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Category: Sin of idolatry

Children of promise

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (...

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (Gen. 21:14-20) Русский: Агарь и Измаил в пустыне (Быт. 21:14-20) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Galatians 4:

24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

If you’ve read much of the Old Testament from Exodus on, you might get the impression that God is really interested in Israel.  And, you’d be right.  He spent a lot of time making a people His own who had no claim on God whatsoever.  God called them out of Egypt by Grace.

They wandered in the desert and were provided for directly from the hand of the Lord.  Yet, God took the time in the midst of this “transitional period” to give them the Ten Commandments.  Why?  Weren’t they getting along?

But before the ink on the stone had dried (figuratively speaking), they were building a golden calf to worship.  Israel was a nation of … idolaters.

Of course, that is symptomatic of mankind in general.  Israel, like Adam, were the best possible representatives of the human race.  But they couldn’t remain loyal to Yahweh or Moses long enough for them to “finish business”.

As time went by, Israel broke these and many other laws that the Lord gave them.  Time after time, they would be taken by other nations into slavery as punishment.  Eventually, they added more laws to God’s laws so that they wouldn’t get close enough to break the real thing.

It’s like if you told a child, “don’t pick up that vase”.  The real problem is you don’t wan them to drop it, but to make sure this doesn’t happen, you anticipate and give them a command that subverts their intent.

This was the situation with Israel as Christ entered the picture.  The Pharisees asked why the disciples of Jesus broke their rules.  Jesus would respond by asking them why they broke the rules of God.

And so, Israel was at it again, making a golden calf out of man-made laws.  They were worshiping their own obedience, their own morality, their own righteousness.  They became living idols to themselves.

This Pharisaic form of Judaism crept into the church, as well.  Paul, who was a Jew of Jews, absolutely rejects the notion that returning to law will “right” the behavior of the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.  He asserts that the judaizers in the church were sons of Hagar and Ishmael rather that Sarah and Isaac.  Why?

Because they held that their sonship was maintained by their efforts to hold to God’s Law as revealed in the Old Testament.  They had forgotten the foundation of the Ten Commandments which read “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt.  They had forgotten that they were not a people before God chose and rescued them.  They had forgotten how He parted the Sea.  They had forgotten how the Israelites were fed by bread from heaven and water from a rock.  They had forgotten that they stood on the mercy of God.

They were children of promise who sold their birthright for the bitter meal of Law-keeping self-idolatry.

But, Paul speaks to the gentile converts and says that they (like Israel) were children of promise.  They were children of old, old Sarah.  They were the last born.  They were not the “seed”, but were children of Ishmael who were transplanted into the stump.  They were adopted by God Himself in Jesus Christ.  They were now sons of the living God.

The laws that they lived under were slavery to every form of gross sin under the sun; temple prostitution, orgies, drunkenness, jealousy, envy, etc.  They were slaves to their desires.  Their gods were their stomachs.

But it was for freedom that Christ had set them free.  Was He setting them free to observe the Pharisaic morality invading the early church?  No, He was setting them free to live in the constant light of God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace distributed through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  He was setting them free from gross sin, so why would he want them to learn the Pharisaic idolatry of the judaizers?  That is religious sin.

We face this today in the church.  Many would like to enslave you with demands, guilt and manipulation.  These vipers should not think that they will receive one thing from God.  They have become idolators of the worst sort.  They have abandoned Christ and all His mercy.  They have returned to the vomit of self-righteous living.  And they want you to follow along.

I suggest telling them this, “Get behind me Satan!  The Son has set me free.  He has fulfilled all of the Law’s demands and has been fully punished for my sin.  There is no other name on earth or in Heaven by which a man may be saved, including yours.”

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Life in the Middle

Life in the middle

 

Have you ever seen the show, “In the middle”?  It’s about a family who lives in the mid-west and they are middle-classed.  The parents are middle-aged and they struggle through life.  Their appliances are continually breaking down, their kids have quirks and issues and their furniture is run-down.

 

They accept their middle of the road lifestyle.  Yeah, sometimes the mom has aspirations to live a more productive life, but eventually all her best efforts lead her to the same place she began.

 

In the New Testament, Acts stands out as an interesting book.  It is a series of stories, like the Gospels, but it’s not a letter like the epistles.  It’s smack-dab in between the Gospels and the epistles, too.

 

Our passage in Acts today tells us about a time in between two important events in the New Testament.  The first is the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven which we celebrated this past Thursday.  Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of sight.  He ascended to His throne in Heaven.

