The Peacemaker (Part 2)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

Peace is essential to Christianity. There can be no doubt about it. God created this world with the intention that it be full of peace. But human sin derailed God’s intention. Brokenness now pervades that which God set in motion. Of course, God’s peace is inextricably related to forgiveness, salvation, redemption, and restoration. Luke 1:77-79 says, “…to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (RSV).

Matthew 5:9 says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (NLT). Our aim as Christians—indeed, as peacemakers—is to encourage others to break free from the habit of focusing on other people’s wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to the conflict. We must essentially develop a passion for peace. First, it is critical that we understand how powerful words are. Peacemaking begins with saying the right thing the right way. Everything is relationship. We are constantly presented throughout each day with numerous opportunities to promote peace.

4 important keys related to conflict resolution and promoting peace:

  1. Resist the natural reaction to blame others and focus on their wrongs and differences. People who to take a moral approach are particularly fond of directions. They stress justice and fairness, noting people typically “get what they deserve.” They concern themselves with tangible rewards and the fruits of their actions. This is a “reap what you sow” perspective. They believe emotions simply get in the way. Those who focus on morals concern themselves with top/down thinking and are dedicated to truth. Simply put, they are concerned primarily with right and wrong. This limited viewpoint, however, lends itself to taking things too literally. Moral-minded people often have difficulty understanding or dealing with emotions, and are frequently highly critical and judgmental. It’s all black-and-white, with no room for gray. Those who focus on relationship concern themselves with intimacy, mercy, grace, and empathy. Focus is on the heart rather than the mind. This can be risky, however, as emotions tend to lie to us and become “reality.” Too much emphasis on emotion risks God’s principles taking a back seat to what we “feel.”
  2. The blame game always makes conflict worse. The more “right” someone thinks they are, the more self-righteous they become. This causes the relationship—the very interaction itself—to be more difficult. When we think the other party is wrong, we are reluctant to offer concessions. Failure to see conflict with an open mind can lead to stalemate. When we’re open and honest, we are more likely to accept our share of the blame in a conflict. We need to resist the temptation to list the other person’s faults. Our approach must spring forth from a problem-solving mindset and not be about proving our point. Sometimes it is best to “drop it” in order to stop the blame game.
  3. Conflict can be altered by taking a soft approach over harsh language. Confrontation is a key element to conflict resolution, but there is a proper way to approach someone about his or her conduct. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NIV). Peterson translates the verse this way in The Message: “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.” This concept holds true in conflict resolution, witnessing, and apologetics. We will be more successful in persuading others of our position, of being certain they actually hear what we’re saying, and increasing the chance to make a friend rather than an enemy, when we take a gentle approach. Even when others have unloaded on us, a soft response can prevent (or at least hinder or limit) an escalation of the conflict.
  4. Genuine reconciliation and lasting change require a transformed heart. Taking a hard-line moral approach when confronting someone is often counterproductive. It is akin to saying, “Here it is. Do it or else.” Effective peacemaking is a matter of the heart with a degree of give-and-take. Colossians 3:13 tells us, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV). Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. It is unfortunately never that simple. It can be extremely difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely. We cannot overlook the direct relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness. Biblical conflict resolution is built on the solid foundation of grace, unconditional love, and forgiveness.

Perhaps This is You?

It is impossible to completely and unconditionally forgive someone based upon our own strength, especially when they have hurt us deeply or betrayed our trust. We can try not to think about what they did or stuff our feelings and put on a happy face, but the feelings will still be lurking. Anger can fester for a long time, and often leads to resentment. Unless we undergo a change of heart—and are cleansed and set free by God—the hurt remains. The conflict goes unresolved. There is only one way to overcome this barrier, and that is to admit that you cannot forgive in our own strength.

Maybe you have prayed like this:

God, I cannot forgive him in my own strength. In fact, I do not want to forgive him at all, at least until he has suffered for what he did to me. He does not deserve to get off easy. Everything in me wants to hold it against him and keep a high wall between us so he can never heart me again. But Your Word warns me that unforgiveness will eat away at my soul and build a wall between You and me. More importantly, You have shown me that You made the supreme sacrifice, giving up Your own Son, in order to forgive me. Lord, please help me to want to forgive. Please change my heart and soften it so that I no longer want to hold this against him. Change me so that I can forgive and love him the way You have forgiven and loved me. God, please forgive me for my own unforgiveness.

Summary and Application

This is what reconciliation is all about. By thought, word, and deed, you can demonstrate forgiveness and rebuild relationships with people who have offended you. No matter how painful the office, with God’s help you can pay honor and glory to God by imitating His forgiveness and reconciliation for mankind that was demonstrated on the cross. By the grace of God, you can forgive as the Lord forgave you. This is of paramount importance in the scheme of peacemaking.

