From Jesus to Religion Chapter 10 The Goal of Religion

Chapter 10

The Goal of Religion

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Religion is man’s attempt, through his own efforts, to close the gap between himself and the transcended. In a sense, religion itself is evidence of a vague remembrance of a lost relationship. Therefore, we might conclude that the goal of all religion is to unite God and man, or what we might call the “at-oneness” of God and man. In religion man tries to bridge the chasm between himself and his God. The idea to bind back or to bind together is inherent in the root word from which we derive the word religion. Although the goal of religion is a worthwhile one, we will see that it is not achievable.

Mankind’s efforts to bind himself back to God have taken many forms throughout the history of the world. Usually these forms are nothing more than the projection of man’s wishes or a reflection of his own culture that he projects into heaven. In other words, man creates God in his own image.

Therefore, it is not surprising that most tribal gods resemble and validate the society they ruled over. They are nothing more than a reflection of the culture that created them. In fact, this is not like Western Christianity that has subverted the teachings of Jesus to justify its capitalistic system and the brutal wars it has fought to support it. Though man is and was self-deceived and often self-justified in creating these gods in his own image, he was not self-satisfied. There still remained a nagging awareness that there was something more than the dumb idols that he had created in his own image. There also remained this terrible sense of alienation that his tribal gods could not deal with. So there were a few men who began to seek the true God apart from religion.

Salvation Without Religion

The greatest example of this in Biblical history was the man named Abraham. Abraham did not seem to be an overly religious man, at least according to our standards. Yet he left his father’s home and his tribal gods to seek a new land and the true God. We are told he found God, or should we say, God found him outside of any organized religion. Not only did God find him outside of religion, but God also saved him outside and without any religion. We might say God saved him in the place where God put him, but that place was not organized religion. Though God has often used religious men to proclaim His will, when it comes to a paradigm, or model of faith and salvation, God used a non-religious Abraham. This is not to say that Abraham never practiced religion. For after God chose Abraham, we find him proclaiming his faith by making an altar to God. However, this simple proclamation of faith is a far cry from the cultic worship of organized religion.

From the story of Abraham, we come to understand that it was God’s intent from the beginning to save all men apart from religion, through a personal relationship with Him through faith. His goal was to have such an intimate relationship with His people that they would be called the friends of God. This was to be even as their father Abraham was called the friend of God (James 2:23). His method of achieving this was to create a new being or a new humanity that would relate to Him not through the mediation of religion, but directly, friend to friend. This was fulfilled when we see Jesus (God among us) calling His disciples friends (John 15:15).

God’s intent to create a new humanity or new being did not start with the coming of Christ. No, it actually began in eternity and took its first form with Adam. It was revealed in a fuller degree in the man Abraham and later revealed completely in His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12 ff).
Thus in the story of the exodus we see God bringing the family of Abraham, which by that time had become a nation, out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai. Here they were to enter into a faith relationship with Him, the kind of relationship He had with their father Abraham. However, the people chose not to have a faith relationship with Him. Instead, they chose to have a mediated relationship with Him through the mediation of religion. Therefore, God gave them a religion, with the idea that the religion might mature them, or at least give them enough time to mature to the point where they could have a true faith relationship with Him in Christ (Gal. 3:25-27). He did this not because of anything He saw in them as a people, but because of the promises He had made with their father Abraham (Deut. 7:7-9). He also promised them that He would send someone in the future who would lead them into this faith relationship He had with their father Abraham (Deut. 18:17). We see this promise fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Christ.

There is Biblical evidence to show that God, at the time He was developing a relationship with Abraham, was also in a relationship with other men of faith. For example, there was at the time, Melchizedek, king of Salem, who is referred to as a priest of the Most High God. Later on there was Balaam, the prophet of Pethor, who was outside of the covenant, yet had a relationship with the true God. In this, we might gather that God never had an exclusive people. In fact, the nation of Israel was called to be a servant and a blessing as it mediated God’s presence to all of mankind. So how can anyone interpret his or her calling as condemnation for the rest of the world? From the very beginning, the nation of Israel was a symbol that God not only loved them, but also the world. Today the body of Christ has inherited this role of being the symbol of God’s love for man. Wherever Christians go in the world, they are to proclaim God’s love in word and deed. Thus they become living symbols of God’s love for all of mankind (John. 3:16).