 

The second important event, which we will celebrate next Sunday is Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  After this event, began the greatest missionary effort of the Christian church in history.  This wasn’t a lukewarm experience for them.

 

But, the time between these two incredible events was a little … slow.  The disciples went back to Jerusalem and waited at the place they were staying.  They reunited at a central location.

 

We can get into a rut, too.  The Sunday after Easter isn’t as well attended.  The flowers don’t have quite the same glory as before, and everyone seems a little bit run-down.  We gather to pray and hear God’s word, but it just isn’t the same thing.

 

It’s kind of like high school graduation.  You reach the top of the platform to receive a diploma, but by the next week, you’re thinking about the next step in life.  You’re beginning again.

 

Maybe you’ve just lost your job, or are newly retired.  You’re thinking, “now what?”  It’s that sense of being lost, in limbo, but not quite in purgatory.  It’s the doldrums.  At times like this, we “re-assess” and “consider our options”.  We want a new life, a strong and stable identity.  You might pray more, and read the Bible more in order to find “God’s will” in the situation.

 

In our passage, the disciples began to pray.   They were praying together as one body including Jesus’ mother, Mary, and His brothers.  And Jesus was there, too.  Matthew records Jesus saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”(18:20).

 

This was the beginning of a community.  And this community wasn’t so small.  In fact, when Peter stood up to talk, there were 120 people present.  He stood in the middle of them and spoke about Judas.

 

He was putting things into perspective.  After Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter realized how the prophecies by King David in the Psalms were fulfilled by Judas.

 

And, who was better to realize this than Peter, who denied Jesus, and may have realized that He was this close (finger gesture) to being counted with Judas.  If it wasn’t for the intervention of Jesus praying for Peter before the Father, we might have had a different story.  Acts might have focused on John, or James, or Andrew instead.

 

But, Jesus did intervene.  He knew Peter would fall.  He knew he would deny Jesus.  Despite this, Jesus steps into the gap and prays for Peter: Luke records in Chapter 22, verses 31-32:

 

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

 Jesus gave him the promise that Peter would turn again, despite his falling.

 

Peter’s sin lead him to weep bitterly for his betrayal.  It’s a sin that repeats over and over again.  If you consider the Old Testament Israelites and how they so readily worshipped the golden calf Aaron made.  God was so angry that He basically told Moses to step aside while he destroyed the entire nation.  Thankfully, Moses intervened and Israel was spared.

 

At other times, God simply struck down those who would betray Him by following other gods.  The sacrifice of animals was not enough to intercede on their behalf.

 

You and I, too, have a tendency to go astray.  Maybe we fall into a form of worship of personalities, politicians or our own position in life.  We get caught up in money, importance and security.  But our God is a jealous God.  He will not share His glory with anyone, including you or me.  In fact, Jesus Christ has stepped into the middle of human history for one purpose; to kill us.  Because, unless He drowns the Old Adam in the waters of baptism, He cannot resurrect us.  If we remain hopeful in one work to make ourselves right before God, then we are making ourselves god.  In a word, we commit idolatry.

 

We are made aware of this idolatry and other sins through the preaching of the Law.  The law, though, is not the sum and total of Christian preaching.  A preacher who only tells you about the Law and what you should be doing is leading you into the bondage of self-righteousness.

 

Jesus has come and fulfilled all righteousness for you.  He has obeyed His Father perfectly for you.  He was the “middle man” who defended you and I before the damning testimony of our sin.  He has set you free from the rule of sin and death.  And He has come to begin the final assault on our greatest enemy; our own sinfulness.

 

The beginning of this assault was at the waters of your baptism.  It continues every time a brother or sister pray for you and with you.  It continues as Christ is present in the communion for the feeding of your faith.  It continues as you hear the word rightly preached.  And, when we go astray, make no mistake about it, the good shepherd is willing to leave 99 other sheep to find you.

 

Jesus is the intervening God who died on a cross in the middle of two criminals to become our eternal intercessor.  And, He didn’t stop there.  Jesus Christ still stands before the Father, praying on our behalf as the great high priest.  The lot has been cast in your favor in Christ. He never ceases, continually working for our salvation.

 

And He has given you a new identity; you are a son or daughter of the living God.  We have been made the children of God through His blood.  Because of this, we can pray with Jesus, saying “Our Father who art in heaven”, all in Jesus’ name.

 

To God be the glory now and forever,

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

“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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