Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Looking or Living the Good News

When we hear the word "Gospel" we think of a presentation of initial doctrines, specific to the Christian, faith that one must affirm to become a “Christian.” The problem is, when we look at the gospel as merely the starting line or the rudiments of the faith, we start to add extra things to the Good News, in turn making the Good News less than good news.  The truth that Christ died for us should change not just how we enter into the Christian life, but how we live our lives day to day. Every day we need to be refreshed in the Good News. 

Why is living the Good News important for us as Christians in the 21st century? The first reason is that we are on the threshold of a seismic cultural change in America.  Most of us can see it but many of us don’t know what it is going to look like or how it is going to effect the church.  Our typical reaction to change is to begin to impose what is comfortable for us and assert our cultural preferences as the ideal or primary cultural preferences.  We start imposing a dress code to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The dress code becomes a law that prevents people from coming with all their garbage to the feet of Jesus Christ and turning it over to him. This prevents them from finding the freedom of repentance that only comes through work of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 

Our culture at hand sees the traditional values, that were once embodied in the American church, as an old legalism of days gone by.  Believers in the church see the emerging culture as lawless and morally bankrupt.  And in many ways they are both right.  Which makes the boundary between the two cultures so painful. Neither side is willing to confess their pride and need for the saving work of Jesus Christ (in getting the log out of their eye).  As a result generations who could gain so much from each other are being torn apart. 

The energy vitality and creativity of the young are a boon to the veterans of life.  Those who have experienced life's long road, with many withered scars, have so much wisdom to offer those who are young, tempering their excitement with enduring resolve.  But instead we battle each other the law vs. the lawless and we both miss out on grace.

This is what I mean when I say grace.  We as humans have this ever persistent need to atone for our sins.  Even the staunchest of atheist cannot escape this reality of the heart.  What we do is create laws to govern our moral lives.  We heap burdens upon ourselves and others, saying if you do this you will find freedom from the “sin” in your life.  The problem is, there is no level of atonement, there is no amount of "good things" we can do to find freedom from the guilt we have before an eternal and perfect God. 

Then there are the people go to church their whole life hoping to find relief, and yet never give their heart over to Jesus Christ.  They die an eternal death looking like moral church goers but they never lived the good news, they only looked like the gospel.  Martin Luther the great reformer of the Catholic Church who inadvertently started the Protestant Reformation said about the moral life he was leading,

“I was a good monk and kept my order so strictly that I could claim that if ever a monk were able to reach heaven by monkish discipline I should have found my way there.  All my fellows in the house, who knew me, would bear me
out in this. For if it had continued much longer I would, what with the vigils, prayers, readings and other such works, have done myself to death. … [M]y conscience would never give me certainty. But I always doubted and said, ‘You did not perform that correctly. You were not contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.”

He was looking like the gospel, but his heart was never changed by the good news of Jesus Christ.  The more he tried to look right to atone for his sin the more his guilt plagued him. 

If grace is a mountain ridge there are two cliffs, one on either side.  On one side is the cliff of legalism. the other side of this mountain ridge is the cliff of lawlessness.  Lawlessness celebrates sin so that grace may abound.  Lawless people try to get the goriest testimonies so they can tell their sinful life with pride before they, “became Christians.” 

When I was in high school there was one youth group leader who continually bragged about the sin he came from.  He bragged about his drug use and he footnotes that God saved him.  I do not know the condition of his heart but he made sin look better than Christ. Other young Christians are so afraid of being like those, “legalists, who are giving the church a bad name," that they are completely forgetting that God saves us from our sin. 

Lawless people begin to both love and hate their sin.  They begin to live pseudo moral lives or sometimes no moral life at all.  Falling deep into lawlessness they try to hide from the deep pain in their life by doing "whatever they want" (knowing that in their heart there is a desperate need for something). 

Do you see that legalism and lawlessness are both a false face. They are a mask that hides us, and even our own hearts, from our deepest and most desperate need?  Martin Luther was trying to combat his sinfulness by looking good on the outside and failing.  The youth leader was trying to hide from his sinfulness by diving into the destruction of drugs, and the both were in desperate need.  They were in need of Grace. 

Grace is neither legalism nor lawlessness.  Grace is the way Jesus, dying on the cross, removes the guilt you feel and know, and the guilt you have yet to even understand.  He takes that guilt upon himself.  He takes the death in you and makes life grow in you.  Before Jesus comes into your life you are spiritually dead.  Everything you do is death. 

You are a zombie, spiritually speaking, an empty body feeding on the destructive flesh of sin.  But Jesus Makes you alive.  He transforms your flesh restarts your heart, and blood begins to flow through your atrophied veins and muscles.  Like the lead character of Warm Bodies you go from death to life (but in Christ's love).  This is grace.
Grace is nothing you can do on your own.  There is nothing you can do to remove the death in you.  Jesus awakens you to true and eternal life.  You are freed to live out the good news: you belong to Jesus Christ.  Life begins when you love Jesus.

This is the big question of the book of Galatians are you looking or living the good news.  If you are looking the good news you are not living the good news.  Looking the good news is like putting a tux on a decomposing zombie, it would be laughable if it were not so sad.  If you are living the good news you are living out of the new spirit that you have in Jesus Christ.  You love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you love your neighbor as yourself. 

What then is the difference?  When you are looking the good news, life is not about God.  Life becomes about how other people perceive you. When you are looking the moral life it is not good news at all. You are dying while deceiving yourself. 

In Matthew 25:31 Jesus talks about the end of all things and talks about dividing people between the sheep and the goats.  The goats on one side and the sheep on the other. The goats go to eternal judgment and the sheep to eternal reward.  Before heading to Judgment the sheep say the words of Matthew 7:21,

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’"

Those on the sheep side will say, "When did I see you hungry and feed you?"  Their lives will be so filled with the command to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and love their neighbor as themselves, that they will confront hunger and injustice out of the natural out-flowing of who they are in Jesus Christ.  It will be second nature to live a new way.  they won’t even realize they are doing it. 

The question I want us to look at is are we living the Good news of Jesus Christ or are we looking the good news.  The danger is both can look exactly the same.  But why do we do things?  Do we do things so people will see us and say, “what a great church," "what a great church person,"  "That looks like a church."  Or do we do, what we do, so that people say, “Great is your God.” 

Are you more concerned about what people will think of you, or are you more concerned about what people will think about God?  When you have a heart for God, buildings, pews, Sunday best, potluck dinners, concerts, etc. etc. etc. have no value or use to you apart from the glory and love they bring to God. 

Don’t be led astray.  Don't be concerned about the external appearance, be it a legalistic or lawless pose.  Don’t forget to live out the command that is so essential to the good news, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Trying to look like or not look like a Christian is going backwards.  Live out the good news.  This is the good news Jesus Christ died so that we could have life.  Love that news!

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