God bless.

The Peacemaker (Part 1)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

The “Four Gs” of conflict resolution:

  • Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Biblical peacemaking is motivated and guided by a deep desire to bring honor to God by revealing the reconciling love and power of Jesus Christ. As we draw on His grace, follow His example, and put His teachings into practice, we can find freedom from the impulsive, self-centered decisions that make conflict worse, and bring praise to God by displaying the power of the Gospel in our lives.
  • Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). Attacking others only invites counterattacks. This is why Jesus teaches us to face up to our own contributions to a conflict before we focus on what others have done. When we overlook others’ minor offenses and honestly admit our own faults, our opponents will often respond in kind. As tensions decrease, the way may be opened for sincere discussion, negotiation, and reconciliation.
  • Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). When others fail to see their contributions to a conflict, we sometimes need to graciously show them their fault. If they refuse to respond appropriately, Jesus calls us to involve respected friends, church leaders, or other objective individuals who can help encourage repentance and restore peace.
  • Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Finally, peacemaking involves a commitment to restoring damaged relationships and negotiating just agreements. When we forgive others as Jesus has forgiven us and seek solutions that satisfy others’ interests as well as our own, the debris of conflict is cleared away and the door is opened for genuine peace.

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Unfortunately, many believers and their churches have not yet developed the commitment and ability to respond to conflict in a Gospel-centered and biblical manner. This is often because they have succumbed to the relentless pressure our secular culture exerts on us to forsake the timeless truths of Scripture and adopt the relativism of our postmodern era. Although many Christians and their churches believe they have held on to God’s Word as their standard for life, their responses to conflict, among other things, show that they have in fact surrendered much ground to the world. Instead of resolving differences in a distinctively biblical fashion, they often react to conflict with the same avoidance, manipulation, and control that characterize the world. In effect, both individually and congregationally, they have given in to the world’s postmodern standard, which is “What feels good, sounds true, and seems beneficial to me?”

Pastor Mike Miller at my home church, Sunbury Bible Church, started a Spring series on peacemakers. He opened the series on April 22, 2018 stating, “Peace matters to God.” The Hebrew word shalom has a comprehensive meaning beyond being content or “at peace.” It also means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It can further mean “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” Shalom speaks of a completeness or fullness that encourages you to give back. Jesus is not talking about mediators or political negotiators in Matthew 5:9, but those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is only available through son-ship with God. As you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

3 Relationships Needed for Building Peace:

  1. With God (first). Peace must begin vertically, between us and God, before it can be shared horizontally, between others. Man has a broken relationship with God since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. This has left a God-shaped void—a hole in the soul—which we try to fill with anything and everything. It’s like an infinite abyss.
  2. With Others (second). This is what helps build horizontal connectedness in order that we might live in harmony as much as possible. Philippians 2:5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (NIV).
  3. With yourself (ultimately). We simply cannot expect to have peace within if we are at odds with everyone around us. Jesus knew this when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (NIV). Moreover, we cannot expect to be at peace with others if we are not at peace with God.

But at What Cost?

Genuine peace is a priority, but it is costly. We often have to give up something of ours to obtain or promote peace. Genuine peace is only found at the Cross. We’re part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. Genuine peace has eternal consequences. Most conflicts also provide an opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus. As Paul urged in his letter to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul elaborated on this opportunity when he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29, italics mine).

Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity

Unity is more than a key to internal peace. It is also an essential element of your Christian witness. When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and He is present and working in your life. The opposite is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the Good News about the saving work of Jesus on the Cross.

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One of the most emphatic statements on peace and unity in the Bible is found in Jesus’ prayer shortly before he was arrested and taken away to be crucified. After praying for Himself and for unity among His disciples (John 17:1-19), Jesus prayed for all who would someday believe in Him. These words apply directly to every Christian today:

My prayer is not for [My disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in you. May they also be in Us so that the world many believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

In Summary

The message given by Jesus and the apostles is resoundingly clear: Whether our conflicts involve minor irritations or major legal issues, God is eager to display His love and power through us as we strive to maintain peace and unity with those around us. Therefore, peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer. If you have committed your life to Christ, He invites you to draw on His grace and commands you to seek peace with others. Token efforts will not satisfy this command; God wants you to strive earnestly, diligently, and continually to maintain harmonious relationships with those around you. Your dependence on Him and obedience to this call will show the power of the Gospel and enable you to enjoy the personal peace that God gives to those who faithfully follow Him.

Please join me next Monday for The Peacemaker (Part Two), when we will look at helping others to break free from the habit of focusing on other peoples’ wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to conflict.


