Posts Tagged gospel

Two Trees

Ask most non-Christians whether they will go to heaven when they die, and they usually will reply with something like, “I think so, I’m a pretty good guy.”  Those of us who follow Jesus know that the only way to heaven is by trusting Him for our salvation, and that being a “good guy” won’t cut it.

Or do we?

If we really understand that truth, then why do so many in the church seem so caught up in works?  We feel guilty because we don’t do what we should.  We feel guilty because we keep doing what we shouldn’t.  Sound familiar?  It sounds to me like the conflict Paul found himself fighting in Romans 7.  While we accept the grace of God in theory, it seems in practice it’s another story.  We judge ourselves and others by such strict standards.

It all started in the garden.

If you recall, there were two trees in the Garden of Eden.  There was the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Mankind was meant to eat only of the tree of life, living in perfect communion with God forever.  But we made a choice to instead eat of the other tree, and when we did, our eyes were opened.  And notice it was not just evil, but GOOD and EVIL.  They are two sides of the same coin.  It was a knowledge we were never supposed to have.  A knowledge of good, a knowledge of evil, and a knowledge of our own nakedness before God.

Mankind has lived in the bondage of that decision ever since.  For most, life is a constant battle between their own capacity for both good and evil.  And when the good outweighs the evil, we feel pretty good about ourselves, like somehow our nakedness before God is covered up.  But that is a battle we are not capable of winning.

The truth is, if we are still living lives of pursuing good and avoiding bad actions, we are still living a life of bondage to that decision so long ago to eat of the wrong tree.  Paul calls it “the law of sin and death” in Romans 8.  And as long as we are obsessed with what we are doing and not doing, we are living under the law of sin and death, and sin still rules over us.

Jesus came to give us life, not just forgiveness.  He came to restore us to the garden, where we may freely eat of the tree of life and live in communion once again with our Father.  He came to restore us back to the place we lived before the knowledge of good and evil corrupted our hearts.  No longer must we live as slaves to our actions.  No longer must we constantly worry about what we have done or what we have left undone.  No longer must we hide our nakedness from God, afraid of what He’ll do to us if He sees us as we really are.

It’s a free gift.

No action required on our part other than to repent and accept the gift.  But when we repent before God, we are not really repenting of our sins.  We are repenting of our thought that we could ever do anything but sin.  We are repenting of thinking we could cover our nakedness by our own goodness.  We are repenting of choosing to live under the law of sin and death, trying desperately to win a battle He has already won.

So we have a choice:  We can continue to live in bondage to the law of sin and death, constantly afraid of what we have done, hiding in our shame before God. We can continue thinking life is about doing good and avoiding evil, burdened by guilt over our failures.

Or we can accept the sacrifice of Jesus, living in the “law of liberty in Christ”, freely eating of the tree of life.  That’s it, it’s over.  Sin can no longer rule over us because we are free from it’s power.  The power of sin is wrapped up in it’s consequences.  Take away the punishment and you take away it’s power.  And that’s what Jesus did.  We no longer have to fear, strive, work, or hide.

Breathe deep and feel the release.  Your salvation no longer depends on you living up to a standard.  Let it go and live in the freedom you were meant to have all along.

Maybe that’s why it’s called the “good news.”

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False Profits

Deuteronomy 13 gives us a pretty clear warning,

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Understand, this is not some normal, everyday person.  We are being warned about one who is considered a prophet, a man who performs miracles, someone able to work “signs and wonders.”  I think if some guy showed up and performed a miracle, most of us would believe that he must be speaking with God’s blessing.  I know if I saw some prophet work a supernatural sign, I would tend to believe what he says.

Yet this scripture tells us that even the one who works miracles is a false prophet if he entices us away from serving the Lord and obeying His commands.

We live in a pragmatic world.

The church today is often ruled by the mentality of “if it works, it must be right.”  Have thousands of people attending your church?  You must be on the right track.  Getting attention from the world around you?  You must be saying the right thing.  Getting the desired results?  You must be doing God’s work.

We have been told we can expect financial prosperity as though Jesus didn’t spend a great deal of His ministry warning those who are rich.  We have been told we can expect happiness and fulfillment, as though the gospel were some sort of self-help technique.  We have been told it’s okay to engage in the materialism around us when half the world’s population lives in poverty.  And because those who have told us these things are considered “Christian leaders” with successful ministries, we have believed them without question.

But no matter how good they sound, they are false prophets.

