Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes unproductive!
Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes behavior modification!
Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes unproductive!
Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes behavior modification!
After practicing the presence of God last night my mind reflected on some things that Kyle Fever said in my Synoptics class video. We often read the book of Matthew like some of the things are not possible. In other words we read it as something just to point us to Christ and our need for Him. However that is not the message… at least the way Matthew is telling the story. Many of those things in Matthew, in community, are totally possible.
I thought how much better could practicing the presence of God be when I think they are possible. How much more delight in my conversation with God will there be? I often think to myself “It (or I) have always been this way. It will never change”. To not live in either fear or selfish entitlement of my own thoughts and feelings…. but to reflect on Gods presence and through him all things are possible.
Just my .02c worth on practicing the presence reflections last night.
I was reading Matthew as part of a Synoptics Gospel class I am taking. One of the things my instructor said was we often we read scripture through an individual lens. However, Matthew is meant to be read with a community lens. In other words when Jesus is saying you to the disciples he really means Ya’ all. In other words the community of disciples.
If you look at the bigger structure of Matthew the sermon on the mount is not commands to the disciples but they are rather an example of what Gods community should look like. Matthew went to to clarify and fulfill Jesus purpose and mission of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. A continual contrast of the the earthly kingdoms vs the disciples heaven on Earth continues to be contrasted in Matthew. Then later on Matthew discusses forgiveness.
21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a] who sins against me? Seven times?”
22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven![b]
The above reference was during Jesus’ discourse to his disciples about forgiving others that are a part of our Christian community. I can’t help but think the words of “I forgive” and going through just a “process of forgiveness” falls far short of living in an intimate community of discipleship with other Christians and far short of what I am reading in the book of Matthew. We often neglect the nuances and balance that the Synoptic Gospels offer us, neglecting the weightier matters of scripture for a more simplistic understanding and reading of the Gospels.
For me forgiveness is finally complete when I am back in intimate relationship in the community of believers and the ones I have wronged. Anything less is not what I read as Jesus’ message in Matthew.
Do I have a Grace and Mercy “narrative” in how I live my life… or do I have performance narrative or self preservation narrative.
Performance narrative … always trying to win, look good. Can be subtle, Today many people have a moral performance narrative. Performance narrative says if I obey and do good I am acceptable. It does not see its own sin but looks at the sin of others,
Self preservation narrative says I need to protect myself from pain and hurt because its not safe (emotionally safe). A person with a self preservation narrative says no matter what I do I will get hurt again. Self preservation narrative does not have emotional safety.
Grace and Mercy Narrative is like wd40. When you pour wd40 on a something “stuck” it soaks deeply into the joint. You never see the wd40 but it makes everything in the joint operate more smoothly. A grace and mercy narrative makes relationships operate more smoothly. It is the wd40 of relationships. Unlike a performance narrative it says I am acceptable, therefore I want to obey and do good. Unlike self preservation narrative it allows me to explore thoughts and feelings safely and gives me the opportunity to grow and change in a safe environment.
However, grace and mercy needs to soak deeply into a person, like wd40 does. The problem we have in todays world is grace and mercy are often understood intellectually… is is not a deeply entrenched narrative in how people live their lives. Often for grace and mercy to become a deeply entrenched “narrative” it must be gained experientially driven vs just intellectually understood.
The Gospel (The Good News) of Jesus Christ tell us…
(Part 1) We are more sinful and weak than we ever cared to admit
(Part 2) We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.
So I find myself writing this on the Eve of Christmas Eve. I do not fully understand why this has been in my thoughts recently.
As I have lived my life I have noticed that many people understand sin. Also, many people understand how high, deep, and wide Gods love is for us (Ephesians 2). Many churches, religious institutions, and groups of people quite often have a “lens” in which they interpret scripture that are either more centric of part 1 or more centric on part 2 of the Gospel message. However, the stories of scripture often reflect a much more complex and dynamic truth than than either just part 1 or just part 2 of the Gospel alone could ever describe, Some of the theologians in todays world that may be labelled as “new age” or “emergent” are often in love with love as their primary lens of interpreting scripture. Other people or churches are legalistic or black and white , pointing out the sins of other people and how bad and ungodly that sin might be.
In the Gospel definition above there is an ampersand! We are both loved and sinful. This gives rise to very complex truths such as in MY weaknesses (and sin) I see the power of God in the gospel — that he would come to me while still a sinner. It is the ampersand that makes the gospel electrifying!