 

Christ Suffered and Died: To Reconcile Us to God

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I have presented seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating today with To Reconcile Us to God. Of course, there are countless more reasons for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: To show His own love for us; to become an ransom for many; to bring us to faith and keep us faithful; to give us a clear conscience; to obtain for us all things that are good for us; to heal us from moral and physical sickness; to secure our resurrection from the dead; to disarm the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world; to destroy the hostility between races and religions, and others.

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life. (Romans 5:10)

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THE RECONCILIATION THAT NEEDS to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’s help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in His own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.

The all-important words are “while we were enemies.” This is when “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first “change” was God’s, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).

While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for Him to treat us with mercy alone. God’s first act in reconciling us to Himself was to remove the obstacle that made Him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

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Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, “Be reconciled to your brother,” notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who “has something against you,” just as God has something against us. “Be reconciled to your brother” means do what you must so that your brother’s judgment against you will be removed.

But when we hear the Gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove His own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation  happened “while we were enemies.” Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.

 

Christ Suffered and Died: That We Might Die to Sin and Live to Righteousness

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying that we might die to sin and live unto righteousness.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24)

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STRANGE AS IT MAY sound, Christ’s dying in our place and for our sins means that we died. You would think that having a substitute die in your place would mean that you escape death. And, of course, we do escape death—the eternal death of endless misery and separation form God. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 11:26). The death of Jesus does indeed mean that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

But there is another sense in which we die precisely because Christ died in our place and for our sins. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die…” (1 Peter 2:24). He died that we might live; and He died that we might die. When Christ died, I, as a believer in Christ, died with Him. The Bible is clear: “We have been united with Him in a death like His” (Romans 6:5). “One has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

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Faith is the evidence of being united to Christ in this profound way, believers “have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). We look back on His death and know that, in the mind of God, we were there. Our sins were on Him, and the death we deserved was happening to us in Him. Baptism signifies this death with Christ. “We were buried… with Him  by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). The water is like a grave. Going under is a picture of death. Coming up is a picture of new life. And it is all a picture of what God is doing “through faith.” [You have] been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God” (Colossians 2:12).

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The fact that I died with Christ is linked directly to His dying for my sin. “He Himself bore our sins… that we might die.” This means that when I embrace Jesus as my Savior, I embrace my own death as a sinner. My sin brought Jesus to the grave and brought me there with Him. Faith sees sin as a murderer. It killed Jesus, and it vicariously killed me. Becoming a Christian means dying to sin. The old self that loved sin died with Jesus. Sin is like a prostitute that no longer looks beautiful. She is the murderer of my King and myself. Therefore, the believer is dead to sin, no longer dominated by her attractions. Sin, the prostitute who killed my friend, has no appeal. She has become an enemy.

My new life is now swayed by righteousness. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might… live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). The beauty of Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me, is the desire of my soul. And His beauty is perfect righteousness. The command that I now love to obey is this: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

 

Christ Suffered and Died: To Make Us Holy, Blameless, and Perfect

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying to make us holy, blameless, and perfect before the Father.

He has now reconciled [you] in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him. (Colossians 1:22)

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ONE OF THE GREATEST heartaches in the Christian life is the slowness of our change. We hear the summons of God to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). But do we ever rise to that totality of affection and devotion? We cry out regularly with the apostle Paul, “O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). We groan even as we take fresh resolve: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (Philippians 3:12).

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That very statement is the key to endurance and joy. “Christ Jesus has made me His own.” All my reaching and yearning and striving is not to belong to Christ (which has already happened), but to complete what is lacking in my likeness to Him. One of the greatest sources of joy and endurance for the Christian is knowing that in the imperfection of our progress we have already been perfected—and that this is owing to the suffering and death of Christ. “For by a single offering [namely, Himself!] He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). This is amazing! In the same sentence He says we are “being sanctified” and we are already “perfected.”

Being sanctified means that we are imperfect and in process. We are becoming holy—but are not yet fully holy. And it is precisely these—and only these—who are already perfected. The joyful encouragement here is that the evidence of our perfection before God is not our experienced perfection, but our experienced progress. The good news is that being on the way is proof that we have arrived.

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The Bible pictures this again in the old language of dough and leaven (yeast). In the picture, leaven is evil. We are the lump of dough. It says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Christians are “unleavened.” There is no leaven—no evil. We are perfected. For this reason we are to “cleanse out the old leaven.” We have been made unleavened in Christ. So we should now become unleavened in practice. In other words, we should become what we are.

