For as long as I can remember there has been a silent cultural message that “if you’re good enough” God will accept you as his own and secure you a permanent place at his side in eternity. From Country and Western songs to Hallmark movie nights we are captured by the idea of a person realizing the error of their ways and making amends to a new status of a life well-lived. This trend has been exacerbated in recent years by a multitude of teachers and preachers in the church who are attempting to remodel Christ as a life coach who desires to lead man to his true potential. Turning from the old “you’re a sinner headed for judgment” model of reaching the masses, the new sentiment is “get on the wagon with Jesus and become something wonderful.” I have to admit it has a nice ring. It’s the stuff that after school specials were made for; grabbing oneself by the bootstraps and initiating the full potential of the human spirit in order to overcome the strongholds of one’s past. Such stories are inspiring, entertaining and motivating. After all, who among us could throw a stone at someone filled with good works, kindness and sacrificial service to others? Indeed, these are the very characteristics that Jesus modeled and are the substance of the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the life of his chosen.
Such ideas represent the heart and soul of a moralistic gospel approach. The model is simple: “Work hard, do better and God will accept you.” And, the presumed merit of such good works is that they will somehow erase the stain of a former life that was decidedly “not good enough” in God’s eyes. But will they really?
Several years ago I saw a news story on television about a woman who was discovered just miles down the road from where I lived. The woman had been missing for many years. She was not missing in the sense that she was lost, but in the sense that she did not want to be found. This woman was an upstanding member of a nearby town. She worked hard, had built a respectable life and was highly regarded by everyone who knew her. She was active in her church and local schools and was known as a model citizen. Yet, she had lived many years under an assumed name for fear of her past. In fact, she had been convicted of horrible crimes at a younger age and had somehow escaped the custody of the state in order to assume a “new” life and identity as the person she wished she had been all along. She had truly changed her ways. Likened to the gospel of moralism, one might consider that she had erased her former sins by her current good life.
When this woman was discovered by authorities the television news became hyperactive about her story. Some argued that she had lived a good and respectable life in the time since her heinous crimes and should be allowed to continue her new-found “good life.” Others argued that this woman could not possibly have been guilty of the crimes that she had been convicted of, for she had proven her mettle publicly for so many years. But, at the end of all such sentiment there was one thing that stood resolutely in the way of her freedom: the law.
The issue this woman had was not her inability to do well by her community. Her issue was not that she was unfit to exist among the other humans in harmony. It was not that she lacked the potential to fit in, be nice, get along with others or that she had failed to do any sufficient good works as deemed proper by the community. Her issue was that she had resolutely broken the law in a major way and had been sentenced to punitive discipline by the law. It frankly did not matter how good of a life she had lived the past number of years or how many people she had helped. Her punishment was indifferent to her good works. This woman had been formerly convicted of murder. She owed a debt to society that could not be paid by simply “doing better from now on.”
This story illustrates perfectly the issue of a moralistic gospel. The scripture says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You’ll notice the accusation clearly: “all have sinned.” The problem man has with God is not that “you have not been good enough.” The issue is that “you have sinned.”
Sin is a specific crime with a prescribed penalty announced from the very beginning of time: “the day you eat of it you will surely die.” The penalty for sin is reaffirmed throughout the scriptures, being clearly shown again in Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In short, our crime of sin is so substantial to God that we have been prescribed the death penalty for it. We can attempt to hide, rebrand our life and/or gain the sentimental approval of everyone around us, but we will never get away from the perfect law that condemns us as sinners. Our penalty will be paid– either by us or by a gracious intercessor.
Friends, the gospel message has never been that God loved you so much he sent Jesus to earth to show you how to live better. The gospel message is- and always has been- that God loved you so much he sent his innocent Son to earth to die for your sins and pay the sentence that you owe.
Because it is our sin – our offense of the law – that condemns us before God, there is simply no manner of good works that we can live up to that will ever save us. There is no statute of limitations on sin. It is a crime punishable by an eternal sentence that must – and will – be paid.
The good works performed by we who are in Christ are symptomatic of our salvation, but can never be the substance of it. Our issue before God is not a lack of good works. It is our offense of sin. For that reason alone, you will never be good enough. Rather, trust Christ’s provision of atonement on your behalf to save you from the wages of your sin and you will be transformed to the worthy and “good enough” creation you need to be.