Many people understand the truth of part 1 of the gospel and many people understand the truth of part 2 of the gospel. It appears to me that as people relate to other groups slightly different, often with different sins — that it is much more difficult to embrace the ampersand in the Gospel. I call this living with a gospel gap in our faith. This gospel gap basically means we have not come to grips with the ampersand of the gospel message.
There are a lot of good ampersand examples in scripture. My favorite is the example of King David. King David in what I call “Bathsheba Gate” had an affair with Bathsheba and plotted and killed her husband but was also called a man after Gods own heart. He was used mightily to advance Gods kingdom. KIng David was an adulterer and (&) a man after Gods own heart!
My wife and I facilitate Marriage Rebuilders, a ministry for broken and struggling marriages. Quite often a spouse might say how can he/she love me but also he/she have an affair. Learning to understand that we can love another person and(&) be pretty messed up is a difficult but necessary step a person must take in recovery of a broken relationship. Learning to understand the ampersand of truth allow the couple to start talking about difficult topics without engaging in black and white thinking. In other words the ampersand of truth allowed the couple to start talking honestly about their issues. This honesty and transparency, if returned with honesty and transparency is the first step to regaining intimacy in Marriage.
If we embrace part 1 of the gospel (sin) more than love we have no choice but to live with a legalistic system of thought. When people cross certain boundaries we have no choice but to look down on them. Quite often we throw out critical and hurtful labels. Often we simplistically (and carelessly) caricaturize other groups of sinners. At the extremes of this kind of thinking you may have religious bullying. These people may have a network of broken relationships because they can not live as sinners who live with other sinners whose sin is different from theirs. Changes and growth are centered around trying harder and being more spiritual and more accountable. Gods grace and love have lost its electrifying nature and instead we engage in stoic religious processes to try to grow.
If you embrace part 2 (love) more than the fact that we are sinners you don’t see how electrifying Gods grace can be. You see no reason to change and grow because Gods love does not challenge sin.
Living with a gospel gap (neglecting the ampersand of our faith) makes real honesty, change, and growth impossible. We might be able to grow intellectually but personal, emotional, and psychological growth are not possible.
Think about the “ampersand moments” of your life. The ampersand moments in life are hard… but they are important opportunities to grow and to learn self honesty. Are there some ampersand moments in your life that you could share with someone else? Could this “ampersand story” be a blessing to them? Finally, the ultimate ampersand is shown to us through the Gospel message that Jesus came us while we were still sinners! Today, lets fully embrace the Gospel! Hallelujah!
The following is a reblog post of a while back:
I strive very much to have a mercy narrative in how I live and behave…. especially in light of the things that have occurred and played out in my life. Mercy and love are two words that are very interchangeable in scripture. Mercy basically means love toward people that are strugglers and sinners.
There are two basic narrative identities at work among professing Christians. The first is what I will call the moral-performance narrative identity. These are people who in their heart of hearts say, I obey; therefore I am accepted by God. The second is what I will call the grace or mercy narrative identity. This basic operating principle is, I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.
People living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may superficially look alike. They may sit right beside one another in the church pew, both striving to obey the law of God, to pray, to give money generously, to be good family members. But they are doing so out of radically different motives, in radically different spirits, resulting in radically different personal characters.
So what do you do when these two narratives clash! I know that I can have a form of grace-legalism; that is, I can have an unloving heart toward unloving self-righteousness ….. or pharasaism. So what have I learned! Well, the first thing is just love others unconditionally. The second thing is when confronted by self righteoussness is to have strong boundaries when it comes to your communication. Love them … yes … but these people are not the same as the people you trust in the closer circle… so dont communicate in with them the same way. The deeper levels of communication are reserved for people you trust and have a secure track record with. For example, I have a few close friends that have invited me into their inner circle. These are special friends. We talk at a deep level. We are invited into each others lives and discuss things at a very intimate level. My wife is one of those people. I have a few other men in my life that share that same level of communication. Communication goes beyond cliches, fact reporting, and advice-giving. Its transparent, honest, and gulp…. intimate. Walls of performance and personal image have been torn down…. mostly!
Also this form of communication is threatening to most people and to talk to people that aren’t ready at this level is almost impossible. They will feel threatened. You really cant invite yourself into that world unless you invite each other in. To go in uninvited means a threatening environment for the other person. And if you are invited in it also means you share a two-way, not a one-way street.
The thing you can do with ALL people is to have a mercy and grace narrative with them! This is the one need and thing you can offer that is completely audience and type of person independent. This grace and mercy narrative meets the needs of all people all the time!
