Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Balance of the Gospel

“Behold then the kindness and severity of God”   

Romans 11:22a

When the Gospel is properly preached, there is a balance between the Bad News and the Good News, the severity of God and the kindness of God. “Unmerited favor,” the very definition of grace, actually sums up this innate balance between the two parts of the Gospel message. We are commanded to “behold” this balance, to focus on it and to thoroughly understand it (Phil. 1:27.) Though kindness is mentioned before severity in the above verse, it was written well after Paul had already devoted his first three chapters to the Bad News before he introduced the Good News at Romans 3:21. The order of presentation is important because the Bad News establishes the context and need of the Good News. Therefore, I will also begin in that order.

The severity of God refers to His justice, holiness, and position as Creator. In no way do these attributes diminish God’s love or goodness, but rather reinforce them. By nature creatures are dependent, yet the entire human race has chosen to rebel against and reject their Maker. This insanity is called SIN. In our quest to become like gods, we gained instead the knowledge of evil, spiritual blindness, and death. Prideful insanity deceives us into loving its lies and our chains of corruption, while hating the very One who is our source of life, truth, and fulfillment. We continually take sustenance from our Creator without even a word of thanks. God declares that all have sinned. No one does good, not even one. We are all guilty of sin, cut off from God, and under His wrath. It is only just that we must die. The proper response in accepting this Bad News is to literally shut our mouths. No more boasting. No more suppressing the truth by arguing against God or making excuses.  Agreement with God’s judgment produces SILENCE. We are guilty. It is at this point that we are ready to hear the Good News.

The kindness of God refers to His innate goodness, love, compassion, and mercy. He alone is the source of these qualities. From within His own nature, God has chosen to save a people for Himself from a hostile, sinful and hopeless humanity. God incarnate, Jesus Christ, came to earth to pay the death penalty of sin by taking our place on the cross. His resurrection proves His power and authority to be our savior. God’s Holy Spirit raises His children from spiritual death, being born again as new creatures able and willing to seek God. Those believing in Jesus Christ are forgiven of all their sins, are now reconciled and have PEACE with their Maker, and have eternal life. This plan of salvation originated with God alone. No one can claim that he deserves God’s favor. The balanced Gospel levels humanity both in sin and salvation so that no one can boast over another. Instead, it produces genuine humility.

When one part of God’s Message is emphasized over the other, it becomes distorted and diluted and ceases to be the powerful tool of God for saving sinners. Both the justice and love of God must be equally preached. Over emphasizing “unmerited” produces condemnation, legalism, and fear. Over emphasizing “favor” produces pride, lawlessness, and presumption. Therefore, since God has entrusted His church to proclaim His Gospel to the world, it should be our top priority to get this balance correct. 

We are to speak this truth in love. To distort truth in order to avoid offense is not true love. It is only by the Gospel of Grace that God saves souls. How much do we really care about the people around us? They will perish without the Gospel. Moved by compassion, love tells the truth even to its enemies, because it identifies with their need of deliverance from sin and death. Richard Baxter once wrote, “I preach as a dying man to dying men.”

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Great Debate: Who Am I?

A distinct quality of being human is our self awareness; we know we exist. The question that this self consciousness inevitably asks then is, "Who am I?" Conflicting answers to this fundamental question have sparked the great debate of human history. It continues to be front page news. How we view ourselves and others affects everything we do.

Some answer that we are only animals, fellow members of biological life caused by natural evolution. Therefore, all life forms must have equal rights. This view also expects humans to be driven by their natural instincts (self gratification and self preservation) to mate and survive as other animals do. Restraints on such behavior are claimed to be unnatural and unrealistic. Promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, polygamy, and other sensual behaviors have no moral relevance. Being mere animals, killing human beings can also be justified if they interfere with a seemingly greater cause. Abortion and euthanasia become acceptable and even altruistic practices. Also, reacting to mankind’s dominance, some view humans as evil animal parasites who are destroying nature. There are even those who advocate the genocide of over 80% of the world's human population in order to save the planet.

