Justified Journal

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What’s left to do?

Galatians 3:

2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  4Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Of all the multi-syllabic words used in theology, none is more controversial in the protestant/evangelical church than the word sanctification.  Although physical wars are not fought over it, thousands of pages have been devoted to arguing and defending positions.

For the Apostle Paul, Justification is the foundation of Christian living.  He argues in Galatians 2:16 that a man (read person) isn’t justified by works of the law, but by the faithfulness of Christ (read the Greek translation here: http://biblehub.com/interlinear/galatians/2-16.htm ) and by faith in that truth.  It is a crucial argument, because a group of people were attempting to enslave the consciences of gentiles under the Law of the Old Testament.  But Paul wouldn’t give an inch.

So, he continues the argument that it is not just that we are justified by the faithfulness of Christ Jesus (having faith in that promise), but  that we live in the Spirit by that promise, as well.  What else can produce love for our neighbor or love for God?  If behavior is dictated, then it is not empowered by Grace.  Instead it is coerced subservience.

God’s Spirit is given in the hearing of the Gospel.  We live by that Gospel because it produces faith.  And faith produces and empowers love and works of unconscious, selfless kindness.  The Law cannot do that.  It wasn’t built to:

10For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God …

and:

19Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.

The critical question then is, “Has the seed come?”

Paul argues that Jesus is Abraham’s seed.  The small, negligible mustard seed that has become a great tree of which you are a part.  We live on the sap of Grace running from the trunk of that tree into the branches to us.  We are the recipients of a Grace which is foreign and offensive to those who would live by works of the Law.  They must use another multi-syllabic word to describe those who would live in this freedom: anti-nomian.

The final question then, is, “Is it better to be anti-nominan or … Anti-Christ?”

May God have mercy.

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Devastated

Job 9:32-35, 16:19-22

Have you ever thought that some of your trouble in life is self-inflicted?  The result of something bad you must have done?  If you forget to pay a bill, don’t be surprised that the following bill might have a ‘penalty’ for late payment.

On the other hand, there are times where you search for a cause.  You don’t understand why a certain event has befallen you.  The confusion you feel is due to a lack of connection to some bad behavior or choice.  In fact, you may feel that you have been living ‘On the straight and narrow’.  Yet, you still have trouble.

In Job chapter one, verse one, the following declaration is made, ‘This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.’  What more is left to say before the drama unfolds?  He had great wealth and was often seen worshipping God publically.  At the end of verse three of chapter one, it reads, ‘He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.’

Then, God allows Satan to destroy all that he held valuable; children, livestock, wealth and health.  He lost everything … he was totally devastated.  Even his wife instructed him to ‘curse God and die’.  What a miserable situation.  What a miserable man.  The great success had now become a monumental failure.

And then, his friends arrived.

As he sat there in physical emotional and spiritual agony, he longed for grace in the midst of his sorrow and pain.  Instead, these ‘friends’ told Job that there was some sin in his life that he needed to acknowledge.  They condemned him of pride and other sin.  They blamed him for his own bad fortunes.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

So Job has to answer these accusations (mind you, in the midst of losing nearly all his family and all his wealth and security) by asserting his innocence before God.  But, he longed for the support of another:

32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,

that we might confront each other in court.

33 If only there were someone to mediate between us,

someone to bring us together,

34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,

so that his terror would frighten me no more.

35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,

but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

  • Job 9

He called out for a mediator.  Someone to step into the gap for him.  He needed a lawyer, a representative, an advocate.  Someone who would stop the beating he felt all day and night under the weight of God’s punishment.

Still, his friends council him that he must repent of his sin.

Job turns into a prophet in chapter 16,

19 Even now my witness is in heaven;

my advocate is on high.

20 My intercessor is my friend[a]

as my eyes pour out tears to God;

21 on behalf of a man he pleads with God

as one pleads for a friend.

Job doesn’t realize it, but this Gentile is pointing to a Messiah.  He is pointing to Jesus,

‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus’

  • 1 Tim. 2:5

‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’

  • 1 John 2:1

‘Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God–and He is interceding for us.’

