Tag Archives: Christian

That Old Question: Law vs. Grace

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Grace: …a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved”. (The New Dictionary of Theology)

Law vs. grace. Which do we follow? The good news is that we get to choose–well, both.  When we really accept grace, we don’t just brush the law aside; we want to please God, and we keep trying. But when we choose the law, we brush grace aside!

Sadly, some small but very vocal groups have hijacked the media, leading people to believe that Christianity is all about law and punishment and hell. It’s not.

Yes, God wants us to follow the law. Otherwise we take advantage of the gift of grace. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6—the whole chapter) and “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

And… accepting His grace allows me to obey the law. We cannot ever earn God’s favor. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

So which is right? Ultimately, grace is what sets Christianity apart from other religions. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to obey the law, but because we have been freely granted grace, we want to please God. “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh.” (Romans 8:3)

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

Let’s accept God’s gift to us. All Christians have been given the free gift of grace; it would be rude to turn it down.

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Will I Get Struck By Lightning?

Progressive 33So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Genesis 32:24-28

Jacob was a difficult man. He lied to his dad and he cheated his twin brother (Esau) of his birthright. And when he fought with God (or an angel), God not only blessed him but renamed him Israel—”He who struggles with God!”

If there was hope for Jacob (and there was a lot), there’s hope for me. Like Jacob, I struggle with things I don’t like. I get mad at God when things don’t go my way! And, more than anything else, I struggle with the “Why” questions: “If God is all powerful and all loving, why does He allow suffering?” I still haven’t found an answer that fully satisfies me, and I won’t pretend the answers I’ve heard do satisfy me. They don’t. And that leads to doubt.

In Bible studies, I think I make people uncomfortable. When everyone has agreed how meaningful a passage is and how wonderfully God has worked in their lives, I’m the one who ruins that moment of bliss with “But what about…”

Yes, I am familiar with the verse, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6) Some churches teach that if we doubt at all, even a little, that leads to the “slippery slope” of disbelief. But here’s the thing. I doubt. I question. I CAN’T NOT question, and I’m not satisfied with pat answers. I think too many people believe that “doubt=sin” and must be squelched. And certainly, letting your doubt drag you down is not good. But pretending we have no doubt is worse. If we don’t face it straight on, it sits there like that moldy tub of “something” in the fridge, and we have to keep pushing it to the back and ignoring the funky smell. I’ve chosen to accept my doubt, keep reading and praying, and admit that God will, in time, answer all our questions.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

Why I Choose To Side With Progressives

Progressive 31If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20

Christianity seems to be eating itself from within. People accuse one another of not being “Christian” enough, the rich and the poor take opposite stances, and denominations splinter over the interpretation of verses. I’m so sick of the division. I’m sick of the gay bashing, the thinly veiled racism, and the very unchristian attempts to demonize the poor.

I don’t like labels that divide us from within. I would like to simply call myself “Christian” and accept other Christians as part of my family. Sadly, I’ve been accused of being less Christian for quoting verses such as “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…” (John 8:1-11) So I’ve reluctantly taken a side. I’ve tacked on the word “progressive” to identify myself as something other than fundamentalist or evangelical or right-wing.

I don’t agree with everything said by progressive Christians—it’s a grab-bag of beliefs and ideas, still largely under construction—but I agree with the essence. (I especially love Red Letter Christianity. It’s closest to what I believe, and I like the concept: an emphasis on Jesus’ words.) I do like the term progressive because the world is changing and moving. We don’t live in the world of our childhoods, (for many of us, simpler times seemed like better times. We’d recently won a world war, television had only a few channels, jobs were plentiful, and everyone knew their roles), but pretending we can return to Camelot won’t make it so.

I don’t think my fundamentalist friends are evil. I believe they’ve been misguided by powerful political forces and a desire for simple black-and-white answers to difficult questions. But I think fundamentalism has gone far away from God’s message by using a lot of clever word manipulation. (Think of easy-to-repeat catch phrases such as “family values” and “God, guns, and glory.”) They’ve also cobbled together a lot of long arguments to say that gay Christians cannot be Christians, (although all other sinners can.) Fundamentalism has forgotten grace. It’s forgotten the Good News:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17

Most important to me, progressive Christians welcome people who are hurt and broken. (I am one of the broken.) They don’t require us to be perfect before setting foot in church. (I am far from perfect.) I’ve chosen it because it reflects the teachings of Jesus more closely. Jesus emphasized love and acceptance over slavish adherence to rules. Am I wrong? I don’t think so. But  if I err, I will err on the side of love.

Is it discernment, or is it judgment?

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But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

Fundamentalist Christians must be aware that they sound judgmental. I’ve always wondered how they can square that with the Bible: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) However, they continue to make judgments on others, in and out the church, and argue that they are not being judgmental. Recently, I heard someone say, “I’m not judging; I’m discerning.” He was involved in an online argument over (what else?) gay rights. I want to understand the Bible, so I don’t make snap decisions. I prayed, and I did a quick study on discernment. This is a portion of what I found. I included some context here (because context is important).

