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Archive for the ‘Love and Justice’ Category

[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

In this story, Jesus is not just criticizing someone on the religious right. He is criticizing anyone who is arrogant enough to forget or whitewash the sin they have done and focus on all their perceived great accomplishments. That seems to hit both sides of the political spectrum. There are many “Pharisees” who pretend to be religious and pure (sinner is always a word for others and not themselves) and there are many who are liberally approving of all kinds of actions and omissions so that they won’t be able to consider themselves sinners either. Both are trusting in themselves that they are righteous (aka self-righteous), and both demonize and hate others who don’t fit their personal standards. The humble person who takes up God’s standards, sees his evil and due to acknowledging pride expects more evils that he can’t see, that person will be forgiven and justified as righteous before God for his faith in God’s Word. So says Jesus (see also Rom 3-4).

The Tax collector’s prayer was heard and his faith rewarded because it was not a blind faith in his own ability to clean up by his own standards. It was not even a faith in his ability to meet God’s standards. Rather it was a faith in God’s guarantees that He forgives truly repentant sinners, cleans them up, and considers them righteous until such time as they really are made righteous (i.e. sinless by God’s standards). Until then, our faith in God and his Word about Jesus is counted as righteousness. I pray you are enjoying that very gift with me.

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
(Romans 3:20-25)

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Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:1-6 ESV)

Are all religions essentially the same? Aren’t they just superficially different? As the Beatles have said in song, “Love is all you need.” Yet love seems to be in short supply! It is not as easy as they make it seem, because Love for God is the only command God has given us and yet how many of us have loved God with all our heart a single day of our lives? Jesus taught that the love of many will grow cold and people will be judged for their evil thoughts and activities unless they believe Jesus was the real deal. And our text today shows that the original preachers did not consider their message of “first importance” to be “love is all you need.” Rather they preached that Jesus physically resurrected and that his innocent death on the cross paid for the problem many refuse to admit, that we love ourselves more than God.

At least love seems to matter to us, but does the truth about reality matter to us? Should we not love truth as well? Everyone seems to have an opinion, but does our Great Designer have His say in the matter? Christianity is essentially based on what Jesus said and did. And He didn’t come preaching about kindness and love. He came preaching forgiveness from a Holy God who has promised wrath and judgement for the loveless sins you and I have committed. He came offering himself as a substitute “ransom” to pay for the sins of many who will trust and believe him. Sin is a debt. Sin is misplaced love. Sin is an evil crime. Sin is setting our own purposes for our life above and against God’s purposes for us. In short, sin is a refusal to love the truth.

What is God’s purpose for us? We exist to worship him and to enjoy him forever. How do we accomplish that? It can only start by trusting that Jesus told the truth that he came from God to fix us and that all others who claimed the same were “thieves and robbers.” All religious founders cannot all be correct about God and eternal life because all religions fundamentally contradict each other. How does one begin to sort through all that confusion? Ideas and theories are abstract and hard to test. But the story of Christianity has, from the beginning, been a story that tangibly enters into human history for us to test.

God offers us Jesus as a test for truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father but by me.” How do we know that Jesus was telling the truth? The whole religion stands or falls, according to Paul if we continue reading this chapter, on whether Jesus really did rise from the dead or not. If so, then God has given us proof about who he is and how to relate to him and proof that Jesus’ warning of hell is not just some fear tactic to gain converts. If not, then the search goes on into ever foggier territory, but I have found that Jesus’ claims and the original Christians’ claims about Jesus are all true. Whether we know it or want to admit it or not, all the historical evidence points to the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, and in this hope, we are saved from our pride, from the devil, from death itself, and from God’s eternal punishment for our otherwise unquenchably rebellious spirit. Would you begin to consider Jesus and his resurrection? And consider the Word of God. These have been given as accessible proof, not only of our desperate condition and the frightful punishment for evil, but also for the good news about Jesus and his cross and resurrection which saves us from it.

