Justified Journal

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Category: Sin of idolatry

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.

“Hidden” sanctification

“Put your nose to the grindstone”

“Pull yourself up from the bootstraps”

“Apply yourself”

“Try harder”

We may have heard these phrases when we were in school from our teachers or our parents.  They were attempting to get more “out of” us.  For most kids, this doesn’t work, because they are already trying as hard as they can.

As we grow into adulthood, however, there is no one looking over our shoulder to “keep us in line”.  In a sense, we are free.

For me, this began in college.  At first, I screwed around and didn’t put much effort into my studies.  Eventually, though, I went out of state and really excelled at the university I was attending.  I was internally motivated to succeed.

It’s rewarding to get good grades.

There are many people who believe that the Christian life operates on the same principle.  If I do X, then I am living like a Christian and being sanctified.  If I don’t, then I am not being sanctified.

Only one problem … it is a rejection of Jesus Christ.

One of the things I tell people when I discuss this topic is that if your work sanctifies you, then you are stealing the glory from Jesus who is the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Here is why I reject the idea of self-sanctification:

1. It is anthropocentric at its core.  That is, it rejects Christ’s work in favor of my own.  This is also idolatrous.

2. It is antinomian.  This means, a person who uses the commands of Scripture to sanctify themselves is actually minimizing the depth of God’s Law.

3. It is a return to R.C. beliefs on infusion of righteousness.

4. It falsely divides Justification from Sanctification (two big “churchy” words).  I will quote from Gerhard Forde who wrote that sanctification is “the art of getting used to . . . justification.

But, most Christians will not prefer this answer.  They would rather go to their church for the purpose of self-improvement.  They want to have something to do.  They become their own Holy Spirit, and their own “project”.

This is called “being curved in on oneself”

At the end of Matthew, we see two groups at the end before the Throne of Christ.  Here is the interaction He has with the righteous ones:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Were they aware or unaware of their works?  Were these works the effort of private morality, or public service?

So, at this point, you have a choice.  Is the Christian life a “DIY” thing, or is it a “He does it all” thing”?

I believe the latter.  Why?  Because He is the Author and Perfecter of faith, and He will not share His glory with anyone.  I am His work, from start to finish.  You are too, whether you believe it or not.

the serpent and the calf gold

“The human heart is an idol factory” – John Calvin

If you have seen the movie, “The Ten Commandments”, then you probably recall the scene where Moses witnesses the children of Israel worshiping a golden calf.  Modern minds like ours can easily dismiss the foolishness of worshiping a cow made from precious metal.  We laugh to ourselves and say, “what fools they were!”

Unfortunately, the golden calf is not the only representative of idolatrous behavior in the Bible.  In fact, idolatry can take many forms and can be very subtle.  What interests me most is the move into idolatry.  What are the conditions which make a Christian (yes, even, maybe especially Christians) ripe for idolatry?

Human sinfulness is the beginning of the whole process.  It is the rejection of the God who is to be worshiped.  It is the ever-present motion of the human heart as it searches for an alternative to worshiping God as He has revealed Himself.  Adam and Eve did this when they rejected all of God’s goodness and were tempted by the serpent.  The sin included a desire to “be like God” and worship the self.

The second part of the process is finding an object which aligns with the sinful heart of the person.  If one cannot be found, one can be made.  Gold is a pliable metal which can be formed into many shapes.

An important point must be made here; the children of Israel worshiped the gods of their neighbors.  This happened despite their truly special relationship with the saving God, Yahweh (“I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt”).  If Israel foreshadows the church, this means that people in the church are also susceptible to worshiping false gods.

What are some forms these false gods take?

1. The self.  We look to be greater than God.  This could take shape as the belief that we are sinless or can attain a “sinless state” outside of His forgiveness in Jesus Christ (Justification).  Internal religious practices that are not sanctioned by Christ or the Scripture exemplify this.

2. Philosophy.  Like Adam and Eve, we look for extra knowledge outside of the parameters God has given us (Word and Sacrament) to seek Him.  As Luther said, “Reason is the Devil’s Harlot”.  Rather than looking at the cross for security, hope and salvation, we look for answers in logic.  Our only impediment is the Scripture itself which challenges logic with the Crucified God.

3. Wealth and money.  These are fine things to have.  In fact, I’ll be the first to say I wish I had more.  It would make living here a lot easier.  But the “dog-eat-dog” mentality of worshiping money births the hatred of others (The letter of James is a good example)

4. Personality worship.  Read 1 Corinthians 3.  They were arguing over who they followed.  Now, go to your local Christian bookstore.  Look around and consider who the authors are.  Do people worship them?  Do they think these people walk on water?  Is this pastor regarded as unique and irreplaceable? Does he regard himself as irreplaceable?  Acts 12 states:

21On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.

5. Miracles, signs and wonders.  One of the ways that Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had come was by healing people.  He even raised people from the dead.  But, the miracles were not Jesus, they were meant to point to a greater form of healing, that of salvation from sin, death and the devil.  In fact, it may be hard to believe, but salvation in Christ alone is the greatest miracle that happens in this world.  It is far more dramatic than even Lazarus being raised up from the dead.  We are told, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” Luke 15:10.  This also means that the the gospel (and its proclamation) is the greatest of the spiritual gifts.

The things that unify idolatry are the rejection of God as He is (the saving, forgiving God, Jesus) and replacement of God with a different thing to worship.

But, you ask, what about the metal on the pole that cured those bitten by snakes in Numbers 21:

8The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

This process was quite different.  The children of Israel complained (sinned), God sent snakes to bite them, and then they appealed for salvation.  God provided this through Moses who put a bronze snake on a pole for them to look at and be healed.

Christ claims to be the fulfillment of this in John 3:14-15:

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”

He alone is worthy of worship. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.  It is not our righteousness, but Christ Jesus’ perfect, holy righteousness earned outside of us and given to us because of His death.

And, since Christians continue in sin, God continues to present Christ on the cross to us.  This is why Paul says, “We preach Christ and Him crucified”.  Luther said that we “begin again”, meaning we go back to our justification in Jesus Christ alone.  Otherwise, “moving on” is just another word for idolatry.

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