love is the true expression of faith

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

We might find ourselves in some sort of quandary, not knowing what to do. Of course as Christians we are dependent on God’s grace, and we reach out in faith, so we justifiably may be working on that. Our focus, of course, necessarily on Christ. But there’s one key thing we need to remember in it all: what is of value is faith which is worked out in love. If love for God and for our neighbor (including, even our enemies), and especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ, is not paramount in our thinking, then we’ve lost our way, and we’re into something less than the way in Jesus, something less than true Christianity.

Dallas Willard wrote and spoke of a “bar code Christianity” in which the only thing that mattered is faith and the fact that through that faith, the believer would someday go to heaven. But as he adeptly pointed out, that is not the real thing, and ends up being no faith at all, as far as the faith talked about in the Bible. It is not about us, and how we are secure so that nothing else matters. Or that the only thing that does matter is our security in this life, to go with the security we have for the next life. No. That is not the faith as given to us in Jesus, and therefore ends up falling short of true, genuine faith.

Faith, hope and love remain, the greatest of these, love (1 Corinthians 13). This might mean that we need to get creative, or wait on the Lord for a better decision or thought to come to mind when we are faced with something that seems somehow to pose some danger to us. We must always seek to act in love, so that those involved might see in our actions the love which we’ve experienced through grace, the love of the Lord.

“let go and let God” -really?

This past summer we enjoyed a wonderful concert by Michael Card at the Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference Tabernacle. At the front on top in the center, I noticed a small sign in large letters, “LET GO AND LET GOD.” In light of my recent read of The Cure, referred to yesterday, and the recent emphasis on trying to better understand and live more fully in God’s grace in Jesus, I thought I would consider this slogan, and its viability in light of scripture and the gospel.

To begin, I have noticed critiques of this saying, which cast it on its head as something to be either thorougly rejected, or at least held at arm’s length as incomplete. I think misunderstandings of it are certainly not only possible, but probable, and almost endemic (a given), due to the lack of Biblical, theological knowledge so many people have, even within the church. And even if there is some significant knowledge and understanding gathered from a good number of years of being in the church and reading scripture, I fear that the possible truth behind this slogan can be all but missed, so that in our life and practice, we completely miss whatever might be true in its meaning.

First of all, what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we’re saved now, and that’s all that matters, so that we shouldn’t be concerned about our lives, or what’s going on around us, that we can let all of that go, and let God take care of it. Since after all, God is on the Throne, and whatever happens here doesn’t change his rule, or will one iota, as if God’s will will be carried out regardless. That’s subtle in that there’s some truth in it, but misses an important point. And it doesn’t mean that what we do, or fail to do doesn’t matter. However that’s tricky, as well, since we often live as if that’s all that matters, or at least is key.

I think what it is getting at is in terms of the teaching of grace as opposed to law. Not a grace that is in opposition to the Law of God, but a grace by which one can fulfill the requirement of that Law, which essentially is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture makes it clear that we can’t fulfill God’s Law, by that Law itself, a repeated theme. We were never intended to be able to do it on our own. The grace of God that is in Jesus is key here, that grace being proclaimed in the gospel. It is only through what God has done in Jesus, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, that we can have life, and really live. It’s not in our own efforts either before, or after coming to Christ for salvation.

Letting go means that faith itself, the faith by which we began the new life in Christ, is necessary in continuing to live in that new life. And it’s a faith that is not in anything at all about ourselves, nor a faith which becomes dependent on ourselves in any way, shape, or form, at any time. It’s a faith only in God’s word in Christ in the gospel, so that the life which we do live is lived only in God’s grace, “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We will fail. Let that be in not only large letters, but bold ones. We will fail. If it depended on us, this Christian life, then we can sign, seal and deliver that we won’t make it, and not only that, we won’t really even begin to be settled in it, even if God in his grace allows us to have a good taste of it in our lives. No. What we enter into by sheer faith, must be lived out by sheer faith in the grace of God in Jesus. Through his death, death and sin and condemnation are done away with, once and for all. Insofar as we’re settled on that, we’ll begin to experience the difference that should make. The Christian life doesn’t depends on us even a little, but on Christ, and the good news in him. The source for our new life and living, is completely in him, not in ourselves. Even though we find it in his union with us, and the change that brings.