The Making of Religion

Though God had developed a faith relationship with a few men in recorded history, the majority of men continued to manufacture their gods and their religions. We moderns should not be too hard on ancient man. For the only difference between them and us is the number of gods we have created. They had their tribal gods, and we have our personal gods. They created their gods in the likeness of their culture, and we create ours in the likeness of the individual self. It could be a toss-up as to which is more primitive. They used their religions and gods to validate their culture, and we do the same. They used their religions to restrain and to justify their brutality, and we do the same. It seems from all of this, religion is both a blessing and a curse. The apostle Paul came to this conclusion and saw this paradox of religion when he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25). God rescues us from the body-religious by judging it in Jesus as weak and unprofitable, nailing it to the cross with His Son, thus putting it to death (Heb. 7:18-19, Col 2:14).

The Paradox of Religion

The paradox of religion is by all human standards, it should work. Religion’s chief tool in binding man back to God is law, and we all know that law is good therefore religion should work. The truth is that law is good when it is used lawfully. It is here that religion fails, for it neglects to see that law is not the way for man to be at one with God, nor can man bind himself back to God through obedience to a law or through the practice of religious ritual (Gal. 3:21-22). Therefore, it is not lawful to use law (religion) as a mediator or a bridge between God and man. The lawful use and purpose of the law would be to view it as a schoolmaster or a tutor who was put over mankind until men had enough self-knowledge and God-knowledge to seek God through faith. When men become of age, they no longer need religion. The Scripture tells us that a man becomes of age when he realizes that he cannot approach God through religion, but must come through simple faith in Jesus Christ.
In other words, religion and its laws are not for the spiritually mature, but rather for those who are still spiritually immature and in need of external rules and regulations to control them. In the book of Colossians, Paul addresses the subject of religion and its rules. “Since you die with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch? These are all destined to perish with use because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23).

Paul’s list of don’ts sounds a lot like many modern preachers of religion as they wail against the social sins of their congregations. To the spiritually immature, this appears to be God’s will, when in reality it reduces God to a tribal god. This tribal god is used to support one brand of morality and culture. This god is usually the kind that is chosen by and benefits the ruling class and the clergy. Preaching against social sins also show a profound misunderstanding of the nature and degree of the problem of sin.

The True Bridge to God

God intended the law (religion) to be used as a sign to point the way to the true bridge to God (Gal 2:19). It points to Christ who is the true bridge to God. In this, the law pointed to its own end or goal (Rom. 10:4). With this in mind, we might look at John the Baptist as the final embodiment of the law and prophets. He was the forerunner who was to point the way to the perfect revelation of God, which is Christ. In speaking about his mission he said, “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3:3). In this act of preparing the way for Jesus, John symbolized the law (religion) and its divine purpose of pointing man to Jesus. Unlike many modern Christians, John understood the temporal nature of his ministry and the law (religion). This can be seen in his statement, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). In other words, religion must decrease in order for Christ to increase.

In contrast to the law (religion), we might say that the true bridge to God is the way of grace (promise) and that the promise has been embodied in the man we call Jesus. The pinnacle of this promise is seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For it is there that we see a preview of what God is going to do for and to all men on the final day. Therefore, in the Christ event we see judgment and promise. We see judgment on death and sin. Sin being death in the form of life is completely negated along with death. Moreover, in the resurrection we see God foreshadowing the fulfillment of all of His promises. In the resurrection of Christ, God is promising a life with Him that is beyond anything we can imagine (Eph. 3:11).

It is here that we see Jesus as the true end and fulfillment of all religion. If you remember, I said the goal of all religion was the oneness of God and man. It is in the resurrection of Jesus that God foreshadows the oneness He will have with His people in the final resurrection of the dead: a relationship that we now have by faith in our new place, which is in Christ, a faith that believes that whatever God did in His Son He will also do in all of His people. What did God do in His Son? He formed a new creature, a new kind of being—a being that never existed before Christ took on flesh. In the mighty acts of the incarnation and resurrection, God became man, and man became God. Thus in Jesus we have a God-man being (for a lack of a better term) who is the prototype of the new creation of God. In this new creation we see God and man coming together in the person of Jesus Christ and forming the new being. In the Christ event, God shares with man a preview of where He is taking humanity. So in Jesus Christ, we see the goal and destiny of the new humanity. Thus we see God’s eternal purpose of becoming one with humanity in and through the new being, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10, 3:11-2). He became like us, that we might become like Him (1 John 3:2, 1 Cor.15:49).

