Saturday, August 16, 2014

Anything else is self-deception and a denial of the Word of God

God is holy and punishes sin, but He is not some vengeful judge standing far above us eager to condemn and destroy.

Instead, He is the One Who became flesh, died for the sins of the world, rose again, and stands alongside us now in our sufferings, struggles, burdens, temptations, and fears. He is not the "friend" that so many imagine Him to be -- as if He's some kind of semi-divine coffee buddy. The Son of God is our gracious Lord (and Brother) Who bears our weaknesses in Himself.

Christians often misinterpret God's Law and Gospel to their own great harm, denying themselves the comfort for which Christ paid with own blood. Following are some of those recent misunderstandings.

I. Who's the buyer?

In the parables of the Treasure in the Field and the Pearl of Great Price, who is the actor? Christ or man?
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:44-46 ESV).
It is tempting to think that we are the one who finds, sells, and buys. (So much of what passes for modern "evangelicalism" comes down to this error.) But that would require us sinful, selfish, sick souls to be a whole lot stronger, mature, and holy than we really are. Than Scripture shows us to be. We're dead in our trespasses and sins, and "every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart[s are] only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5 ESV).

Christ Himself tells us over and over again that it is God Who seeks and saves the lost. What a comfort it is to know that even though we've earned His wrath, God seeks desperately for us wretched sinners not to destroy us, but to save us!

II. Choosing life?

What about Moses' command to "Choose life"? Christians turn this into a slogan, as if they somehow actually do it. Here's what Moses wrote (emphases added):
If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them" (Deuteronomy 30:16-20 ESV).
Did Israel keep God's commands and thereby "choose life"? No, they violated them and so chose death. And what was God's answer to His people's wickedness? He became flesh and died for the sins of the world.

III. Fear whom?

When Christ commanded His people, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28 ESV), to whom was He referring?

Not the devil, for where does God ever say to fear the enemy? But He does say over and over and over again to fear Him:
"Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 41:14 ESV).
And,
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight" (Proverbs 9:10 ESV).
(Besides that, the devil does not rule in hell. He and his fellow fallen are "cast [...] into hell and committed [...] to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment" (2 Peter 2:4 ESV). They're on short leashes until their final, eternal punishment where they "will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night [...]" (Revelation 14:10-11 ESV).

Don't fear that.

IV. Our utmost?

What about the popular book, "My Utmost for His Highness"? The idea is not a Christian, since God calls our good deeds "filthy rags" (and that term is itself a heavy-duty euphemism).

We have nothing to offer God. Our "utmost" is worthless. We're beggars. Christ Himself told His Apostles -- the Apostles -- that, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10 ESV).

And I've never yet met anyone who's done "everything."

V. A final note

In judging a sermon -- or any other "Christian" message -- ask yourself: Who is the actor, God or man? On whom is the focus, us or Him? Is the speaker's interpretation consistent with what Scripture actually says? It is Gospel?

In other words, is the message essentially, "Christ for us," or is it something else? When the "greatest man born of women," John the Baptizer called the people of God to repentance, to whom did he point? Did he cry out, "Behold yourselves, contributors to your own salvation! Do your utmost!" or was his message, "Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!"?

And did the Apostle Paul proclaim, "you have been saved through faith; you're on your own for the rest"?

It is human nature to want to play a part in our own salvation, even when we say we don't. Man either turns Gospel into Law, waters-down the Law, or denies his sin, all of which rob the believer of the comfort for which the Son of God paid so great a price.

Christ is Life, and He showed us the way:
"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 18:10-14 ESV).
The only time we should focus on ourselves is when we use the Law to evaluate our own thoughts, words, and deeds, an exercise which shows us only our sin and our need for the Savior. 

Anything else is self-deception and a denial of the Word of God.