the way of peace found in Jesus

The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.

Isaiah 59:8a

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else?

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him.

Romans 3:19b,21-22a; MSG

Justice and the peace that comes from that is often the emphasis we hear from younger Christians nowadays. And for many good reasons. For one thing, the gospel often proclaimed and taught in evangelical circles is mostly about our own relationship with God and with others. That is truth, and very needed, and certainly does not exclude teaching about what is just and right, true and good, merciful and bringing peace. But it’s not the entire truth or application of the gospel.

There does need to be an emphasis on justice in society, not just personal righteousness which supposedly brings the needed justice. There is a needed reckoning within the world system to judge and root out, yes, systemic evil. With reference to racial injustice, and many other evils in the world. So this instinct and passion within and active in the younger generations should be welcomed and appreciated.

What we have to be careful of is getting the cart before the horse. Justice in itself is not the point nor the goal, not for the Christian. Jesus and God’s good news of grace and the kingdom come in him is the proper focus. That brings the necessary judgment on evil to be replaced by what is truly the good, flourishing life for humans, for all humanity. 

The emphasis therefore needs to be on Jesus, on God in the human Jesus, the Spirit’s amen and work from that, and the difference that can make, yes, even in this world. In challenging all the injustice, and beginning to see the new world emerge among us. And we shouldn’t fail to mention that it is through nothing short of the blood of Jesus, his death, so that all evil was absorbed into that day on Jesus. So that evil is now dealt with in the truly Christian way through Jesus’s death on the cross. The new life through his resurrection, following.

Not to say that God isn’t at work through some ways in the world which though we would say ultimately is through Jesus and God’s work in him, is not actually linked to that. Indeed that may well be. But the unique way in Jesus in the love for one’s enemies and the way of the cross is at the forefront of what God’s justice looks like. It is tempered with mercy, and brings in the needed full salvation beginning even now. In our lives, but breaking into earthly principalities and powers, high places where this is not only known, but opposed. Even though that’s ongoing on this side of time. Not for the faint of heart, but part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

what is the most important thing about you?

No matter what else, the most basic truth about us all is that we’re made in God’s image. And that we as individuals are part of the human community. And that God has placed us here to rule over the earth under God’s rulership and authority. That plays itself out in as many ways as there are people, but humankind is to be in that together.

Yes, sin has broken our relationship to God and to each other. So another basic truth about us is that we are sinners in need of salvation. That we’ve all disobeyed God’s will which is essentially our failure to love God in return for God’s love for us, and our failure to love our neighbor as ourselves, sometimes instead, sadly enough resorting to hatred. And violence in word and deed, tragically way too often.

Another basic truth about us is that we as human beings are indeed unique. Each and every animal and species deserves our appreciation and respect for their own importance and dignity. But human beings alone are said to be made in God’s image, as already stated. We need to protect God’s creation, the animals which are important for themselves and for the biosphere, and seek to manage all of that well.

That God became flesh, fully human and one of us in Jesus speaks volumes as to who we are. God forever becoming human in Jesus means that our humanity is valuable, as we read in the Psalms, we’re made a little lower than the angels or it can be translated there, a little lower than God.

That Jesus took our sin on himself, the wrath of humanity poured on him at the cross, and that God turned that very act into God’s means of forgiveness for all who believe is quite remarkable. In God’s purposes done before the creation of the world.

And Jesus rose from the dead, thus defeating death and ushering in the new creation. And all who have faith are destined to share in that new creation when all will be well at last. For all who have faith, and look to God. Through Christ.

But we must beware that this is only about making ourselves feel better, while failing to include others. Like our African American sisters and brothers who have suffered indignity after indignity. Or our Muslim friends, or the LGBTQ+ community. We’re all in this together in the human race. Each and everyone of us is important to God, indeed cherished by God. We need to stand with those whose humanity is falsely seen as diminished for this or that reason.