Death, Resurrection, and Atonement

In much of traditional Christian theology, the atonement of Christ is said to have taken place on the cross through His death. However, I believe that this view of the atonement is too narrow. It does not give to the resurrection of Christ the importance it rightly deserves. I believe it is the entire Christ event that makes up the atonement. This would include the incarnation, His life, death, and resurrection, and in a sense, even His second coming. In a very real sense, Jesus Himself is the atonement. Each of the events in His life makes up a part of the whole story of how God has made man at-one with Himself through His Son. To use only the metaphors of death, sacrifice, and law to understand the atonement is too limited and tends to fragment the gospel. This limitation destroys its unity and causes the neglect of some aspects and undue emphasis on others.

I also propose that the idea of atonement is a prophetic metaphor that prefigures what will happen to all believers in the resurrection. In fact, it already has begun to happen in the new humanity. For Jesus, as the head of this new humanity, now stands in the presence of God as the one new and complete man who represents the entire race of men. The new humanity is being created in Him and in His likeness. In this one perfect and complete God-man, figuratively stands all of the new humanity in an at-one relationship with God. So we see that it was the resurrection that sealed the atonement and becomes a promise and a foreshadowing of the future resurrection and at-oneness with God. In this, Jesus is the first one of the new humanity to enter into the heavens to experience an at-one relationship with the Father. In solidary with Him, we now experience that relationship through faith (Eph. 2:4-6).

Moreover, in Jesus the final resurrection has already begun and because of our faith-union with Him, our resurrection is therefore guaranteed (Rom. 6:1-11). It is on this promise, the apostle Paul bases his argument in his letter to the Corinthians that it is in the resurrection of Jesus that we see the beginning of the general resurrection: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor. 15:12-13). Paul can argue like this because he saw the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the end-time resurrection. For Paul to deny the general resurrection is to deny the resurrection of Christ Himself. If this is the case, how can a Christian believe in the doctrine of reincarnation? Christians believe in resurrection.

Paul adds further strength to this idea when, in the same chapter, he refers to Christ as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor.15:20). The word firstfruits in this expression is our particular concern. There, with few exceptions, firstfruits have a specifically cultic significance. It refers to the firstfruits offerings of grain, wine, cattle and the like, appointed by Moses. The point of these sacrifices is that they are not offered up for their own sake, as it were, but as representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth. They are a token expression of recognition and thanksgiving that the whole has been given by God. Firstfruits express the notion of organic connection and unity, the inseparability of the initial quantity from the whole. It is particularly this aspect that gives these sacrifices their significance.

“These ideas of representation and organic unity, apart from the specifically cultic connotations of the Septuagint usage, find expression in the use of firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15:20. The word is not simply an indication of temporal priority; rather it brings into view Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse, it can be said that Paul views the two resurrections not so much as two events, but as two episodes of the same event. At the same time, however, he clearly maintains a temporal distinction between them. Then (v.23) makes this apparent.” (Resurrection and Redemption by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

Resurrection, the Goal of all Religion

In light of the above, we might say that the goal of religion and all of life is resurrection. Not just the resurrection of any man, but of God’s one and only Son. Here, it is important for us to understand that the expression “one and only Son” and “only begotten Son” are used in the Scripture mainly to denote uniqueness and authority and not order of origin. Jesus is the unique Son of God because he is one of a kind. He is the prototype of the new creation or new humanity that has been in the plan of God since the beginning of time. In Scripture we see the ongoing history of God’s creative acts as He is creating this new humanity. All of God’s mighty acts were parts of a single and progressive creative act that finds its completion in Christ.