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The basis of all this? “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The suffering of Christ secures our perfection so firmly that it is already now a reality. Therefore, we fight against our sin not simply to become perfect, but because we are. The death of Jesus is the key to battling our imperfections on the firm foundation of our perfection.

Christ Suffered and Died: For the Forgiveness of Our Sins

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying for the forgiveness of our sins.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. (Ephesians 1:7)

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WHEN WE FORGIVE a debt or an offense or an injury, we don’t require a payment for settlement. That would be the opposite of forgiveness. If repayment is made to us for what we lost, there is no need for forgiveness. We have our due. Forgiveness assumes grace. If I am injured by you, grace lets it go. I don’t sue you. I forgive you. Grace gives what someone doesn’t deserve. That’s why forgiveness has the word give in it. Forgiveness is not “getting” even. It is giving away the right to get even.

That is what God does to us when we trust Christ: “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43). If we believe in Christ, God no longer holds our sins against us. This is God’s own testimony in the Bible: “I, I am He who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake” (Isaiah 43:25). “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

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But this raises a problem. We all know that forgiveness is not enough. We may only see it clearly when the injury is great—like murder or rape. Neither society nor the universe can hold together if judges (or God) simply say to every murderer and rapist, “Are you sorry? Okay. The state forgives you. You may go.” In cases like these we see that while a victim may have a forgiving spirit, the state cannot forsake justice.

So it is with God’s justice. All sin is serious, because it is against God. He is the one whose glory is injured when we ignore or disobey or blaspheme Him. His justice will no more allow him simply to set us free than a human judge can cancel all  the debts that criminals owe to society. The injury done to God’s glory by our sin must be repaired so that in justice his glory shines more brightly. And if we criminals are to go free and be forgiven, there must be some dramatic demonstration that the honor of God is upheld even though former blasphemers are being set free.

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That is why Christ suffered and died. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7). Forgiveness costs us nothing. All our costly obedience is the fruit, not the root, of being forgiven. That’s why we call it grace. But it cost Jesus His life. That is why we call it just. O how precious is the news that God does not hold our sins against us! And how beautiful is Christ, whose blood made it right for God to do this.

Christ Suffered and Died: To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying to cancel the legal demands of the law against us.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.         (Col. 2:13)

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WHAT A FOLLY IT is to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. It is folly for two reasons. First, it is not true. Even our good deeds are defective, because we don’t honor God in the way we do them. Do we do our good deeds in joyful dependence on God with a view to making known His supreme worth? Do we fulfill the overarching command to serve people “by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11)?

What then shall we say in response to God’s word? “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). I think we shall say nothing. “Whatever the law says it speaks… so that every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19). We will say nothing. It is folly to think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds before God. Without Christ-exalting faith, our deeds will signify nothing but rebellion.

The second reason it is folly to hope in good deeds is that this is not the way God saves. If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good deeds. It will be because the “record of [our] debt” in heaven has been nailed to the cross of Christ. God has a totally different way of saving sinners than by weighing their deeds. There is no hope in our deeds. There is only hope in the suffering and death of Christ.

There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records. The record of our bad deeds (including our defective good deeds), along with the just penalties that each deserves, must be blotted out—not balanced. This is what Christ suffered and died to accomplish.

The cancellation happened when the record of our deeds was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:13). How was this damning record nailed to the cross? Parchment was not nailed to the cross. Christ was. So Christ became my damning record of bad (and good) deeds. He endured my damnation. He put my salvation on a totally different footing. He is my only hope. And faith in Him is my only way to God.

Christ Suffered and Died: To Absorb the Wrath of God

FOR THE NEXT SEVEN days I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying to absorb the wrath of God that should rightly have been poured out upon all of mankind.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Gal. 3:13).

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IF GOD WERE NOT JUST, there would be no demand for His Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for His Son to suffer and die. But God is both just and loving. Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of His justice. God’s law demanded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). But we have all loved other things more. This is what sin is—dishonoring God by preferring other things over Him, and acting on those preferences. Therefore, the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We glorify what we enjoy most. And it isn’t God.

Since God is just, He does not sweep our sins and offenses under the rug of the universe. He feels a holy wrath against them. They deserve to be punished, and He has made this clear: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. Not to punish would be unjust. The demeaning of God would be endorsed. A lie would reign at the core of reality. Therefore, God says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26).

But the love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath, no matter how holy it is. Therefore God sends His own Son to absorb His wrath and bear the curse for all who trust Him. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). This is the meaning of the word propitiation in the text quoted above (Romans 3:25). It refers to the removal of God’s wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God Himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; He absorbs it and diverts it from us to Himself. God’s wrath is just, and it was spent, not withdrawn.