  • Rom. 8:34

When you have gone through a devastating event(s), and you realize it is through no fault of your own, it is at those times you need to hear that God is not mad at you.  Quite the contrary, God loves you with His whole life.  The Son of God is Jesus, and He came down to suffer a fate worse than Job’s.  He died young, penniless, unmarried, without children and homeless.  What a pitiful person!

But He lived that life of suffering for you.  He lived it and then died a miserable, humiliating and shameful death.  He became the curse for all your sin and mine.  There is not one sin He hasn’t paid for.

So, when a ‘friend’ tells you that there must be ‘some sin in your life’ to have caused this pain, you can honestly say, “It’s not just my sin, but that I am sinful!  That is good news, because Christ Jesus came to save sinners!”

Job would eventually hear from God and know Him on a much deeper level.  After this, God blessed Him with even greater fortunes.  This is a picture of Heaven.  No matter what disasters, distress or disappointments you face in this life, God will restore and multiply your blessings in Heaven because of Jesus.

Now may the peace of God which transcends all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, Your Advocate and Lord,

Amen

 

Domesticating Christians

Do you have a chart on the wall for your children?  Often, parents will put up chore charts to show the kid what they need to do in order to receive their allowance for the week.

Some kids react very positively to these visual reminders.  It’s a giant to-do list that happens over and over again every week.  It can create a sense of security knowing that the expectations aren’t going to be modified over and over again.

There is a certain security adults appreciate about the predictable.  For example, I like the predictability that my van starts every morning.  I like the fact that I can drive on safe highways to get to work.  In some countries, this is not the case.  We take these things for granted, but others would truly appreciate these ‘little things’.

Predictability and order are necessary in church, too.  Some have a lot of order, where others are more ‘free’.  Yet, even in the free church, service times are regular.  As a church attender, you can look up the Facebook page of your favorite church and find the service times, when communion is offered and which staff members will be leading.

Often, those very staff members have an expectation of you, too.  I’m not simply speaking about punctuality and neatness, but deeper expectations.  The pastor wants you to behave.  It’s as if you are a child in an adult’s body who must be ethically re-trained.  Sometimes, pastors treat attenders as if they have no ethics or morals at all, and must be taught like preschoolers.

This can be especially true for men.  Although most men seems to behave well in society, Christian men are supposed to be examples of a higher standard.  They must be ‘above reproach’, ‘accountable’ and ‘examples of good behavior’.  If I didn’t know any better, I would say that some churches are trying to domesticate sinners.

And they may be able to do just that!  Let’s face it; moral improvement is not impossible.  If a man can stop smoking or cursing, then he is able to be domesticated.  The funny thing is that you don’t need to be a Christian to improve morally.  There are plenty of books, Youtube videos and audio resources to learn how to overcome bad habits.  One doesn’t need Christianity to become domesticated.

Your pastor may not feel the same way.  In fact, they have a moral improvement program that is relatively cheap, doesn’t take much time and is proven by the pastor, himself.  It’s based on a foundation called ‘Rationalism’.

Rationalism works this way: When you read a passage from any book of the Bible, you ask yourself, “What am I supposed to do?” or, “What am I supposed to avoid doing?”  You’ll find that there are a lot of passages that have moral requirements.  Even if you are not reading the requirements, you can read the passage about Nicodemus having Jesus over at his home and find some principle that you can then apply.

Soon, you will build a large library of expectations that will guide your moral behavior.  Apply yourself to these principles and watch your ethics and morals improve.

Pastors can then witness their congregations ‘falling in line’ with ‘biblical principles’.  The church is in order according to God’s will.

The German reformers of the 16th century called this Civil Righteousness.  This is an outward obedience necessary for a civil society.  People could be civilly righteous with a little effort and awareness.

More insidiously, a church attender who is domesticated might also be evil.  In fact, they may be completely blameless outwardly but inwardly are scoundrels and hypocrites.  That is because the pastor and the principles are unconcerned with the work of God.  They only evaluate the outside.  The inner life is insignificant.

That is just what some of the Pharisees thought, too.  If they could just get the people into line, maybe they wouldn’t be oppressed by the Romans.  If the Jewish people would simply follow the Talmud, the nation would be blessed again.  All they have to do is get with the program!

Just follow the Pharisees’ example!  After all, they got it together!  Yet, Jesus called them whitewashed tombs.  They had become practitioners of the law to become perfect sinners.  They expected others to tow the line, too.

