Justified Journal

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Category: Nature of Faith

Bound or free?

Why do I do what I do?

Over the short course of my career as a bi-vocational pastor, my eyes have been opened to the nature of sin.  It is not that I am pre-occupied by it.  The Lord made me in such a way to desire more than the simple answer.  I always want to know the answer to “why?”

It might go something like this; I see someone gossiping.  I understand that gossip is a sin, but if you simply address the surface-level sin, then you are treating the symptom, not the illness.  Other pastors might say, “Well, the root is sinfulness!”  That is true, too, but this statement doesn’t address the issue.

In my experience, it is helpful to consider the factors which lead someone to behave in this way.  I want to understand human behavior.  Buried under the human psyche, the surface sin might be emanating from something much deeper.  Maybe some kind of pain or trauma that the person has had.  Maybe a feeling of vulnerability that lies just beneath the surface.

So, whatever the case, I have come to realize that a person who spends their time gossiping is in bondage.  Just as a person who rebels against God’s Law is not free, but in bondage.  Just as another who judges their fellow man is in bondage.

A person can recognize that they are bound; they can clearly see their own issue(s).  They can even feel guilty or convicted by their behavior.  Yet, they are unable to change their behavior.  They are slaves of sin.  This understanding helps me to be compassionate towards the person.

Hiding from ourselves

It would be easy to separate and divide others outside the church from those inside the church.  We could say, “Yeah, but look at what they do!  They’re much worse than I am!”  Religiosity blinds us from the fact that “YOU are the man!”  We don’t want to admit that we Christians are the ones who need to be set free from the “law (read rule) of sin and death”.

In order to do this, we set up complex structures of excuses, justifications or claims of ignorance.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to see our sin.  To be honest with you, it’s because the old Adam (or Eve) in us doesn’t want to be seen for who he/she is.

We are so bound by desire to preserve the old Adam , that we will pretend to be faithful on the outside just so the old Adam never gets exposed from the inside.  Let’s face it, the old Adam is good at hiding.

As sons and daughters of Adam, we hide behind piety which keep us in control.  Instead of letting God have His way with us, we have strengthened ourselves against the God who would save us from sin.  In reading the Gospels, you will find that it was the religious leaders, so invested in their own piety, who resisted the free Gospel of Jesus Christ.

No Surprise

It comes as no surprise, then, that the most Christian among us display these ‘cracks in their armor’.  Why?  Because they are not cracks at all.  Gossipers, rebels, the judgmental all see themselves as righteous, not really needing God at all.  All of these manifestations of sin are the evidence of bondage to sin.

This principle can be applied to nearly anyone who displays gross sin.  Please understand, I am not saying that we are excused from sin because we are enslaved by it.  All of these behaviors emanate from our own hearts, not someone else’s.  The devil didn’t make me do it.  It’s in my blood and in yours.

Our hope isn’t in our piety or religious observance, in fact, these are contributing to the problem.  You and I are tempted to overcome sin by behaving in a “Christian” way.  It won’t work.  Our good behavior cannot end our bad behavior.  It simply keeps the old Adam in control.  Instead, we need to find outside help.

“Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death?”

Paul the apostle writes the above in Romans 7:24.  In fact, He uses the present tense verb, am in the phrase, “wretched man that I am!”  Paul is describing his present condition in relation to the law.  What is this Holy Apostle to do?

He writes this, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”.  Paul has abandoned himself (and his impeccable reputation) in light of his awareness of depth of sin.  He looks to the outside savior.  He looks not to the old Adam for overcoming sin that he sees in himself.  Instead, He looks to the New Adam, who overcame sin for him.

The experience Paul writes about is meant to help his readers identify with his plight and his salvation.  We are inside the struggling heart and mind of Paul, the Apostle.  And, he is not too proud to share his struggle with us.

His salvation came from the outside.  His Savior came from the outside.  Your Savior is completely outside of you, too.  He is on the cross dying for all of your sin and mine.  He is the only sacrifice for sin.