Let us not trifle with God or trivialize His love. We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of His wrath against us. But when, by grace, we waken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the [wrath-absorbing] propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Join me tomorrow for “Christ Suffered and Died: To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us.

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Three)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

APOLOGETICS_3

One True Religion?

Many Americans believe, “All religions are good, so let us all just get along!” The problem is that neither Christianity, Judaism, nor Islam teach such inclusive ideas. Each claim to be the one true religion. The COEXIST symbol is merely portraying yet another religious view: All religions are equally valid. But is it logically possible for all religions to be true? Or is there only one true religion?

Do all religions lead to God? Think about the logic of this. Can I pick up my cell phone and dial any phone number and get home? No, there’s only one number that’ll get me home. This reminds me of a comedian (I cannot remember his name) who said, “Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember the phone number of a friend or relative? You get close, but no cigar! I think if you get every number right but one you should at least get someone who knows the person you’re trying to reach!” Regarding religion, the truth is all roads don’t lead to Rome, and all religions don’t lead to God.

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The road to heaven is clear. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I’m betting my life and my salvation on the fact that He was right. I believe Jesus Christ was God incarnate, and I don’t think He would lie about the road to paradise. Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (NIV). The most unique attribute of God is His holiness and justice. His holiness is demonstrated by His being “set apart” from all of creation. “With whom then will you compare God? To what image will you liken Him?” (Isaiah 40:18, NIV). God is pure and undefiled, separate from sinners. He is unable to fellowship or dwell with the wicked. Psalm 5:4-5 says, “For You are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, wicked people are not welcome” (NIV).

When we try to figure out, explain, or define God by our own reasoning, we come dangerously close to creating an image or idol—an image of God that satisfies us from our innately limited point of view.  If God exists—and I believe He does—we certainly did not create Him. Today’s vocal atheists—some prefer to be called anti-theists—proclaim that those who believe in God have simply created Him in their mind. Any attempt on our part to define or explain God will be just that. An attempt.

I’ve heard it said, “No religion is the TRUE RELIGION because humans are behind each doctrine or belief. Religions only serve to divide people who might otherwise get along just fine. Instead, in the name of a god or supreme being, people judge, exclude, or persecute others based upon their religious beliefs.”

Militant Atheists

Most so-called “open-minded” people today tout the belief that no one religion can have a monopoly on truth. Atheists, of course, insist no religion is true because God does not exist. I have been studying apologetics for about a year, and have watched debates between the likes of Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens, or Bill Nye and Ken Ham. It is not unusual to see visceral, nasty attacks on Christians. Many of these anti-theists say believers are narrow-minded, exclusionary, bigoted, elitist, deluded, or just plain stupid.

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Many of the more visible atheists today are rather militant, showing hostility toward religion, who are bent on propagating atheism among the masses rather than just quietly, privately, refusing to believe in God. Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens propose that religion is harmful. Both have gone so far as stating that parents who force their faith on their unsuspecting children are pounding religion into their young minds, consequently giving them little-to-no chance of making their own decision about religion. Hitchens actually believes this is a form of child abuse. These militant atheists tend to form their comments from a base of emotions, subjectivity, and a cavalier treatment of subject matter better discussed with depth of thinking and an open mind.

These non-believers are fond of letting the sins of individuals who claim to be Christians discount or discolor the very image of God. Richard Dawkins is known for this tactic, blaming Christians for violent persecution and prosthelytizing during the Crusades. They typically exaggerate the number of people killed while ignoring the terrible murder, persecution, torture, and genocide of countless despotic leaders like Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Hirohito, Vladimir Lenin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung, Muammar Gaddafi, Edi Anim, and the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

What About The Presence of Evil?

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, and others typically argue that the presence of evil and tragedy in the world is proof that God does not exist. They malign the Christian God by saying either God is omnipotent and able to stop evil but chooses not to— making him cold and callous—or He is unable to stop evil, indicating He lacks the power to stop evil. Of course, this is the most troubling accusation for a believer to answer. The best way to examine this issue is to look at God’s nature and His desire for mankind. God loves us and wants us to love Him back.

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But He gave us free will. We can choose to love Him in return, or we can turn our backs on His grace and goodness. Love is a choice. Martin Luther examined free will in his treatise The Bondage of the Will. Luther is actually responding to Erasmus who took issue with the necessity of free will. The following are passages from Luther’s response.

