26 July 2010

...as if we could smile our way out of treason.

I just started reading "Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel" by J. Mack Stiles... I am in search of good evangelism material so I can better prepare myself for sharing the gospel with others. It was a gift at Together for the Gospel and I have heard good things about the book, so I decided to give it a go... and I am enjoying it. The following is an excerpt I just read:

"...we were born rotten sinners to the core. We may be upright physically, but spiritually, we're dead on arrival. Left to ourselves we have no hope (Romans 5:19; Ephesians 2:1, 12).

It's not that we can't do loving or even amazing things—after all, long ago we were made in the image of God. But these are fleeting and inconsistent moments, and no part of anything we do remains unstained by sin (Luke 18:19; Romans 7:18). We think acts of worldly goodness can mask sin, but they only add to our debt since worldly deeds fill us with superficial self-righteous pride (Isaiah 64:6), as if we could smile our way out of treason. Our own meager good works could never help us avoid the death sentence that has been pronounced on us. We are chained to sin; we can't help but sin, for it is in our nature (Romans 7:5). And this sin cuts us off from God. In our natural state we rebel against God and all His ways (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 4:18)—and this wickedness spits in the face of God (Isaiah 50:6; Mark 14:65). We are as attractive to God as a corpse at a dinner party (Matthew 23:27).

Tough sell, huh?

That's one hard package to market. After all, it's not exactly the generous orthodoxy that speaks to the postmodern world today. Not exactly a message that's going to win friends and influence people, you say. Since this message is difficult to swallow, you can see why pragmatic evangelists leave it out and focus on other parts of the message.

But wait, there's more...

As we shake out fist (Job 15:25) at this Creator God, this perfect Holy God, and scheme against His rule, we inflame His wrath and judgment. It's God alone who deals with our lives as he sees fit (Isaiah 45:9; Romans 9:21; Revelation 2:27). But when things go wrong, we get it exactly backwards: we accuse God of evil and act as if it's our right to treat people as a choice—a choice to snub and exploit, and murder. As we speak against God, we breath out the fumes of rotting flesh, and death hangs about our necks (Romans 3:13).

These pitiful, self-justifying accusations against the Creator God add to our affront with God—as if we could put God on trial. Every time we accuse God, we reenact the kangaroo court before Pontius Pilate... with the same results: the murder of an innocent (John 19:6, 11). We are treasonous rebels who, without constraints, would murder and destroy God Himself to establish ourselves as God in His place (John 19:15). The astounding story of that trial before Pontius Pilate and subsequent crucifixion is that we are the ones on trial, not Jesus. It's a story of all of us. Don't miss that at the cross we see ourselves in all our sin and evil and wickedness (Isaiah 53:5-6; Romans 3:12, 19). All of us: from Mother Theresa to the lowest, vilest child molester. What awaits us—what we're all earned—is hell.

Does that offend you? Are you angry at these comments? Do you say, 'It's not true. I've never been in rebellion with God! It can't be that bad. I'm a good person. What about Gandhi? I love God we're friends; I'm spiritual; 'My god' would never say such things.'

But I contend that if this news, this bad news, offends rather than humbles, you are the one most in danger. For it's not said to offend but to instruct and to warn about a reality—the same warning my doctor might bring of a grave illness, but with far, far greater consequences.

Neither are these merely my opinions. Every thought in these paragraphs comes from the Bible, and these are but samples from an avalanche of indictments about our condition from the Scriptures...

...we must press home twin truths: our hopeless situation ('apart from Me you can do nothing,' John 15:5) and amazing grace ('He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy,' Titus 3:5). I think the sad tendency of well-meaning Christians who want to share their faith is to water down both. They say we're not so bad (you actually can clean up your act), and God doesn't really mean it when He says that the unconverted are enemies of God (tut, tut, boys will be boys).

There is a tendency to think that our sins are bigger than our sin—maybe because it's that rare case of language when the plural is smaller than the singular. Sins are those individual acts of rebellion—symptoms of the bigger problem. Our sin is the bigger problem: it's our condition or state which is in hideous rebellion toward a holy and good God. When Christians feel that sins (acts) are bigger than sin (condition), they see evangelism as an effort or moral reform rather than explaining the steps that need to take place to rip out our wicked hearts and replace them with new hearts—that amazing work of God that Jesus called being born again.

God would be perfectly just to let us stumble along in life, trying as best we could to eek out pleasure from the world and then, at death, face His punishment. The fact is we are under God's judgment already (John 3:36). But this God is not a God of justice alone. He is love (1 John 4:8).

God's love is His most magnificent characteristic. This is so assumed in Western culture it's practically lost all meaning, but one thing that distinguishes God's love is how His love, His perfect, tender self-sacrificing love, holds back His red-hot, scorching wrath.

He does this not by simply sweeping our sin under the rug. There's too much brokenness crying out for His justice for that to happen. Think how many have called to God for justice.

No, He demonstrates His love by sending His Son, Jesus, the Son He loves who is fully God, to live as a man, identify with our human condition, demonstrate through His earthly life as a man what God is like, and then bear the weight of our sin in His own body on the cross (John 3:16).

We see God's holiness satisfied when His love was nailed to the cross. It's the place where God's wrath and love come together—perfectly. Jesus died our death in our place; it was a substitution, a ransom, and act agreed upon by the Father and the Son to pay for the sins of the world, since Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. Jesus became a perfect blood sacrifice for all who would put their faith in Him. This is how we gain [receive] His forgiveness and His righteousness as well...

...After Jesus' death by crucifixion, He was buried in a borrowed grave, and in three days He rose from the dead. His new body bore scars from the crucifixion. The New Testament writers marked His bodily resurrection from the dead as a historical event, and they knew it to be the fulfillment of repeated biblical prophecies over thousands of years.

Today He demonstrates His great love and mercy by reaching into our world, personally, with an offer of life—an offer to individuals to be set free from the bondage of sin and death. It's the offer of life to the dying, those dying under God's judgment, so that the One who would slay us laid down His life to set us free (Romans 5:9)."

Reviews of Stiles' book...
Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs
Mark Tubbs of Discerning Reader
Mark Lamprecht of "Here I Blog"

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