The civil domestication of church goers according to ‘biblical principles’ refines the sinner’s skill at sin and hypocrisy.  Instead of making the person ‘good’, the person has become a white-washed tomb.

When the church is full of whitewashed tombs, the broken sinner finds no rest.  And they find no rest because rest is not offered.  Works and principles are offered.  Death is the diet given to the hungry.  Hope is crucified.  Life is condemned.  Christ is thrown out of the temple.

 

 

The dealers are running the rehab

Have you ever heard someone say, “The mental patients are running the asylum”?  What does it mean?  Simply stated, it means that the place being run is crazy.  The exact wrong people are in charge.

In the case of some contemporary American Evangelicalism, the statement needs a slight alteration; the dealers are running the rehab.

Years ago I had the honor of serving as a high school diploma instructor in a live-in rehab facility.  Many of the staff were former addicts who had gone through the program and had a full recovery.  They understood the addicts’ minds better than a person who has not struggled with addiction.  It was quite an education for me.  In that circumstance, they were the right people to run the rehabilitation facility.

The adjusted statement doesn’t read, ‘The former addicts (or, ‘recovering addicts’) are running the rehab’; it is the dealers who are in charge.

The question is, what is the addiction?  What kind of crack are they on?

Gerhard Forde explains in detail that many are addicted to works.  They are addicted to following the law to make themselves right before God.  His book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross is short but foundational.

Romans 7:12 states,

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

There can be no doubt that God’s law reflects His divine Holiness and perfection.  It is critical that church leaders use the law in the church.  Synonyms for law are; command, demand, and expectation in the biblical context.  More to the point: these are God’s commands, demands and expectations for you to live a holy righteous and good life.

Many gravitate to the law because in a society which is morally degrading, it offers an objective standard to prove one’s mental  soundness (“I’m not crazy, the world is crazy!).  That is quite understandable.

Others have taken it a step further.  They believe that the law is not just a standard of goodness that we can observe, but that the Christian life is all about following the law.  “I have to prove my faith somehow, so I will use the scripture as my personal moral code for living.  This way, God will have to accept me.”

Now, the confusion sets in.  You might have “received Christ”, or “made Him your personal Lord and Savior”, but after this, it’s time for chores.  It’s time to sanctify yourself.  It’s as if God made you holy to start with, and then you got dirty again.  You have to find a way to get clean and stay clean.

The insidious nature of this belief lies in the faith one places in one’s own efforts to keep clean.  In other words, a person starts with the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, but is then bound to keep the demands, commands and expectations of the Law.

Some find comfort in something so predictable.  The Law operates on the principle, “If you do this, (then) you will live”.  But, if you understand the nature of language, the prior statement is called a conditional statement.  It is conditioned on your behavior.  It infantilizes the user.  But that is not the life God has for you.

Perhaps the user wants to be a child.  They want to have a rewards and punishments chart.  They want to re-live their childhood.

Some of the ‘some’ become leaders (dealers) in the church.  They consider the Law to be good news.  They want others to hear this good news of living by conditional behavior to appear righteous before God.  They expend amazing, and even, admirable effort at the study of Scripture.

All the while, they are in the business of making more crack addicts.  Many in the seats come to hear “what their itching ears long to hear”.  They want to hear that they can do something about their failing marriages, repetitive sinning or their depression.

So the dealers direct them to a self-improvement program based on law-keeping.  They tell themselves and others, “You got yourself into this mess, now you can get yourself out” (with a little help from Jesus).  “Give it a spin, see if it works”.

Church leaders can only be aware of the outward behavior of the church members, because that’s all they can see.  In fact, this environment produces victims and victimizers

All the while, they bind the consciences (i.e., victimizing) of those who are already troubled with sin.  Momentary successes encourage the users to continue using.  And, if they fall, they add another layer of ‘accountability’ to get back on track.  The increasing demands and deepening guilt over failing brings on hopelessness for those of sensitive conscience.

But that is not the life God has for you.

Instead, He sends His Only Begotten Son to rescue you.  He has come to rescue you from the demands, commands and expectations of the law.  He comes to fully fulfill all of the law on your behalf.