Much of man’s emptiness and his corresponding need for religion comes from his vague consciousness of being incomplete, and much of his sense of alienation is a longing to be made whole or complete. This alienation is heightened when men try to bring themselves to completion without God. No man will find completion in anything outside of God’s plan. God’s plan for completing man is man’s bodily resurrection in the likeness of Jesus. You might say that much of human anxiety comes from the fact that mankind is only partially created as he progressively moves to his completion in the resurrection (2 Cor. 3:18). Therefore, believers should look suspiciously on any teaching or movement that promises completeness or liberation before the Parousia (second coming). We miss the mark when we try to find fulfillment or completeness in anything in this life; this includes religion, even the Christian religion. In fact, religion is one of the easiest ways to miss the mark, for it gives its practitioners a false sense of completeness. No one will find completeness and wholeness until God is finished with him. He is not finished with believers until their bodies are resurrected in the likeness of God’s Son (Rom. 8:22-30).

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we see in capsulated form the entire history of God’s creative acts and eternal purpose. All of God’s dealing with mankind is summed up in Jesus. We might say that Jesus was God’s epitome of His creative history. Therefore, we find Jesus being referred to as the new Adam, the new Israel, the new creation, the new exodus, new Torah, etc. All of these things point to the final and complete creative act of God, which is Jesus Christ raised from the dead. This helps us to understand why such emphasis is placed on the death and resurrection of Christ. These two events are viewed in Scripture as two parts of one event and mark the coming together and completion of God’s plan for a new humanity that has been truly created in His image.The death and resurrection marked the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose in creating the new being (Eph. 3:11).

The mystery of the new being is that His body is made of many members (Eph. 3:6). Hence, we see in the death of Christ, the death of the old humanity, and in His resurrection, the creation of the new humanity. In fact, the whole thrust of Romans chapter six is that if you are really a part of this new humanity, your life will reflect it. In this chapter, Paul points to Christian baptism as a sign, promise, and a seal on God’s part that one has been united with Christ and will share in His resurrection. On man’s part it is a sign, promise, and seal that
one has entered into solidarity with Jesus and His people. Our baptism into Christ is a proclamation that we have entered the history of the one representative man, sharing not only in His history and suffering (cross), but also His future (Gal. 3:26-27). In the Christ event, the history of God and the story of man merge into one story and one history, forming one new creation, a new creation where there is no need for religion (mediator) for God is present in the person of His Son (Rev. 21:1-4, 22-27).

We have seen that the goal of all religion is the oneness of God and man. We have also seen that only Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that goal, for it is in Him that man is bound back to God in an eternal oneness. If this is the case, the Christ event marked the death or end of all religion (Rom. 10:4). As it did two thousand years ago, the death and resurrection of Christ still demands a radical way of looking at all things anew. In fact, it brings into question many aspects of the very religion that now wears the name of the crucified one. At the very least, it demands that we reflect anew on the meaning of the Christ event. For a generation, which is so close to the coming of its Lord, does not the resurrection of Christ demand that we see Him at the door at all times? Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Death and Dying

Death and Dying

Today people are so afraid and terrified of death that they refuse to talk about it or even think about it.  To them, as it was for Job of the Old Testament, death is the king of terror’s.  We often play language games to try to soften it by changing the word from death, to expiring or passing.  The atheist expires, the Christian passes.

No matter how you look at it death is a gateway, either into a new state of being, or non-being.  These are the only two possibilities.  For the believer it is a gateway into a new state of being, which allows them to live in a state of hope.  To the atheist or the materialist it is a gateway into non-being.  It is simply nonexistence as a living conscious being.  It is a return to the dust of the earth.  However, we know from science that nothing just stops existing.  Matter cannot be destroyed, it can only change.  The big question is, does consciousness go on?  The materialist says no, for to him there can be no consciousness apart from the physical brain. But if we asked the question what is consciousness, we come up with the answer that consciousness, in the end, is information and information can exist without the brain.  What about radio and television waves?  You could say they are information and once formed they will continue forever.

Dying is not death, it is the process by which we enter our new state of being or existence.  There is usually some pain associated with this process of dying as with birth.  In fact, we begin to die the day we begin to live.  Life and death seem to travel together on our journey through this life. It sometimes appears on the surface that death is the goal of life, but then for the Christian there is Jesus.

