I’ll be starting a new series this week, which I’m calling “Stuff Christians Should Know”. These are categories that were preached from the pulpit and taught via catechism for the much of church history. What used to be “common knowledge” isn’t very common these days. In the last few years I’ve spoken to believers who have been raised in church (and some who held various leadership positions) who missed the mark wildly on these basic categories. I think we as mature believers are failing here. We aren’t studying them, we aren’t discipling new believers in them, and frankly we aren’t really even concerned about them. While they may be listed somewhere on the “What we Believe” statement of faith, they’re rarely discussed in “community” or delivered from the pulpit. To that end… here’s the first category:
Speaking with several Christian brothers recently, I was made keenly aware of the problems caused by not understanding basic categories of our faith. There are many reasons for this, but I believe that the main reasons are that it’s not taught from many pulpits, and most Christians don’t read the Bible. Ouch. I know, but stick with me over the next few posts and see if I’m missing the mark on this.
Categories are important. REALLY important. Much of scripture deals with understanding of major categories, some of which I’ll cover over the next several posts; law and grace, justification and sanctification, indicative and imperative, already and not-yet. If you don’t understand these categories, you’re building on a bad foundation. I’ve seen where this leads, and it leads to a performance treadmill, “Do better, try harder”. It leads to focusing on your works instead of His grace. It leads to legalism. Ultimately it leads to focusing on you and your self-improvement program and not on God.
To set the stage for these categories, we’ll need to cover the very basics of what Christianity is. It’s simple. REALLY simple. So simple it’s thought of as “foolishness” by the wise. Unfortunately, many of you haven’t heard this in a long time, and some of you may have never heard it.
God is holy. Utterly holy. All men have sinned and stand condemned before God as just objects of his wrath.
Let that sink in for a minute. The problem is pretty plain, and it’s the most horrific problem you could ever face. The holy creator of the universe has his wrath focused on us. Can you imagine? 10,000 times worse than the worst hurricane and it’s barreling down on us. And the worst part? We deserve it. It’s the just act of a holy God.
You’ve GOT to get this. This is the definition of the problem. If you view your problem as facing the just wrath of a holy God, you need a SAVIOR. If you view sin as “less than the best” and miss the wrath, you don’t need a savior, you just need a LIFE COACH. A better example. A self-improvement plan. I know we don’t use words like Sin, Wrath, Atonement, Justification, and Sanctification much anymore. Why? Because we’re people, and as much as we’d like to think we’re much more sophisticated than those tent-dwellers in the Bible (who didn’t even have facebook!) we’re people..and people don’t want to hear that we’re bad, or helpless, much less both. We *want* to hear that we’re generally good, and we just need to try a little harder, or come hear someone talk about a plan for a better life. If I’m not aware that I’m facing the wrath of a holy God, then my biggest problems are having a better life, having a happier marriage, raising better kids, and hey, why not throw in some health and prosperity too? So, is it all bad news? Doom and gloom? Hellfire and brimstone?
But God, to the council of His own glory, has chosen before the dawn of time to show His unimaginable grace to His sheep (those God saves) by pouring that wrath out upon His own Son in our place. Inredible! So we are not only forgiven, but we are adopted as sons and daughters.
Let that sink in too. Not only forgiven, but adopted. Why? Again, to show his great mercy to the council of His own glory. Not because of how awesome we are. Let’s get that straight. You don’t deserve it. You weren’t smarter, or more spiritual, or “better”. You didn’t do more good works, make a better choice, or check the right box. You deserved wrath, God gave mercy. Hear the difference? Big God, little you. May well sound different than the big You and the God you just push buttons or work a plan to manipulate, huh?
So, when the Father sees believers, he doesn’t see our sin, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. You want something to hang your hope on? Something to tell you that you’re forgiven? How about this: God didn’t just decide to overlook that horrible thing from your past, it’s been paid for. Christ bore THAT sin. This is justification, and it was all His work, none of your own. You didn’t, and couldn’t have earned it. It’s ALL grace.
So, you’re justified. The Father sees you and sees no sin. He sees the righteousness of Christ. So now what? How do I live day to day? Good question. How we live day to day is work. Hard work. It’s the work of killing our sinful nature every day and growing to become more Christlike.
Don’t get confused here. Your sins have been atoned for. The Bible says that unlike the sacrifices of old, Christ, having atoned for our sins, sat down at the right hand of the father, making his atonement once and for all time. It is finished! You don’t continue to work to have your sins forgiven, but it is a daily effort, powered by the Holy Spirit, to grow to be more Christlike.
Do you see the problem with confusion in this area? If you don’t understand the seriousness of sin, you’ll miss the need for a savior. You’ll define your problem from your own heart, and begin to see God as a way to fill those “better life” needs. You’ll hear more about how God can give you better kids, a bigger house, promotions, money. Notice the difference? Notice how one focuses on Him and the other on..you?
If you get the problem right and still confuse justification and sanctification, you end up with a performance treadmill. You have to keep, in essence, re-saving yourself or earning your salvation. And the focus quickly moves from praising Him for His grace to….. you and your works. See a trend here? Maybe we could just use that as a yardstick moving forward in these discussions of categories; Does what you believe focus more on Him and what he had DONE or You and what you are DOING? Which do you figure is more scriptural?
The Gospel of the Bible is this: You were an enemy of God, you were facing His just wrath, you’ve been reconciled through Christ, Repent and believe in Christ. The work has been done. Live out of the peace of that accomplished work.
The popular evangelical message today is: God has a wonderful plan for your life, choose Him, and begin to work the plan to get that life.
These are, quite obviously, not the same thing. You are hearing what Paul warned of as “another gospel”. It’s easy to spot if you understand the categories described above. Wanting to go to heaven, or to have a better, more successful life doesn’t make you a Christian. It makes you not-stupid. It also focuses on the gift, not the giver. I pray that you see Jesus not as a one-time ticket to punch to get to heaven, or a plan to work to get your “best life now”, but as the very Lamb of God, who laid aside all the riches of glory to be born of man, to live a sinless life, and lay down His life for His sheep, having atoned for all the Father had given Him.
Maybe this week you focus on looking at how you view Sin/Savior vs. Life Problem/Life Coach. Listen to sermons you normally listen to and see where the focus is. Read the tweets from your favorite Pastors. See where they focus. I pray the Holy Spirit of our Lord opens your eyes to the truth of His glory this week.
I think Matt Chandler knocked it out of the park on this video, a description of Justification: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Oxt3_nqoFo
I’m always available at Marc5Solas@gmail.com