Posts Tagged With: acceptance

1 Corinthians 5: Grace of a Different Sort

I hope those who know me best would say I am all about grace.  I love to talk about it, teach it, and read about it.  I am painfully aware of my need for grace.  Any chance I get to speak publicly I am increasingly inclined to bring the message of grace.  More and more in my life, by the help of the Spirit, I am learning to practice it in my relationships, and of course that is most important.

The challenge comes when grace meets sin, in particular sin in the life of people who are representing Christ in this world.  Grace must cover over sin, or it is not grace.  Grace teaches us that we are all in a place of need because we all fall short.  Grace knows that our brothers and sisters will fail.

But is there a limit to grace?  When is the right response discipline and judgment, not mercy and unconditional acceptance?

It seems from this chapter that the Corinthians were a deeply graceful people.  In fact they were so gracious they took pride in what they had forgiven and accepted, even in their midst.  This is likely what they were “boasting” about in verses 2 and 6.  Apparently, a man’s father died and some time after (maybe soon after?) this man took his father’s second wife (surely not his own mother or the text would have said as much) as his own wife.  More to the point, this was deemed scandalous, immoral, and undignified even in their permissive Corinthian society (5:1).  The Corinthian Christians surely saw this as wrong as well, but they had chosen to respond with acceptance instead of judgment and exclusion.  How noble and mature, right?  In a world of judgmental Christians better known for picketing funerals and petitioning politicians and excluding “dirty” people from their social circles, it is very easy still today to want to be the ultra-accepting ones.

Except Paul didn’t feel this way.  In fact, he was beside himself with the Corinthians (“Well I never!,” 5:1b).  This is grace run amok.  Grace is supposed to attract people to God, and this “grace” was a turn off even for the pagans.  And that right there is the key point for Paul:

Everybody’s talking about the sex scandal that’s going on in your community, not least because it’s a kind of immorality that even pagans don’t practice! (5:1)

Grace is not intended to enable sin, rather to move us past our sin in gratitude for such a gift.  We are a re-created people; “depravity and wickedness” have been taken from us (5:6-7).  Why would we allow our sin to remain and fester within us?  Dealing with sin with kid gloves thinking it will go away is a dangerous naiveté.

Paul proposes a different tack.  There is a place for judgment within the church.

Let me tell you what I’ve already done.  I may be away from you physically, but I’m present in the spirit; and I’ve already passed judgment, as though I was there with you, on the person who has behaved this way. . . . You must hand over such a person to the satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus. (5:3, 5)

Note, Paul is talking about how Christians deal with other Christians, not non-Christians (5:9-13).  It is fine to show one’s support for a restaurant because of their stance on gay marriage amongst predominantly non-Christian people, but do we deal with the greed and gluttony and bigotry in our own midst as vigilantly?

Judgment, exclusion, discipline, handing over to Satan, not associating with — well, that doesn’t sound very gracious now, does it?  Certainly all of those response can be done with entirely wrong, depraved motives.  But that is not what Paul is intending here.  Notice what the purpose of this sort of discipline is: “the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved” (5:5).  Put distance between you and the offender so as to get him back again but as a spiritually-stronger, morally-cleansed brother.  Produce a situation where the immoral one feels a loss of love that causes repentance.  The goal is salvation.  The desire is to draw that person closer to God again.  That is an act of grace, albeit a different sort.  That grace says you deserve for us to write you off and have nothing to do with you ever again, but instead we will pray for you, keep you on our radar, and welcome you back with open arms when you decide to turn around.  This is the grace of the father of the prodigal son who never went looking for the son, yet welcomed him home as a dearly loved son not just the slave he was willing to be.

Yes, even discipline can be an act of grace.  Grace motivates change, so the approach Paul was taking fits.  Ironically, what doesn’t fit is the “grace” of the Corinthians.  Nothing would change in unqualified, principle-less acceptance of a perversion even non-Christians find offensive.  In fact, the only thing that changes is the reputation of the Church and the Christ who we serve.  And for the worse.

What do you think?

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Categories: 1 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Luke 19: Belong then Believe

I grew up with the thinking that all people respond to God for the first time the same way.  I guess this came from the pattern theology that I grew up with that likes to reduce everything to simplified formulas that are binding on all.  While that is neat and tidy, I don’t tend to believe that anymore.  As I read the Bible, I see people responding to God for the first time in many different ways, often depending on who they are and what has happened and what the situation calls for.  Sure, there are general trends but it isn’t as nicely tied up with a bow as I once thought.

I am drawn today to how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus in this, their first encounter of faith.  He is “very rich” (19:2).  Think back one chapter, to Friday, and the story of the rich young ruler.  Different from that man, Zacchaeus is not told to sell everything he has and follow Jesus.  Yet, the attitude of this tax collector and the rich young ruler are quite different.  That latter went away without change while Zacchaeus is quick to make financial, concrete amends for his life of shaking down his neighbors.

