Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christian Use of the Law in Evangelism

Here is a question on yesterday's sermon:

"But when someone sins against us, or we see a Christian brother in gross sin, or our children, we are to go to them and make comment, observations, give warnings, make them accountable. We are not supposed to be blind to others' sins but watch out for them just as they lovingly watch out objectively for us. We make judgment calls but we do not condemn them. When we are speaking to others in a group setting at work we talk about the sinfulness of homosexuality and abortion but not as a condemner but an observer. Wouldn't this be a correct behavior for a Christian?"

Yes, and that points out a difference between the judgment of condemnation, which I preached about yesterday, and the use of law in evangelism.  The sharing of the gospel is also for Christians, and the sharing of the gospel uses the law, which is a right judgment.  We point out to brothers and sisters in Christ where they are violating God's law, and we do so as fellow sinners who are also violating God's law, albeit in different ways.  We are both under the curse of sin, and all we can do is point to Jesus Christ as our only rescuer from under that curse.  When we discipline our children, we show them which of God's commandments they violated, acknowledging that we are sinners, too, and always pointing to Jesus Christ as ready to forgive the sins of those who repent.  Knowing that Jesus died for the sin that they just committed just breaks a child's heart, and they repent, and then they go and ask their sibling (sister in this case) for forgiveness.  This way of discipline is much more productive than condemnation, as it uses the law to point to the gospel, and not as an end unto itself.

Great question!  I hope this clears things up.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

I visited a man working in his yard to ask him what he thought of Christianity.  When he saw my collar, he took me to his car, opened the passenger door, and there on the dashboard was a little sign that had a gavel with a "no" symbol over it.  He told me that he was against judgment of any kind. I agreed with him that people should not judge each other, because of what it says in the Bible, which I will delve into below.  I did not, however, go further and explain to him that the dashboard sign was a form of judgment on others.  He did, after all, see my collar and immediately take me to the sign.  Wouldn't that mean that he had judged me as a judgmental person?

Many unbelievers' favorite verse in the Bible--usually because it has been told to them and not because they have actually read it or the context--is "judge not," a partial verse. But what does that Bible actually say about judging?  Well, according to James, we are not to speak evil against each other, because speaking evil against or judging another speaks evil against the law and judges the law.  For clarification of this, we need to go, once again, to the sermon on the mount:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

There's our "judge not" fragment.  But there is the second half, too: "that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged."  We, each of us, every human on earth, believer and unbeliever, is under the law of God, exemplified perfectly in the 10 commandments.  We are, likewise, all breakers of the law.  To judge someone else who is under the law, like you are, is to say that you have an understanding of the law, and you do not break it, so you have a right to judge people by the law.  After all, the law is all we have with which to judge others.  So, by calling someone a liar, you are hypocrite, because you also are a liar.  By accusing someone of theft or adultery or hate, you are pointing fingers at yourself, because you also are a thief and an adulterer and a hater.  When I see bumper stickers that say "stop hate" or "stop bullying," I have to shake my head, because we all hate; we all bully; because we are all sinners.  In judging another by the law, which is all we have to judge with, we are putting ourselves above the law, claiming to have a perfect understanding of it, essentially judging the law itself, and by judging the law itself, we judge God himself. By putting ourselves above the law, we end up violating the same law to a greater degree than the one we are judging.

There is only one lawgiver, one who is above the law, God himself, and he is actually not above the law, but he IS the law.  He cannot change his nature: he is perfectly holy and righteous. To say he is above the law is wrong, because if he were above the law, he could alter the law.  To say he is beneath the law is wrong, because that implies another being who is above the law and God would be subject to that new being.  No, God IS the law.  He cannot change it, because it is his nature.  And there is no other law or lawgiver in existence.  This is just the way things work.

James tells us that "there is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy."  There is only one in all the universe who is able to save and destroy, and this is God himself.  You cannot save another human being, and you cannot destroy another human being.  In Matthew 10(28), Jesus tells his disciples, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."  Only God can truly destroy.  Man can destroy the body of man, but he cannot destroy the person of man.  He cannot destroy the essence of man.  Only God can do that.  Likewise, only God can save another.  We can save someone physically or emotionally, and we talk about doing those things in our art and literature all the time, but only God can truly save someone.  Jesus tells this to Nicodemus in John 3:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)

God gives eternal life through his son Jesus Christ.  Notice that Christ did not come to judge the world but that the world might be saved through him.  Christ came to save, not to judge.  All are already judged by their works and their breaking of the law, but those who believe in Jesus (have faith) have their sins taken away, and therefore there is no condemnation--no judgment upon those individuals who put their complete, penitent faith in Jesus.  But those who reject the son, they have rejected the father, too.  They are not then placed under condemnation, because they were already under condemnation, under judgment.  Jesus only extracts individuals out of judgment, he does not put them there, because our sin already has well established us there.  The only judgment that is a true judgment is the rejection of the light that has come into the world.  It boils down to one thing: all are under judgment, and anyone who grasps Christ through faith is removed from that judgment.  That is all.

