Sunday, March 12, 2017

No One Ever Changes

A few days ago I got the chance to visit with my best friend Katy in Chicago and she and I happened to meet an old acquaintance.  I had not seen him in thirty years.  It was great to share a meal with him and chat a bit.  But I realized a curious thing after we had parted.  The conversation over our meal had been, at least in its themes, a repeat of the last conversation I had had with him over thirty years before.  But as if this were not extraordinary enough I realized in a flash of insight something even more important although outwardly unrelated to our pleasant mealtime conversation: I had not changed in thirty years; I was still the same destructive, self-destructive, arrogant and cold-hearted sinner that I had always been. Just in case the reader think that I am being too hard on myself, consider that the apostle Paul says as much; he refers to himself in the present as a sinner. (I Tim. 1:13)  But here’s the rub, or more precisely the beautiful dialogue into which the Bible leads us, we are also completely changed, “therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, look, the new has come”  (2 Cor. 5:17) Paul expands on this good news in another place “ I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”  In other words, we have died and the life we now lead is entirely by the faith, the establishment, the “amen power” that raised Jesus from the dead. As Mahalia Jackson sings “I woke this morning!” How? by that faith, a power completely outside ourselves that comes straight from heaven and goes directly into our hearts.  Truly, we walk by faith and not by sight. Do we understand the indescribably good gift that God has given to us? * So you see, we are changed; we are the first fruits of the change, of the immortality that is to come (I Cor. 15), but lest we get on our high horse and ride off into the sunset of delusion, the Bible and life itself reminds us from time to time of what is also the truth; one that is less weighty but revelatory and saving: that we are still what we ever were, as Paul puts it, “Oh wretched man that I am” (note the present tense).  No need to worry about getting a swelled head, our loving Father keeps us from that and all evils. 

*Actually, we can't understand this, if we think we live by our own faith, if we do, the life in Christ becomes not an indescribably great and gracious gift but rather some kind of dubious exchange with God.  But if faith is something quite different, if it is the power with which the Messiah is girded and strengthened, if it is what the King James Bible translates as establishment in reference to Samuel then we learn what gratitude really is, then we learn how boasting is totally excluded.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Result, Not Condition

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son in order that all those believing might not perish but have eternal life.”  This is perhaps the most well known verse in the Bible but what does it mean?  Does it mean that unless we believe we will not live eternally?  Certainly we know that unbelievers and many other types of sinners will end up in the lake of fire. (Rev. 21:8) Isaiah tells us, “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”  Sin has no place in the New Jerusalem. The question is, will there be any cowards, or unbelievers or murderers or sinners to throw into that lake?  You see, when John speaks about “all those believing,” he is not setting a condition, rather he is describing the result.  Any believing on our part is the result, not the condition of God’s love and the sending of his son. Remember the Red Sea.  God saved the children of Israel and then they believed.  How could it be less with the Lord Jesus?  Sometimes we are also deceived by our interpretation of Romans 10 where it says that “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”  We think that here too, Paul is imposing a condition on salvation, “you have to believe otherwise you will not be saved.”  But what is happening in Romans 10 is different.  Paul is speaking to those at Rome who are anxious.  They're not Jewish; Israel is the apple of God’s eye but what about them, what about people of different ethnicities?  Paul calms them, “your believing, your calling on the Lord is assurance that God has already broken into you life, already saved you and he's faithful and will stick by you all the way!  The “if” is not a condition, it is a comfort.  It turns out that the only requirement for salvation is to be a sinner.  What happens if all your life you have never believed?  The answer is we do not know.  We know that God is good and he sees all the good you have done in your life.  We know too that death is no impediment to Jesus.  He goes down into hell and preaches to the worst of the worst. (I Peter 3:19) As the theologian, Markus Barth said, God is both willing and able to save all men, turning them to the truth.  Some object, “my whole life I have been believing, how is it that someone who in their life never knew Jesus might enter the kingdom too?  How is that fair?”  But isn't this the objection of the workers in Matthew 20? What is the Lord’s answer? “Friend, I am doing you no wrong…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Why do you give me the evil eye because I am good?”