In contrast, others believe human beings are "little gods." We were created by something or someone superior; an extraterrestrial being who seeded our earthly beginning, or perhaps an all encompassing universal intelligence that has been imparted deep within us. Regardless, if we follow the right procedures through meditations, rituals, gurus, or spirit guides, we can learn the esoteric wisdom which unlocks this divine light that dwells within our hearts. All religions are said to provide paths to this same end. And once humanity rediscovers its true divinity, it will be at peace and at one with this universal spirit, with one another, and with creation.

Combining aspects of these two answers are those who describe humanity as an evolutionary pyramidal hierarchy of biological castes, ranging from the lower animal masses to the ruling top elite of little gods. Wealth and power often are the measurements by which this elite group identifies itself. Some say humans evolved from the same root, but certain branches demonstrated their biological superiority by evolving at a faster rate up the godhood scale. Others believe that the ruling classes evolved into or always have been an advanced human species intellectually distinct from the rest of humanity. Royal blue bloods vs. commoners, priests vs. laity, masters vs. slaves, rich vs. poor, racism, and sexism, are examples of perspectives that divide humanity into inferior and superior strata. Seeing themselves as little gods, those in power often believe they have the absolute divine right to determine the fate of the vast populace under their power. Many governmental systems function under this attitude, whether openly or behind closed doors.

Christianity teaches that human beings are neither animals or little gods. God created us, both male and female, in His own image and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over the plants and animals. Humans, as unique spiritual creatures, were able to commune with God. Unfortunately, this ability was soon lost when our first parents chose to distrust God’s goodness and to disobey Him by eating the forbidden fruit that Satan promised would make them into gods. This first sin brought death to the earth and spiritual darkness; irreparably corrupting the human heart towards deceitfulness and evil. The result: every human being is born a slave to sin, hostile towards God, as walking dead, without hope, and cut off from Him.

The Gospel further explains that Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came into this world in order to save sinners. Jesus lived a sinless life among humans, performing many miracles so that we might believe His words. Yet, more essential than the revelations He imparted was the substitutionary atonement that Jesus offered up by taking our punishment upon Himself. Christ paid the penalty for our sins with His own death on the cross. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and, after appearing to hundreds of eyewitnesses, ascended into heaven where He remains until His second coming. It is through this same resurrection power that chosen people are born again by God’s Spirit with a new nature formed within their hearts; a nature which is willing to commune with God, to trust in His goodness, and to believe what He says is true. Through faith in Jesus Christ, humans are forgiven their sins and become children of God. It is God who intervenes to redeem humans from sin and death. Since all have sinned, it is only by God’s grace that any are saved. Humanity is leveled, being made equal both in sin and salvation. Therefore no one can boast, except in the Lord. The human race is thus divided into only two groups, the saved and the unsaved. However, God alone can know the human heart and therefore is the sole judge of who belongs in each group.

Animals and little gods do not sin and therefore do not need a savior. This is why those who hold these views have no real use for Jesus Christ or for Christianity. Jesus makes a lousy spiritual teacher and prophet if humanity doesn’t really need saving. However, only blind ideology can claim with a straight face that humans are no different than other animals. Our vast superiority in building civilizations, technologies, languages, music, the arts, etc. is simply overwhelming. We are biological, but we are more... we are intelligent, spiritual beings made in the image of God. Every human life is sacred. Furthermore, we were created to rule this world. It was made for us to populate and to enjoy. God would not have commanded humanity to multiply and fill the earth without having also provided the renewable resources necessary to maintain such a population. The desire to commit worldwide genocide is demonic.

What lowers us to act even worse than beasts is our fallen sin nature. That evil exists within the human heart is obvious. Why else would we spend so much of our lives trying to cleanse, heal, fix, and improve ourselves? Explain also why we need external restraints to keep human society from devouring itself. Good government puts checks and restrictions on its leaders just because it knows humans are sinners and power easily corrupts. God will hold people accountable for our evil as well; whether cruelty to animals, willfully devastating our environment, murdering, stealing, abusing, and treating humans as mere animals ... justice will come.

If we are already little gods then why did Adam and Eve not know this? Humans were never gods and never will be. Only darkness and deception are found deep within the human heart. Because of our finite limitations, we are incapable of knowing ourselves without outside illumination. Jesus alone is the light that resurrects us and enables us to see ourselves as we really are and to know and commune with the only true God.