Once we begin to live in this grace, we act not within the constriction of law, as a duty, but the compulsion of grace, as a response to God’s love and gift to us in Jesus. We let go of our own self-effort to commend ourselves to God, knowing that we’re already complete and have fullness in and through Jesus. We are in him, and he in us, and community in Jesus through the church is certainly a part of that. Our identity to find our true selves is in Jesus, not in us. We are identified in him, in his death and resurrection, even in his ascension.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, and say more than any of us can really take in, not that we’re meant to understand all of that right away anyhow, we need to settle in again, on the slogan itself. Do we really believe the good news is in Jesus, and God’s grace in him? Are we willing to proceed with a blind, and naked faith, depending only on God’s word to us in Jesus? Will we step across that line, with a commitment to not turn back, or at least keep coming back when we most likely inevitably do return to our former and dead end way of living?

These are questions which remain, at least for myself. I want to break through into a new sort of life in Jesus, which I have already tasted many times through a good number of years, for sure. But which I’ve at least in large part failed to be settled in. The theme of God’s grace, which has come to my attention in recent weeks, has taken on a new focus, which while not really new in knowledge, may become new in understanding as in application for me, something I hope to better live in and be a witness to in whatever coming days and months and years may remain, in and through Jesus.

the fruit of the Spirit contrasted to the works of the flesh

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality,impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

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 5:13-26

I was much impressed in my meditation over scripture yesterday, now in Galatians, over the contrast of the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. And I didn’t want this to be an impression which comes and goes, and maybe only jogs the mind in a certain direction to correspond more to truth. But I prayed that this reality through the Spirit may be more and more who I am, as opposed to the works of the flesh, which I can at least in my heart fall into. And that I’ll learn better how to keep in step with the Spirit, and the Spirit’s working in my life.

When all around us is such great divisiveness, yes, even hate, we as God’s people in Jesus need to show the better way, not our imitation of Jesus, but the the Spirit enabling us to walk in his steps, beginning in our relationships with each other. Yes, to show the world a better way, the way actually, in Jesus. And to do so by no less than the blessed Holy Spirit. He alone as God can help us live in a different sphere, regardless of our feelings, or what we’re up against. To live in that fruit which is not of us, but of him, and yet worked into our very hearts and lives. My prayer to God is that this will be more and more the case in my life.

when who judge others we condemn themselves

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

It is interesting how often it is apparent that the very thing we see wrong in another is something we practice ourselves. We need insight from God to be able to see that. Jesus doesn’t tell us to quit judging as in having discernment in the Matthew passage quoted above. Rather he tells us to make sure we are scrupulous to take care of the sin in our own lives,  before we think we can help someone else with the sin in their lives. The crux of the matter is that we’re not to condemn others in a kind of final judgment which only God can make.

I think Paul is saying much the same thing in the Romans passage quoted above. He is challenging Jews who think that just because they had the Law/Torah, they were a cut (circumcision) above the rest. But Paul makes it clear in that letter that just like the rest of humankind, they too were under the power of sin. So that again, an emphasis is made on judging one’s self with reference to that Torah, and becoming obedient to the Law’s requirement, which is love for God and for our neighbor from the heart by the Spirit.

James has some good words for us related to this:

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4

Simply put, we’re not to put ourselves in the place of God. And here:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

Finally, in a sense bringing this to full circle, back to our Lord’s words:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7

I am very wary of topical studies such as this one, because they too often don’t do justice to the context of each passage, and are summarily slapped together in a way which ultimately often fails to support the main point, or at least is simplistic, failing to take into account the whole. Of course we should compare scripture with scripture, no doubt, while letting each passage and book within scripture have its own voice to be appreciated within the mix of the whole.

Today the point is that we must beware and at least be wary of judging others, since only God can see and judge, and since we are sinners, too. But as by grace we do judge ourselves, God will give us insight to help others judge themselves by God’s grace on the path of righteousness. And in the end, we should apply mercy, remembering that mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment. In other words, God’s salvation in Jesus overcomes the judgment and brings mercy in and through Jesus. So that we should learn to see both ourselves and others in light of that great reality and hope.

 

pleasing people versus faithfulness to Christ

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

Like most everything in life, this subject is complicated. Paul, quoted above also said in another place that he sought to please everyone in every way in not offending them over disputable, secondary matters, and in becoming what they were so as to win as many as possible to Christ through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

My point with this post this morning is that I really prefer to be liked by everyone, but since I realize it’s a given that I’m not, it seems like I have nothing to lose by making a controversial statement or two. Instead I would prefer to find common ground, and dwell there, and say nothing controversial at all. And if I do challenge anything, simply to ask questions rather than make assertions, so as to keep the door open with the other person, and actually learn from them, since no one’s perspective or knowledege is complete.

