The Final Exam of a Christian

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Patience is not a Synonym for Tolerance

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Romans 2:4

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When we are unaccustomed to thinking about God in terms of his character, specifically his benevolence and grace, we can easily be led to believe that his patience with us reflects a lack of resolve. Perhaps resolve is too harsh a word; seriousness and intention to judge would be a better statement of our interpretation of God’s patience.

For many in the natural world, the fact that God has yet to judge them lends credence to their belief that He will not. For those inside of the family of God, patience can be interpreted as tolerance. Both interpretations are equally fallacious as God is neither tolerant or unjust. The missing component in both of these misinterpretations of the patience of God is the finite time span in which most people’s thinking resides, in contrast to the pre and post-existent manner in which God sees history.

History only has a beginning and ending point in human terms. We are given the story of our origin in the garden and a preview of the conclusion of history in John’s Apocalypse. Because of the span of time that passes between these two terminus, human beings tend to think in much smaller spans. Because God has not ended the world and passed judgment in the lifetime of our grandparents or parents or even ourselves thus far, we cannot envision the reality that it may happen at any time.

From the perspective of God, history has no beginning and ending as he has always existed and will always exist. His patience with his beloved creation spans much more than three lifetimes as we see it. Because our minds naturally drift to our favorite subject—ourselves– we pass this infinite patience through the filter of what we would like it to mean, either tolerance or the withholding releasing of judgment.

Considering Romans 2:4 in the course of Holy Week (an interesting twist of the language since every week is holy week) brings a fresh perspective to both the idea and the verse. God evidences his unmatched love and care for humanity in the giving of a Savior. The Savior suffers and pays the penalty due from us and makes the free offer to apply this sacrifice to our lives through faith. This does away with the false belief in tolerance as God clearly does not “just look the other way.” The serious of judgment and its inevitability are also highlighted in the fact that the perfectly just God requires the perfectly spotless sacrifice. If judgment were to be permanently delayed, no such sacrifice would be necessary.

What is on display is the fullness of God’s love and his desire (2 Peter 3:9) that none should perish. His withholding of immediate judgment and even the multi-generation patience that God shows has as its goal our repentance. While the Bible is clear that it will not be withheld indefinitely, neither are we told the moment in which that judgment will be consummated. We must act on God’s kindness, repent and put our full faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is the only appropriate response to the riches of his kindness.

Grace and peace to you.

Be Careful What You Wish For – Roman Road 6

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.   Romans 1:28

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Despite our protestations to the contrary, we human beings want what we want. We invest a lot of energy in trying to be less selfish, or at least appearing to be less self-interested. Sooner or later, however, the reality of who we are comes to the surface. Our greatest desire is for our greatest desire.

On its surface, this doesn’t appear to be a negative trait. And if we are pure in heart and consider the greater good when evaluating our own interests then the probability of a positive outcome is measurably higher. But let’s not fool ourselves; we are not pure in heart and our idea of the greater good takes self into account before other.

This is what Paul has in mind as we begin to walk down the Roman Road. He makes a simple case for our greatest desires to be guided by the will of God rather then our natural self-satisfaction. Without diving into a deep theological morass he makes the case that what can be known about the natural order is self-evident to all people. To put this another way, we can evaluate what is proper according to the natural order and therefore judge when our desires are not in alignment with that order.

It’s here that the awful reality of accountability before God strikes our hearts. If we cannot claim to be ignorant of the way in which God intends for things to be then we will only be left with two choices, align with God’s will or our self-will. The consequence of this decision is clear as well.

When we choose and elevate and exercise our desires contrary to the plain evidence of God’s order and will, the possibility that we will find ourselves in a dangerous position increase exponentially. That dangerous position — that horrific position — is that God may turn us over to our desires. Paul makes this awful proclamation three times in the span of four verses and it catches us off guard. The omnipotent God who could force us to toe the line instead appears to throw up his hands and say “have at it!” Enjoy your desire and the consequence of that choice.

“Not fair”, we exclaim. We want the product of our selfish desire without the consequence but this is contrary to the evidence all around us that Paul has pointed to. You can’t have one without the other. It has never happened and it never will since it contradicts the created order.

