Tuesday, January 7, 2014

10 Things We Would Stop Doing...

...If We Adopted Paul’s Cross-Shaped Resolution

By David Burnette

The apostle Paul didn’t set out to make a New Year’s resolution in 1 Corinthians 2:2, but his words to the believers in Corinth wouldn’t be a bad place for all of us to start in 2014:

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

If that resolution doesn’t sound odd to you, it’s because you’re familiar with it. To the world, a fixation on a crucified man doesn’t make any sense. And to call that man your Lord and your God, well, that’s utter foolishness.  Only the gospel gives us eyes to see reality in this way.

The Corinthian church was being tempted to adopt worldly standards of success. Instead of admitting that they were weak and that their only ground of boasting was in the death of their Messiah, they were busy trying to one-up each other. They were enamored by the same things that impress the world—lofty speech and wisdom (1 Cor 2:1). Paul rebuked them by telling them of his single-eyed determination—his resolution, if you will—to keep the crucified Christ at the center of his life and proclamation.

Paul’s resolution should be ours as well, and not only for 2014. The entire Christian life is to be shaped by the reality that God has sent His Son to die on behalf of sinners who are weak, unwise, unworthy, and altogether unimpressive. The cross is our only hope; it shapes everything about us.

Consider how drastically different our outlook might be this year if, like Paul, we decided to see all of life in light of the One who was crucified in our place. I want to suggest 10 things we would likely stop doing:

1)   We would stop judging people, circumstances, and events based on outward appearances. Things aren't always as they appear. The God who brought about salvation through the death of His Son turns the world’s expectations upside down. (1 Cor 1:18-20)

2)  We would stop trying to win God's approval through our obedience. Christ's death dealt decisively with our sins, and God now views us as righteous in Him. You cannot add to a perfect sacrifice. (Gal 2:21)

3)   We would stop trusting in our own resources to bring about spiritual transformation. It took the crucifixion of Christ to save us, and it will take the power of the gospel to make us more like Jesus. The cross and resurrection are essential to the daily pursuit of holiness. (Rom 6:10-11)

4)   We would stop worrying about being clever in our presentation of the gospel. Power belongs to God and His message, not the messenger. There is no smooth way to talk about a bloody cross. (1 Cor 1:17)

5)  We would stop considering some people to be beyond God's reach. There is no one whose sin can outmatch the grace of God in the gospel. Christ's death is more than sufficient for the vilest offender. (1 Tim 1:16)

6)  We would stop being surprised that our witness isn’t received warmly. At the heart of the gospel is the emphatic rejection of King Jesus. Why would his servants expect to be treated differently? (Jn 15:20)

7)   We would stop expecting ease and comfort in this life to be the norm. Suffering, hardship, and opposition only make sense when you follow in the footsteps of the Man of Sorrows. (Lk 9:57-62)

8)   We would stop worrying so much about the details our lives. God was willing to give His own Son for us. Why would he be unwilling to take care of everything else? (Rom 8:32)

9)   We would stop thinking highly of ourselves and looking down on others. If the death of Christ was necessary for our rescue, what do we have to boast about? The cross levels the playing field, for all of us are debtors to God's infinite mercy.

10)  We would stop fearing death. The crucifixion put death to death, so those in Christ now have the sure hope of the resurrection and eternal life. (Heb 2:14-15)

By God’s grace, may we set our sights on Christ and him crucified in the coming year.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Oh-So-Subtle Twist

It seems the recent firestorm surrounding Phil Robertson’s suspension from the show Duck Dynasty  has subsided. A&E has reinstated him with no further repercussions. Make no mistake, that was a purely financial decision. It was very clear to me on Day One that A&E needs the Robertsons far more than the Robertsons need A&E, and I was certain the final resolution would reflect that fact. So it has.

I’ve been mulling over one phenomenon I couldn’t help but notice throughout the controversy, something that has been slightly bothering me. A great many evangelical Christians responded (even in the pieces I happened to really like) this way: “I don’t really have a problem with what Phil Robertson said  (though it was uncouth), but I have problems with what he didn’t say.”

Now, usually it is a very small matter when somebody criticizes silences, what so-and-so didn’t say. But there was a uniform pattern to this criticism this time around, a widespread agreement over the particular “thing” Phil should have said but didn’t. In short, the “thing” Phil Robertson should have said is we are all sinners and that homosexual behavior is but one sin among many.

Regarding its truth, I have no doubts. Regarding its wisdom in many contexts, I have no doubts. Regarding its value as either a rule or a cogent criticism, I have many doubts.

Let me use an illustrative analogy to explain what I mean.

Imagine the New York Times in 2008 had approached Pastor Tim Keller to ask what he thought of the arrest of Bernie Madoff for the incredible Ponzi scheme he used to defraud billions of dollars from investors.  Keller responds with something like, “Economic fraud is a terrible sin, and Bernie Madoff should repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.”

I cannot imagine a single Christian pastor, teacher, evangelist, apologist, journalist, writer, social critic or observer criticizing that quote with the following: “While I agree with Pastor Keller, he really should have emphasized that economic fraud is just one sin among many and we are all sinners.”

Can you?

I believe the same is true with almost any other sin: lying, cheating, stealing, assault, murder, and so forth. Nobody has any difficulty with people singling out and specifying these things as sin. Nobody gets their ire up because somebody in a given instance criticized a thief but left out the adulterer.

In my experience there is one, and precisely one sin we are not allowed to single out. Not allowed to declare as sin without that familiar, contextualizing epilogue that goes, “Well, but, this is just one sin among many and we’re all sinners.”

Herein lies the irony. In the name of not “singling out” homosexual conduct we are, in fact, singling out homosexual conduct. If it is the only sin we treat with these special kid gloves, then we are guilty of treating this sin differently than the others. We are minimizing it in a way we do not minimize any other sin. It seems to me a simple fact that we do not treat any other sin according to this contextualization “rule.” Nobody demands it, and it doesn’t really occur to us.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me make something clear. I believe that usually, meaning the vast majority of circumstances, contextualizing sin and making clear that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace is the wise and true course of action. It is not as though I don’t think that’s a good idea. I am simply noticing here and criticizing the idea that this must be some kind of rule, as though if I don’t add this epilogue I am somehow selling the gospel short. That isn’t true because the Bible itself gives myriad examples of teachers singling out particular sins (James and the abuse of wealth, for example) without feeling the need to add this ultra-sensitive, “But we’re all sinners and this is just one among many.” In fact, the Bible itself rarely speaks that way. Precisely because a single sin is “one among many,” the Bible feels free to single them out whenever and wherever it feels like it.

And when I consider that this “rule” only makes its public appearance when the one, specific sin of homosexual conduct is the issue, I think we ought to ask ourselves: where is this “rule” really coming from? It strikes me as an oh-so-subtle scheme whereby we all willingly and rigorously downplay the very sin with which the world is presently in thrall. And, as icing on the cake, the Devil even gets Christians to do his policing for him. Ahem…

If you’re sharing the gospel message with anyone struggling with any particular sin, by all means, make clear that we are all sinners and that God’s forgiveness is big enough for every single sin. But if a journalist asks you a general question along the lines of, “Is X a sin?” you are not obliged to add that “So are Y and Z.” In fact, I’m becoming of the mind that we should self-consciously resist that temptation and keep it simple:

It’s. A. Sin.

That seems to be the one sentence people least want to hear. So perhaps it’s the one sentence we most need to speak.