Thursday, October 05, 2006

Being "Christian"

Sin is at the root of every problem in our lives and everything that’s wrong with the world. As Christians, we are saying, by God’s mercy, that we’ve come to realize that all of the death, destruction, chaos and pain that we see on a daily basis and that we hate with intensity actually begins with us – our idolatry, our anger, our lusts, our pride and our selfishness. Sometimes its intentional, sometimes it’s not, and even we ourselves are bewildered by what comes out of our hearts – but we’ve come to see that in turning away from our Creator we have made an awful mess of this planet, of our nation, of our relationships with others and of our own lives – and it’s a mess so big and so a stain so deep that we can never clean it up on our own.

We can’t just “be better” people, because being “better” doesn’t mean that we’re “right” – right with God, right with one another, or right with ourselves. In all of our thoughts and actions we have cast Him aside, we have turned from our Maker to the things He has made in order to get direction for our lives, and in doing that we have so violated our relationship with God, so offended Him with our sin – the effects of it, the willfulness of it, the betrayal in it – that we stand in a state of total guilt and total worthiness of His just retribution. We are responsible. We are to blame. There is nowhere else to point the finger - and we must pay.

But judgment isn’t our only problem with our sin. We haven’t just come to realize that we are worthy of judgment, we’ve come to realize that our sins are, in fact, killing us. They’re destroying us. Everything that God has made, in all its beauty: food, drink, sex, the glories of nature, the creativity of human expression, all varieties of human relationships – all of these things which God has given us to enlarge our souls, to increase the capacity to have intimacy with Him, to reflect His own beauty – they’re tainted by our sin. The good in these things haven’t been destroyed by our sin, but they’ve been distorted and we abuse these things to our own hurt, which has led to the shrinking and shriveling of our souls. So instead of liberating us, we become enslaved to them.

And so our sin doesn’t just cause us to perish in judgment, it is the reason we ARE PERISHING, even now. We must answer Our Maker for our sins, and in the meantime we are being dehumanized by them. We’re not just the perpetrators of sin, we’re victims of sin – even our own. We’re not only awaiting eternal death in judgment, we’re dying now. We’re slaves to sin and the fear of death. So, what will we do?

God’s answer to that question, of course, is "nothing". There’s nothing WE can do. So He did it. Because of God’s love for the people He made, He sent Jesus to die in our place and to rise on our behalf. Jesus’ life demonstrated the freedom and beauty of man without sin. He offered Himself to God on our behalf and died on our behalf, taking the judgment we deserve and rising again in order to give us new life, a life not dominated by evil. Jesus has dealt with our sin in his death and is now dealing with our sin in the power of His resurrection. He is the lamb of God who [PRESENT TENSE] takes away [IS EVEN NOW TAKING AWAY] the sin of the world. He cancelled its penalty once and for all and He’s conquering its dominion over us even now.

Christians need the Father’s mercy to continue forgiving us for our sin, His Son, Jesus Christ, to continue interceding on our behalf and you the Holy Spirit to continue washing and sanctifying us from sin. And that’s exactly what God is doing in the Church. The Church is the place where sin is being defeated, and God’s righteousness is gaining a foothold, a beachhead, in the world. And when I say righteousness, I don’t mean some “on your high-horse” fussy, finger-wagging perfection – I mean what the Bible means by that word. I mean “rightness”. Everyone, both Christian and non-Christian, knows that something is wrong with the world. It’s broken. It’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s not “right”. But in the Church God is making things right – He’s making right relationships, right living, right thinking, right loving, right hoping, right feeling, right sorrow, right pain, right suffering, right joy. That’s righteousness – not some weird abstract standard that’s meant to squash everyone – but the life-giving, relationship restoring “rightness” which reflects who the Creator is, and what every person and culture on earth desperately hungers for (and yet violently opposes) – it’s what Christians call “the kingdom of God” - God’s righteous rule. It’s a wonderful thing.

5 comments:

weswise said...

I totally agree. Especially with the ending remarks on the church. It's not a crushing standard that's meant to turn us off but yet we still try, rather it's to live the "right way," the way life lived in fellowship with God is meant to be lived. I'll be the first to admit that it's very easy for me to get discouraged and start being legalistic and self righteous and feeling like God's picking on me with his rules when, in fact, it's his grace that he's calling me to and it's utterly ridiculous for me to be fighting against God's righteous ways that are meant to fill us with joy! The Bible talks about our joy being complete, and grace and peace, and giving our burdens to the Lord; being in the church is meant to free us from these things not cause them; the world apart from God causes them, and apart from giving our burdens to the Lord, and abiding in him, then "church" will be a burden because what we're calling "church" isn't actually church. Church is a people who have been saved by God and freed from the bondage of the things that cause us suffering and burdensom. It's misses the mark so much to think that church is a burden or hassle, because it only is when you're following the world! Because it gets in your way of filling your own desires. The biblical church is meant to free us from that in a way that we need and want the church. What I often struggle with is that although I know the happiness of this I often am one to be resistant to the church, to Christ, because I feel this "obligation" to comform and follow and be in agreement with the rest of the world; this "obligation" often springs from my sincerety to not want to be "offensive" to the rest of the world, as if by being offensive I must be in the wrong when, in fact, this simply is not true. And I think it's when we think of church this way that we have no hesitation or resistance or uneasiness to share the gospel with people, as not to "interfere", but rather we should seek joyously to tell them their condition that causes all the problems in their life and that Christ is freedom from the effects of sin. Thanks Sharad for posting this. It really brings my heart to recognize and rethink the way I too often view church and the world.