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

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For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12).

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The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

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Paul and Timothy to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi … “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:10).

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Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18)

None of these passages say we should “discern” others. In fact, they indicate that it’s pointless, because discernment comes from God Himself and from the Holy Spirit.

According to the dictionary, Christian discernment (anakrino) is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It is related to wisdom. The passages here lead me to believe that I am to use discernment regarding my own walk with God and my relationships with fellow Christians; I found nothing here requiring me to go out into the world and “discern” other people’s sins. I urge anyone who is interested in discernment (and who thinks they’re required to “discern” other people’s sins) to read these chapters in full.

Certainly, discernment is important. But I continue to believe that nearly all of us should be the best example of Jesus’ gracious love that we can be, practice discernment only within the church (Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1), and leave judgment to God.

Freedom of Speech and Respect for Authority

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Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:13-17

I am really glad we live in a democracy. It’s not perfect, but we no longer have to deal with slavery or other barbaric practices, and we can vote—something the writers of the Bible couldn’t do. (And best of all, we don’t have an emperor.)

And yes, we have freedom of speech. But have we taken that freedom too far? For the last few years, I’ve seen and heard incredible disrespect coming from all sorts of people, including Christians. Especially Christians.

Think the system is unjust? It is, as is every human-made system. (Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Colossians 3:22) I don’t believe the Bible ever condoned slavery; I believe God wants us to do the right thing even in an unfair world. (Fortunately for us, we have rights that allow us to change what is wrong, albeit slowly.)

In my country, we can say practically anything we want. We can insult other people, even our leaders, without fear of being thrown in jail. Sadly, discussions in social media usually turn into insult-swaps. Apparently the person who comes up with the most colorful (and often disgusting) affront declares him or herself the winner when the other backs down (or gets tired of it). Hence, everyone is talking but no one is listening. The “contenders” in an on-line conversation are always thinking of their next put-down.

How lucky we are to be able to say almost anything without fear. But by exercising their right to free speech in this way, I think people are ruining it–we’re a nation of self-styled satirists. How many problems are solved by one person calling another a “dipshit” for believing as they do? (Do you really think the insulted person will change their mind?) Next time you’re in an escalating insult-swap, think of that.

Here’s an alternative:  1 Peter 2:12 says “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Let’s educate ourselves before we vote, then accept and respect our authorities, even if they’re not the ones we voted for. If we want change, let’s bring about change. Respectfully.

Discussion, yes… Satire, okay… Insults, no. It’s just not Christian.

Jesus Loves Sinners

Progressive 28Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7

God is a righteous judge, and Jesus intercedes for us.

He went in search of me when I was lost. I was poor, I was lonely, I was confused, and I was actively sinning (I was bothered but I wasn’t repentant) when I felt compelled to walk back into a church building. Thankfully, I found a group of people who were equally imperfect and who didn’t judge me.

Many churches give the impression that people need to qualify before even walking in the door. I have never qualified for heaven and I never will. So I am deeply troubled by the expectations placed on outsiders.

Remember, there are two messages in Luke 15: Jesus actively seeks sinners. And Jesus does not favor “good” people. As insiders, we have to be gracious about that. Welcome should apply to every one of God’s children, and Come as you are should refer to everyone who is curious, questioning, or hoping. Come rich, come poor. Come white, come colored. Come hurt or angry. Come tattooed or not. Come married, come divorced, come gay. If God’s children need changing, it’s up to Jesus to change them, as only He can. Let’s let Him do it.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Against Such Things There is No Law

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

What about contempt, anger, discord, impatience, ridicule, meanness, dishonesty, rudeness and sarcasm? Where do they fit into a Christian’s life?

What about judgement? What about HATE?

Do these words fit your “witness” in any way? Sometimes they fit mine. I get so frustrated, and I think of some really clever comeback, and BOOM, out it comes. The perfect way to “heap coals on the enemy’s head” right? And I gloat for a few seconds, (until the person I’m sparring with comes up with an equally withering remark). And we keep going, an endless back-and-forth of clever comebacks.

That’s not from God. That’s the devil. That’s me, filled with pride.

I’ve heard people say, many times, “It’s not hate; it’s honesty.” Oh, come on. If it involves an escalation of anger and name-calling, it’s hate. At best, it’s honest hate.

But kindness… “Against such things there is no law.” God will not strike you down for talking kindly to a nonbeliever, or to someone who believes differently than you do. You have an opportunity to gently guide them toward God. And He forgives them, even as they sin.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34

Before you open your mouth (or commit your words to a comment box), pray. Ask God to put kind thoughts in your soul, so only kind words will come out. Remember, He died for the person you’re arguing with.