When it comes to the pain that is often associated with dying, the good news is that Gods grace has given us medication to lessen the physical pain.  There should be no severe pain in the dying process for most.  Unbelievers may say that man created the medication.  No, God made it, man discovered it and developed it.  However, if for some reason we must experience a painful death, fear not.  The Holy Spirit will help you to endure it and as you endure it, look past it to the joy that is before you, even as our Lord did.

In our culture aging and death is looked upon as a disease that medical science is supposed to cure, or as an enemy that is trying to kill us and must be destroyed.  This struggle against aging and death comes from mans rebellion against nature and the God of nature.  Humanity seems to be in rebellion against all the limits of God including death. Man will not accept death for he views it as the ultimate limit placed on man by God.  Therefore, as in the story of the fall, he is still trying to storm the gates of heaven to seize eternal life.  Yet at the gate, he stills finds the angel with the flaming sword, saying you cannot enter.  All this comes from man’s rebellion and his refusal to except his own mortality and his fallen state.  Once a person excepts that this is a fallen world and that Christ is the way out, death simply becomes the way out.  A way out into a better existence, a way out that we need not fear.  It simply becomes the next step towards eternity.

For the Christian, death is like departing on a journey from one place to another with a stop in between.  Let me explain, the Christian faith teaches that we reside in the body, but we are more than a body.  There is the inner man of the heart.  Both the apostles, Paul and Peter, refer to our body as a tent that we dwell in.  The apostle John also speaks of Jesus, as dwelling among us in the tabernacle or tent.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

2 Peter 1:13-15

“I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”

John 1:14

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (literally in the Greek; tabernacle or tented among us), and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The problem with understanding death begins with a miss-understanding of the nature of man.  Man is body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and death is the separation of the spirit and soul of man from his body.  It is the Spirit that gives life and when the spirit departs, the body dies.  When the spirit departs it goes back to the God that gave it, or does it?

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer said, “I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.  Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both:  As one dies, so dies the other.  All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals.  Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust, all return.  Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclésiastes 3:18-22)

I don’t believe, that Solomon was saying that he did not  believe that the spirit of man continues after death.  He was simply saying there was no evidence.  He was not certain. The Hebrews believed in an afterlife but it was vague and fuzzy.  Of course, the human mind thinks in pictures and to grasp something of the afterlife, which is  based on our present experience, we must use a picture of a places, made up of other places or parts of places, that we have seen.  That afterlife place for the Hebrews was given the name of Sheol, or literally the place of the unseen.  It was in Hebrew thinking a dark and foreboding place.  This idea corresponds to Hades in the New Testament, which appears to be a waiting place for the final judgment and yet it does seem to  foreshadow the eternal state of a person, i.e. they have a knowledge of their final destiny.

However, in the New Testament it is still a fuzzy and vague place.  The most we know about it is seen in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  This vagueness is probably due to the fact that it is only viewed as a temporary stop on the way to eternity.  One thing about the place of the unseen does change in the New Testament.  In the New the righteous are in a state of bliss  while the evil  are in a place of torment.  This separation could have grown out of the belief that the righteous can never be separated from God and if God is with them somehow they cannot be in a place of evil or darkness  (Rom 8:28-39).

The next step into eternity will be the great wakeup call of the trumpet of God and the voice of the archangel announcing the end of time and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At that time all of the dead in Hades will be resurrected with new immortal bodies.  Those who are still alive at his coming will  be transformed and given new spiritual bodies.  Then all men will stand before the great white throne  and be judged by what they did in their former bodies.

The resurrection and the judgment of God, mark God’s final word on sin and death.  Both are destroyed in the eternal lake of fire, which is a symbol of finality.

“Listen, I tell you a mystery.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ  (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).

The Good News for America

The Good News for America

In a society that is all about comfort, ease, pleasure and feeling good, how can we call a person to suffer and die to themselves and live for others?  In other words, what is good about the good news of Christ?

What is the good news of Christ?  Is it good health and worldly blessing or is it something different? The gospel is that Christ died for our sins, and that God raised him from the dead,  nothing more and nothing less. Why are the death and resurrection of Christ the good news?  Well, it is only good news if you recognize that mans greatest enemies are sin and death.  If you recognize this, then the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news in all the world. Let’s take a look at the trouble that the apostle Paul called the law of sin and death.