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The Good News about Jesus is a lot like a Presidential pardon from a prison sentence of treason. It proclaims that because we sin continually against our holy and good Creator Sovereign that we can only expect a verdict of eternal guilt for our on-going “cosmic treason.” It proclaims that the means by which we may be forgiven this guilt and debt to God was accomplished by the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, almost 2,000 years ago on a Roman cross, that though he was innocent of our treason and sin, he took the penalty for many, that whosoever believes in him and calls on his name will have their eternal guilt taken away (John 3:16; Rom 10:13). Instead of appearing before the judge with our own record of crimes, as if dressed in filthy clothes before a King, we who believe are given a clean record just as if given a set of new clothes that had belonged to the prince, Jesus. The Good News does not stop there and, in fact, it gets even better, but at this point it seems to some so foolish and far-fetched that they will not even look into whether it is true or not. They will just deny it outright, yet at the same time these same people will declare the Bible to be “unfair” because it requires belief in this Good News to be thus saved.

Now this accusation of “unfairness” is just what I would like to put to the test now. I have just reviewed what the Good News is, that of factually received news about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done on the behalf of those who believe. I have pointed out in previous posts (here and here) that our belief acts as a rudder, steering our lives, and thus, logically, matters a great deal to the outcome of our lives. But is God unfair to offer a pardon that only some believe and receive? We can ask that question another way. Is God fair to refuse a pardon to those whom deny it has ever been offered?

Do you see how this disbelief is actually a denial, not only of the work that Jesus has, in fact, done, but also a denial of any substitution granted on our behalf? It is as if one has said, “No one has paid for my sins, so I will take the responsibility to pay for them myself.” This self-righteous denial leads to a full conviction without pardon, since it was not only rejected but denied as if the pardon had never been offered. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’”

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People often wonder at Christianity for the claim that Jesus is the only way. However, this is the claim Jesus and his disciples made themselves. “Why should we believe that other religions don’t help us be good enough to get to heaven,” some ask. Because the God revealed in the Bible, the one whom Jesus claimed to be, says he is the only God who really exists (Isaiah 45:21-22). All other gods or views of God are false ones by process of elimination. Following God then would be to discover Jesus, and following Jesus would be to obey his command to reject all that was contrary to him (Matt 10:38). The exclusivity is merely to that of what is true, rather than one of favoritism.

Now, hypothetically, one may have partial knowledge of the real God and call on him for salvation, but Jesus states that the condition of our souls is far more grave than we would like to imagine. Jesus said that if one truly loved God then they would also love him (John 8:42). He taught that unless one believes that he is who he claimed to be, that we would all die in our sins, that is, unsaved (John 8:24). These sins lead us away from God and cause us to prefer our own ways or our own safer versions of God over the real God (2 Tim 4:3-5). Knowing God exists and trying to be a good person does not solve the problem because past guilt is never erased by unrelated future actions. Humanity, led by its sin, will inevitably find false gods of greed or sex, worship Creation in place of Creator, or find another way to replace God, even if it means deciding that the individual determines destiny as if a god unto themselves (Rom 1:18-23).

Jesus was not making arrogant, baseless claims about being the hinge on whom all people’s eternity hung. He was revealing the way of salvation to those who would hear him. And if, as his resurrection strongly suggests, he is the Son of God, the only God, then turning to him is to turn away from all other god-substitutes. If the solution is trusting in him and hearing about what Jesus has done to do away with the guilt of sin, then shouldn’t we? As evangelist Ravi Zacharias has said, “If God had given us 1,000 ways to get to heaven, we would have wanted 1,001.” Should we complain that the good news is the only news?

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You might have heard a Christian complain that other Christians share a “gospel” of bad news rather than good news, but that criticism (though well intended) could be like telling an ambassador not to talk about the war but only of terms for its resolution. It is not an either-or issue, but an issue of overall emphasis. It is also a moral issue of whether we are true to sharing with rebels God’s terms of peace.