Sameer Yadav said...

Sharad,

The story is a beautiful one - and it sounds so -- *right*. There is only one part of it that strikes me as very difficult for people of all ages to understand. Indeed, it's a central part that is meant to define my identity as a Christian, and even *I* don't understand it. Not "understand" in the sense "comprehend its greatness" but in the ordinary sense of, "huh?"

The part in question is where you say "He sent Jesus to die in our place and to rise on our behalf... He offered Himself to God on our behalf and died on our behalf, taking the judgment we deserve." The morality and metaphysics of this transaction remain *utterly* opaque to most. How is it morally possible for *my* guilt - not a substance or an abstraction, but the reality of evil done by my own heart and hands - to be transferred to another? Isn't it obvious that "each man shall die for his own iniquity" (Jer. 31:30)? Does our Christianity require us to accept the folk metaphysics of those who believed that sin is a "stuff" that stains sacred space like a disease that causes death, and must be literally "covered" by blood, which inherently contains life - the only "cleanser" that works? Such metaphysical beliefs were the very basis of the symbolism, and have they not been disproven by science? So if it is only the symbolism that carries the power, and not the implausible beliefs about what "really happens" in sacrifice, then isn't the relationship between the symbol and what it accomplishes thereby arbitrary? (If God wanted to effect the same expiation, couldn't he have used *another* domain of OT symbols or just forgone the symbols and decreed it?).

So, while the unbeliever of today's world reads about the life-giving, life-restoring power of God in Christ, how do we help him from being hung up on understanding the meaning of the cross? Do we bite the bullet and tell her to believe the soteriological equivalent of the view that the earth is flat, or do we shift to the weaker position that the symbol of substitutionary death is what God arbitarily decided to use to merely *picture* the significance of salvation, which was *in fact* effected only by divine fiat? Is there another way?

TheBlueRaja said...

Sameer,

I'm not sure that the atonement was understood in the crass "world is flat" metaphysical sense you mentioned - or at the very least that wasn't the central idea. I think the main motif of sacrifice is substitution, or the concept of exchange - the life of one thing for another, in this case, the Shepherd for the sheep, the godly for the ungodly. The connection between substitution and atonement is what makes the cleansing and purity dimensions less opaque because it interprets the meaning of those words. Purity and cleanness are things untouched by the ravages of sin and death (as evidenced by all of the purity laws in the OT, I believe). Atonement cleanses from sin and death by absorbing the judgment in place of the impure thing. As for why God counts such acts as efficacious, I don't know - but I do know that the idea of substitution, and one thing taking the consequences of another's actions for that person's benefit, is a deeply understood feature of human existence.

The basic components that have to be accepted for substitution and atonement to work include the necessity of judgment (its unavoidability, however it is determined). It's also important to keep the relational dimension in mind here - that is, God's judgment isn't just an abstract law-like necessity but a (just) result of His hatred of sin. Substitution isn't just the balancing of a cosmic scale, it's the choice of the One who desires to make things right, at His own cost. In that sense, "why THIS and why not THAT" sorts of questions may not be helpful.

evilicy said...

The problem isn't man the problem is god and preachy christians trying to constantly push their ideals and beliefs on others. Religion is the root of all evil. It was nothing more than a means to control the masses and sadly enough most are a slave to it. Religion breeds indifference and that leads to war and other BS. Such crap about even trying to classify such things as lust and pride as sins in a whole. If you have no pride in what you do where does that leave you? With a bunch of unwanted crap. If you had no lust for life than what? Die? Want to solve alot of the worlds problems, don't find God kill him!

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey evilcy. I'm not sure it makes very much sense to say that "religion" in general can be anything. There are a lot of different ways of looking at the world, and Islam is just as different from Christianity as atheism is - so to lump together "religion" and call it "the problem with the world" isn't very sensible, I think.

Even though it's rather fashionable to point it out, I feel like I should note the amount of war, pain and death brought on by atheistic communism in the 20th C. Stalin's atheism didn't lead to peace, justice and thriving civilization.

As for pride and lust, I see your point. But Christianity doesn't condemn the rightful satisfaction a person takes in their work and accomplishments. Neither does it assign the word "lust" to the joy taken in God's creation (like food, wine, sex, etc.). It views such things as gifts from a gracious God to be enjoyed. The concept of lust is the idea that such gifts have inherent limitations, and used outside of those limitations they don't bring joy (as God intended) but destruction.