(Editorial Note: This article was written prior to Sunday’s shooting in Wisconsin. Originally published in the Fort Bend Herald, July 29, 2012. Minor edits have been inserted for this venue and date)
While the escalation of mass homicide in recent years is truly disturbing, perhaps equally ominous is our nation’s continued denial concerning the origination of such evil. Reminiscent of Fort Hood, Columbine and Virginia Tech, the recent shootings in Aurora have once again stirred the country to evaluation regarding the cause of such seemingly disconnected and horrific acts. Within hours of the incident commentators were politicizing the situation with appeals for better mental health care, gun control or public education. One analyst confidently prophesied that, “our country has failed James Holmes” (the shooter) in some unexplained manner.
While a number of theoretical culprits may have been contributing factors to Holmes’ rampage, what is troubling about such responses is that they are built upon two false assumptions. Foremost is the notion that such raw degeneracy is impossible in rational man except for some external influence. Related and secondary is the presumption that proper human initiative can cure such deviation. Mankind is deemed too equitable for such a heinous deed, thus something else must be ultimately liable. Thus, Adam blames Eve while she points at a snake. Responsibility is imagined outside of the offender’s control.
The scriptures are far less diplomatic of human propensity; asserting that all men possess a congenital sin disorder for which they are held responsible. No one has to teach a two year old how to hit a friend in defiance. Every toddler instinctively knows to lie about the half-eaten cookie. Sin is innate from birth; albeit in ways that seem innocuous when displayed from the least defiled among us. While even minor sin condemns us as guilty before a righteous judge, sin has a tendency to grow and mature into something far less cute than an unruly toddler’s tantrum. Romans 1 teaches that men who reject and suppress God’s truths are given over by God to a continued descent into unquenchable depravity. Verse 28 notes, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Verse 30 affirms a further deterioration in that they become “haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil…faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
To those who affirm the trustworthiness of scripture, actions such as those taken by James Holmes are not enigmatic. While surely he is troubled and debased beyond the normative societal rule, his issue remains the same as is common to all. He is guilty of living out the fruition of an uncontrolled sin nature; the epitome of which is self-servitude to the exclusion of God’s supreme rule of law. Our most obvious examples of the destruction of sin are played out in the lives of those likened to Holmes.
More appropriate than a clamor to lawmakers in light of this sort of wickedness is a resolute commitment to the restoration of sinners through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The law of both God and man quite staunchly condemned the behavior of last Friday’s murderous rage before it ever happened. At issue is not the lack of a clear legal standard, but a rebellious soul that considered himself exclusive to it.
Christ was crucified for such sin. He paid sin’s eternal penalty for those who trust Him alone as their reparation before God. Those who reject His provision will continue their slide toward obstinacy to unknown depths of depravity. Those who trust in Christ’s provision receive capacity to overcome sin in their lives, along with its eternal consequences.
Pray, therefore, for the propagation of the gospel in our increasingly wicked world. Therein lies hope for depravity.
|Apostasy is creeping into the church from televisions, books and star-personality tours of rich and blasphemous self-proclaimed prophets of God; many of whom are the most famous pastors and teachers in the U.S. These counterfeit shepherds teach that faith is a material substance more powerful than God, accessible to all men, and capable of creating anything man’s heart can desire by the mere utterance of faith-filled-words. This doctrine has leached into all areas of the theological systems of what are known as “Word of Faith” churches. Virtually every major area of systematic theology in this movement has been taken captive by the repercussions of this primordial error.|
In this heresy, God is limited. Man is unlimited. Satan fills a necessary role in atonement for sin. Health, wealth, power and all means of temptation are heralded as virtues of the faith while millions empty their bank accounts for the promise of such ambition.
Yes, you read the title correctly. To many, Yom Kippur is merely a foreign word that appears on our Outlook calendar each year. It seems that most believers do not even know what it is, where it came from or most certainly what it represents. Yom Kippur is a good reminder of just how much rich heritage of the faith gets lost for modern Gentile believers. Because we do not serve the Mosaic requirements for Holy Days each year, we miss the richness of the Old Testament Feasts; each of which point to and are fulfilled by our Messiah, Jesus, in some way.
