Last weekend we visited friends in Indianapolis and had a wonderful time there. It is the first time we have spent any extended time with them and it was well worth the trip. For church we attended one of our pastor friend's churches while he spoke at the other one. Yes, a bit strange but he wanted us to find out what it was like when people there wouldn't know we were connected with their pastor.
The sermon that day was titled 'What if...' I really enjoyed it, so much so that I had to write notes on it all over the front of the bulletin. Not all the notes were directly from what he was talking about but most were spawned from ideas generated from what he was saying. At any rate, the title itself got me to thinking about my own list of what ifs that I wanted to explore further when I had more time.
So here are a few notes and related thoughts that I wanted to revisit.
What if as a church we talk about faith as being central to our connection to the gospel but actually have a hollow, powerless object for our faith? Sound bizarre? I'm not certain that it is. I really wonder if much of our faith might actually be found to be about theories and clichés and programs if that faith came under intense testing.
Here's another one.
What if we have expectations that everyone in our religious group should talk and act like we all know how to love and may even appear to love while never actually having our own hearts experience a radical encounter with the God of agape love? Of course we can talk eloquently about love, preach about it, describe what it looks like and even make attempts to practice something similar to love on occasion. But my heart really questions if any of us have much clue as to the kind of love that the early Christians experienced from the passion of God imparted to them by the outpouring of His Spirit and His love reverberated throughout every participant in that early group of believers.
What if we are spending enormous amounts of time, effort and years of education learning how to look and act like what we think a Christian is supposed to look like while never allowing our heart to have a stunning, life-transforming revelation of the love of Christ for ourselves? What got me to thinking about this was when the pastor read this verse.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. ...God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Here's where my query comes in. What if it is discovered that we are still in the condition of ungodly while assuming that we have already understood and responded effectively to His death for us? But what if our perceptions about His death are not reflective of the real truth of it? What if Christianity itself has so misrepresented the cross that teachings about the life and death of Jesus are more misleading than saving? I know that this may sound like heresy, but based on what I have been discovering in the Word myself over the past few years this possibility is not that far-fetched.
This passage talks about condition where we are helpless, powerless, unable to change. And the word ungodly strongly implies that beyond that we even have little or no desire to change or actually want to be like God. Yet based on popular Christian teachings about salvation it seems that most people assume you have to repent and desire to switch over to God's side before He will be willing to save you.
Here are a few more thoughts that rumbled around in my head during this sermon.
What law demands the punishment of death for sin? I'm not talking human laws. As I thought about this it suddenly occurred to me that in Romans 7 and 8 it is not the law of God that demands death as most Christians insist but rather an opposing law that is even identified by that very name.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 7:22-23; 8:1-2)
This assumption has bothered me for many years. I have heard preachers all throughout my life insist that 'the law demands our death' and that Jesus came to satisfy this demand of the law so that we could have life. And while technically part of that statement is based on truthful concepts, the way in which it is presented and the heavy baggage that comes with it making God the Father appear like He is different than Jesus, is one of the greatest scams that Satan has pulled in the history of this world.
I am starting to see that in dying for us Jesus satisfied, not the law of God but this law of sin and death with is direct linked to the principle of good and evil we received into humanity when our first parents ate of a tree by that same name. Because Jesus took onto Himself full responsibility for all the sins all of us have ever committed throughout all of history, the punishments meted out by this law of sin and death all fell on Him. In no way was this punishment meted out by the God of agape love. I am starting to see that all punishment comes from Satan's counterfeit system of rewards and punishment invented him and is not part of the kingdom of Jesus. So when we insist that Jesus satisfied the demands of the law we need to be sure to identity just which law we are referring to and acknowledge that it is really Satan's law of retribution, not God's natural laws of love that operate as natural cause and effect.
Another thought that I sensed I needed to deepen in my own thinking.
It is impossible to love our enemies as Christ taught we should do unless we first appreciate both God's deep love for us personally and also God's intense love for our enemies. It is not enough to bask in the love of God for ourselves and think that is all there is to following Jesus. We must begin to have a keener realization of how passionately God feels love towards His enemies, how tender are His longings to heal them, to draw them to Himself and to dispel the many lies that cause them to fear and distrust Him. Only as we begin to see and feel about enemies the way God sees them and feels about them will we begin to escape our animosity toward those whom we see as on the wrong side. And at times that may include ourselves as we sometimes feel like God may view us as enemies.
One last insight that began to move my heart as I sat listening to the sermon that day.
To be 'in Christ' (a concept that I intend to spend much more time flushing out for myself) means that I can trust Him to take the brunt of the attacks against me from Satan the great accuser. Satan is constantly seeking to shame me, to make me feel guilty, condemned and afraid of God and especially to think that God is the one directing all of these negative attacks at me. But as I truly embrace that Christ has taken all of us up into a new race that He created by coming to this earth as a human and replacing Adam as the head of our race, Christ also earned the right to stand up and take all the blows, the shame, the attacks and the slander that not only Satan but anyone else might launch against any of His children. That even means that whenever I start beating up myself for being stupid or sinful or shameful or any other negative thoughts I may direct toward myself, that Jesus just may exercise His rights and step in to insist that I direct all of my abuses at Him to deter them from affecting me or any of His other children.
The implications of this are enormous but also compelling. According to 1 John 2:1-2 both Jesus and the Father are Advocates for us running interference for all whom Jesus has redeemed. And according to Scripture that includes everyone whether they believe in this reality yet or not. That is rather stunning but threatens a great deal of theological propaganda that has been circulating for centuries.
Yet the more I study Scripture for myself and compare everything I am learning to see how it fits the big picture and the true character of God, I find that these views of salvation bring more clarity to a right understanding of the cross than any theories I have ever heard. In fact, I am starting to be convinced that it is only as we begin to embrace the real truth about God's character as revealed in Jesus and take hold of a true interpretation of the cross of Christ can our hearts begin to awaken to the love that is seen coming from both the Father and the Son in that momentous event.
I can say personally that the more I study this the more I see confirmation for this emerging revelation about God in the cross of Jesus. As I begin to share it with others, I also sense a new fire of passion for God growing stronger deep inside where I have known only emptiness and confusion before. As I see these emerging truths beginning to surface increasingly around the world and from surprisingly varied sources, I see a fresh context for perceiving the real glory of God's character of love. I feel more inspired, I feel hope, I feel a sense of being loved and desires to love like I have never felt in my life.
As I sat there that morning in church I had several unexpected encounters of feeling personally loved by God, almost like a spontaneous hug. I find that this is starting to happen more often now though I never know when or how it might take place. Do my emotions measure how true my faith is? No, I am not saying that, for emotions can sometimes become a god themselves that we can serve rather than the true God. But on the other hand I have long realized that if our emotions are seldom or never awakened in spontaneous reactions to revelations of God's love for us personally, then it might be quite possible that whatever religion we are relying on to save us just might not be working and we need to seriously challenge it at much deeper levels than we have ever been willing to do in the past.
I am choose to continue following the leading of the Spirit of God as I find myself propelled ever faster into new revelations of His love and fresh revelations of truth about His character. The more I learn about Him the more perfectly all the pieces I have learned previously fit together, which only helps to confirm that what I am finding is likely genuine truth.