And so what is most important about you or I is not a whole host of things we might be thinking about now. Like how you voted or what your American political position is. We are loved by God, and out of that love we’re to love each other. All through the saving work of Christ. So that who we are is more and more fully known only in community together with everyone else. In God’s love in and through Jesus.

the fruit of the Spirit, the love of the cross

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:22-26

Something of the practical culmination of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we are seeing how this new life no longer under Torah (the Law), but under the Spirit is to be worked out in life. We see that while it is a fruit of the Spirit, something we could never come up with ourselves, we still have responsibility in living it out. It doesn’t just happen automatically. We can fall into sins of the flesh, and inevitably will if we fail to walk by the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit here in its essence is a love which is the same as the love of the cross, by which I mean Christ’s love made known and given to us through his death, so that we not only receive its benefits, but participate in it in this life. When you read the entire letter to the Galatians you see that Paul’s argument is inextricably linked to the cross, to Christ’s death for us, of course followed by his resurrection. So that all that follows comes from that.

Love is straightforward in that love is love. But the love spoken of here is not the love we find in the world. There’s overlap, but through and through it is genuinely different. It is a love which forgives others, and doesn’t hold grudges. It’s a love willing to sacrifice for the good of others, whatever the cost might be. It’s a love which never accepts or rejoices in evil, but delights in truth prevailing in all of life. 1 Corinthians 13 describes this love well. No less than the love of Christ himself.

What is needed in our lives is nothing less than the fruit of the Spirit. We have to depend on the Holy Spirit and as we do, we’ll see the Spirit’s fruit, and the love which is surely the heart of it become more and more a part of who we are and how we live. In and through Jesus.

receiving eternal life is not merely signing on the dotted line

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Philippians 1:12-20; CSB

I have been away from churches like this for decades, but there at least used to be the strong teaching, and I think it still holds sway in the minds of many evangelicals, to some extent it has in my own thinking, that once you’re saved through faith in Christ, you’re always saved. There’s no need to get into the weeds over that teaching here. What I want to highlight is what the King James Version, and here, the Christian Standard Bible translate more literally:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:18b-19; CSB

The Greek word, σωτηρία is more literally translated “salvation”, though in some contexts it might mean physical deliverance. Most translations do translate it “deliverance” or the like. But from what I’ve heard, Paul could well have had something else in mind here. Namely the salvation he wanted to receive from God when he would stand before God after this life in the great Day.

There is past, present and future salvation in Scripture. Like Karl Barth answered when someone asked him when he was saved, he pointed back to the time of the cross, Jesus’s death, whatever year that was (33 AD), or many of us would point to the time when we committed our lives to Christ, or for some, they don’t know when their faith began, but they know they have it now. God’s salvation is accomplished in the past act of Christ in Christ’s death and resurrection, and by faith we receive and enter into that salvation.

When salvation is spoken of, it is mostly, as I remember, present. God is at work in our lives to change us, indeed save from the present evil age. To save us not only from the penalty, but also the power of sin. To indeed save us from ourselves in our fallenness and brokenness. More and more into who we were created to be through the new creation in Jesus.

And salvation is future. Someday, in the great Day, we’ll be transformed into full conformity to Jesus, something which indeed begins in this life, but will be completed then. And that will be a vindication of what we were in this life. Not just what we had received as a gift, but how we lived as a result of that gift. Something we see expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Eternal life is not just about signing on the dotted line, and thinking we’re secure. That can end up being what Dallas Willard called “bar code Christianity,” thinking one is in no matter what, just because they once “asked Jesus into their heart,” or however they might describe their salvation experience.

Eternal life involves no less than following Jesus all the way. No turning back, and doing so together with others, through our love, help, and prayers, just what Paul was alluding to here. In and through Jesus.

God’s greatest act of salvation

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.

Psalm 98:1-2

When you read the Old Testament, you’ll read stories of God’s salvation in terms of overcoming the enemy by acts of power, sometimes through God’s people, but other times not. In fact the greatest act of redemption we find there is the Exodus, which while includes the Passover and is primarily seen as the parting of the Red Sea for God’s people to cross, after which it fell back, engulfing those intent on bringing God’s people back into bondage.

When those of that time read Psalm 98, they surely thought of that act in Exodus, the Exodus: God’s deliverance of his people from slavery. So they would not have been prepared for God’s ultimate act of salvation and redemption.

We find that in Jesus in the unimaginable way of the cross. That is where the last enemies of God are completely defeated, someday to be forever vanquished. That is where God makes his salvation known, and reveals his righteousness to the nations. The cross of Christ. His death for the world, followed by the verification of that in his resurrection.

That is the greatest act of God’s salvation. In and through Jesus.