The parable of the pharisee and tax collector contrasts the pharasaical moral performance narrative approach with the mercy narrative of the tax collector!
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I want to point you to the words “I fast twice a week”! Up to this point the pharisee was only quoting old testament law about being a robber, an evil-doer, etc. Now he says he fasts twice a week. He now has an additive to the divine will of God! He now has something other than a grace and mercy narrative to the tax collector! He compares his moral performance to the tax collector’s and says here look at my performance RELATIVE to him!
This is what phariseeism does it. It adds a tweak or narrative that exists outside of the Gospel based truth and adds something to the truth. It has a close resemblance to the truth…. but its really a very evasive lie. It compares its performance to the others. The tax collector on the other hand just looks at his own heart and says “God have mercy on me a sinner”.
Today, I am thankful for the way my wife and I communicate. Sue and I are taking a marriage class and she told me last week “I cant believe how far we have come”. It took a lot of hard work for me and Sue to get past the first three levels of communication of (1) cliches, (2) reporting facts, and (3) giving advice. Its deeper and more intimate and it (4) shares real needs and feelings… yes men, feelings…. and it (5) risks emotional and personal openness.
I am also thankful for the men that have invited me into their lives and that I have invited in. Together, we strive to see the tax collector and the pharisee in all of us and says “have mercy on me, a sinner”!
I get to back to this topic quite often as I always consider the framework for why people behave as they do. I lead mens groups for men that are struggling with stuff and next year my wife and I have been approved to lead Marriage Rebuilders leading groups of people in struggling marriages. So I am reminded of the get real with our problems scripture as I re-read this:
1 John 1:8
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
The remainder of this post is a reblog:
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.“
22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
I have been somewhat enamored on the idea of why God did not want us to know good and evil like He did in recent years. The tree we were NOT suposed to eat from was even called the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. For many, knowing good and evil is what Christianity is all about and the height of their being Christians.
I took off a bit early on Friday and since it was too windy to ride my motorcycle I actually rented a couple of movies to relax and take it easy from work. Since the kids and Sue were not around I decided to rent an action movie or what I call a man movie.
The movie was Beowulf. Its about a midieval danish king and the setting was a time where Glory was what made men approved by other men. They sang songs of their war victories and glories. They gloried in their conquering of women and they gloried in their magnificent feasts of drunkenness where they told stories and sang of their glories and conquests.
All cultures and individuals have a sense of something where if I have this one thing I will be approved and have glory. In asian culture if they lose their job there is so much shame they wont even tell their families. The asians also laugh at American culture who find their glory in looking thin, beauty, and wanting botox injections and cosmetic surgery.
In the movie Beowulf, he actually had more then enough glory for most men … but he lusted for this glory. IN the movie, to get the highest glory, he actually lived a lie to become the King. The root of this lie affected the relationship with his queen whom he did love and it took a toll on his soul as he live his life in complete and utter pretense about his glory.
Toward the end of the movie Beowulf, on the brink of trying to fix this life and this lie he had been living came to grips with himself when he said to his wife: ” I am not the man you think me to be. Keep a memory of me not as a King or hero, but as man fallible and flawed.” At this point in his life, Beowulf understood he had lived a life of pretense.
This might seem a bit far fetched in todays culture, but Genesis tells us that Beowulf was engaging in a carnal form of the mans original sin. The fall tells us we live lives of self-glorification as opposed to living in a trust-relationship with God and only glorifying Him. The passage above says the serpent tempted us with being “like God” or being our own god. The story of the fall also tells us that mans idea of good and evil is fatally flawed and I believe this is something most Christians do not quite get. Our undestanding of good and evil is so flawed that we actually use the idea of morality as a power play for self-glorification where instead of submitting to God we use it to build ourselves up and look good in front of other people. We do the same thing with theology. Instead of using it to glorify God we use it to look good in front of others. While we discuss morality and theology we are actually engaging in self-glorification (being our own god) and we often don’t recognize it.
What we are basically doing in this self-glorifying process is temporarily medicating ourselves with our relationships, the rightness of our popularity, the rightness or our behavior, or the rightness of our beliefs. Quite often these more subtle sins that we medicate ourselves on are not that much different from people that struggle with extramarital affairs, online romantic affairs, and people that view porn on the internet … except for the social stigma associated to these things. They all have their roots in one thing… Idolatry or making something into a functional god of our heart! See mans original sin!
This is why, I believe. Romans 1:17 is so important.
This verse says the only righteousness we can have is through Gods atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ. The rest of the first part of Romans discusses our complete and utter inability to please God on our own efforts. Our only rightness, our only unmoving sense of approval can be found ONLY “in Christ”.