The literal meaning of sin is, to miss the mark.  It was the term in which the spotter, who stood next to the target, would yell back to the archers when an arrow missed the bulls-eye.  You sinned; you missed the mark you were aiming at.  When the New Testament says you have sinned it is saying that you have missed the mark that God has set for you as a human being created in His likeness. You have missed what it means to be truly human.

What is his likeness?  Now the likeness of God is a deep subject, but we can easily grasp some things about it. The Bible tells us that God is love and from this, we can gather when we were created in his image that we were created for love.  That is we were created to have a love relationship with God and reflect that image to all around us.

But, how can this be if God is a spirit?  How can we love a spirit?  That is a tough question for a three dimensional being to comprehend.  Even so, one thing I do know is that we can reflect God by loving those that have been created in his image.  Human beings are living symbols of the living God. In fact, they are the only thing in all of creation that image’s God. So, to love or hug a person is to hug God. To smile at another human is to smile at God.  To do good to another human is to do it to and for God (Matt.25:30-40).  It is here we can also see what sin really is.  It is doing something to hurt a fellow human created in God’s image or neglecting to do something one ought to do to help a fellow human.  It is breaking or being unfaithful to the love relationship we have or should have with our fellow-man.  When you act in an unloving way toward your brother, you have sinned.  If you break faith with the image of God, you have sinned against God.

Now the next question is what is love? We have seen that God is love, and this is where Jesus comes in. Jesus came here to reveal the father (John 17).  He came to teach us what true love looks like.  In making known the father he made known what is true love.  He did it by living and dying a sacrificial life for others.  In this, he lived for God and fulfilled the great commandment “to love God with your whole heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  This work of revealing the Father as sacrificial love reached its peak and fulfillment in his death on the cross. As he died, he said, “it is finished.”  In this act of dying for others Jesus fulfilled the law of love and opened a new living way of approaching God, not through religion but through love, not just any kind of love but through the kind of love demonstrated by Jesus.

The atonement is God demonstrating his sacrificial love in Christ for his creation.  How can the death of Christ be reduced to a payment of a debt, to a broken law?  The atonement must be grounded in God’s love, not the law.  Love freely given,  never demands its pound of flesh as the law does. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”  In the death of Christ, God deals with the sin problem by covering it with his love; while at the same time demonstrating his love to man by covering over with his love their anger and hatred. “Father forgive them, for they know not, what they do.”  In this act of love, he revealed his love,  by forgiving freely, mans hatred and anger. (Colossians 1: 21, 22)

In the death of Christ, we also see a revelation or a revealing of man’s nature. Man is angry and filled with hate and a false sense of justice and righteousness.  Man needs his pound of flesh. The law is broken, someone must pay; someone must be punished for the law is their God.  I find it peculiar that many in the Christian movement have embraced a theory of the atonement which image’s God in exactly the same way as sinful man, strange indeed.

This work of revealing the Father is to be continued by his body, the church.  This revealing of the father begins in the church by believers loving one another, just as Christ has loved them. In loving one another as Christ has loved them, they show the world the Father even as Christ showed them the Father.  When the church fails to do this, it is missing the mark and is living in sin.  When it is living in sin it is living under sin and is walking in the flesh and cannot be pleasing to God.  It is a terrible sin to hurt or hinder the work of the church from revealing the Father.  This happens whenever a member of the church acts in an unloving manner toward a brother or for that matter, another human being.

We are not alone in this work of revealing the Father to the world. God has put his Spirit in the body of Christ and in each of its members, to help them in this great work of revealing the true God.  In truth, this work is the work of God and when he calls us, He calls us to join him in that work, and if we accept that call, we become his fellow workers.

We can gather from all this that we are most human and most godly when we are loving our brothers and honoring the love relationship with God and man. When we fail to do this, we sin. We miss the mark of loving one another, the very reason for which God has created us.

The gospel of Christ is the message that God has forgiven our unloving acts and has taken them on Himself. Furthermore, it tells us if we put our faith in Christ, he will put his divine life in our hearts to help us to become like the Father. When a person believes, they begin to find themselves being transformed into the image of God as their love for God and man grows.