Beyond this, He becomes your sin.  He becomes all of that failing.  He becomes all of that self-idolatry.  He becomes the repetitive sinning.  And He received His Father’s eternal punishment for all of it.  As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). 

Jesus, Himself said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life“.  He is the sum and content of the Christian life.  You live by His continued faithfulness to you.  You do not live by your continued faithfulness to uphold the law.

Anyhow, why would you want to?  It’s requirements are not just demands for the hands, but demands for the heart.  It’s only a great way to find out that you are a hypocrite!  The good news is that the Savior came for hypocrites!

And He will sort out the hypocrites who are dealing the crack of Good Works to display one’s holiness before God.

What is your operating system?

Christianity is about truth.  In fact, it is based on the one who says of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life”.  But, if you visit a number of churches from different denominations and under different leaders, you will find that they can vary widely in their services.  Some are more “comfortable” while others are more “churchy”.

If you look further into the church you are visiting, you might find a ‘statement of faith’ for the church.  It may even be posted on the back of the bulletin you received at the door.  That statement of faith can tell you a lot.

Otherwise, if you spend more time at the church, getting to know people as they get to know you, you will find out what operating system is functioning at that church.  It’s a little like the difference between your android phone and an I-phone©.  Although the apps might be the same, something is different about them.  As you become more familiar with each one, you can explain the advantages and disadvantages of each phone.

So it is when you become more familiar with a church.

Most people are just interested in the ‘Apps’; the kids programs, bible studies, how they serve in the community, and what the Sunday service is like.  As long as the church has it ‘all together’, and has a lot of people in your age group, it’s the right place to go.

It would take a bad experience or two to shake the regular attender from the church they attend.

Yet, there are others who have been affected by what lies underneath the ‘apps’.  Somehow, the operating system is the cause of disturbance.

The good news is that there are only two operating systems in Christianity.  Both claim to be Christianity, but one of them is a forgery; a counterfeit.

How can one tell them apart?  If both of them mention God and sin, Death and life, devils and angels, what is the difference?

The work of Jesus Christ dying on a cross for your sin and mine is the difference.  If that is not spoken every Sunday, if it is only assumed and never proclaimed, then the church you are in has a counterfeit theology.  The operating system is bad.

The Apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians,

22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles … (1 Cor, 1:22-23)

That proclamation is the heart of the difference.  If Christ is not central to what the church proclaims on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and every other day of the week, then what are they proclaiming?

They have only one option.  It doesn’t matter if they are conservative or liberal.  They will proclaim that you need to do something, because, ultimately, Christianity might begin with Christ’s work, but that work is left unfinished.  You must complete it with great human effort.

That effort could be expressed in good moral behavior or in social activism.  Either way, the self becomes the idol.

And that is just why we needed to have an intervention.  No matter what we touch, human  nature moves us to fill in what is lacking or to fix what is broken.  What this operating system is really doing is putting the self back in charge.  It is stealing glory from the crucified God.

The operating system Paul writes about is better.  He is going to tell us that God saw how addicted you are to yourself.  How you continue to make an effort to fulfill God’s commands and demands but are unable to produce the love that He expects.  He is going to tell you that Jesus Christ is the only way, truth and life there is.

Life is not found in adding patches to a corrupt operating system.  It is found in blowing up the operating system and replacing it with Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus alone came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17, Romans 10:4).  If He fulfilled it, what is left to do?  As He said Himself from the cross, ‘It is FINISHED’.  What could you possibly add to the epic work of an epic savior?

There is nothing left to do.  And, by the way, you are done, too.

Unsustainable Christianity

We live in a time of distractions, conflict and anxiety.  The world seems to be getting crazier!  And with that, some are in search of something that can tangibly help them to survive.

For years, this was the church.  It was a ‘safe space’ for people to go when they needed support, identity and community.  They could find there what they couldn’t get from their jobs, their gyms or their professional associations.

How times have changed!  Now, Mark Zuckerberg believes that Facebook  will replace churches.  For many, it probably has.

Yet, there are others who were raised in the church.  They have never known anything else.  Perhaps they have gone ‘church shopping’ occasionally, but they remain faithful attendees.

Most of these follow along, never questioning whether or not the church is actually teaching Christian truth.  They only change churches if they move to a new job.  They seem blissfully unaware of the impact of their church’s teachings.