Scripture is full of stories of those who were called by God, yet suffered lack and defeat.   Prophets were murdered.  Even Jesus was forsaken by all but a few.  Modern day saints endure torture and persecution for the sake of Christ.  Others live in extreme poverty.  Others get sick and die.  Things do not always work out the way we want them to.  Christians are not always healthy, wealthy, and wise.

That’s not what the gospel is about.  In fact, the gospel is the polar opposite of those things.  The gospel that Jesus brought is about releasing us from the need for riches and success.  It is about being content.  It is about putting the needs of others before ourselves.  It is about suffering so that others may be blessed.

So how do we know who to believe?

How do we know who is truly speaking the words of God?  Here are 3 suggestions:

1. Get into God’s word for yourself.  Read and study and find out what God’s plan is.  When I started reading my Bible faithfully, I couldn’t believe how far modern Christianity is from what I saw in scripture.

2.  Pray.  Not just a little bit, either.  Pray a lot.  Put down your entertainment, lay aside the things that take up your time and attention and earnestly seek God.  Press through the ADD and wandering mind and get down to business with God.  He will speak to you, He wants to speak to you.  In the process you will find that you need the words of man less and less.

3.  Judge their words based on the truth of what you hear from God and read in His word.  Don’t just take the words of man at face value, even if that man (or woman) is a respected and well known Christian leader.

Even if they run a big church.  Even if they are on television or wrote a book.  Even if they have the title Dr. or Rev. in front of their name.  Even if they work a miracle, if they entice you away from the simplicity of the gospel, do not listen.

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My way or the highway

Have you ever noticed how the church talks about the concept of “absolute truth?”  For the most part, we use that term as a weapon.  We wield it like a giant spiritual baseball bat to bludgeon anyone who does not agree with us.  If you think differently than what our doctrine clearly states, you are wrong.  And we wast no time or effort in quickly convincing you of that fact.

The funny thing is, I always think of what I believe as absolute truth, not what you believe.

I never stop to consider that those who disagree with me feel as strongly about the “absoluteness” of their truth as I do of mine.  So we let something that should unite us divide us instead.  Instead of rallying around what should be obvious to all, we instead polarize, demonize, and politicize.

It seems we Christians love to look backwards.  We look at the way things have always been done and elevate our traditions to the level of absolute.  Then when anyone dares disagree with us, they become an enemy who must be silenced.  Our truth is better than yours, so we protect ours by eliminating yours.

Why do we have to proclaim truth in such a negative way?

The good news seems more like bad news when it makes you right and me wrong all the time.

In John 14:6 Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the “…way, the TRUTH, and the life…”  So, as His follower, my definition of truth must begin and end with Jesus.  His words, His actions, His example gives me a road-map to follow in my pursuit of truth.  If it looks and sounds like Jesus, then it is truth.

Jesus certainly didn’t beat people over the head with doctrine or dogma.  He didn’t use the truth of who He was as a weapon against the infidels.  The Pharisees did that.  They were the ones excluding and judging, condemning and executing.  They were the ones enforcing every letter of the law, while forgetting mercy.  The Pharisee’s concept of absolute truth said the woman caught in adultery should be stoned.  But Jesus – the truth in human form – said, “neither do I condemn you.” 

So what am I saying?  Am I saying we are wrong to believe in absolutes?  Have I become some sort of relativist?  Some postmodern who believes that all truths are equally valid?  No, I believe in absolutes.  I believe in the absolutes Jesus taught, and they are not that complicated:

I believe that love overcomes evil.
I believe that mercy triumphs over judgment.
I believe we will be judged by how we treat the poor, the oppressed, and the helpless.
I believe “love your neighbor” transcends race, creed, nationality, and bigotry.
I believe loving our enemies is better than hating them.
I believe in returning good for evil, love for hatred, mercy for wrongdoing.
I believe we are never so tall as when we stoop to embrace a leper.

Yes, I believe in absolute truth.

I believe we are all absolutely depraved, and that Jesus came to absolutely redeem all of us to Himself.  And I absolutely don’t get to decide what that looks like.  He is the Redeemer, He gets to decide.  He has redeemed even people I might not like, agree with, or understand.  He is more than capable of revealing the truth of His love to the world He came to redeem.  He doesn’t need me to swing Him around like a blunt object used to beat sinners into submission.

Besides, love is a much more effective weapon anyway, and that’s the truth.

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