Monday, March 26, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of March 25

As we draw closer to the commemoration of Jesus' death and resurrection, I would like to turn our attention to what we believe when we say "I believe ... the forgiveness of sins".

This statement comes from The Apostles' Creed.  It, as with all the statements in the creed, is foundational to understanding what it means to have "true faith" in God.  But what does it mean?

According to the Heidelberg Catechism it means, "I believe that God, because of Christ's atonement, will never hold against me any of my sins nor my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.  Rather, in His grace, God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment."
(See Q&A 56; Psalm 103:3-4, Micah 7:18-19, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; I John 1:7, 2:2; Romans 7:21-25; John 3:17-18; Romans 8:1-2)

Let's take this statement one piece at a time, and then I want to look at one of the above scriptures as well.

Notice that the reason God can forgive is only "because of Christ's atonement".  Christ's atonement is "the act by which God restores to harmony and unity the relationship between Himself and human beings". (definition from Nelson's Bible Dictionary)  The act of course is Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.  Only by that act can we be forgiven.

In light of that act, let's look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; especially verse 21.  "God made Him who had no sin to be sin (or a sin offering) for us, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God."

In order to understand this verse, we need to consider our definition for sin.  If sin is primarily behavior; i.e. if sin is the bad things we do, then this verse makes no sense.  How could Jesus become "sin" or even a "sin offering" if He never did anything wrong.  Jesus could not become bad behavior.  However, if sin is separation from God, then we can understand this verse and Jesus' words from the cross more clearly.  On the cross, Jesus cried out (quoting from Psalm 22:1), "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"  If sin is separation from God, and Jesus became sin for us, then we can understand that on the cross Jesus became separated from God for us.

In that act of becoming separate from God, Jesus took on God's wrath against all sin (all who are separated from God).  So that when Jesus rose from the dead, He conquered sin, and forever restored the relationship between God and human beings; i.e. made us righteous or forever "right" with God.
Now all who believe in Jesus (that His life, death, and resurrection were for them), receive "forgiveness of sins"; i.e. eternal life a.k.a. freedom from judgment.

So "forgiveness of sins" is eternal in Christ because in Jesus we are reunited to God.  For those in Christ there is no more condemnation (see Romans 8:1) because Jesus has removed our separation from God, so that we now belong to Him for all eternity, and He will never leave us or forsake us!

This is good news!  This is gospel!  This is what we are called to proclaim to the nations!

So let's discuss.  If sin is not primarily behavior; i.e. bad things we do, but is separation from God, then how does this affect the way we witness and practice discipleship today?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of March 18

Jesus' first recorded message is in Mark 1:15.  He said, "The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!"  And that simple message completely changed the world!  The word "repent" has two possible meanings.  One meaning says "change your behavior", and the other meaning says, "change your way of thinking".  As I have been studying Luke's gospel in light of the parable of the two sons in chapter 15 as well as other passages, I have become more and more convinced that it is more important that we change our way of thinking than that we change our behavior!  What do you think?

(Read Romans 4:1-25)

What did Abraham discover?  And how did his discovery change the world?  Abraham discovered that God cares more about faith than about works (or good behavior) because "Abraham believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness."  This is radical stuff!

Look at verse 13 especially, "It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith."

This same discovery impacts our relationship with God as well.  Look at verses 23-24, "The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness - for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."  And then these words are applied in verse 25, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." 

So righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ and not by good behavior, therefore it is more important that we change our way of thinking than that we change our behavior!  What do you think?  What are the implications of this?  How does it shape the way you see yourself, others, and the world?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of March 11

If Eugene Peterson is correct that "the word 'sinner' is a theological distinction ... and not a moralistic judgment", then let's consider the implications of that for our understanding of the gospel.

(Read Romans 1:18-2:4)

Notice that Paul makes a clear connection between the loss of knowledge of God and increasing depravity.
In verse 21, we see Paul say "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to Him ..."  In verse 25, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie", and in verse 28 "Furthermore since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God ..." 

All these references show that as we lose our knowledge of God our level of depravity increases.

If the word "sinner" is a theological distinction, then Peterson says "sin" is "separation from God".  If this is true, then the cure for sin is growing nearer to God through intimate knowledge gained through His word as mediated by the Holy Spirit.

So instead of looking at behavior as the problem, we should see that lack of knowledge is the problem and it is not only the folks described in chapter 1 who are affected.

Look at 2:1, "You therefore have no excuse you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things."  Ouch!

So Paul's strategy is to show how everyone is a "sinner" separated from God, and then to show how everyone can come to know God and draw close to Him again.

What do you think about this?  Look at the list Paul gives in chapter 1.  Do you see any of these tendencies in yourself?  If so, what does that say about all the other "sins" on the list?  Are any of them ultimately worse than any other?  Or are all of them equally descriptive of being separated from God?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of March 4

(Read Luke 5:27-32)

Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."  (verses 31-32)

It strikes me that Jesus uses both physical and spiritual healing imagery here.  Jesus physically healed many, like the paralytic in Luke 5:17-26.  Yet even in healing this man Jesus uses both physical and spiritual words.  In verse 20 Jesus says, "Son your sins are forgiven." and in verse 24 He says, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home!" 

Jesus heals him both physically and spiritually, and in our passage Jesus makes plain that is exactly why He came.  So what do we do with this?

If Jesus came to heal the sick and call sinners to repentance (and as He will say later in Luke 19:10 - "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."), then how does Jesus' mission impact the mission of the church today?

Timothy Keller writes in his book The Prodigal God, "Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day.  However, in the main, our churches today do not have the same effect.  .... That can only mean one thing.  If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did." (pp. 15-16)

I wonder about that.  Is this true?  If so, why?  What have we missed?  And more importantly how can we recover Jesus' message?  After all, He was the one who came from the Father full of grace and truth. (see John 1:14)  How can we learn to present Jesus as He presented Himself?  Let's discuss!