However, the gospel could not be the good news of God unless it addresses the problem of death. In actuality, most people think of death as a problem at the end of one’s life, but when we take a closer look, it is something that affects all of life.  It is as the Bible said, the king of terrors that cast a shadowing doom over all of life.  It is the shadow of the abyss that robs life of all meaning. In the classic book, the “Denial of Death,” Ernest Becker shows how the fear of death operating on a subconscious level influences and actually controls a lot of our thinking and actions.  In view of this, one would have to conclude that to bring one’s life under control you would have to have something to deal with death on a conscious and subconscious level. Well, God gave us this when He raised Jesus from the dead. The message of the resurrection is the best news that mankind has ever heard.  It frees us from the fear of death and empowers us to live a life of freedom and meaning.

Of course, we did not need Mr. Becker’s book to tell us about the power of death, for scriptures long go echoed the same thought.  The writer of the book of Hebrews says, ” Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death, he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 2:14-16).  The apostle Paul actually says that death is the catalyst for mans sinning. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:56-57).  Note that Paul does not say death is the sting of sin but rather that sin is the sting of death. Though Paul does not tell us how death causes us to sin it is  plain that he is pointing to the fear of death as the source of much of our sinning. However, he also shares with us the good news that Christ has overcome death in his resurrection.  In the resurrection, God has placed us with Christ above sin and death giving us a victory over them in Christ (Eph.2:6). Now, that is good news. LD

 

 

 

 

A Parable for Atheists

A Parable for Atheists

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery? “The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.” The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.” The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.” The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?” The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.” Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.” To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

I saw this on the net and had to pass it on. It speaks of the final transformation in the birth of the sons of God into a new creation.”

Securing the Future

Securing the Future

We live in very uncertain times.  So how in the world can we secure our future? I don’t have all of the answers to getting a hold on the future, but I do know that there is one thing which you’ve got to get a handle on before you can get a hold on the future.  That is death. The reason for this is that death robs all men of a future. Consequently, some men get a handle on the future by accepting their fate.  In essence, they accept that they have no future in the face of death.

That may seem brave but only if it’s true and only if it’s the only alternative, otherwise it’s foolishness.  Others (the majority) simply deny their death by refusing to think or talk about it.  I personally believe that there is another alternative.  It’s called hope.  You see hope is faith reaching into the future and pulling it into the present.

For faith to work you’ve got to make sure that when you send your faith out into the future that it finds something big enough to overcome death or a place where death cannot go.  When you do this you must be sure that the thing it brings back is powerful enough to overcome the fear of death.  In order to do this your faith must find something or someone who in themselves has overcome death.  You see I have heard from a lot of men who have made promises about securing the future and yet they themselves had no future.  To secure the future we need to have hope and faith in one that has himself secured the future.

Let me share with you a vision of the future that you might explore.  It’s worked for me and millions of others.  This vision of the future is a vision of a man.  Like all visions it is filled with symbolism so put on your thinking hat. Here it is “I (the apostle John) turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-18).”

If you have not guessed yet, this is a vision of the resurrected Christ.  When a person has placed their hope in the resurrected one they need not be afraid of death or anything else for someone else has secured the future for them. If the Book of Revelation teaches anything, it teaches that the future belongs to Jesus. God bore witness to this by raising him from the dead.  He was dead and behold He is alive forever and ever.  The gates of death and Hades can never shut in those who believe in the one who holds the keys to those gates. LD

Personal Knowledge

Personal Knowledge

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”.

In mans search for the truth he has journeyed down many streets. All of which have turned out to be dead ends.  In antiquity, men  sought after truth through the study of theology; then came the age of philosophy followed by  modern science.  Though  some still believe that through the pursuit of science, they will find some certitude of truth, yet the light seems to be dimming. The foundation of scientific knowledge is beginning to be shaken by the very principle that has shaped it, that is philosophical doubting. When doubters begin to doubt their doubts they are nearing the end of a dead end street.

So what are we to do?  Some have come to the conclusion that there is no truth. The majority of these individuals have embraced relativism and abandoned any search for the truth.  Others have turned to diverse cultures hoping to find certitude in eastern philosophy or religions.  I believe they will be sorely disappointed.