We are never told why Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus.  Is he wanting to follow Jesus as a disciple of this new rabbi who has come to town?  Is he just a bystander wanting to get a glimpse of this man in the news?  Is he drawn to the healings and exorcisms that Jesus brings about?  Is he in need of some healing we are not aware of?  We simply do not know.  He quickly responds ethically, so that might indicate he was responding with faith.

I am struck by how Jesus accepts this tax collector and is willing to dine with him at his house, no insignificant gesture in their time and place as table fellowship connoted unqualified acceptance, even before Zacchaeus has done anything more than climb a tree.  Maybe Jesus is making the first gesture here.

Then Zacchaeus does what can only be described as repentance.  He turns in a very practical way from his life of deceit:

“Look, Master,” he said, “I’m giving half my property to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back to them four times over.” (19:8)

Jesus response is unmistakable:

Today, salvation has come to this house. (19:9)

Zacchaeus has launched off in new, uncharted territory of faith.  He will follow Jesus, not his own conniving.  He will stand for righteousness and even fall over himself to make sure people around him know it.  Jesus seeing this repentance and Zacchaeus receives a new label: “saved.”

Interest ~ Acceptance ~ Repentance ~ Salvation

That is a pretty good flow.  No need to turn that into another pattern.  Not every person will respond this way, but it is a good reminder to us that for many people that we wish to reach in this world — especially those marginalized in society — acceptance from the Body of Christ often has to precede the lifestyle change and submission we wish to see in their lives.  Like many are saying these days, some have to belong before they decide to really believe.

What did you see anew in this chapter?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Matthew 4: The Kingdom Arrives

In the last chapter, we saw John preach about a kingdom that was coming.  Now with Jesus’ arrival that message changes slightly:

“Repent!” he would say.  “The kingdom of heaven is arriving.” (4:17)

Matthew then summarizes the message Jesus preached in the synagogues of Galilee as “the good news of the kingdom” (4:23).

We are still trying to determine what exactly this “kingdom” is but one thing we can know for sure is that Jesus is central to it.  As Jesus comes, so too does the kingdom.  Maybe at this point we can tentatively say that the kingdom is what one experiences when Jesus comes into one’s life.

"Follow Me, Satan (Temptation of Jesus Christ)" by Ilya Repin

I have always thought the way Satan decides to phrase his temptations is interesting, given what had just happened at the end of Matthew 3.  There we saw God’s Spirit alight on Jesus and a voice (presumably God’s) say,

This is my son, my beloved one,” said the voice.  “I am delighted with him.” (3:17)

Many others have noted that these three sentiments are three of the most basic affirmations a human needs to hear and be sure of in his life:

  • This is my son” — I claim you.  You are mine.  You belong to me, and I am glad to make that known.
  • My beloved one” — I love you.  I have deep affection and concern for you.  My emotions about you are positive.
  • I am delighted with him” — I am proud of you.  I approve of you.  I see what you do and it makes me happy.

It is interesting to me that Satan decides to attack Jesus at this most basic level: “If you really are God’s son . . .” (4:3, 6).  It is as if Satan is saying, “I know what you just heard, but are you sure?”  Maybe you need to test this.  Let’s put this to a test.  Make some bread.  Take a jump.

How often are our doubts and failures attached at a deep, even unconscious level to an uncertainty of divine acceptance, love and belonging?

Jesus’ path to victory is also instructive.  In the midst of this attack intended to produce doubt, Jesus hangs on to God’s words.  For Jesus the answer to the doubt and accusations of Satan was found in what God had already said.

We can learn from Jesus’ commitment to Scripture.

What grabbed your eye in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Galatians 4: Children of Freedom

However, at that stage [before coming to Christ] you didn’t know God, and so you were enslaved to beings that, in their proper nature, are not gods.  But now that you’ve come to know God — or, better, to be known by God — how can you turn back again to that weak and poverty-stricken lineup of elements that you want to serve all over again? (4:8-9)

Most who study the background of Paul’s letter to the Galatians agree that the Christians addressed in this book were originally Roman pagans.  Before Christ they “didn’t know God.”  They worshiped “beings that . . . are not gods,” though the Galatians would have thought they were.  They worshiped “elemental spirits,” some translations say, that is supposed spiritual powers that were tied to the elements of nature.  These Galatians were likely those converted in Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium.  Remember, when Barnabas and Paul arrived in Lystra they were first thought to be Zeus and Hermes respectively (Acts 14:8-20), a reaction that makes sense when we consider their paganism.

Now, at the behest of the Judaizers, the Galatian Christians were adopting a form of Christianity that practiced Jewish ritualism.  In fact, the Jewish laws and customs had become their real source of confidence, not the grace of God made available through Jesus.  Though this passage above says the Galatians were turning “back,” almost all agree they were not returning to paganism and that Paul is saying that their adoption of Jewish ritualism is really just turning back to a system that is akin to paganism is fundamental ways.

We could diagram it this way:

How was Jewish ritualism so akin to Roman paganism that Paul would see this as turning back, as if we have a boomerang effect like in the diagram above?  How could Jewish ritualism be closer to Roman paganism than to the gospel of Jesus?

