor would it be news. The gospel is good because it bypasses the substances we repeatedly apply to cracks and fissures of our individual and collective soul to hydrate us from within. As an ongoing expression of Christ’s resurrection, this inner healing results from and results in noteworthy actual events in the world, in other words, news.

Blame You

Christ’s commands us to love each other. It’s such a simple rule and yet we can’t do it without him. This is why he calls it a new command even though it was the one the Jews had heard from the beginning. Christ came to love and he left a community of love which he expected to remain and spread. Praise the Lord it has! On the night of his betrayal, Christ prayed that we would be one so that the Father would be glorified in the Son.

Conversely, this world and its Prince continue to conspire against God’s project by sowing bitterness among God’s people. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul warns his audience to forgive quickly lest they give the devil (blamer) a foothold among them. Nothing arrests our progress toward oneness like bitterness. When a fellow believer does something careless or even malicious (as will inevitably happen), we must at the foot of the cross offer them forgiveness. Why? Because mercy lives at the foot of the cross. In order to harbor bitterness, we must abandon the hope of our own forgiveness and flee the cross for exile in the solitary seat of judgment. In that realm “they” come to offer us aid and comfort as they help us build our case against our offenders and eventually the entire world.

Though this demonic program carries especially grievous implications for the believing community, every person on the planet has encountered it. The animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons,” offers one of the most poignant examples of the dynamics of bitterness and its power to ruin lives. At the end of the clip, the advice, “Let it go and keep moving forward,” is useful if we can understand where we can let it go to and which direction is “forward.” Those answers have been released in the gospel of Christ.

False Prophets, Figs and Faithfulness

blood-moons

We’re a curious species. And as the saying goes, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I’m not saying that it’s bad to learn. God gave us these wonderful minds and we commit sacrilege when we discourage honest inquiry into reality. God also gave us boundaries such as the inability to see the future or to know for certain what happens after death. Scripture condemns the aspiration to transcend these boundaries as divination.

“But what about prophecy?” you say. Yes, God does speak through the prophets but there is a difference between information that God gladly gives us and that which we attempt to take. Prophecy seems to come in two forms: First, there is often very clear instruction about how to react to something yet to come in the immediate future for a specific group or individual. Second, there is vague, general information about that which God will do in the distant future as with the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament or with Revelation. God does things this way because he knows how dangerous our divine pretensions can be and how we crave to know all that is yet to come.

Jesus’ own disciples revealed their vain curiosity on the Mount of Olives near the end of Christ’s ministry. In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus gave them a peek at what was to come a few short decades into the future, that the temple would be demolished. The disciples immediately rushed toward this cracked door, hoping for full disclosure, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.” (Matt. 24:3b).

Christ’s words in response to them command our consideration as well, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matt. 24:4) Jesus knew that our speculative urge can easily be turned toward Satan’s purposes. For evidence of the blinding nature of speculation, one need look no farther than most commentaries on Matthew 24 itself. It seems that almost everyone looks at this passage as a foretelling of what will be at the end of time. Yet, Christ didn’t respond to the disciples’ probing with, “Okay, okay, since you guys asked.” Instead, he said, “Watch out!”

As Christ prepares to leave his disciples to engage a spiritually diseased world, he gives them an inoculation against speculation. Here on the eve of the fourth blood moon in this most recent tetrad, with BSF for the first time ever venturing into Revelation and the secular media replete with post-apocalyptic movies, I’d like to offer the church Christ’s prescription:

  1. A lot of people will buy the devil’s lies. It doesn’t mean they are true. vs. 5
  2. World events are neither predictive nor insignificant. Like birth pains, they declare, “It’s getting closer!” vs. 6-8
  3. The time between Christ’s first coming and second coming will be filled with persecution, apostasy, false religion, ever growing wickedness, and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel through the church. vs. 9-14
  4. The destruction of the temple will have no eschatological significance. So, don’t buy in to the end times hysteria which will immediately follow that event. vs. 15-25
  5. There will be no secret return of Christ. When he comes back, his presence will fill the sky like lightning and every eye will see him. The heavens will declare his coming and a loud trumpet will herald his approach. Both his enemies and his friends will know he has come again. His friends will be gathered to him at that time. vs. 26-31 (Rev. 1:7)
  6. The first coming of Christ has begun the last days. People often stumble over vs. 34 here but its always best to let scripture interpret scripture. Jesus said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.” What could that mean? We’re either left with somehow coming up with a secret return of Christ within the lifetime of those standing with him which was just precluded or we look for another understanding. First of all remember Christ’s purpose with these teachings, to safeguard his disciples from speculation. If Christ was giving a 50 year window for his return, then he would have been defeating his very purpose. So, what could he have meant? I believe the answer can be found in the verse which follows directly after, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” We are all the generation under Christ by his words. He has no successor nor is there any mediator between us and him. In these words, Christ has precluded every Mohammed, Joseph Smith or David Koresh. This meaning fulfills his purpose and fits the immediate context.
  7. Anyone who says with any certainty or specificity when the end will be is a liar. If Jesus didn’t know, then William Miller didn’t know and Harold Camping doesn’t know. Our job is to live today like Christ will return today. Period. Exclamation point! vs. 36-51