The Starting Point
Happy fall to everyone! This is definitely my favorite season. I love everything about it - shorter days and longer nights, cooler weather and hot drinks, and more time with family and friends throughout the holidays. Last week, Eli and I were able to visit some friends who are starting ministry in New England, which is where I was born and spent the better part of my formative years, thanks to my father's Navy station. It was such a great visit, and God is doing wonderful things in that beautiful part of our country.
Last time, we began a closer look at Christian Morality, and the power a return to Biblical thinking and action could have upon society. It is helpful for us to take a step back, and try to see and understand where our culture is coming from. Let me go ahead and give you a spoiler alert: our society has now got Christianity totally backwards. Most people today truly think Christianity requires perfection as a starting point. This is why people are constantly "outraged" and throwing stones at others trying to walk with God. "See?' they might sneer when a professing Christian stumbles and does something selfish or immoral. "I knew those people were hypocrites! They aren't perfect, either." With the wrong starting point, it is no surprise that the modern world has a very incorrect view of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Recently, my attention was captured by a meme that perfectly depicts this wrong starting point and wrong understanding of Christianity...
On the surface, this comparison seems devastating to those of us who have a positive view of religion, and a personal walk with Jesus. How reasonable it seems to agree with this depiction, as much of our culture now does. Many would argue that we have evolved as a society to something post-Christian: they might concede that our society was founded upon Judeo-Christian, Biblical principles, but would insist that we are beyond that now. The modern idea is that religion is nothing but a man-made, social construct which exists only to establish and enforce moral and judicial boundaries. (I can think of some religious systems that actually are like this, but Christianity is not one of them.) Now that we are so much more enlightened, the argument continues, we no longer need the pretense of religion to keep order.
If we did not believe the Bible was actually the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), these lists would indeed seem reasonable. Even if we did believe the Bible is real and true, but never actually took the time to read what it says, we might be confused or swayed by this argument. We might find ourselves thinking that maybe it does seem kind of cruel and unhelpful to say that people are broken and flawed, especially since we all know and love so many people who fit this description.
I mentioned this last time, but it bears repeating. Our thirty years of college ministry have afforded us a front row seat to the culture. Having worked with 18-22 year olds for so long, we have plainly seen where the thinking depicted in this meme takes a child. If a little one grows up embracing those ideas, it is like slamming into a wall to reach adulthood only to realize that we truly are broken, flawed, and sinful, and that all of the positive thinking in the world can do nothing to help. Looking around at the chaos and confusion we all accumulate, it truly feels like being chained to something awful, frustratingly hopeless to rid ourselves of the burden. It turns out that what is actually cruel and unhelpful is letting anyone think it is ok to just pretend the burden isn't real or doesn't matter.
Christian Morality 101
The true Starting Point for Christianity is recognizing our need for a Savior. In his masterpiece The Everlasting Man, GK Chesterton said, "...original sin is really original. Not merely in theology but in history it is a thing rooted in the origins. Whatever else men have believed, they have all believed that there is something wrong with man." Every culture has had its own expression of attempting to make sense of this deep inner turmoil, and we call these expressions religion. Some religions require endless good works of their adherents in hopes of shedding the burden, some try to expunge the guilt and replace it with blissful nothingness. Still others have tremendous checklists of dos and don'ts, leaving the follower with an uncertain hope of reward and deep fear of punishment.
Only one religious system actually offers freedom from the burden, and it is not a system at all but a Person. We come to Jesus, not when we are finally perfect, but when we realize how desperate we are...
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
- Titus 3: 3-7
The next step is to become more like Jesus. Once we have been born again (John 3:3), it is time to let God conform us to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3: 16-18.) We work together with God to become more like God. Our part in the equation is to listen to Him and do what He says; His part in the equation is to effect the transforming work in our hearts and lives.
As we become more like Jesus, those around us can be impacted by our new and godly character, thoughts, and actions. Walking with Jesus makes us radically different. We can plainly see that there is no improvement away from Jesus - there are only different cultural expressions of pride, hatred, malice, and greed. Our own nation is rapidly devolving back to this as we push God further and further away. Historically, when people are truly born again, it is strikingly noticeable. The crowds in the stands at Roman games watched as the Christians tried to save one another from the beasts by giving their own lives instead - "see how they love one another!" When we give our lives to Jesus, not only can our hearts be transformed, but also our homes, our work, our relationships, and our communities. When this real transformation happens in many hearts, revival comes.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
-2 Peter 1: 3-9
The world is broken and chaotic because the hearts of men and women are broken and chaotic. These beautiful qualities listed by St. Peter are not natural to our sinful nature. We all come to Jesus spiritually poor, pitiful, blind, and naked. The greatest news in the world is that God loves all of us so much that He would not leave us in that helpless state, and sent His Son to save us and give us abundant life! We do not have to stay hopeless and burdened, and neither do our family, coworkers, and neighbors. Jesus has already done the horrific work it took to break the power of sin and death in our lives. Everybody needs to know this, and every Christian needs to let their new godly life shine in the darkness.
We must not let the culture fool us into thinking that we are cruel and judgmental to believe that people are sinful and broken. We must not just go with the flow and believe the lie that Jesus is too good to be true. If we never recognize our dire need for a Savior, we will just stay lost and broken forever. We who know Jesus can all testify that He takes every broken person who comes to Him, removes that awful burden of sin and shame, and replaces it with freedom, joy, and peace. We can confirm that only in Christ can we finally be just what God created us all to be - full of wonder, intelligent, beautiful, curious, strong, and full of potential. May our lives increasingly reflect this wonderful truth in a real and compelling way.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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