What is the answer?

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This past weekend has left the United States in a tiff.  Ok, maybe more like a blood feud.  A video was released of presidential hopeful Donald Trump demeaning women at best, condoning sexual assault at worst; the presidential debate was a joke; and completely ignored by mainstream news coverage is the report that eleven Christians were murdered by ISIS in Syria because they had converted from Islam and refused to denounce Christ.  Included in this number was a 12 year old boy whom the terrorists tortured by cutting off his fingertips in front of his father with the hopes of convincing them to convert, and two women who were publicly raped and tortured.  Many of those who have heard of this tragedy return to the conversation about the election chanting, “We must stop ISIS” and then proclaim their presidential choice as the answer.  Trump will squash ISIS.  Hillary has more experience and a real plan for our foreign affairs.  But you know what folks?  The president of the United States is not the answer.

Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds cliche.  I grew up singing the song, “Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”  And while it sounds so simple and childlike, it is the profound truth.  No governmental leadership will provide a solution by which every worldview will be appeased.  No amount of force or murder will eradicate evil from the Middle East or the United States.  Even if we could convince our general population that love is the answer, we would all have different opinions about what love is and what love means.  Should we openly accept, condone and affirm every decision and worldview, or should we seek one another’s best by helping each other make wise decisions, even if that means we encourage change?

Our politicians, ISIS, and each of us individually, however, simply need Jesus.  We are wicked.  We are sinners.  Yes, Donald Trump tried to get a married woman to sleep with him and bragged about his ability to do whatever he wants to with women because he is “a star”.  Yes, ISIS beheaded, tortured and crucified eleven Christians.  Yes, we have treated one another with disrespect and hatred because of our individual political affiliations and choices.  And all of that is nothing more than wicked people doing wicked things – to various extents.  The Bible teaches us that we were born in iniquity (Ps 51.5), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3).  This means that apart from Jesus, all we can do is sin.  We are destined and doomed to evil deeds.

Along these lines, the Bible teaches us some pretty hard truths.  Apart from Jesus we are:
Dead in sin (Eph 2.3).
Lovers of darkness (John 3.19-20)
Haters of light (John 3.19-20)
Hard like stone (Ez 36.26, Eph 4.18)
Unable to love or submit to God (Rom 8.7-8)

What does all of that mean?  We might look pretty on the outside – like white washed tombs (Matt 23.27-28).  We might put on a good, moralistic act, but it is with wicked and selfish motives.  We all sin, and we will all continue to sin because it is our nature (1 John 1.8).

We all need Jesus.  I need Jesus.  You need Jesus.  Trump and Hillary need Jesus.  ISIS needs Jesus.  The answer is not to go in and wipe “them” out.  There is always someone else who is wicked to replace “them”.  But to see “them” fundamentally changed will save their souls and change their impact on their worlds.

Jesus found Paul – the foremost persecutor (read:  murderer) of the Church and changed him from the core, making him into the world’s most dynamic missionary and teacher.  If God can change and use Paul, He can change and use ISIS.  He can change and use Hillary.  He can change and use Trump.  He can change and use you and me.  There are, in fact, fairly regular reports of Muslims and radical extremists coming to faith and proclaiming Jesus.  Such are those who were murdered this weekend.

We spend so much time trying to separate our church and state, but the reality is that Jesus is the only hope for the state.  Even if we solve immigration, balance out our taxes and health care, and live at peace with the world, we are all still sinners and headed to an eternity of judgment and damnation.  If we, however, confess our sins and turn to God for salvation through Jesus, we will be saved eternally and enabled to die to our sins and our love one another.  We will be able to put one another first and see true and real peace.  We will be able to love.  Jesus is the answer.

Unconditional Love does not mean Unconditional Approval

approval

As we Americans continue full steam ahead down the path of tolerance and acceptance, denying the existence of absolute truth and empowering everyone to be god and authoritative in his own eyes, we are losing all sense of accountability.  While one can still go to jail for murder or grand larceny, the pool of excuses is broadening.  Mental illness, duress, self defense and situational considerations allow the guilty to walk freely.  We have philosophized ourselves into a corner where everyone has their freedom to choose every aspect of their lives, and no one has the right to judge, or even look funny at another because of his choices.

I have heard it said that God made man in His image, and now we are returning the favor.  We value tolerance, acceptance and self determination so highly that we attempt to force these attributes onto God.  We read books like “Redeeming Love” and we listen to our best friends who say, “I will support whatever decision you make” and think that we are eternally in the clear.  Because God serves us.  Right?  This is how we end up with situations like the coming out of Vicky Beeching and her self justification, “God loves me just the way I am”.

Is God’s love truly unconditional?  We need to consider carefully what we mean by the notion and what Scripture has to say about it.  When it comes to the offer of salvation, yes, that love is unconditional.  I cannot merit God’s salvation by doing something, and I cannot be so wicked that He would withhold it from me.  The act of justification is God paying the penalty for my sin, apart from anything good within me.  It is by faith, through grace, and not of works so that no man may boast (Eph 2.8-9).  But His saving grace does require obedience.