When Jesus talks about the log in our own eye and the speck in our brother's eye, the removal of our log does not come through obeying the law or judging others on their disobedience.  The only way to remove the log is through faith in Christ.  Jesus said himself in John's gospel that the only way out of condemnation is belief in the son, not in any works that we can perform or any pretense of holiness we can drum up.  The log can only be removed through faith, and we can then attempt to remove the speck from our brother's eye by sharing the gospel.

What is the Gospel?  The beautiful gospel, the only truly good news there is, is that God created a way for us to be saved.  Without faith in Christ, we are, all of us, dead in our sins, and we await eternal destruction, eternal ruin.  But God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, to die in our place, to be ruined in our place, so that we might be saved from that same destruction, that same ruin.  He proved this was true by raising Jesus from the dead.  He, too, will raise us all from the dead, those who believe in Jesus to eternal life, and those who reject Jesus to eternal ruin after all.  The only judgment we really should make is the judgment that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that he is our only way to salvation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Loving Our Neighbor

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:2-12)

This passage is quite clear on the damage that can be done by our words, but I want to focus on verse 9: "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God."  This bears repeating: we cannot love our God in heaven if we hate other people, who have been created in the image of God.  The ten commandments have been condensed to two by Christ: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, but really there is one commandment: love the Lord your God.  If we do not love our neighbor, breaking the second commandment, then we also do not love God, breaking the first.  When Christ says that a "second is like unto it," he's not making the comparison between the word "love" in the first and second great commandments.  He is making a comparison in the objects: loving your neighbor IS loving God.  I'm not saying that your neighbor is God, but you demonstrate your love for God by loving your neighbor.

We learn Christ's take on this in Matthew 15:

1. The Pharisees' "Tradition of the Elders" was geared toward honoring God but not one's neighbor, even one's own parents.  Christ quotes Isaiah when he says to them, "The people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."

2. What defiles a person is not what goes into him but what comes out of him, because the defiling comes from the heart, not from external sources.  We are not tempted to become sinners, we are sinners who feed on the temptations.

3. The ungodly are offended when they hear this truth, because they so desire to blame their sin on outside influences and environment.  "Not my fault," is the mantra repeated in hell.

4. We are to leave the ungodly alone and let them reap their reward.

5. The ungodly will lead others astray with their words, and both will be lost.

The alternative position is Christ himself.  On the cross, dying, he forgave the ones who killed him.  On the cross, dying, he made sure that his own mother was cared for after his death.  He loved his neighbor to the end.  He took a keen interest in their lives.  He made himself nothing, and made his neighbors everything.  This is how we are to live, but since we can't because of sin, we are to cling to Christ and have his righteousness escort us into God's presence with fear and trembling.

I could end there, but Matthew drives the gospel home powerfully after this segment in the following passage:

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)

The fact that this appears right after the discussion about the sin of the tongue is no accident.  Here we have an actual sinner, an outsider, who throws herself on Christ's mercy.  The disciples try to get Jesus to send her away, but instead he tests her faith by asking her questions.  We have a demonstration here of the tongue of someone who is outside of Israel saving her from destruction.  Her daughter is healed, demonstrating that God saves all who throw themselves on his mercy.  Those who throw themselves on his mercy can only do so by faith.  She agreed with Christ about her state as a "dog," and that showed true faith.  The unbeliever will stand at the gates of heaven on judgment day and try to convince the Lord to let him in.  The believer will try convince the Lord to shut him out.  The words, "I don't deserve this," come to mind.  For the sake of his son, God brings us into communion with him, and gives us everlasting life, because we have confessed a righteous truth about ourselves (sin) and Jesus (savior).

We also have a scene where the disciples are cursing their neighbor by attempting to send the woman away, and the woman is blessing not only God but asking for the life of her daughter, blessing her neighbor.  She accepts the curses of the disciples, confirming that she deserves to be sent away, but asks Christ to have mercy on her anyway.  He does, and he will have mercy on us, as well, but only through a faith that only God can provide.

How can we be like the Canaanite woman? Thankfully, God knows we have little faith, much less than she has.  But Christ has a God-sized faith, much more than she has.  We, being in Christ by his own will, receive his righteousness as our own, and so we look to Christ's faith to sustain us.  Jesus cries out to God on our behalf.  We are the sick daughter for whom Christ vouches.  He intercedes for us in humility, knowing we are not worthy to receive his gifts, and his faith is worthy enough to get us through the trials of this life and into his holy presence.  By his wounds we are healed, and healed eternally.