My Own, Personal Scapegoat

There is a story of two young boys, Ralph and Mario. Mario lived near some woods and brought Ralph over one day to play. Both of them aspiring handymen, they chose to spend their time in the garage, building things out of the available spare wood scraps. Mario was very careful to explain to Ralph that there was one major garage rule, a declaration not to touch daddy’s hammer. It was daddy’s special hammer. Any other (non-power) tool that was within reach of the boys could be used for their creative aspirations, and there was even another hammer if they needed. Both boys were careful to avoid the special hammer and continued enjoying their afternoon.

As time went on, they wanted to go take their inventions out into the trees and see if they could find other scraps whit which to build. Ralph packed up a bag of tools to take with them and thought it would be fun to bring along the special hammer. Mario had no idea until they got to their building station among the trees. Seeing no point in harping on Ralph’s blunder, Mario reminded him of the rule, but figured he’d keep an eye on it and everything would be ok.

Arriving home in just enough time to unpack, Mario was mortified to learn that his dad’s special hammer was not in the bag of tools and was nowhere to be found among their other supplies. Boys will be boys, and completely due to the fact that they were two ten-year-olds, they forgot the special hammer when running back home to the sound of the dinner bell. There was no time to go and find it and Mario could see his father’s car heading up the street towards their house. This would not be good.

When Mario’s father got home, Mario fessed up and admitted to losing the special hammer in the forest. His father, visibly upset, kept his composure but was very unhappy at Mario’s carelessness. He led Mario down to the basement and gave his son a stern lecture that ended in a particularly painful spanking. Ralph could do nothing but watch his friend take a whipping for a crime that both he and Mario knew was his fault. Yet Mario stayed quiet and took the punishment for his friend.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53: 5-7).

 The Price of Sin

While this is certainly not a perfect analogy, the story is a particularly powerful example of the act of our Savior on the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life, fully God and fully man, and chose to take our punishment, so that, as Paul stated, “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Christ had to come and save us, because we couldn’t save ourselves.

Genesis 3:8 shows that God regularly walked and communed with the first couple, enjoying a deep fellowship. That was lost after the incident at the tree and has been the reigning affliction for mankind since. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God and eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the catalyst that broke humanity’s intimate relationship with God.

 Separation from God

One simple bite of fruit and the essence of humanity’s relationship with God became one of opposition instead of inclusion. God never broke the relationship with man; He just remained consistent to His nature. It was man who changed the situation; who chose to trust himself instead of God. “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, 109-110). All of a sudden, mankind thought they belonged in the inner circle; they wanted to determine the outcomes. Unfortunately, none of the possible outcomes led to profit.

In 1 Corinthians 15, while Paul is making the argument about the importance of believing in the resurrection, he makes this statement about the nature of mankind since Adam. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Without Christ, mankind is stuck in their sins and separated from God. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is an unstoppable plague to which not one person (save Jesus, due to him being full God as well) can avoid. Every human is a sinner and in need of salvation in order to be reunited with God.

With the entrance of sin, the very nature of the world was changed; altered. Enduring fell to decay; permanent became temporary. The consequences of the original sin were far more reaching than banishment from the Garden; it was the birth of pain, suffering, death and judgment. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Man had been fully separated from God, and although physical death did not arrive immediately, that separation from God did bring an immediate spiritual death. Because of our sin; because our pride fooled us into believing that we could be like God, we immediately became slaves to sin and death. “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness” (Romans 6:20).

 The Nature of God

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13a). God’s nature is perfect and holy and evil literally cannot exist in His presence. He is above it, outside it, completely unconnected from the ordinary and from our understanding. “We cannot grasp the true meaning of divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of” (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 104). To be holy, in Hebrew, means to be completely marked off or separated from common use (Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 89). This is simply something outside ourselves; and understanding too infinite to grasp. And not only is God holy (or separated/pure from the common), but He is righteous. “The righteousness of God means, first of all, that the law of God, being a true expression of His nature, is as perfect as He is” (Erickson, 89). Because God is perfect and holy, He can only be in the presence of purity and right-ness.

Therefore, because mankind is inherently sinful, we cannot exist in the presence of God. What was the point? By merely reading the account of creation in Genesis, the experiment of God and the destiny of man are both complete failures. By the end of the third chapter everything was ruined; that is, without an understanding of the reason God created humans in the first place. As shown above, God desires relationship with us. He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:27) and placed us above the animals. He took care in designing us and gave us the ability to commune with Him as He communes with us. The reason for creation is relationship; the reason is Love. He simply wants to be with us and for us to be with Him. Though through sin we broke the relationship, God knew this to be the beginning of the story; not the end. Before laying out the consequences to Adam and Eve, God started the conversation by punishing the serpent (and ultimately Satan) which is both a foreshadowing of the full victory of God and the initial promise of a return of the relationship. Genesis 3:15 is the promise of an offspring of the woman who, though Satan would seemingly win victory, would crush evil forever.