The church is where the outside work of Jesus makes a difference on our insides.  Not because we are religious or faithful, but because He is faithful to come to us in the proclamation of His Gospel.  He is faithful to be present in, with, and under the bread and wine (or, grape juice).  He is both the author and perfecter of our faith.  His forgiveness is a living forgiveness that is distributed by both word and sacrament.

Start new again.  In fact, start new every week.  Come wicked sinners.  Because, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15).  And, in the end, He will have His way with you anyhow (Forde).

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

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Sanitized faith

Text: John 2:1-11

A lot of ink has been spilled attempting to explain Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana.  It is not uncommon to find pastors trying to minimize the amount of alcohol in the wine or the size of the stone pots.  Heaven forbid that Jesus would be supporting alcohol consumption!

If we look a little deeper however, the stone pots were used for ritual cleansing before and after eating. Everyone was to wash his/her hands.  This tradition was put in place after the Jews returned from Babylon.  It is part of the Talmudic (think 600 more laws added to the Old Testament laws) tradition.  It is the very system that Jesus rejected when confronted by the Pharisees.

In other words, the washing wasn’t necessary according to Old Testament Law.  The washing of hands was an added level of ‘purity’ to avoid God’s wrath (i.e., being sent back into exile).

Returning to our time, modern evangelical theology is a theology of sanitizing.  The main goal of this theology is to make sure Christians don’t do ‘dirty’ things.  So, it makes sense that many pastors try to minimize the first miracle of Jesus Christ.  They don’t want to appear to be advocating alcohol consumption as the Scripture apparently does.

Sanitizing is not the same as sanctifying.

Sanitizing is the individual’s attempt to keep oneself clean from the dirtiness of sin.  It is the self-made and self-focused religion of hazmat suits and Lysol.  Gross sins are … well … gross.  We must sanitize!  This obsessive compulsive, type-A behavior is the underlying premise of modern evangelicalism.  Christian living is centered around this principle.

Sanctifying has nothing to do with sanitizing.  Sanctifying is not what we want.  It’s not what we think we need.  It is the work of Christ to kill the urge to sanitize.  Actually, it is the work of Christ to kill the self-sanitizer and raise him up in resurrection with Jesus.

This is beautifully illustrated by baptism.

1 Peter 3:21 states:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (ESV).

Note how this verse is ‘sanitized’ by another translation:

and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (NIV).

Why do we need to justify God (Stephen Paulson is great on this topic in Lutheran Theology)?  Why do we feel the need to sanitize His very word.  Either it is true or it isn’t.

Attempts to minimize this word are the outworking of the Old Adam who hates the fact that God does the work.  The Old Adam resents it and the Old Adam resents God.  The Old Adam doesn’t want freedom.  The Old Adam wants rules to follow and a ladder up to Heaven.  In short, the Old Adam effectively sidelines Jesus and His work in favor of the self-made religion warned about in Colossians.

Self-sanitizing will not bring us closer to God.  Instead, it denies Christ and His benefits.  To all of this I pray, Christ have mercy!

Don’t worry if you don’t have faith in Christ …

When I studied Greek, I learned that the –ou endings meant possession.  For example, we say, “That’s Bart’s Car“.  In Spanish, you would say, “That the car of Bart“.  So, the –ou means ‘of (name)’.

So what?  Why should I care?  Because the New Testament that you’re holding is a testament to the efforts of the Old Adam to resist Grace Alone through Christ alone.

Here are my two examples:

1. Galatians 2:16a:     “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ

Here’s the Greek:

πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ   – “faithfulness of Christ Jesus”

Now, the corrected translation mash-up – yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus.

That’s a shift from man-centered religion (and worrying about the quality of your faith) to Christ centered religion which is what Christianity is.

The same translation choice was made in Philippians 3:9a:

“not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ”

The following is a better translation:

“not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through the faithfulness of Christ.”

His faithfulness trumps yours.  Sorry.

Paul wrote the following: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). 