“the present crisis”

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

The “present crisis” is tied to the time being short, and the world in its present form passing away. That may have to do with the realization of the change that Christ’s resurrection brought, the beginning of the end of this world, as the new word and new creation begins to emerge in Christ, someday to be culminated and completed when he returns.

That being said, we still have to deal with whatever our “present crisis” may be, which depends on time, place and circumstances for sure, unless it’s the general idea of what all Christians go through in life as followers of one Lord, Jesus. This is not going to let up, but in some form will always be with us, if indeed it’s the latter thought that is in view. But it is temporary, even said here to be short.

The point is that we followers of Christ live differently given the new world we’re a part of within the old world in which we live. Yet we do share common concerns, true if we marry or even if we don’t. There’s no escape from the problems which beset a broken world. Right now with the COVID-19 pandemic we have an illustrative case in point. We’ll do many of the same things everyone else should be doing. Or at least out of love for neighbor I think we should be doing those things, like wearing a face mask in public, etc. But because of our faith in Jesus with the confidence that somehow the new world is emerging, we will also act differently. Never violating love for neighbor or what is properly right in the eyes of all. But with the confidence that this is not the end. And that we’re here to be devoted to the Lord, whatever our situation. In and through Jesus.

the power of the cross in its weakness is not only about salvation

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13:4

The way of the cross in Jesus didn’t stop when Jesus was resurrected, nor after his ascension. It seems too often, at least to me that the cross is viewed only with reference to salvation. And there’s no doubt that it’s central in that. But that salvation is not only through the cross, but into a cruciform, cross-formed life.

Our life in Christ is an in-Christ life. In the power of Christ’s resurrection insofar as it’s grounded and established in his death. That is the power for how we live the life of the cross. Paradoxically the power of Christ’s resurrection enables us to live out the reality and meaning of his death in this life (Philippians 3:10). And we won’t have to look hard in the gospels, or the letters to find directives which comport with that.

This is the one and only way in Jesus, not only for our salvation, but for all of life.

the impracticality of the Sermon on the Mount

On one of the podcasts I’ve been listening to, Stephen Backhouse said something like a government can’t be run if one follows Jesus’s teaching, specifically the Sermon on the Mount, and his example. True. And what if that’s the point for us in Jesus? What if we’re to live an alternative way of life here, not practical in the world’s eyes, but only on God’s agenda given to us in Jesus?

And Stephen Backhouse pointed out that we shouldn’t just consider this with reference to Jesus’s teaching, but that we need to read the rest of the New Testament with Jesus’s teaching in mind. Do Paul’s letters, Peter’s, John’s, and the rest of the New Testament line up with that? I think we’ll find that it clearly does.

What if we’re not to live by our own common sense, or what makes sense to the world, but what Jesus taught and not only exemplified, but pioneered, indeed opened up in the way of the cross, death and resurrection?

Something to prayerfully consider. In and through Jesus.

more cushion

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

Jesus is our shepherd, and he knows each one of us. A good pastor knows his people. He understands their felt needs, their propensities, what they need to realize their full potential- what God created them for, to be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ. And it comes out of a heart of love. Pastor is another word for shepherd, and Jesus knows us, his sheep through and through. Out of a heart of love, he gives us the cushion we need, grace to continue on in spite of ourselves and all the troubles we face. We then pass that same love to each other, as we continue on in our quest to follow him.

continue in God’s grace

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43

If there’s one thing I would want to press home to myself and others, it’s the importance and necessity of simply remaining in God’s grace through Jesus. There’s nothing more essentially basic than that. If we have any hope at all of actually having faith, and living in it, and by that I mean, beginning to see, understand and experience what God has for us, then it’s all because of God’s grace.

By God’s grace, I mean God’s gift in Christ, received by faith. It’s never something we could ever earn or deserve. Based on Christ’s sacrificial death for us through which we receive forgiveness of our sins and his resurrection life, beginning now.

Yes, it was especially crucial to the Jews of that time with the big change in place. But God’s grace is always radical in any context. Somehow we think it depends on us. It’s not like we’ll end up inactive, but what activity we have that’s actually Christian will be solely because of God’s grace, his gift to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, that’s the message I need day after day. Simply to continue on in the grace of God. In and through Jesus.