5/28/2011

Christ: Revealing God and Reconciling His People to Him

One problem in theology especially confuses me. This is not a big surprise. I am not a professional theologian and have no formal seminary training. Yet, theology is a passion for me because I know a little of what God is like, and I know how little of God’s character I reflect. In this post, I will set up the problem and suggest one possible solution.


God is holy. This means He is separate and different from me, primarily in the fact that He is completely without sin or sinful desires. My understanding of God’s holiness comes mainly from reading and studying the life of Jesus.

I can see out into the expanse of Christ’s life by looking through the window provided in the New Testament of the Bible. I have read this collection of 27 books many times.

I have rarely questioned whether these records were true, at first because of the fact that the people I respected held the New Testament to be God’s Word and without error. Later I had the opportunity to explore the evidence for the basic truthfulness of the New Testament documents for myself. I accepted The New Testament as true for my own reasons without depending on the testimony of others. (For a summary of some of that evidence, please see this link.)

The New Testament presents a terrifying picture of what holiness because it shows us the Person of Christ. Christ shows knowledge beyond that expected of a human (John 1:48-49). He heals the sick (Matt. 15:29-31). He stops the wind and the waves (Mark 4:35-41). He raises the dead (John 11:38-44). He teaches the most strict version of morality I have seen, including actions and attitudes of the heart (Matt. 5-7, Mark 7:14-23). He accepts worship (Matt. 16:16-17, Luke 5:8, John 9:38, John 20:28-29). Moreover, and certainly not least, He rose from the dead Himself (1 Cor. 15:1-8). (For scholars' defenses of the resurrection, please see this link.)

Christ claimed to be God (John 8:58, John 10:30). He convinced a group of Jewish monotheists that He was God in the Flesh (Phil. 2:5-11). (For a scholar’s view of reasons to believe Jesus is God, see this link.)

Why is this so scary? He created the world (John 1:1-5) and holds it together (Col. 1:16-17). As my creator, He has the right to tell me what to do, and He requires perfect obedience (Matt. 5:48). He teaches that sin requires an eternal punishment (Mark 9:42-50).

In the words of Phillip Yancey, He is resurrected and “out there running around loose somewhere,” capable of upending all of my plans and dreams at any time. And He has reason to do exactly that in view of my sin.

However, the story does not end there. We see Christ promising to reconcile people to God by taking away their sins (Matt. 20:28, Luke 24:46-49, John 3:10-21, John 14:6-7). We learn of the marvelous chance to take credit for what He has done for us by placing our trust in Him (Luke 18:9-14). We see the picture of God’s action: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” by making “[Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21).

I am confused about this one thing: How could a God so perfect and holy love me, a professional sinner?

The atonement, what Christ did for us on the cross, is a partial explanation for that love. The idea is that God could love His people because He sees their sin as paid for by Christ's suffering on the cross. He sees them as having Christ’s righteousness credited to their account.

Many within the church obscure this marvelous, incomprehensible love of a holy God. I read books that treat the atonement as a kind of overarching story without explaining any of the particulars. I read and hear sermons that hide God’s holiness, His requirements, and man’s sinfulness under a mountain of practical advice and modern psychological methods. I find Sunday School materials that omit God’s requirements and holy nature while pointing to the example of God’s love, leaving much of God’s character unexpressed. I find intellectuals who bury the simplicity of the gospel under a mountain of technical jargon and obtuse arguments over fine points of archaic “theories” that have often been rejected by the church in most of history.

Only Christianity even begins to explain God’s holiness and God’s love at the same time. Why do we hide our uniqueness under the mundane?

We see a light that blinds us in its intensity and permanently changes the way we see. Why do we hide this light, the very light of the world, under a bushel? Why do we hide the very words that could gain a hearing from the world and the cultures we live in?

God, have mercy on us because of Christ. Grant that we would be overwhelmed with your claims and your actions. Give us a change of heart that overflows into the lives of those around us.

5/03/2011

The Face of Terror

Osama Bin laden is dead. Since the rest of the internet is buzzing with opinions on that death, I thought I would weigh in.


First, this is not the end of global terrorism. Like the Hydra of old, when one head is chopped off, two more take its place. We still need diligence in our fight against global terror. U. S. and allied Armed Forces still need our prayers. We still need a strong military and intelligence community. We have not yet cut off the Hydra’s immortal head.

Second, the way to get to the ‘heart of the matter’ is with Christian missionary efforts. We must reach the people who make up those societies and population segments that produce terrorists. To tell a story I have told here before:

Early in the twentieth century, Baptist evangelists preached through rural Mississippi and Alabama with such effectiveness that moonshiners could no longer sell their whiskey: All their customers were getting converted! In desperation, the whiskey sellers hired two men to murder one of the leading Baptist preachers.

Pistols in their hands, the assassins waited in the dark outside a country church where their target was preaching. The evangelist spoke with burning intensity about heaven and hell, his voice ringing out into the night. When everyone had gone, he turned out the church lights and stepped outside. The killers approached him, pistols in hand.

But instead of shooting the evangelist, they handed him their guns. “We came here to kill you, but we couldn’t,” they said. “We heard your preaching and we believed it. We’re now on the same side.”

That story was told to me years ago by a pastor in Alabama. The Baptist evangelist was his grandfather. The story stayed with me. It is compelling drama and a parable of our position in an increasingly dangerous and demoralized world. Either we evangelize our generation with new power or its members are going to kill us. The bad guys are waiting for us ‘out there,’ and intend to do us in … We need an evangelism with enough strength to get the bad guys before they get us. – C. John Miller (Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1997, p. 1-2.)


Certain societies produce terrorists. If we want to do away with the terrorists, we must convert those who make up the groups that produce them. Either we reach them, or they will kill us. (I am not saying that only Islam produces terrorists. We ‘grow a few of our own’ here in the U. S. There are other groups to reach.)

Islam has made many in-roads to into the Western countries, and life under Muslim rule can be difficult for non-adherents. We should keep these things in mind.

Two of the best missions agencies reaching out to Muslims right now are Frontiers and Arab World Ministries. Please join them with prayer, financial support, or by going as a missionary with those agencies. You may be part of our only hope.

May Jesus’ message of tolerance and non-violence win out in the hearts of all peoples in our world! "Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52).



A Side Note to Certain Visitors:

If you are Islamic and are reading this blog, I invite you to read some of my posts on Islam and the Christian doctrines Islam repudiates. Please start with the posts here, here, and here. I have also presented positive evidence for the truths of Christianity in many places in this blog. A good place to start for a Muslim would be the search label “Argument from Scripture.”

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