We might be tempted to think that the mission of God was completed and closed when Jesus died on the cross and victoriously rose from the dead. Continue reading
The heroes of our time rarely accomplished the great things they are known for easily. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa; these were people who faced abounding adversity, yet remained resolute. Those who confess Christ and seek to demonstrate to the world the life he calls us to will not find convenience and coziness in this world.
The Beatitudes are one of the best-known portions of Scripture (Matthew 5:1-12). They predicate the characteristics of the blessed person. However, there is a rhetorical irony contained within them. The type of people mentioned are not those you might expect to be blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the humble… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness… Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of [Christ].” Jesus takes what is so often valued in the world and turns it upside down. And he promises these upside-down people the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let’s look at just one of these beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful.” After apartheidism ended in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed. It provided an opportunity for those who committed gross human right violations during the apartheid era to give testimony and request amnesty. There is a story of a frail black South African woman who sat-in on one of these trials. Former police officer Mr. van de Broek confessed that he with other officers shot the woman’s fourteen-year-old son dead at point-blank range. Then, eight years later, they seizing her husband and burned him at the stake. The commission asked the woman what she wanted for Mr. van de Broek. She said she wanted three things: 1. She wanted him to take her to the place they burned her husband, so that she could gather the ashes and give him a proper burial. 2. She said that Mr. van de Broek took her whole family and she still had lots of love to give. Twice a month she wanted him to join her in the ghetto, so that she could be a mother to him. 3. She wanted him to know that God had forgiven him, and that she forgave him too.
The blessed life is rarely the easy life. Which predications in the beatitudes do you resonate with? Which ones challenge you?
“Let me get this straight,” her sister told her, “this preacher told you that a person like you could do all the foolish, immoral things you have done all your life, and five minutes before you die, you can just repent and trust Jesus and be saved just like that? He told you that you don’t have to live a really good life to go to heaven? That’s offensive. It’s too simple; it’s too easy. I’ll never believe that! And you shouldn’t either.” The woman being spoken to was a single mother, with a string of broken relationships with men. Earlier that week, a pastor and deacon from the church next-door came to visit her. The pastor, whose name was Timothy Keller, told her about the freedom offered to all in Jesus Christ; she responded with joy and trusted Christ.
The gospel can seem offensive, even to Christians. We are prone to wander from it, because it opposes the operating principles of this world that say, “You need to earn it!” The Apostle Paul pleaded with the Galatian Christians to return to the true gospel. He reminded them of their previous way of life. They used to worship the “principles of this world (Galatians 4:3)” – likely a reference to the basic elements that were thought to make up the material world. The Greek mind believed that spiritual beings worked behind these principles to control people’s lives. To gain favor with them, people would make offerings to various gods and goddesses. Although the Galatian Christians looked very different then they had then, they were regressing to a similar state of spiritual immaturity. By adopting Jewish laws and customs to gain favor with God, they were simply replacing pagan rituals with Jewish ones. (Galatians 4:8-11)
We are prone to do the same. We can turn religion into forms of self-salvation. When the defense of a doctrine is elevated above the One the doctrine points to, we disparage Christ’s sacrifice. When we seek to appease God by attending special worship services – such as Christmas and Easter – we mock Christ’s sacrifice. Though it can be good, religiosity can morph into a form of self-salvation. Any addition to the gospel is actually a subtraction from it. Any addition says to Christ, “Your sacrifice was not enough; I need to add to it.”
Forms of Self-salvation will constantly rear their head in our spiritual walk. The remedy is to refocus on God’s provision in Christ, for nowhere else is salvation found.
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Since at least as early as 1914, United States Federal Reserve Notes have been produced with a raised printing security feature. Run your finger along the shoulder of the person portrayed on a bill of any denomination, and you will feel ridges. Not long after high school, I worked as a teller at a bank. I had been trained to feel for the raised printing. One day, I was presented with a hundred-dollar bill as part of a deposit. By all appearances, the bill looked like a genuine note. But, instead of feeling ridges, the bill was smooth. I discreetly excused myself and took the bill to my supervisor. My supervisor confirmed that the bill was counterfeit. Eventually that one-hundred-dollar bill made its way to the FBI. Meanwhile, the man, who presented it, was out one hundred dollars. Although they can look the same, there is a substantial difference between the genuine article and a fake.
In the churches in Galatia a counterfeit was being presented as genuine. It was stirring things up in the churches. (Galatians 1:6-10) These churches were likely located in the Southern Roman Province of Galatia, now located in modern-day Turkey. These were towns and cities that the Apostle Paul visited on what we call his first missionary journey. They were among the first churches Paul planted. Yet, within a few months of his last visit, they were turning to a counterfeit teaching. Jewish Christians from Jerusalem were teaching them that in addition to believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, they needed to follow all the Jewish customs to fully be incorporated into the people of God. Paul addressed the situation, by writing, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is no gospel at all.”
Fake gospels throw people into confusion. At face value, they may seem genuine and capable of offering life in the fullest. But, fake gospels pervert the goodness of the good news. In Galatia, a fake gospel turned God’s free gift of grace in Christ into something that could only be obtained through human effort – following Jewish customs.
The only credible good news is the one received from God. No human manufactured gospel – no matter how good it may seem – can grant salvation and the freedom to live godly lives. Over the next few weeks, this blog will explore the gospel given by God, that empty counterfeits can more easily be detected.
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