For over 2000 years people have been finding meaning, purpose and certitude in life through Jesus Christ.  I’m not talking about religion, but rather faith in the teachings and person of Jesus Christ.  The Bible refers to faith in Jesus not as a religion but rather as the way.  Believing in Jesus is a way[1] of living, a way of thinking and most important it’s a way of relating to God and your fellow man.  But for our study it’s more important to know that it’s a way to certitude.

The apostle John tells us that we can have an assurance or a certainty that we have the eternal life.2 This certitude does not come as a result of being good enough to earn eternal life but rather it comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  In essence, Jesus has become for us  our certitude and our assurance.  Christians believe that somehow Jesus Christ has satisfied all the demands of the moral law in our stead.  Because of this, Christian certitude and assurance is not based on their moral performance but rather on faith in the performance of Jesus.  Unless you are perfect this is the only way that you could ever possibly have assurance of a relationship with God.  If your standard for having a relationship with God is your own goodness, how good is good enough?

Christians also have the certitude of their relationship with God because of their faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God has given us an objective fact of history in raising Jesus from the dead. Therefore, we have the assurance that Jesus Christ is alive and has the power and authority to save to the upmost, those that believe in him.  How could you ever possibly have certitude and assurance through faith, if  your faith was based on the teachings and life of a dead man?  The resurrection is proof that Jesus and his teachings are superior to every other man’s, for only he has overcome death, through faith.  After his resurrection Jesus said “all power has been given to me in heaven and on earth”.  Belief in the resurrection of Christ is an absolute necessity for anyone to have certitude about eternity.  Those that claim certitude about the life to come, without faith in Jesus Christ, are just expressing wishful thinking.

Listen to the ring of certainty and assurance in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans chapter ten verses nine and ten “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Someone might object by saying; how do you know that the resurrection of Christ is true?  Well we know certain things to be facts that are beyond dispute.  Number one; we know that they were literally hundreds of thousands of people that believed in the resurrection shortly after it took place.  Some of these people claim to be witnesses to the resurrection.  In other words they claimed to have seen Christ after his death, raised from the dead3.  Were all these people suffering from delusions?  If so why did the faith so quickly spread throughout the area of Judea after the resurrection?

Number two: Then there is the witness of the empty tomb.  If Jesus was not resurrected the question must be answered what happened to the body?  In the story recorded in the four Gospels about the resurrection of Christ it is stated that the Romans placed a guard at the tomb to ensure that no one would steal the body.  Yet the body disappeared.  The only explanation for the missing body then and now, other than the resurrection, is that the disciples stole the body. But how could a group of rag-tag disciples overcome the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb?  If the body could have been produced why wasn’t it?  All of the commotion caused by the Christian movement could have had been put to rest by simply producing a body.

Number three: we know for certainty that the disciples, that is the twelve disciples, also bore witness to the resurrection and spread the Christian gospel throughout the known world at the time.  They all were persecuted and the majority of them died for their faith but not one of them ever recanted their faith in the resurrection of Christ.

Besides the objective fact of the resurrection, Christians also have an inner witness of the Holy Spirit which God has put in their hearts to give us a conviction and a certitude of our salvation.  The apostle John speaks of this inward witness in his first letter to the church.4 “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”  Now there are some who claim to be Christians that have never experienced this inner witness of the Spirit, so they have never had a certitude about their salvation and their relationship with God.  This lack of  an inner witness may be explained in various ways, one thing can be certain; they lack the crucial element of real faith. They may have had intellectual faith in God, thinking that to be true faith.  However, intellectual faith will never bring assurance or certitude to anyone.  Intellectual faith is only a part of the equation of real faith.  There also must be trust in God and an earnest seeking of his being and will.5

Without the certitude of a real faith a person can be easily be swept away into the vortex of relativism, which is like a black hole that is swallowing up every belief in its vicinity.

What must you do to have this certitude and assurance of salvation?  As the apostle Paul said in the above quote you must confess Christ as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead6 and you must be baptized into his name.7

[1] Acts 19:23 “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”  John 14:6-7″ Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

2 1 John 5:13-14 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

3 1 Cor 15:3-8 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

4 1 John 5:10-12 “10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”

5 Heb 11:6 “You can never please God without faith, without depending on him. Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him.”

6 Rom 10:9-10 “9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

7  Rom 6:3-4 “3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life”.