But when it comes to the gospel, even though we know in part, that is where we live by faith. And there’s no compromise with reference to the gospel and the truth as it is in Jesus. So that we gently, lovingly, and prayerfully should be witnesses not to how we’ve got everything together, or even how our lives have been changed, but witnesses to the truth of the gospel itself. Yes, in sharing the difference that good news has made in our lives, but first and foremost talking to others about Jesus, who is the good news along with all the truth about him, and that surrounds him.

Paul, in the passage above (click to see context) was taking a strong stand, willing to offend at that moment, because the very gospel was at stake. The faith of believers, of a church was being undermined, in danger of becoming null and void. And so Paul was pulling the fire alarm, pulling out the stops, but doing so wisely, in that great book, Galatians.

Where he does seek to please everyone in every way in 1 Corinthians is a different context altogether, as he’s beginning to defend his apostleship, and more fundamentally the gospel he was set apart for and sent to proclaim. Both are about the gospel.

May I suggest that we as Christians ought to tread more lightly on other things, and take our stand for the gospel, the good news in Jesus. Anything that is tied to God’s will in scripture is important or worthy in the proper place, time, and way to take a stand for. But the one thing we should live and if need be die for is the good news, the gospel of God in and through Jesus. With the goal of winning others to Jesus through this good news, and helping them become established so as to grow in their faith in that.

thirsting for justice

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6; NLT

Justice is a theme all throughout scripture, especially justice for the poor and oppressed, as well as for innocents. Justice could be described as what is right in terms of societies and how people treat each other. We speak here in the United States of criminal justice, as well as justice in other ways. While the main idea may be agreed on, just what is involved in true justice, or what is right for all, is a debated point. For example, again in the criminal justice system it’s debated on what kind of justice should be given to those who commit crimes, the worst of such being murder. Some advocate punitive justice and the death penalty for the murderer. Others advocate a restorative justice which seeks to help the murderer and all other prisoners so that eventually they might not only be let out of prison, but also that they might flourish and desire to pay back something of what they owe to society.

Justice is grounded in a righteousness which at its heart is loving God with all of our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, which in the case of Jesus includes loving our enemies as well. It’s grounded in love. Jesus taught that those who are blessed include those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice. That they will be filled, or satisfied. We live in a world in which justice and what is right is scuttled time and time again for agendas of greed and power. And the “news” is normally about such abuses, so that we are prone to think that injustice reigns supreme. And in too many places, in too many instances, that does indeed seem to be the case. In this world we should be advocates of justice, justice of all kinds. That is part of hungering and thirsting for such. We are passionate about it, and we pray for it, but we also do what we can to promote it. It’s easy to give up and give in to the thinking that there’s little or nothing we can do.

We know that ultimate and final justice will occur at Jesus’s return when God’s kingdom in him is fully put in place. In the meantime we pray and advocate a justice in keeping with the world as it is now, in all its brokenness. One that can’t be as complete as it will be someday, but nevertheless with an aim for completeness even in the here and now. As we await the justice to come.

 

remembering the love

We live in a time in which love is disdained and dissed, or is sentimental and not grounded in either reality or truth. And we have our own difficult worlds to maneuver in, which at times will test our love.

What we need is not just love, but the love so to speak: the love which is grounded in the truth which ultimately is the Truth himself, Jesus. A love which can look past the faults and sins of others, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” And when necessary, but with a reticence ready to reconsider, and great care taken if proceding holds the other accountable, but does so always in a way in which they know we have their best interests at heart, and that we’re on their side.

Sometimes we’re in situations which do affect us, their action or inaction making our life more difficult. That is when we might need to hold them accountable, but we don’t let what might even possibly be an actual personal affront get to us, we don’t let them “get under our skin.” One key way which has helped me time and again is to recite the Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) over and over:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12

I will repeat that over and over as a discipline, a necessary reminder to me of what the heartbeat of my life is to be no matter what. And keep doing that until it begins to sink into my heart. And with that, I’ll include “the Lord’s prayer” here and there (Matthew 6:9-13).

Even as God in and through Jesus loves us, we need to love each other, and others. And while our love will fall short of God’s love, nevertheless we drink from that stream of love by the Spirit, so that we receive and impart something of it to others. And we choose to love, when all of our own inclinations might go the other way.

Yes, we must remember the love, the true love, the love of God in Jesus which has been given to us not only to know for ourselves, but to begin to practice on others. Loving them even as Jesus has loved us: sacrificially and to the end.