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– John 14.15

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”

– John 14.21-24

The mark of the one who has been saved, the mark of the one who loves Jesus is the one who obeys Him.  If we do not obey Him, them we prove ourselves to not love Him, to not be saved.  God’s saving grace is unconditional to earn, but conditional to maintain.  He will not smile on or approve of the one who continues in sin after hearing of grace:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

– Heb 10.26-27

So how does that work?  We like to talk about the love, grace and mercy of God, but it is less fun to talk about His righteousness, wrath and judgment.  A.W. Tozer makes this very clear observation:

All of God’s acts are consistent with all of His attributes.  No attribute contradicts any other, but all harmonize and blend into each other in the infinite abyss of the Godhead.

– A.W. Tozer

God’s wrath, grace, judgment, mercy, love and anger are all perfectly working together to create the infinite, perfect sovereign over the universe.  His grace freely forgives all who ask, and His wrath fully punishes all who do not.  We are all guilty before Him, as He is the perfect, all knowing judge who can see not only our actions but our hearts, and He Himself wrote the book on sin.  If it were not for the Law of God, we would not know sin (Rom 3.20).

God does not accept our ongoing actions unconditionally.  He hates sin.  He will not tolerate it.

I listened to a beautiful testimony yesterday, I highly recommend it to you:

Christopher says, “God did not call me to be heterosexual because He is heterosexual.  He called me to be holy because He is holy”.  God does not come to us in the filth and mire, save us and then leave us there.  He comes to us in the filth and mire and rescues us.  He pull us out of the mud, He washes us clean, He set our feet on solid ground and gives us a new heart and a new mind and the ability to obey and love Him.  His grace and love cause us to be a new creation, set on His ways and intentions.  He expects love, obedience, faithfulness and holiness from us in return.  Yes, He forgives us when we mess up, but He empowers us to change and expects us to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

We are not earning your salvation by obeying.  We are proving ourselves to be saved by obeying.  Be holy, for He is holy.

Already-Not Yet.

There is a doctrine pertaining to salvation, life, redemption and glory regarding the tension in which we live after initial repentance and before eternity called the “Already-Not Yet” phenomenon.  It simply means that many of the promises which have been given are received in part.  In regards to salvation, there are three phases and perspectives in which we need to look at it:

Past

  • By grace you have been saved.  (Eph 2.5)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Eph 2.8-9)
  • For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  (Rom 8.24)

Future

  • You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.  (Mark 13.13)
  • But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.  (Matt 24.13)
  • If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.  (1 Cor 3.15)

Ongoing

  • For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (1 Cor 1.18)
  • For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (2 Cor 2.15-16)

There are theological terms that define the three:  Past – Justification, Future – Glorification, and Ongoing – Sanctification.  Justification is the moment that we are declared righteous before God because of the obedience and righteousness of Christ.  All of our sins (past and future) were forgiven at that moment.  Glorification is the moment when we will shed our earthly bodies, our bodies of sin, and be made whole and pure on the New Earth.  Sanctification is the ongoing process that gets us from Justification to Glorification – it is the process of the Christian life, where God is making us more holy day by day.

Paul tells us in a few different places that once God has begun that process, he will not stop it.  If you have been justified, you will be glorified:

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

– Rom 8.29-30

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

Now, that sounds great and all, but what about when Christians sin?  We are still in our flesh, our human nature is at war with the Holy Spirit living within us (Gal 5.17).

When we confess our sins at the moment of salvation, the punishment that each sin merits is decisively placed on Jesus Christ.  The debt has been paid.  The punishment is completed.  That is why Paul says in Romans 8.1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”  We are not condemned.  There is no further judgment for our sin.  However, God is intensely concerned about our holiness and He does discipline us.

“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

– Heb 12.7

And thus we come to the passage that has grabbed my heart this morning:

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me.

Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy.
Though I fall I will rise;
Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord
Because I have sinned against Him,
Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me.
He will bring me out to the light,
And I will see His righteousness.

– Micah 7.7-9

We, as believers, who sin, will bear the indignation of the Lord on occasion as discipline.  At times we will dwell in darkness, by the hand of God, in response to sinful choices.  But even though I dwell in the darkness, the Lord is a light for me!  He will bring us out into the light, we will see His righteousness, He will plead our case and execute justice for us!  Yes, I have sinned, even as a Christian.  Even as one who has been justified, and we all will continue to fail until the day that we enter into His presence for eternity.  But He is our light, and Christ is our righteousness.  It is not on my righteousness that I stand, but Christ’s!

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

– 1 John 2.1

Therefore, let us strive for holiness.  Let us seek to love God by honoring and obeying Him.  But let us not lose heart when we stumble.  Because we have an advocate who will present Himself as atonement for that sin before the judge.  But let us also not forget that God does not always treat us gently.  He disciplines us both in response to sin and for the sake of growth sometimes apart from sin, but it is all for our good and our ultimate salvation.  Take comfort in His rod.  If you are straying from Him and His ways, and are in a season of discipline, take comfort that He would discipline you.  And listen to the Spirit calling you home!  If there is no rod, let us check our repentance and see if the course of salvation has truly begun.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

– Ps 23.4