Yom Kippur, or The Day of Atonement in English, falls each Hebrew calendar year on the 10th of Tishrei. The 10th of Tishrei this year, on our Western calendar, is tomorrow, October 8, 2011. The celebration of Yom Kippur, for Jews, begins at sundown tonight. Continue reading
(This is the conclusion of The Gospel Truth video blog series. This post assumes the prerequisite watching of earlier videos in the series. Click the link above to watch the entire series up to this week’s installment.)
This week we conclude the whole of the “Gospel Truth” video series. This concluding message is an overview of numerous historical views concerning atonement theories.
As part of this message, special notes are made to a few modern groups who are insistent upon maligning the proper biblical understanding of the atonement in lieu of their own re-packaged agenda-driven models.
Many theological debates concerning the nature of salvation can actually be solved by a simple acknowledgement that the scriptures depict “salvation” as more than a singular moment in time. In fact, the scriptures teach salvation as something which is (or can be) past tense, present ongoing tense and yet future tense – all-the-while affirming earlier tenses.
How can such be? Simply put, salvation is presented in scripture as three related but distinct transformational progressions:
- Justification is the salvation from the penalty of sin; the act of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ into the account of the sinner. This is what many would refer to as “the moment of” salvation.
- Sanctification is an ongoing work of redemption which renders the sinner (on an expanding basis) free from the power of sin. This “continuing work” of salvation in the earthly realm is generally known as “discipleship,” or the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
- Glorification is the final work of redemption which propels the sinner into an eternally glorified (physical and spiritual) state which is free from the presence of sin forever. This is best understood as “the finished work” of salvation; the full restoration of body and soul, preserved eternally in an incorruptible state.
While the term “salvation” applies to each of these realities, the understanding of a procedural salvation – in terms of its unfolding fruition in the life of the sinner – helps to explain many heartily argued points of contention in soteriology.
Today’s video blog examines the process of salvation through these three distinct but related transformations and explains how one may be considered “saved” today, “being saved” today and yet “to be saved” fully at a later time.
I do not remember the exact context, but several weeks ago one of the airy-voiced DJ’s on our local Christian radio station was speaking about a difficult week that she had recently experienced. She spoke of what I consider to be very standard worries involving widely normal life scenarios; akin to perhaps a broken washing machine. Let’s make sure we understand each other: no one was being martyred for the cause of Christ. No one was under intense persecution out of retribution for the preaching of the gospel. No one had been accosted, jailed, stoned, or hanged. It was just a “hard week” in the typical, American, “I was actually inconvenienced” sort of way. Continue reading
This week’s Gospel Truth teaching examines the very apex of the fulfillment of the law: the crucifixion of Christ. As previous lessons have revealed how Christ’s death fulfilled the law of Moses, today’s will focus on the fact that Christ also fulfilled the prophets which spoke of his first coming.
I’ve often said that “the gospel is simple enough for a five year old to receive but complex enough for a lifetime of study.” For many, the simplicity of the gospel message – that Christ died for the remission of sins – leaves them with probing questions as to the why and how of it all. Why did Jesus have to die? How was it exactly that his death satisfied God’s wrath and brought justification to sinful man?
The past few weeks of this series have sought to lay the groundwork for this answer by examining the unfolding of redemptive history; a roadmap of atonement that God developed from the Garden of Eden to the coming of the Christ. The redemptive picture fleshed out in the Law of Moses, however, was only a foreshadowing of what was to come. For, in Christ’s own words, he “did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” (Mat 5:17) What the law and the prophets had written as a promissory note, Christ paid in full – with blood.
Last week’s post examined the general nature of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Yet, the heart and soul of the application of blood atonement rested in a very specific Holy observance: Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement.”
It was on this day, and only this day, that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and made application of blood in the God’s own presence. And, it is the understanding of this observance, which Hebrews will demonstrate in next week’s post, that best reveals how Christ’s actions both fulfilled the law and provided vicarious atonement – once and for all – to vindicate God’s wrath and uphold his just cause to punish sin.