Section. 5. BUT this is still more intolerable, your enumerating this subject of “free-will” among those things that are “useless, and not necessary;” and drawing up for us, instead of it, a “form” of those things which you consider “necessary unto Christian piety.”
Section. 6. THE “form” of Christianity set forth by you, among other things, has this, “That we should strive with all our powers, have recourse to the remedy of repentance, and in all ways try to gain the mercy of God; without which, neither human will, nor endeavour, is effectual.” —Martin Luther

If love is a choice, evil actions are also a choice made by mankind and not Almighty God. If you have a choice, you have to be able to choose not to love, which is in itself the nature of evil. Evil is choosing not to love. So when God gave us the freedom to choose, he gave us not only our greatest blessing, but he also gave us our greatest curse, because we can choose to do right or choose to do wrong.

THEREFORE, it is not irreligious, curious, or superfluous, but essentially wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know, whether or not the will does any thing in those things which pertain unto Salvation. Nay, let me tell you, this is the very hinge upon which our discussion turns. It is the very heart of our subject. For our object is this: to inquire what “free-will” can do, in what it is passive, and how it stands with reference to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatever of Christian matters, and shall be far behind all People upon the earth. —Martin Luther

The reason there’s evil in the world is not because of God, but because God gave us the freedom to choose. The potential for love outweighs the existence of evil, because you see, evil is only going to exist for a short time, but love is going to go on forever. And all of the suffering and all of the death that we see in the world today are the result of man making wrong choices. God could have taken our freedom, but He didn’t.

Concluding Remarks

The Apostle Paul, a skillful debater who was happy to wrangle with rabbis and philosophers alike, recognized the perils of linking faith improperly with clever argument. Of course, this is exactly the approach taken by today’s militant atheists. Their rhetoric is steeped in emotions and conjecture. When engaging in apologetics, we must remain humble and respectful. We engage in apologetics because we are commanded to. We all have minds that need convincing and satisfying. Christianity meets all our needs. We need to communicate this fact to non-believers. If God has commissioned us to work with Him in testifying to the virtues of the Gospel, then we must do so with vigor and enthusiasm.

As a Christian, I do believe that God has given us the privilege of hearing and embracing the Good News, of receiving adoption into His family, and of joining the Body of Christ as a vital cog in the wheel of salvation. We do believe that we know some things that others do not know, but we do not know all there is to know. What human mind can fully grasp the reality of God Almighty? Above all, I know I have met Jesus Christ on my own road to Damascus. On the basis of what we know—indeed, what we have been shown—we offer to our neighbors through apologetics the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of Jesus Christ, our precious Lord and Savior.

What’s Next?

Next week, in Part Four, I will present the truth and the nature of conversion, including the definition of being “born again,” and how one comes to a decision regarding religion. I look forward to presenting the Christian doctrine to you.

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Two)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

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THE GENERAL PROBLEM, the problem that faces anyone with a message nowadays, is the broad cultural doubt about absolutes and the authority figures who presume to enforce them. Interestingly, a byproduct of this type of skepticism leads to complacent satisfaction with what one already knows and believes. I’m reminded of a comment I heard at a seminar years ago. The facilitator of the meeting said, “There is what we know and there’s what we don’t know, but more importantly there’s what we don’t know that we don’t know. Brilliant!

Alan Bloom, in his best-seller The Closing of the American Mind, said openness results in American conformism—out there in the rest of the world is a drab diversity that teaches only that values are relative, whereas here in America we can create all the lifestyles we want. Our openness means we do not need others. Bloom says, “Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing.”

It begs the question: If there are no grounds upon which one can argue that one civilization is superior to another, or that one moral code is loftier than another, or that one way of doing things is better than another, then why bother learning about other cultures and philosophies and religions? What begins as a political value of coexisting with differences and resisting authoritarianism that would squelch individuality has become, ironically, a broad indifference to difference and a disincentive to improving oneself by learning from others.

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Christians have a particularly hard time getting the message of the Gospel across to people today. A Christian sharing his or her faith is almost immediately labeled a Bible-thumping wingnut or, worse, a narrow-minded elitist. The other person is typically not inclined to sit still for any length of time to listen to an argument on the Gospel. They are especially unwilling to tolerate any sort of suggestion that they need to convert to Christianity. My life is just fine the way it is, thank you very much! Moreover, statistically most Americans today believe they are already Christians. They celebrate Christmas and Easter, go to church on a fairly regular basis, and treat the poor and disadvantaged with compassion. If they think they are a Christian, why would they need to hear from someone else about the Christian faith? Especially if they think they’re going to hear a lecture that they’re really not much of a Christian.

Detractors of the Christian Faith

“The number-one attraction to the Christian faith is other Christians. Unfortunately, however, the number-one detraction to the Christian faith is other Christians.” (Pastor Mike Miller)

Several years ago Hollywood gave us an in-depth look at ongoing child molestation in the Archdiocese of Boston in the docudrama Spotlight starring Michael Keaton. Under an extraordinary cloak of secrecy, the Archdiocese quietly settled scores of sexual abuse cases leveled against at least 70 priests in Boston. The Spotlight investigative team of the Boston Globe found court records and other documents that identified 19 present and former priests who had been accused as pedophiles. The investigative team discovered that the church’s annual directories showed as many as 107 priests were removed from parishes and placed in such categories as “sick leave” or “absent on leave” and “awaiting assignment.”