Throughout history many nations have thought that the moral high ground was to kill those labeled morally inferior. Today we think the high ground is not to kill anyone at all for any immorality, and even the concept of moral high ground is sometimes offensive. We have hit the opposite extreme, so that talk of judging this or that person for this or that action can be considered “hate speech” or “harmful talk.” But what does God’s Word say about how we should think of immorality and his judgements? Is God a pacifist? Or, on the other extreme, does he always seek justice by punishing sins with plagues? Isn’t the answer somewhere in between? When discussing sin and God’s judgements (the bad news), we have to remember one thing: it is the Creator’s prerogative to kill or not to kill. Only God gets to play God. Scripture says God judges and puts people to death, but it also says that often the judgement a person might receive for sin is that God might just hand us over to the wicked desires which we crave. In the end, that judgement is far more frightening than a disaster, because there may be no opportunity for turning back to God. At least, that ought to frighten us.

Sin earns us death (Rom 6:23), but the Way to eternal life is forgiveness through his Son, Jesus Christ, the coming king and judge (Acts 14:38-43; 17:30-31). While Jesus did not approve of followers who would do violence for his sake, Jesus also never asserted pacifism as the only way to live. He wasn’t against judgement (John 7:24). He was against judging hypocritically. Jesus asserted that having faith in him, and in his death on the cross for sin, was the only way to live. God the Father killed his willing Son as a substitute for the judgement on our sin (Isa 53:10-12). Jesus taught that the wages of sin—death and hell—would be paid in full to the disobedient, and that by his hands (Luke 19:27). Then he rose again on the third day.

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Let’s say there’s a human rights violation.
Who is objective enough to point the finger?

Moral Relativism doesn’t point the finger.
Moral Relativism can’t.
Moral Relativism is live and let live
as well as live and let die.
Real Relativists let you act on your conscience.

If relativists begin to affirm real moral obligations,

like Human Rights,
then in what are those objective obligations grounded?
It cannot, by definition, depend on
 human feelings or opinions,
but is above what any human or group thinks
(else moral relativism).
The grounding cannot be in morally imperfect
human judges (that’s relativism).
The grounds must be in a morally perfect judge who
is superior to humanity: God.

If there is a real moral right or wrong to a situation,
then the right decision is . . .
that which reflects the perfect moral standard, God.

Sometimes people call themselves relativists meaning something like, “We cannot all agree on what is moral or immoral so let’s agree to morality that allows the most people to decide for themselves what is moral.” This makes Man the measure of morality, so we’re back to the top: Moral Relativism. We would find ourselves denying basic moral absolutes in order to affirm man-made freedoms and rights. God is the only one big enough to declare what is a Human Right and the only authority big enough to appeal to when Human Rights, such as the right to life, are violated by governments. But then the truth about what God thinks matters, but that is exactly whom the relativist would rather not acknowledge (Rom 1:28).

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It is not a social club. It’s joyful worship and it is serious business, but, among other things, it’s really the people of God being rescued and on a rescue mission. The church is not commissioned to convince people of the love of God for a comfortable life or to develop clever marketing strategies that ask, “Are you ready to join God’s family?” The serious business is that this world is messy, dark, and deadly, and we’re mired in a body that will die. After which we will all be judged for evils which we are still not finished committing. God is not selling insurance or any other product. God is commanding that “all people everywhere repent” (Acts 17:30). Repent means to turn away from evil and turn to Him. The alternative, ready or not, is to face the consequences of our thoughts, addictions, and actions made against Him.

The reason the church worships a beautiful and gracious God is that He does not “take pleasure in punishing the wicked” (Ezek 33:11) but would rather celebrate when a person trusts in Him for forgiveness and a new heart (Luke 15:10). The Creator is so gracious that He became one of His creations, Jesus of Nazareth, and loved sinners by taking their place so they wouldn’t have to face God’s anger for their apathy and rebellion. That is Good News. And that’s the truth in love. That’s what Church is about: People who put their trust in Jesus for their rescue and thus truly becoming a worshipper of God from the heart. They are those being rescued now and having a sure hope for an ultimate rescue when they are resurrected, never to suffer or sin again.

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