Pairing this down further, there is a group of church members who are very aware of the impact of their church’s teachings.  They live in a state of constant awareness of their sins.  They are fed a steady diet of ‘biblical steps’ to overcome their shortcomings, only to find themselves coming up short.

They feel defeated.  they feel ‘less than’.  They feel … condemned.

The Christianity they have been taught has placed so many burdens on their conscience that they live a life full of ‘quiet desperation’ and guilt.  Living this way is unsustainable.  The person implodes from the inner turmoil they face on a daily basis.  They are tortured prisoners living in a personal dungeon.

The good news is that this is not Christianity at all!  It is a piss-poor replacement of Jesus Christ with works.  If we spoke in Old Testament terms, it is a golden calf; an idol which leads to the worshipping the effort of the self.

If your interest has been piqued, read on!  And may Christ lead us to pastures and streams flowing with His Grace.

Amen

Millennial addiction II

In the first article by the same name, I elucidated some of the psychological factors contributing to millennial addiction.  My goal, then, for this article, is to show how Scripture can re-orient the addict.

As with all addictions, the addict needs to ‘bottom out’.  That is, the addict has to come to an end of themselves.  The mania and fervor that was fueled but anxious prophecies of a world coming to its end have to fizzle out in the mind of the ‘true believer’.  Until this happens, you cannot speak reasonably to such an addict.  In the martial art of Aikido, the defender continues the movement of the attacker while moving out of the way.  They lead the aggressor deeper into their aggression and the aggressor feels the consequences of that aggression.

If you follow and lead the addict deeper into their mania, you might be able to show them the depth of their irrationality.  I am not sure if this course of action will yield the ‘bottoming out’ that loved ones seek for the addict.

Truly, the addict needs an intervention.

That is just why Jesus came.

In every instance where Paul or any of the other apostles write about ‘the End’, it is to encourage congregations who were undergoing the most violent forms of persecution.  To talk about the end is really to talk about the beginning of a new and better life.  Even the terrifying images seen in the book of Revelation are not ‘ends’ in themselves, but they point to the vicious attacks by Satan and his minions which are overcome by Jesus Christ in His victory.

As my friend Rev. Garry Seefeldt once stated, “[in the end] Jesus wins!”  If there is any good news in the millennial madness message, it is that!

Additionally, like ancient Israel who was reminded of the great works of God on their behalf in the escape from Egypt (read the Psalms which refer to this), we are to be reminded not of the future, but of the past.  The past is ground zero for God’s intervention.

That intervention was the cross of Jesus Christ.  The Son of God will come to judge the living and the dead.  That is a sobering truth.  However, that same future judge was judged on the cross of crucifixion for all of your sin.  God the Father was pleased to crush Him.

The judgement you deserve has been given over to another before you were born.  Jesus Christ is your justification before God.

So, when someone attempts to make an emotional appeal calling for your repentance, you can simple point to the cross and say “Jesus is my repentance, He who knew no sin became sin on my behalf”.

Additionally, these emotional appeals are attempts to throw a person off balance.  The disturbed conscience will look to the same person for relief.  Unfortunately, this is rarely a true repentance.  True repentance is the fruit of one hearing God’s word, correctly divided by Law (God’s demands and expectations) and Gospel (God’s free forgiveness given through Jesus Christ), born out of faith.  Emotional appeals are simply efforts at emotional manipulation.  Only God’s Word, rightly proclaimed can set the prisoners free.

Matthew 24:36 states:

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’

And, Jesus tells us not to worry,

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matt. 6:34

John writes,

28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.” -John 10

Look backward my friends.  Don’t get caught up in the hysteria of the hysterical, the mania of maniacs or the fanaticism of fanatics.  They are ever looking forward to a day of destruction.  We can look back and say that day of destruction came at the cross where Christ DEFEATED sin, death and the devil.

Rest in the total, complete forgiveness given to you through Jesus’ death.  Rest in the true goodness earned for you as a robe which He placed on you in His resurrection.  Rest in these words spoken by Jesus at the cross, IT IS FINISHED!  No one can snatch you out of those nail-pierced hands.  Jesus says to you now, “I got you!”

Now, may the peace of God which transcends all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Amen

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