The point is this, I believe today our ultimate lust is a lust for divinity … to be our own gods and to live lives separate from God as we use anything at our fingertips for self-glorification. This is the message that comes from the fall of man. Sometimes this selfish lust comes from a lust for power, sex, or money. Other times this lust comes from making a good thing into an ultimate thing like your status (social or moral) or job and work. These things became functional gods that control us. I have seen multiple examples of this in the people I meet and each story is quite unique in its idolatrous sin. We tend to all want to turn good things into ultimate things. Are you aware of the devastating affects of doing this?
Brothers and sisters the point is this, if we dont find our rightness in Christ we will find our rightness in some other thing we can glory in completely apart from God. If we don’t find our rightness in Christ, we WILL find our rightness in something else: relationships, materialism, beliefs (name your idol here). This list is endless.
Lets find our rightness only in Christ (Romans 1:17) so we can most fully glorify God.
monstrum incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty)
I found this article at:
I have some words highlighted in red below. In todays world man has become profoundly inwardly focused on how he can impact and imprint the world via moralism or righteouss acts. His focus on his own external behavior diminishes the Glory of the cross and gospel and what God finished on the cross. Its not me do… its what He has done! Don’t get me wrong, I feel called to lead sanctification oriented ministries. However, I find a very common gospel-gap in most growth oriented ministries that results in people that can’t be very honest and open before God. This gospel-gap that focuses on my external moral behavior without focussing on Christs work in my heart by what HE did for us on the cross !!! …. I see as major hindrance to real-christ oriented sanctification and implementing the James 5:15 where we can truly see and confess our sins!
Where To Look When You’re In Trouble
A shift has taken place in the Evangelical church with regard to the way we think about the gospel–and it’s far from simply an ivory tower conversation. This shift effects us on the ground of everyday life.
In his book Paul: An Outline of His Theology, famed Dutch Theologian Herman Ridderbos (1909 – 2007) summarizes this shift which took place following Calvin and Luther. It was a sizable but subtle shift which turned the focus of salvation from Christ’s external accomplishment to our internal appropriation:
While in Calvin and Luther all the emphasis fell on the redemptive event that took place with Christ’s death and resurrection, later under the influence of pietism, mysticism and moralism, the emphasis shifted to the individual appropriation of the salvation given in Christ and to it’s mystical and moral effect in the life of the believer. Accordingly, in the history of the interpretation of the epistles of Paul the center of gravity shifted more and more from the forensic to the pneumatic and ethical aspects of his preaching, and there arose an entirely different conception of the structures that lay at the foundation of Paul’s preaching.
Donald Bloesch made a similar observation when he wrote, “Among the Evangelicals, it is not the justification of the ungodly (which formed the basic motif in the Reformation) but the sanctification of the righteous that is given the most attention.”
With this shift came a renewed focus on the internal life of the individual. The subjective question, “How am I doing?” became a more dominant feature than the objective question, “What did Jesus do?” As a result, generations of Christians were taught that Christianity was primarily a life-style; that the essence of our faith centered on “how to live”; that real Christianity was demonstrated in the moral change that took place inside those who had a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our ongoing performance for Jesus, therefore, not Jesus’ finished performance for us, became the focus of sermons, books, and conferences. What I need to do and who I need to become, became the end game.
Believe it or not, this shift in focus from “the forensic to the pneumatic”, from the external to the internal, has enslaving practical consequences.
When you’re on the brink of despair–looking into the abyss of darkness, experiencing a dark-night of the soul–turning to the internal quality of your faith will bring you no hope, no rescue, no relief. Every internal answer will collapse underneath you. Turning to the external object of your faith, namely Christ and his finished work on your behalf, is the only place to find peace, re-orientation, and help. The gospel always directs you to something, Someone, outside you instead of to something inside you for the assurance you crave and need in seasons of desperation and doubt. The surety you long for when everything seems to be falling apart won’t come from discovering the dedicated “hero within” but only from the realization that no matter how you feel or what you’re going through, you’ve already been discovered by the “Hero without.”
As Sinclair Ferguson writes in his book The Christian Life:
True faith takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself. Faith gets a man out of himself and into Christ. Its strength therefore depends on the character of Christ. Even those of us who have weak faith have the same strong Christ as others!