Check the translation against the overarching message of these letters.  Is the author (Paul) concerned with the strength of your believing in a “You just gotta believe bro” way, or is He focused on setting you free from the navel-gazing religion by looking up at a cursed man on a tree who was faithful to the end?

Jesus is the Gospel

The gospel is not:  a decision to receive, believe, retrieve your own personal Jesus.

The gospel is not: making Him Lord, re-dedicating your life, saying a “sinner’s prayer”

In fact, the Gospel is completely outside of your (or my) activity.

The Gospel is ALL God’s activity through Jesus Christ.

What is ‘Gospel’?  It means ‘Good News’.

It is Jesus dying on the cross for your sin and my sin, and being raised in resurrection, so we can have the gift of resurrection in Him.

What’s the bad news?

First, the world is fallen and it can’t get up

Second, the devil is a fallen angel, not an archaic, pre-logical myth

Third, we have fallen into our coffin, and are bound to a horrible eternal end unless there’s an intervention

In other words, the situation is hopeless.

God loves hopeless situations.

God loves hopeless sinners.

Because Jesus was given as a sacrifice for sin.  He came to seek and save that which was lost.  Jesus came for sinners (including me).

And, He continues to be the good news for us.

When we confess our sin (not a feeling), He is faithful and just to forgive us based on His bloody death.

When we have doubt (by the way, doubt means you have faith to begin with), He remains faithful as a priest before the Father in Heaven.

When we are hungry for good news, we can find it in the promise that God has sent a deliverer in Jesus.  He hasn’t come for “good people”, but for those who have no hope in themselves.

He is hope fulfilled.  Both now and forever.  Amen.

Working out your self-deification with arrogance and boasting

When I was in high school, I worked as a stage hand one semester.  I was in the background, helping to move stage elements.  We changed backdrops, moved furniture, and moved props.

We got to see everything back there.  The audience, though, was unaware of anything but what they saw in front of them.

This is true for our view of the world, too.  Most people are largely unaware of what “backdrops” are behind their thinking.  It’s too much work to figure it out.  It’s more fun just to watch the play.

Our view of the purpose of the Bible is also influenced by our background beliefs.  Everyone comes to it with beliefs/perspectives of what it’s about.  And, if they don’t have any prior experience with it, they soon become aware that it talks a lot about commands, God, promises, war, sex, death, resurrection, angels and other “religious stuff”.

This helps to explain the differences in denominations.  If you go to a church, you probably accept their “backdrop” explanation of the purpose of the Bible.

But, is it correct?  Have you ever considered that conservative Christians (not talking politically here) have legitimate and valid differences concerning the purpose of the Bible?

One of the current “backdrops” is called “Lordship Salvation”.  It assumes that the Bible is a book of rules that we must follow perfectly otherwise we are not true disciples.  Christians in these churches assume that their church is “Biblical”.  They assume that Christians in other churches are weak or disobedient.  They assume this because this is the result of what they believe about the Bible and the Christian life.

Where does this belief come from?  Why do people believe that once they “receive Jesus” or “repent and believe” (as the Lordship Salvation camp would say), they must “get to work”, “live obediently” and “put your nose to the grindstone”?  Why does the Christian life return to me and my works?

Simple.  This is the theology of the Old Adam.  It is a theology that denies  the Lordship of Christ.  The Old Man denies that Christ is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  He denies John 6:28-29 which the disciples ask, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” The Old Adam denies Hebrews 10:10 which states, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

And in so denying that these verses are for Christians, the Old Adam denies Christ, Himself.  The Old Adam replaces Jesus with his own works, effort and obedience.  The Old Adam works to keep himself alive rather than submit to the crucifixion of Jesus as both the one who births faith in us and feeds faith through the means of grace.

The Old Adam is busy keeping himself as god.  He is his own lord.  He lives a blasphemous life.

And because of the extreme moral demands of Lordship Salvation, Christians under this theology can go only three directions:

In the first option, they can become self-righteous, arrogant about their relationship with God, and in denial about the depth of God’s demands on their lives.  This person is willing to judge others harshly and never examine his/her own life in light of the “full thundering” of the Law.  They become deeply judgmental, lacking any love.