The answer in one word was slavery.  In Paul’s mind both Roman paganism and Jewish ritualism enslaved a person.  Yes, they did this in different ways and their rituals and beliefs were radically different, but they ended up enslaving the worshipper just the same.  Whether one was offering a long line of seasonal sacrifices to the deities of Rome or one was doing the same to God, the result was the same.  The worshipper always had to do more, always had to curry favor with the gods or God, always paid off a debt, and always had to keep the angry gods or God happy.  There is no end to that “weak and poverty-stricken” system of slavery, whether done in Rome or Jerusalem.  On the other hand, true freedom could only be found in the grace of Jesus.  In Christ there is no more slavery (3:28).

I would like to assert that this same dynamic happens in Christian circles today.  We too have the boomerang of legalism.

It is easy to point out religious legalism when you see it.  This would be a legalism that says there is a highly religious routine or ritual that has to be done in order to achieve acceptance with God.  Religion is the way to salvation.  One is right with God because they have done particular religious rituals, as if the communion elements or baptismal waters have magical powers to cleanse.  One earns brownie points with God as he attends the prescribed worship services, serves in a public way in the correctly-performed church service, and gives a set amount of money to the church.  In religious legalism there is a correct set of beliefs and pattern for worship, and it is of utmost importance to discover and conform to these if one wants to be considered a true Christian.  Of course, the problem with religious legalism is the attitude with which these things are done, not the actions themselves.  Religion legalism trusts in human action.  It says the power of salvation rests in the efforts of the person to think and act correctly.  As futile as it is, religious legalism only leads to slavery.

For many of us religious legalism was an early trap we were able to escape from long ago.  It was our first religion, so to say.  But I see another legalism, though, that develops later that is just as enslaving.  For lack of a better term, let’s call this one progressive legalism (can you think of a better name?).  Let me stipulate that I would describe myself (and many would agree) as a progressive Christian, though I try to avoid legalism.  Nonetheless, I have seen how the practice of spiritual disciplines can become another list of things that must be done by good Christians in order to curry favor with God.  I have seen in others and experienced in myself a sense of self-satisfaction (or guilt and despair) in a list of benevolent efforts done for the poor.  There is within some progressives a set of required beliefs too, and those who do not hold these are considered inferior.  And that is when the slavery begins — to lists, earned favor, human actions, an expected way of thinking, an air of superiority, and the never-ending need to keep doing.

Though we might be tempted to place religious legalism and progressive legalism on the opposite ends of a continuum, in reality they are too alike for that.  This is the boomerang effect again, as we realize they are plagued by the same flaws.  Both are ritualistic.  Both rely on human actions.  Both are impotent and cannot change human beings.  Both rob us of freedom.

As Paul reminds us at the end of chapter four using Abraham and the mothers of his two sons as examples,

We are not children of the slave-girl, but of the free. (4:31)

Freedom is only found in Christ.

Where else have you seen this dynamic?

Categories: Galatians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hebrews 10: Don’t Throw Away Your Confidence

Are you confident of your standing with God?

All of us are looking for wholeness and peace.  We want to know that God accepts us and His words to us should we die today would be “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”  And we want to have this assurance with an unshakeable confidence.

At the same time, we are fully aware of our own shakiness.  We know our frailty and duplicity better than anyone.  We look in a mirror and see flaws few others see.

So we try harder.  We get on the latest and greatest self-improvement plan.  We reach down deeper within ourselves to muster every ounce of self-discipline we have.  We make lists of things we should and should not do.  We grit our teeth when temptation comes, and just try to hold on.

And then we fail.  We always fail.

Really, we are trying to be justified by law.  He are relying on ourselves.  Sure, we will accept the advice of God on how to live, but really our sense of wholeness, peace, and acceptance is anchored in our own deeds.  Really, we are doing nothing different than any other works-oriented concept of salvation.  Like the Hebrew Christians were tempted to do, we are reverting back to system of holiness based on our own efforts and we make light of what Jesus has done, though usually we don’t outright reject our Savior.

As the Hebrews author winds up his ten-chapter long argument for the superiority of Jesus over the Jewish religion, he makes one last plea that his friends not let go of Jesus.  He summarizes many of his thoughts with a powerful statement that Jesus is the preeminent high priest who offers a superlative sacrifice:

Thus it comes about that every priest stands daily at his duty, offering over and over the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But Jesus offered a single sacrifice on behalf of sins, for all time, and then “sat down at the right hand of God.” . . . By a single sacrifice, you see, he has made perfect forever those who are sanctified. (10:11-12, 14)

If the Hebrew Christians — and we too — will hang on to our faith in Jesus and “not throw away our confidence” (10:35), we can have “boldness” (10:19) and a “complete assurance of faith” (10:22).  We need not worry, because God is “trustworthy” (10:24) and “our lives will be kept safe” (10:39).  We can have confidence in our wholeness, peace, and acceptance because it is anchored in the work of Jesus, not our own vacillating attempts at holiness.

But all of this will take faith.  More on that tomorrow.

Hold on with confidence!

Categories: Hebrews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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