By his Spirit, Christ’s continuing subjective work in me consists of his constant, daily driving me back to his completed objective work for me. Sanctification feeds on justification, not the other way around. To be sure, both doctrine and devotion go hand in hand, but the gospel is the good news announcing Christ’s devotion to us, not our devotion to him. The gospel is not a command to hang onto Jesus. Rather, it’s a promise that no matter how weak your faith may be in seasons of spiritual depression, God is always holding on to you.
Martin Luther had a term for the debilitating danger that comes from locating our hope in anything inside us: monstrum incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty). It’s a danger that has always plagued Christians since the fall but especially Christians in our highly subjectivistic age. And it’s a monster that can only be destroyed by the external promises of God in Jesus.
Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a bonafide peace that’s built on a real change in status before God—from standing guilty before God the judge to standing righteous before God our Father. This is the objective custody of even the weakest believer. It’s a peace that rests squarely on the fact that we’ve already been “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (v. 10), justified before God once and for all through faith in Christ’s finished work. It will surely produce real feelings and robust action, but this peace with God that Paul describes rests securely on the work of Christ for us, outside us. The truth is, that the more I look into my own heart for peace, the less I find. On the other hand, the more I look to Christ and his promises for peace, the more I find.
So, when pressed in on every side, look up. In God’s economy, the only way out is always up, not in.
I was listening to Bill Bohline preach on Acts a few weeks back. He discussed 4 general steps that the bible discusses.
Point 1 is generally assumed. Bill said quite often Churches are stuck in points 2 or point 3. The legallist will stay stuck in point 2 wanting to remind people of their sin. Usually, understanding well the new covenant of grace but living functionally in the old covenant of the law. The antinomian will stay stuck on point 3 only wanting to talk about unconditional love and Gods Grace and the new covenant … always forgetting about sin. As I have discussed in previous posts…. the 2 errors of the Gospel are those 2 extremes. Staying stuck on point 2 or 3 both miss opportunities for change and growth in the Gospel message of grace toward sinners.
As is the case for many Martin Luther purists …. we pride ourselves in having the proper biblical distinction between law and gospel and keeping the “bullseye” in front of us!
Bill then made a very good point. He said churches don’t always tell the rest of the story. They don’t often show the rest of the story where Jesus has restored and his people are living in freedom and the victory of the cross …. and to be bold people who share their stories while helping others overcoming their brokenness. We just don’t live in the victory of the cross! In our religiosity we continue to live in bondage! The victory of the Gospel is where we should live! The victory of the cross slowly rewrites our story into Gods story!
Why did this come to mind…. well, I had an interesting thing happen to me a month back and came to some enlightening observations about myself …. but mostly I had some God moments where I saw God writing a different story of me than what I was trying to write for myself.
I have mentioned on previous posts about some friends that have a long line of broken relationships. He was/is a good friend of mine for the last 35 years. I was the only person from his side of friends that was invited to their wedding. I am fairly certain they no longer have a relationship with his brothers. Also, as I said they have other broken relationships of his friends before marriage. I am sure there are others I am not aware of as well. These conflicts normally started from a tension with her religious legalism and then later on him coming to rescue and protect her in the conflict.
Well, a few years back, in a time after my sin and transgressions… it came to light that he was struggling with some pretty deep issues. However, in her fear based world she no Continue reading
In the last couple of weeks I purchased a cheap deck of cards. Since the book of Psalms and Proverbs discusses wisdom and “the heart” a lot I decided to use the stack of cards as a “tool” to figure out the things that have been important to me in the past … but more important to figure out the things that need to be important to me according scripture.
The Greatest Commandment
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So in light of this deck of cards being a “personal inventory of my own heart” I started writing on the deck of cards using all the “hearts” as stuff that symbolized items and things that could be ‘functional gods’ of my heart.
The Ace of hearts: On the highest card, the Ace of hearts, I wrote Jesus and King of Kings to be inline with the scriptural truth of the greatest commandment to “love our god with all our heart”. Jesus became the Ace of hearts or the heart with the highest power.
The Queen of Hearts: I made the second highest card the Queen of hearts and I wrote my wifes name on that card. Sue is my wife and my queen of hearts! Scripture calls the marriage union a one-flesh union and says it is not good for man to be alone. God makes a point of emphasizing emphasizing marriage and woman as “very good” in the book of Genesis!
The King of Hearts: I made the next card directly below the queen to be the “king of hearts” and wrote my name on this card. Yes, the second greatest command said to love others as “yourself”. So I believe scripture allows us to place ourselves high in this deck of cards.
The Jack of Hearts: My wife and I dont believe in child centered parenting so the next card was the Jack of hearts and I wrote both my daughters’ names on this card.