In the second option, the Christian of sensitive conscience is thrown into despair about their salvation.  Martin Luther, the great reformer, fell into this camp when the terrors of Roman Catholic theology scared him into a monastery to find peace.  Eventually, these Christians will either leave the church, or have their faith shipwrecked.  Some of these people become hopeless and becomes agnostics/atheists because of the lack of mercy in these church bodies.

In the third option, they can remain superficial, never taking any of it seriously, and covering up with a false edifice.

There is a fourth option, however.  Along with many other who have escaped the clutches of Lordship Salvation, I encountered a completely different backdrop when I read Martin Luther.  Because I had lived in both the first and second options, Luther’s Bondage of the Will was like a key to open the prison door I lived in.

His view was that we begin and end with Christ when it comes to the Christian life.  In Biblical terms, that means that Jesus retains His lordship as the Alpha and the Omega.  We are to come to church to hear “Christ crucified” rather than the “ten steps to overcoming sin”.

This is a theology of reception.  It is a theology that believes that God is at work on and in us, and that it is His pleasure to do so.

It is a theology that views the Scripture as the manger in which we find the Christ-child.  He is the heart of its meaning, purpose and proclamation.  Read Hebrews.  Is it about you or about Jesus?  Read the Gospel from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  Is it about you or Jesus?

And, having this “cross theology” also means that we interpret the Bible as being Law or Gospel.  This means that God’s demands reveal our inherent sinfulness, but God has provided His own Son to fulfill ALL of these demands and cleanse us from ALL sin.  Even the sin of trying to be your/my own God.

Why does He do this?  Look at Romans 3:

 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

 Acts 4:12 states; “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” No other name, not even your own.

To the Glory of His Holy Lordship, Amen.

Have you heard the (good) news?

An article came out recently reporting that we lose a percentage of our hearing every ten years.  It helps to explain why children are so sensitive to sounds, even sounds that seem out of the range of adult hearing.

It explains why I have been “cupping” my ear and moving a bit forward on my seat to hear what people are saying to me.

Although my hearing is not so good, and my sight is not great either, at least I can read the Scripture and benefit from it this way.  It’s important to remember that many times throughout history scripture was actually passed on through oral transmission (someone reads it out loud to other people).  In fact, the New Testament letters often were read out loud to the congregations.

Additionally, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was spoken to people all over the world, starting in Jerusalem.

One thing the New Testament repeats in various places is the idea of hearing this Gospel and how it affects those who hear:

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.  -1 Thessalonians 2:13

For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.  -Hebrews 4:2

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  -Galatians 3:2

So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? -Galatians 3:5

It’s important to keep in mind that each of these have a broader context that should be read (or, heard).  However, the result (or mutual effect) of hearing the Gospel is faith.  In other words, this faith is different from what we might consider faith in our culture.

It is the passive hearing that produces/is mixed with faith.  Someone proclaims that Jesus has been crucified for the forgiveness of your sin and raised eternal for your justification, and that person believes.  And, this faith is given by God only, not produced by our force of will.

The models of people having to go up at an altar-call, or pray a sinner’s prayer, or ask Jesus into their heart simply have no basis in the New Testament.  They might be the result of a person who has been “quickened” by the Holy Spirit, but this means they have been born again (born from above) before their activity (whatever form that may take).  In other words, salvation is actively distributed on God’s part, but passively received as He gives us faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

We get to partake in this salvation of others as we proclaim Christ and Him crucified according to the scripture.  Even by just reading the scripture aloud to another, the seed of His Word is being planted in the ears of the hearers.

And this birthing word emanates from the inspired, inerrant Word of Scripture which proclaims a Savior from Genesis to Revelation.

This Gospel is external to us.  Whether you read it or hear it, God is in it, which means that this is an excellent place to hear the incarnated deity who is saving us.

Amen

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