June 30

Missing the Point of the Faith

If I were to describe my experience in evangelicalism over the past forty years – the duration of my Christian life to this point – I could sum it up in two short statements:

  • Believe the right things.
  • Don’t sin.

I don’t think my experience is unique; in fact, I suspect it is commonplace across evangelicalism regardless of whatever denominational tribe we might find ourselves.

These two dimensions of our faith are obviously important and not to be minimized.  It is obviously important to know the essentials of the faith and to adhere to them.  These are doctrinal matters and critical for understanding God accurately – to whatever extent that is humanly possible.  Included are topics such as the triune nature of the Godhead, what God is like, what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, the nature of spiritual life, why the church exists, and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Just as obvious is the admonition not to sin.  It was sin/Sin that caused our separation from God in the first place, a separation that – left unchanged – would have resulted in an eternity away from God’s presence.  Even now sin can separate us from God: not for eternity but in our daily experience of and walk with Him.  Not sinning – to whatever extent we are capable – is a very good thing.

Believing the right things and not sinning are necessary dimensions of our Christian life but they are not sufficient: that is, these two things alone do not accomplish God’s will for us in our remaining time here on the planet.  They may be enough for salvation but there is yet another dimension that proves whether or not they actually are enough.

The third thing that is missing – at least for most of my life – is loving.  Loving God, loving other believers, loving all people.  Love as a verb, something we do, not something we necessarily feel.  “Walk in love,” Paul tells us (Eph 5.2); “love one another, even as I have loved you,” Jesus tells us (Jn 13.34).

To be fair (to myself), I am a loving person unless I think about it.  What I mean is that I love people when I’m not paying attention to myself but the minute I begin trying to love people I miss the mark horribly.  I get caught up in the first two directives to believe the right things and to not sin.

When my head gets involved like that is when my love is no longer from God but is, rather, a product of my self-righteous or self-confident flesh.  Probably more of the latter.  To say that I have tried too hard might be too generous but it might be true, too.

John gives us a broader understanding of love:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.     – 1 Jn 4.7-11

Here is a definition and application of love: it is sacrificial, giving even when there may not be any advantage for us in doing so.  God gave his Son; he gave him as a payment for our sins so that those who believe would not have to pay with their own lives.

Writing about the Cross, Marshall says,

God sent his one and only Son into this world in order that we might obtain life through him.  Here we see the two factors which determine the nature of love: on the one hand, self-sacrifice, and, on the other hand, action done for the benefit of others . . .

There can be no explanation or definition of true love which does not start from God’s love. We cannot begin to understand love by considering the nature of our love for God.  Rather, love is to be seen in the prior act of God who loved us and expressed his love by sending his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. In this phrase we find the deepest meaning of the term “love”: love means forgiving the sins of the beloved and remembering them no more.  This is what God has done for rebellious mankind: he pardons their sins against himself at his own cost.

That is how we are to love one another; that is how we are to love everyone.  Love is doing the right thing for others every time.  God defines what the right thing is and what love is, not us: our response is to obey and give even as he gave.

I miss this when I think about it; then again, I miss it when I don’t think about it, but at least when I’m not paying attention I’m more likely to fail in the right direction.  What I need to do – what so many of us need to do – is to be a loving person even when consciously thinking about it.

I need to understand that – as Francis Schaeffer wrote – the mark of the Christian is love.

Conscious or unconscious, deliberate or spontaneous.

Because the greatest of all is love.

 

June 29

The Lordship Debate Is Missing the Point

One of the advantages of aging is that you see cycles.  In governments, people, history, organizations, and organisms – the last being a reference to that God-ordained organism, the Church.  Cycles are evident in the Church universal – comprised of all Christian believers of all time and all places – and the local church which, in the United States, is a 501.c.3 tax-exempt entity housed in building somewhere in a neighborhood near you.

One of the recurring issues of concern for various factions within the Church is that of Lordship Salvation: the point of contention is whether or not a person must make Jesus the lord of every area of life in order to be saved or whether trusting in Jesus Christ as savior alone is sufficient.

The tide is out at this time for the lordship debate; how long it will be before the tide comes in once again and accusations are hurled and books written and re-written, no one knows. What I would propose is that when the tide does come in again, the Church take a different approach.

We can have our usual tribal skirmishes over the precise details of the gospel to determine “us” and “them,” but in so doing we are overlooking a critical aspect of lordship. Rather than focusing on lordship as a matter of salvation, we might do well to shift the focus to lordship as evidence of salvation and a necessary effect of salvation.

My position has been and remains that a surrender of every area of our lives – lordship – is not necessary for salvation to occur but it is something that must follow if salvation has taken place.  This is far more than stating that lordship is what happens subsequent to salvation; it is stating that an absence of lordship means no salvation took place to begin with.

This isn’t just my opinion.  It is arguably the opinion of John as reflected in his first epistle. He writes,

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. – 1 Jn 2.3-6, NASB

John is direct and unequivocal in his statement: if you know God by virtue of trusting Jesus Christ as Savior, then obedience to His commands and walking as Jesus walked must follow.  Not should or might or ought, but must.  Lordship is a natural and necessary outcome of salvation, not something that some Christians submit to and others forego.

But two questions immediately present themselves: what commands are to be kept and how did Jesus walk?  Two questions but essentially one answer.

Stackhouse has summarized the commands as four: two creation or eternal commands and two redemption or temporary commands.  The creation commands are (1) to exercise stewardship for the earth and (2) to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. The redemption commands are (1) to love other believers with the same quality of love that Jesus has for us and (2) to make disciples.

In his letter, John is focusing on the commands that compel us to have love for God, one another, and others.  To keep the commands is to love and to walk in love – that is, to walk as Jesus walked.

Of course, Jesus broadened the meaning of “neighbor” in his parable of the Good Samaritan.  Our neighbor, he said, is anyone with a need that we have the ability to meet. That is love.

With his typical, blunt-force approach, John writes that “The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.”  Marshall, in his commentary on John’s epistles, brings the point home forcefully:

We would say that there are persons whom we do not love, but this is not the same thing as hating them . . . But John will have none of this.  His concept of love is caring for the needs of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice.  If I am unwilling to do that for somebody in need, I love myself more than him; I am not being merely neutral, but am actually hating him. – p. 131

The proof of salvation, according to John, is walking in love, which is to obey God’s commands.  To walk in love is to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ; walking in love is the fountain from which all our obedience flows.  If there is no walking in love (as a continuing lifestyle), there is no lordship and there is no salvation.

My contention, to state it once again, is that the importance of lordship is not to be found primarily in whether it is necessary for salvation but instead as proof of salvation and submission to Christ as Lord.  If a person does not walk in love, then that person does not know God and cannot claim to have fellowship with him or a saving relationship with him through Jesus Christ.

There are no second-tier Christians who are content with one day sitting in the cheap seats in heaven.  There is but one type of believer: those who walk as Jesus walked, who are obeying God’s commands, who – consciously or unconsciously – have committed and submitted themselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ as a welcome result of having been redeemed.  All others are tragically and eternally mistaken.