Cardinal Bernard Law says he “cannot estimate” how many priests have molested children.

Cardinal Bernard Law, Archdiocese of Boston

The child molestation problem in the Catholic church is only one of numerous failings atheists and doubters like to cite when attacking Christianity. As scandals go, the one involving Jim Bakker was huge. Bakker was accused of raping Jessica Hahn, a church secretary, then paying $279,000 for her silence. Hahn blew the whistle on questionable financial doings at PTL, a conglomerate of the Bakkers that included the church, a televangelist network, a theme park, a water park, and an extravagant residential complex. As a result of Ms. Hahn’s whistle blowing, Jim Bakker was found guilty on 24 counts of fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was paroled after serving 5 years behind bars.

In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart was implicated in a sex scandal involving a prostitute that resulted in his suspension and ultimate defrocking by the Assemblies of God church. Of course, this led to Swaggart’s now-famous “I have sinned” speech on television. Swaggart was found in the company of another prostitute in 1991, but refused to talk about the incident, deciding it was “flat none of your business.” Several prominent pastors have also come under fire for amassing fortunes and living an opulent lifestyle. Joel Osteen is said to have a personal net worth of $40 million. Kenneth Copeland (The Believer’s Voice of Victory) is worth approximately $760 million. Pat Roberson is said to have a personal net worth of $100 million. Copeland owns a $17.5 million jet, and lives in a lakefront mansion worth $6 million. The median salary of a pastor in America as of March 2018 is $93,760.

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Unfortunately, Christianity in North America has suffered considerably from the widely reported—and widely enjoyed—failures of prominent clergy. Over and over again, talk-radio shows that feature religion have been besieged by callers who wanted to report on personal disappointments with people who call themselves Christians. An abusive father here, a repressive mother there; a flirtatious pastor or licentious youth leader; a thieving church treasurer or a dishonest employee who had proudly proclaimed his faith—over and over again, people of all walks of life report encounters with repellent Christians guilty of rather questionable behavior. These individuals come to symbolize Christianity to their victims, and the pain that they cause sticks to the religion they profess.

A Sign of the Times

We live in a sort-of time-between-the-times, in which people raised in a more or less Christian culture now are reacting against it. This condition especially afflicts Baby Boomers, that generation that has defined itself so centrally as rebelling against “the Establishment.” Christianity was a part of the regime of Mom and Dad against whom they were reacting. Christian apologetics, accordingly, will have to be especially sensitive to this sort of resentment, as well as the incredulity expressed by many over outrageous scandals like the ones I described above. With the increasing presence of believers of other faiths, especially Islam, we are being forced to express a multicultural acceptance of the beliefs of others, sometimes to the subduing or exclusion of our own Christian beliefs. Again, Christians are considered narrow-minded, bigoted, elitist, and just plain dumb. This gulf today is essentially between liberalism and conservatism.

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Skepticism, fear, and anger toward traditional religion are growing in power and influence. The non-churchgoing population in the United States and Europe is steadily increasing. The number of Americans answering “no religious preference” to poll questions has skyrocketed, having doubled or even tripled in the last decade (Douthat, 2007). A century ago most U.S. universities shifted from a formally Christian foundation to an overtly secular one. In short, the world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time. For example, in Europe Christianity is growing modestly and Islam is growing exponentially, while fundamentalism is coming under constant vitriolic fire in the U.S.

As a child, the plausibility of a faith usually rests on the authority of others, but when we reach adulthood there is a need for personal, firsthand experience as well. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior the year I turned thirteen. I was baptized as an outward public sign of my new faith. I do not recall experiencing the presence of God. I unfortunately fell by the wayside for decades, struggling for forty years in active addiction. It took a 12-Step program to give me back the God of my youth and to discover the meaning of spirituality. I learned that we cannot inherit our salvation from our parents. Ultimately, I came to grips with my own faults, powerlessness, and problems. It was painful, but it has proven to make all the difference in my adult life. It has created in me an absolute conviction of the reality of the Good News of the Gospel.

Can Doubt be a Powerful Tool?

Is certainty overrated? Today’s militant atheists believe no one can prove the existence of God, so why bother trying? The late Christopher Hitchens, an atheist known across academia as a defender of science and reality, was fond of stating that parents’ forcing their faith in God on their children is a form of child abuse, adding that it predisposes children to believing a myth rather than seeking observable, verifiable truth.

