Friday, November 18, 2022

The Command of the Gospel


What choice do I have?

A verse well-known and repeated often by Christians is Romans 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Taking this to heart, we might conclude it’s all about the gift. And accepting the gift is all about choice. We can take it or leave it.

While an element of truth exists in the “take or leave it” approach, the gift is not a choice. It’s given to the redeemed, who do not consider the offer or ponder refusal. The choice was already made—it was God’s choice to give the redeemed eternal life. The choice of the redeemed is to follow Christ. And yet, even that is really no choice at all.

 Scripture does not offer a choice. Jesus did not give permission to determine our own method of salvation. A back-up plan doesn’t exist. Yet the clear command gets turned into something resembling a choice.

 What does the Bible tell us about making a choice? Another verse remembered—and revised—by Christians goes something like this: Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

 Here’s the whole passage from Joshua 24:

14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua gave the tribes of Israel a message from God. And then he told them what to do. If they didn’t want to, Joshua said, then they could choose something different. Something that hadn’t worked in the past. Something that would lead to death. The command was to serve God. The alternative was death.

So it is with the Gospel. The gift of Romans 6:23 is not the Gospel. It is the after-effect of the Gospel. The Gospel is not an offer to be accepted or refused depending on who you are or where you came from. It’s not a choice that will help you get to know God or define your role as a Christian. It is a command to live.
Acts 17:30:
"Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent."

The “times of ignorance” when people chose to stick with their foreign gods are done. Now, at the time of the proclamation of God’s command, all people are called to turn from their old ways and serve the risen King. It’s not a chance to make it up to God for being bad. Not a way to get yourself straightened out. It’s a command to repent or die. Turn from your idols and false gods to the one true God. Or else.
It sounds like a choice, right? It feels like a choice. I can put away what I thought would fix me, cleanse me, and save me. Or I can keep on trying what I’m doing and die trying. But if I’m convinced that’s how my efforts will end, is there really any choice but obey the command? God isn’t asking me to choose. I’m covered by furious waves and He’s telling me to cling to Him or drown. And so I…choose…to cling and not to drown.

It’s one of those sweet mysteries that settle into the hearts of the redeemed. He commands. He offers freely. I choose. I have no choice. In fact, I am unable to choose. Perhaps that’s why He made it a command. An offer implies acceptance, and so gives us the impression that we’ve made a choice. But a command requires unfailing power from the One who declares it, and demands nothing from my drowning soul except to live.

Friday, November 4, 2022

The Wavering Severity of the Gospel

And the invariable tenderness of the offer.

Last week I blogged about the Actual Gospel, and I mentioned a statement I’d heard that we Christians can be rough on people concerning their utter sinfulness. Maybe, this person said, the preacher’s too hard on the congregation with his constant sin bashing. The long-time believer surprised me when he threw in, “It’s not like we’re ax murderers or anything.” 

This is where the severity of the Gospel begins to waver. Surely he wasn’t insinuating ax murderers are the only condemnable sinners. If you want to know who needs a rescue from sin, just take a walk down the Roman Road. If you’re unfamiliar with Christianese, the Roman Road is a quick and easy way to explain the Gospel by walking a sinner through selected verses in the book of Romans. 

 If you want to know how I feel about Christianese, read this: A Beginner’s Guide to Talking like a Real Christian 

Now, don’t think I’m opposed to repeating comfortably memorized scripture when you’re sharing your faith. Go ahead and do it. There is nothing more perfectly designed for reaching the lost as the Word of God. Here’s that walk through Romans:

3: 23 …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

6:23 …the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

5:8 …God demonstrates His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

10:9 …if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

10:13 …whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Is it that simple? Yes. Can a sinner repeat these verses three times and go to Heaven? No. Can a believer forget, or never realize, the depths from which he was rescued? I don’t know—that’s God’s call. I do know people who never did anything horrible and seem to feel they deserve to be saved, but they’re not sure those other people—the ones who sin big—deserve God’s grace. I’ve never met a redeemed ax murderer but if I did, he’d probably be sure about it. He’d understand the severity of the Gospel.

I call it severe because it’s strict in its application. You can’t choose the light serving instead of the mega platter. It’s difficult for a rebellious heart to grasp, and harsh in its demand of death as penalty for sin. It causes irreversible and ongoing destruction to the sin nature of an individual, and eventually to the overall effect of sin in the world.  Another definition of severe: plain, unelaborated. Nothing added. That’s the Gospel.

I use the word wavering not as an indicator of the Gospel’s lack of stability. It is not unsteady nor does it fluctuate. But sometimes we believers can waver. We disregard the fact that we were hell-bound sinners. We thoughtlessly suggest salvation is for church people, not for the freaks who insult our sensibility. Or just as misguided, we insist that sin is sin and it doesn’t matter if you tell a white lie or bludgeon someone to death. God’s got it covered.

 Wait, doesn’t He? Does it matter if I sin big or sin little? No, it doesn’t matter—not when comes to settling my eternal destiny. To the person at the other end of my little lie, or the blade of my ax, it matters severely. The guy I lied to can forgive me if I go to set things right. The other guy, well, he’s dead.  If he could, he’d say my sin against him was much, much greater. Will God forgive me? I can ask Him. From prison. Does God redeem imprisoned, entirely guilty murderers? Of course. What do you think He meant when He said, “ALL who call on the name of the Lord…?”

But didn’t Jesus teach that if we think about sinning then we’ve already broken the law? You know, lust in your heart and all that. Do you suppose He meant having a bad thought is the same as having an affair? Ask your spouse. Jesus was telling us we’re sinners, even if we don’t carry through on every evil deed we imagine.
 We’ve broken fellowship with God with just a thought. Kind of makes you forget about the ax murderer. None of us has a chance of getting away with anything.

Will there be good people in Heaven who never did anything worse than tell a white lie? I’d like to meet that person. But yes, good people will be there. Not because they were good, but because they met the One who put an end to their self-righteous speculation of their own goodness. Will there be murderers in Heaven? I hope so. Otherwise, it’s a thin Gospel God poured out for us. Of course, it isn’t that kind—not lean or wimpy. Not at all wavering. But gloriously severe. What other kind could rescue us?