Monday, July 29, 2013

GLORY - or Guilt?

“The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3 NIV

The all-sufficiency of Christ is the single and ultimate motivating factor in the life of the true worshiper.  Although much of my writing style is intended to encourage us to reason together and as a result I delve into a bit of ambiguity for this purpose - there is nothing ambiguous in this opening statement.  A shadow may be subject to various forms of interpretation such as a Rorschach test.  The immutability of the substance, however, is vulnerable to no such vicissitudes: “but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2:17b NAS

With this assertion then in mind let me ask us a question - including myself in this conundrum - is it possible for the preacher to motivate a congregation toward love and good deeds without resorting to guilt manipulation? The appeal can go something like this, “If you are not where you ought to be with God then you need to come down to the altar and get right.”  “Oughts and shoulds” can produce an impressive result (i.e., the altars were full) - but will they produce endurance, fruit that will remain? If not, then what means are left?

For the grace of God has appeared...

We are never complete in ourselves - there is always room for improvement.  That is a given. Yet guilt manipulation is impotent in this regard - only grace motivation is capable of producing lasting results.  The community definitely has a role in this process - “And let us consider how we may spur (motivate, provoke) one another...” Hebrews 10:24 NIV.  Yet we must consider our means: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,...” Titus 2:11-12 NAS

Guilt manipulation can only produce a facade that is extremely difficult to maintain for it is only a shifting shadow with no adequate foundation.  With the transparency that has come through the explosion of social media in our day those of younger generations quickly see through these attempts to keep up a form of godliness.  I am reading right now from a book written by one of the millennial generation - younger than our own children!  He is a Jesus lover with the words “Child of God” tattooed in Greek on his side.  He is providing what for him and his generation is an objective critique of much of our current church culture - and I am finding myself agreeing with him.  As one who is in his Medicare year, if I cannot be a millennial then I must be a pre-millennial or maybe it is a-millennial? (Let the reader - especially my Reformed brethren - understand that I am not addressing issues of eschatology, but ecclesiology - and that with a wink.)   

Long before the coming of the Christ the Lord spoke concerning the landed promise to Israel: "It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 9:5 NAS He is sufficiently capable in and of Himself to complete that which He has spoken.

How often have we heard a well-meaning petition - probably from our own lips - that goes something like this, “Oh God, you know how faithful (how kind, how generous, etc) they have been will you please meet their need?”  This is an appeal based on personal merit, not on the merit of Christ Himself. We are instructed to pray in His Name - not in the name of the supplicant.  This form of plea can be but a short step unto the thin ice of presumptuous sin–making demands on the graciousness of God. 

Now, Father, glorify Me...

The faithfulness of our Father in answering prayer is based solely on His desire to glorify His Son, not to endorse our good behavior.  "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5 NAS Personal merit will pass away - consumed as wood, hay and straw - while the Glory of the Lord will endure forever.

A motivation based on the temporal will not suffice - only that which is eternal is capable of causing the saints to endure until the day of the consummation: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV This statement is the basis of Paul’s prayer for the Church at Philippi - his motivation. 

And as the writer to the Hebrews says there is now something greater among us - not just a promise, but a Person: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him,...” Hebrew 7:25 NAS  Matthew says it this way: "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.” 12:6

How will they believe in Him... 

One of the greatest evangelical exhortations is: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14 NAS Almost all other translations say something like this: “and how shall they believe in him of (about) whom they have not heard?” The New American Standard is one of the few versions that is faithful to the incarnational nature of the Gospel. Is our message Christ and Christ alone, or is it of or about Him - if the latter, adulteration is unavoidable. 

“No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny.”
In Christ Alone - Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

In Paul’s words to Timothy he encapsulates both the exhortation toward obedience along with the essential motivation - the all-sufficiency and supremacy of Christ: 1 Timothy 6:14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

The fruit of obedience is not produced out of our efforts to be pleasing to Him, it is produced as a result of the Father being pleased with us in His Son.  Only this motivation - and this motivation alone - is capable of producing perseverance in the life of the believer.  Thus we are constrained in agreement with the hymn writer: “Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering  to thee.”

by whom are all things,...

Our definitive statement then and the death knell to the conundrum expressed at the beginning of this treatise is found in these words of Paul to the Colossian Church: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

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