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Is it wrong to have doubts about your faith in God? Scripture says without faith it is impossible to please God (see Hebrews 11:6), and that a person who doubts shouldn’t expect to receive anything from Him (see James 1:7). In Matthew 9:23-25, we read about a father who brought his son to Jesus seeking healing for a life-long disease, perhaps epilepsy. The father said to Jesus, “If you can do anything…” Jesus replied, “‘If you can?’ Everything is possible for one who believes.” The man answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (NIV). So there is nothing unusual for even a Christian to experience doubt. In fact, even among the disciples some doubted.

Christianity isn’t about having faith in faith alone. The Greek word for faith (pistis) is a derivative of the Greek word for persuasion (peitho). In other words, faith is not merely a blind, mindless acceptance of things our parents told us. Instead, it is a confidence based upon convincing evidence. Perhaps this is why Josh and Sean McDowell titled their book on seeking evidence in support of the Gospel Evidence That Demands a Verdict. This father-and-son team wanted to help arm Christians who have been stumped by arguments against the Bible or Christianity. I’ve actually been told that Christianity is nothing but a fairy tale, unsupported by scientific fact. Lee Strobel, an award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune, set out to prove to his wife and the rest of the world that Christianity was bunk. What resulted was his book The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. The book also led to a major motion picture of the same name, and a series of books to follow.

Was Jesus an Apologist?

Jesus was a brilliant thinker, who used logical arguments to refute His critics and establish the truth of His views. When Jesus praised the faith of children, He was encouraging humility as a virtue, not irrational religious trust or a blind leap of faith in the dark. Jesus deftly employed a variety of reasoning strategies in His debates on various topics. These include escaping the horns of a dilemma, a fortiori arguments, appeals to evidence, and reductio ad absurdum arguments. Jesus’ use of persuasive arguments demonstrates that He was both a philosopher and an apologist who rationally defended His worldview in discussions with some of the best thinkers of His day. This intellectual approach does not detract from His divine authority but enhances it.

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Jesus’ high estimation of rationality and His own application of arguments indicate that Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith. Followers of Jesus today, therefore, should emulate His intellectual zeal, using the same kinds of arguments He Himself used. Jesus’ argumentative strategies have applications to four contemporary debates: (i) the relationship between God and morality; (ii) the reliability of the New Testament; (iii) the resurrection of Jesus; and (iv) ethical relativism.

Apologetics Strengthens Believers

Many Christians claim to believe in Jesus, but only a minority can articulate good reasons for why their beliefs are true. When Christians learn good evidences for the truth of the Bible, for the existence of God, or how to respond to tough challenges to the faith, they gain confidence in their beliefs. Numerous studies show a number of students tend to leave the church during their college years. While they leave for many different kinds of reasons (moral, volitional, emotional, relational, etc.), intellectual questions are one important factor. Young people have genuine intellectual questions. And when these questions are not answered, many leave the church. Perhaps the contemporary church needs a renewal of apologetics.

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People naturally have questions. They always have and always will. Jesus understood this. One of the key functions of apologetics, then, is to respond to questions and clear away objections people have that hinder their trust in Christ. Apologist, author, and speaker Ravi Zacharias emphasizes the important impact of an alert response to someone’s question, even in a small way: “Do not underestimate the role you play in clearing the obstacles in someone’s spiritual journey. A seed sown here, a light shone there, may be all that is needed to move someone one step further.”

Evangelism and apologetics are closely related. Both have a common general goal: encouraging commitment to Jesus Christ. In fact, in certain theological circles, apologetics has been labeled pre-evangelism. On this understanding, apologetics clears the ground for evangelism; it makes evangelism more effective by preemptively addressing impediments to hearing the Gospel. This is certainly true, but apologetics is also useful in the midst of the presentation of the Gospel and after the presentation of the Gospel. In other words, there is no moment in which a Christian takes off his or her evangelist hat and puts on their apologist hat. The relationship is more seamless than that. The difference between the two is one of focus rather than substance. Evangelism is focused on presenting the Gospel; apologetics is focused on defending and commending the Gospel. There is, moreover, an important difference in the audience of evangelism and apologetics. Evangelism is done only with non-Christians, but apologetics is done with Christians and non-Christians alike.

What’s Next?

Next Monday I will delve into “There Can’t Be Only One True Religion, Can There?”

References

Bloom, A. (1987). The Closing of the American Mind. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Douthat, R. (July/August 2007). “Crisis of Faith.” The Atlantic Monthly.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S. (2017). Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Updated and Expanded. Nashville, TN: Thomas Collins.