 A Plan for Restoration

Ever since then man has had a longing to return to the original place of relationship with God. Although many have tried to create their own pathways, the actions all speak for themselves; in the heart of every person is a longing to return to that original relationship. God has not let us go; he continues to work in the very depths of our souls a desire for something deeper—a desire for Him. “Philosophers call this Romance, this heart yearning set within us, the longing for transcendence; the desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, to be part of something out of the ordinary that is good” (Eldridge, The Sacred Romance, 19).

Yet, because our nature is utterly sinful, we cannot find our own way back to God. We are lost; depraved. The chasm between us and God is impassible by any man, because every man is trapped in their sins. Like an infant stuck in its dirty diaper, it has no hope of cleansing in itself; it can only hope that something outside itself can intervene and come to the rescue. This is the power of that Romance. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God did not leave us to ourselves, but from the very moment of the fall showed us a pathway to salvation. He acted first; He created, developed and executed the plan of salvation completely on His own. His plan; His ultimate display of Romance is the person of Jesus.

 The Action of Jesus

Jesus, fully God and fully man, emptied himself and became obedient to the point of death; even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8). That means he left the riches and glory of Heaven, giving up his divine attributes in the ultimate riches to rags situation. Living a life of chosen poverty and humility, he was born in a stable, raised the son of a woodworker and associated with the dregs of society. His mission was not to show us a good example or scare us into living right; He came to make things right between man and God. “God’s violated honor can be put right again either by his punishing us humans or by accepting satisfaction made in our behalf. To be effective, the satisfaction rendered and to be greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is required of them” (Erickson, 244-245). Yet, even though God was the only one who could make satisfaction, humans are the guilty party. Reparation to God had to be made by a human. The only possible outcome for this dilemma was Emmanuel, God with us.

“Christ, being both God and sinless human, did not deserve death. Therefore, his offering his life to God in behalf of the human race of which he was a part of went beyond what was required of him. Thus, it could serve as a genuine satisfaction to God for human sins” (Erickson, 245). Jesus did not ransom us back from Satan, but satisfied the justice of God by taking the punishment on our behalf as the only one who could possibly qualify. Faith in Christ and his salvific act satisfies our debt to God. We are therefore declared righteous through that faith and welcomed back into the intimate relationship with God.

While his death satisfied God’s righteousness, it was Christ’s resurrection that won the fullness of victory over all things evil. To reiterate Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15, since Jesus defeated death by rising again on the third day, we are able to be raised again and granted eternal life in the presence of God. The Romance, the relationship, is restored in us through the person of Jesus. All we have to do is trust in this plan of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).

 New Life and a Restored Relationship

Once, “by the grace of God we are saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), we can begin to fully experience the wonder and majesty of our Creator through personal relationship. The Romance is fulfilled; the bride presented to her groom. As the Westminster Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (www.reformed.org). We are finally able to experience ourselves the original reason for creation—intimate closeness to God.

Through Jesus we have been declared righteous and are restored to that wonderful Romance. Yet this is not the end of the story either. To be justified is not to be automatically made perfect; our growth in trust and obedience is the work of Jesus which he is faithful to complete, as we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Upon our restoration to God, He immediately embarks with us on the journey of renewal and cleansing in ourselves. This is the process of sanctification. The work is not final until the day we see Jesus face to face (Philippians 1:6).

 The Calling of Faith

And that is where I stand. When my eyes were opened to the reality of my sin and separation from God and the sacrifice of Jesus, my seven-year-old heart broke. I, like Ralph, watched as someone else paid for my crimes. It was clear that my savior, however, was not guilty. In his perfect love, he loved me before I knew him and was still trapped in my sins, and he loves me now as I seek to grow closer to the one who gave it all just to be with me.

Through the loving faith of my parents and the explanation of my mother, Jesus gave me new life and I can do nothing better with this life but give it back to him. Since the age of fourteen God has made it clear there is a calling on my life for ministry that I cannot deny. As Paul continues in Romans 10, the message of this Romance needs to be spread and God is giving us the opportunity to be the ones to spread the Good News of Jesus. I have traded the chains of sin for the yolk of Jesus and I have never been freer, as Jesus is my light; my life. I am on a journey of love as one freed from sin and have a passion to share that opportunity with those who haven’t yet grasped that wonderful, romantic, restorative message. “For I have been crucified with Christ and it is I who no longer live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

 Bibliography

Curtis, Brent and Eldredge, John. The Sacred Romance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1943.

Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1961.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism. http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html

 

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Trust and Obey | A Workout Guide

bike-riding-cape-coral

I hate working out. Never a friend; it sits and stares at me while I try to build of the drive and the energy to wear myself out. People kept telling me it would get easier, I’d get addicted and start liking yet. That has yet to happen. I have become more disciplined, however, it is still discipline that drives my workout routine. Though I have held to a fairly regular exercise routine since 2006 (24 Hour Fitness in Omaha did serve me well for a while), it was January of 2013 that saw me take the next step in my workouts: cycling…in Florida…during the hottest part of the day.

Physical Training and the Swim-Cycle

Swim-cycling—I call it that due to the Florida humidity—has without question helped me take a significant jump in my aggressiveness of workouts and, to be honest, it has made a difference physically. Though, due to the arrival of the kids (whom I blame completely for my lack of time and energy), I have seen a slight drop in days per week I can work out, I am still pushing hard and seeing gains and physical improvement in myself. While it does not get easier every day (it’s a mix of good days and bad days), I am getting stronger and healthier. This is why, as much as I hate it, physical training is vital to my life.

I could site articles and stats that show the value of aggressive exercise and how it can add years to a person’s life, but I won’t do that (except for this). There is no researched of logical argument that can negate the positive physical benefits of vigorous exercise. That’s not the point of this post. The point is the value of training – whether it be physical training, mental training, spiritual training or so on.

Why We Train Physically and Spiritually

We currently have a two-year-old foster child who has been living in our home long term. “A” (to protect her identity) is, for the most part, a very well behaved little girl who really wants to please Nita and I, make her little foster sister laugh and is conscious enough to automatically pick up after herself and treat the animals gently. For those reasons and many more, she has been an absolutely wonderful child to have in our home. She certainly does have her issues and can be very stubborn (let’s not forget that she’s two), and though she does have our trust in certain small things, she does not have a long leash.

For example, early on we had to help her wash her hands after using the restroom. She needed us to lift her up to the sink and help with the faucet and soap. A few weeks ago, I caught her coming out of the bathroom without us helping her wash up. Surprised that she didn’t call for help, I figured she forgot and got up to remind her of what she needs to do. Yet, when I grabbed her hand, I noticed it was damp. Curious, I asked her if she washed her hands, to which she said “Yes”. Though hopeful, the story didn’t add up and I did not believe her. After walking her back to the bathroom, I asked her to show me how she washed her own hands. To my astonishment, she climbed right up the vanity, turned on the faucet, grabbed the soap and washed her hands totally on her own. She had just earned a little bit of trust. Because I knew I could trust her in that, I was open to allowing her an appropriate level of freedom in that area, plus opportunities to increase that trust level even more.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.

Matthew 25:14-28, NIV

Training to Trust and Obey

Jesus used this very example to describe the nature of trust. It starts small and then is given opportunities to grow as the student learns to obey and be faithful. “A” is nowhere near ready to handle all of the hygienic responsibilities adults take care of while half-asleep, because it’s too early in the morning and the coffee isn’t done percolating yet. Her version of brushing her teeth is a huge, toothy grin while holding the toothbrush up her nose. She’s not there yet. So, while she can handle the hand washing duties on her own, she still has a lot of progress to go.

This, obviously, is normal and an expected part of growing up. My point exactly. She’s only been alive a little over two years, it would be crazy to expect her to playing Mozart flawlessly, let alone actually brushing the food off of her teeth. The lesson here, the one I am learning how much I still have to learn is one of spiritual obedience.

“A” does not understand why she needs to wash her hands. The complexities of germs and bacteria are still years away in her cognitive development. What she does understand is that her job, as our foster daughter, is to obey. We are the authorities in her life and the only thing she needs to worry about is obeying Mummy and Daddy. This is a perfect analogy of our growth and sanctification in Christ. This side of heaven we will never know what the plan is; Proverbs 3 makes it clear that God is the one who lights our steps and makes our paths straight. Yet that lighting generally only shows us the next step. And that’s the key.

The Goal of Spiritual Training

We are not responsible for the plan. We are not responsible for our lives. We are purely responsible to stand. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” This is the first verse in Philippians 4, directly after Paul wrote about following the example of Jesus and living life as a long distance journey. We cannot control where the path leads, nor can we control what obstacles fly in our way. All we can control, and all we are ultimately asked to do is to obey. Obey Christ and stand. Stand firm in our faith, following where the lighted path leads and trust that He has everything under control. That is faith and obedience. That is our calling, our job description as Christians.

So, while I must admit that I have not been very obedient to God this week, (and I only fit in two workouts) I get up each morning, get back on the bike, open back up the prayer lines and keep training. Some days are better than others, but as I look back through my life, my days are far better than they were years ago. I am a different person than I was and am continually being made new as I grow closer to God through trust and obedience. Maybe in a few years I’ll be trusted to brush my teeth on my own as well!

Your Job Is… from Cape Alliance Church on Vimeo.