The direction of our will sets the foundation for the gospel that Paul unfolds as we walk further down the road together. God does not force us to accept his will in place of our own. He makes the superiority of his ways evident to all. He makes the extent of his love for all transparent. He gives evidence to his desire in Jesus. Then God says choose. This call to choose is put in human language by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:19); “choose life.” Not choosing life can result in nothing but death.

Grace and peace to you.

Take a Closer Look – Roman Road 5

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20

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Those who have read Romans—likely all Christians at one time or another—have been presented with this verse and yet it often gets little attention. That evidence for God is plain and apparent to all of humanity leaving them without excuse kind of changes our thinking about speaking about the gospel, doesn’t it?

So many times we back away from interactions with our non-believing friends and family because we are convinced that our apologetic is weak. Fear bristles within us that we might be handed a question for which we don’t have the answer. We’ll look foolish and our opportunity will be lost forever. It almost looks like we believe that the success of the gospel lies squarely on our shoulders.

Read the verse again. God has already laid the foundation for our efforts. God, whose word does not return empty (Isa 55:11) and whose word is living and active (Heb 4:12), has made Himself known to those who bother to look. A friend willing to listen to you tell of the hope you have is already spiritually aware, God has already laid the groundwork for you (and me).

Rereading and thinking about this is both encouraging and humbling. Why would I think otherwise? God has given the foundation, the Word, the methods; everything! God has instructed me to depend on Him alone in everything, why in the world would I think that sharing his precious truth with a person that He loves would be the one action that stands separate from Him? Moment of repentance inserted here.

 

Are You Ashamed? Roman Road 4

The Shame of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. Is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes — Jews first and also Gentiles. (NLT) Romans 1:16

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I love to read this verse in the colloquial paraphrase of the New Living Translation. It’s not that there is a deficit of clarity in the NIV or the KJV; both are very clear in conveying the message. What makes this translation of the verse stand out is the use of the term ‘good news’ in place of the well-known word gospel. I’m stopped short to immediately ask why a person might possibly be ashamed of good news.

Living as a Christian for any length of time means that you have had the experience of antagonism to some degree about your belief. Not unexpected from the modern atheists such as Sam Harris but less so from the humanist forces of modern culture, the flying–spaghetti–monster contingent. Family and friends may be subtler in their disregard or disdain for your faith in Christ, but ultimately the objective of these forces is to call you into questioning your belief.

When Paul records this verse he is facing a much more sophisticated attempt to shame him into silence. To one group of addressees the good news contradicted their belief in salvation by behavioral control. To a deeper level it challenged their assurance in being the chosen people. To the other group, the gospel made no philosophic sense. Why would God require the death of his beloved son in order to atone for the sins of total strangers? That is a weak god who cannot make the problem simply go away and who demands such a high price of expiation.

The gospel is both blindingly clear and wrapped in subtleties. Shame or embarrassment at believing in the power of the gospel unto salvation is often rooted in a weakness in our discipleship. How many of us can explain the gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity? How many of us are prepared to place that gospel in the context of our loved ones or even a stranger? Am I prepared to lovingly explain why a self-sufficient neighbor is in ‘need’ of the Savior?

To be a disciple is to understand why the gospel is offensive. It is to test our own beliefs about the good news. Consider for example that we must accept that salvation is free and undeserved. This means that there is nothing good in us worthy of this gift. This means that we cannot earn this gift. This means that we are so lost that the only means of salvation is via the God provided Son of Man dying. The gospel offends by informing us that we cannot be good enough or spiritual enough or anything enough. Salvation is out of our hands.

Even within the family of God the true gospel is offensive. It is not a promise of prosperity and perfect health. Instead, as Bonhoeffer famously states, Christ bids a man to come and die. The gospel is an invitation to suffer, to die to self and to serve a new lord and master, Jesus Christ. The offense of the gospel to modern culture is that it demands that we leave self behind and become servants of God.

Paul had every cultural reason to be ashamed of the gospel as he prepared to journey to Rome. There is much similarity between the culture of Rome and that of the modern-day. Christians are tolerated so long as they remain in their sanctuary and butt out of cultural issues. But that’s not the gospel. The good news is that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, his righteousness is credited to us. In accepting that credit, we commit ourselves to him as Lord and Savior. He is clear in his command that is servants engage the world, that we not shirk this responsibility because we are ashamed. Buried in this verse is a challenge: to whom will you pledge your allegiance?

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1:18