Is Christianity about right and wrong?

No, Christianity is not about right and wrong. God never intended life to become a battle between good and evil, or forever having to struggle to do what’s right all the time, and fight against wrong thoughts and actions. That’s an awful life, because you never know if you’re being good enough, and what happens to us if we’re still thinking bad thoughts on the day we die? Do we lose out on heaven and go to hell because our thoughts weren’t absolutely perfect to our dying breath?

And yet most of what drives religion is the fear and guilt of doing wrong. I caught a glimpse of that when buying a car off a religious person. I wanted to know if he was telling me the truth about the car. His reply was, “Well, our Creator is watching us and he’ll curse me if I don’t tell the truth.” 

But that’s awful, because the only reason he’s telling the truth is fear for his own skin. It’s not out of love for me, or love for God. His life is based on, “I’d better do what’s right or I’ll be got by God.”

And isn’t most religion based on that? It’s about knowing what’s good and what’s evil, and being scared enough of what might happen to you to do the good and avoid the evil. And what, then, do those religions teach to others as the purpose of a human life? It’s to make sure you’re being a good person until your last breath, and hope it’s enough to get you a good reward in the afterlife.

What those religions are pushing, therefore, is a knowledge of good and evil. You’d better know what’s right and wrong, because it’s only those who do good and live right who get to live forever in a paradise setting. 

It’s interesting, then, that right from the beginning in Genesis, God told the man in the Garden of Eden not to eat off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In other words, don’t go there, that’s not what life is all about. It’s not about knowing what’s right or wrong. 

So what is it about instead?

Well, what made Adam and Eve do what they did? It was being given a wrong picture of God. They were told God was a liar and a fraud, and he was only telling them to avoid knowing good and evil because it would make humans as all knowing as him. It turned them right off God.  

And it’s a wrong picture of God being pushed by most religions, including Christianity, that turns people off God today as well. God isn’t about nailing people for doing wrong and thinking evil thoughts. God isn’t about making people suffer now and forever as punishment for doing wrong, either. He’s about rescuing us from our disbelief in who he really is.

So he revealed who he really is through his Son, the human Jesus as we know him. That’s God, and all he wants for us humans is to see that and believe it. And we see in Jesus that he was dead against those who were pushing right and wrong as the be all and end all of life, because they weren’t exactly being perfect examples in their own lives of being upright, honest people. And who is? No one is. We all fall short.

What God said through Jesus was, “Let love for me and love for each other be the driving force in your life, not fear for your own skin. I’ve got your skin safe and sound already anyway, thanks to my Son dying for you, so use that lovely freedom you have to love as I love you, and all that right and wrong stuff will no longer be an issue for you.”

It was never meant to be an issue in the first place, but we made it an issue by believing a lie about God, that made us want to figure out life without him. And what we created was an entire system – of justice and religion – that’s based on right and wrong and threatening bad people with punishment to make them behave. It’s an awful way to live, but that’s what we’re stuck with until that true picture of God seeps into our heads, which is what Christianity should be concentrating on, not on what’s right and wrong.

Is the Church preaching the “Good News”?

The gospel usually proclaimed these days by traditional and many evangelical Christian churches goes something like this:

God is holy. Mankind has sinned against him and incurred the penalty of death. God is just and justice demands punishment. But God is also love so he sends Jesus Christ to pay the penalty and take our punishment upon himself. The moment when Jesus cries from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” is interpreted as the time when the Father, being too holy to look upon sin, forsakes Jesus as he takes our sin upon himself. The agony of this forsakenness translates into Jesus receiving the ultimate punishment for our sins as he also pays the death penalty for us.

If this were true, it would drive a wedge through the unity of the Trinity and stand the incarnation and the work of Jesus on its head.

Nowhere does the Bible state that Christ came to reconcile the FATHER to us. Neither does it say that Christ came to placate the Father’s anger, or to satisfy the Father’s demand for punishment so he could forgive us. Quite the opposite, the Bible states that Christ came to reconcile US to the Father, to change OUR attitude not the Father’s. It was the Father who sent his Son, and it was to “reconcile the all things TO HIMSELF through Jesus Christ” (Colossians 1:20). It was OUR state of mind that needed changing, not the Father’s.

Jesus did not come amongst us to make it possible for the Father to have mercy on us, or to change the Father from demanding justice to loving and forgiving us. It was the Father’s unrelenting love for us that sent his beloved Son amongst us – because he was totally opposed to our destruction. The Father sent Jesus because he loves us, not because he demanded punishment. It is by the Father’s will that we are forgiven and brought close to him, and it was the Father who sent Jesus Christ to carry out his will. The Father’s will was for Jesus to enter into our fallen existence and remove everything that separated us from him and bring us home. And that is exactly what Jesus did: “It is finished” (John 17:4, and 19:30).

If the gospel really means that the Father is too holy to look upon sin, how is it that the Son actually became sin? Is the Father holier than the Son? Is the Trinity so split that the Son has to somehow rescue us from the Father’s holy anger? This would push the notion that the Father “cannot” forgive us until his demand for justice is satisfied, or that the Father “will not” forgive us until his anger is appeased by bloody sacrifice. This puts the church and all mankind hiding from the Father’s anger behind Jesus Christ’s blood, and it drives an ugly wedge through the Trinity.

The idea that the Father is so holy that he cannot be near to sin, and that he demands just punishment for those engaged in it, harps back to the understanding that God is unapproachable and unknowable, an abstract singular entity. He stands above the creation in unapproachable holiness, in control and omnipotent. His relationship with mankind is remote and mediated through the law. He is a God of rules and justice, keeping account and exacting due payment and penalty before there can be forgiveness. This is the “legalized” so-called God taught to many sincere Christians. No wonder they live in fear and anxiety.

I’ve seen many Christian churches with a notice board declaring “All are Welcome,” but most also proclaim on other notices that “Your sins will find you out,” or “Be prepared to meet your God,” and similar scary epitaphs designed to provoke us into entering their church. This is hardly “Good News”. It certainly does not proclaim the God of the Bible and mostly drives people away from Christ, rather than drawing them to him.

The Trinitarian God of the Bible is the exact opposite of this horrendous picture. The Father, Son and Spirit live in unimaginable, joyous, loving, creative fellowship and unity. So close is their mutual and reciprocal love that it can only be expressed as being “in one another.” Their thoughts and motives are identical so that all are involved in every action of God.

The underlying nature of the Triune God is one of self-giving love flowing out into the determined purpose of sharing life and drawing us into this beautiful relationship as his adopted children (Ephesians 1:3-5). He planned for us to be at one with him, re-created in Jesus Christ to be perfect for him and sharing everything he is and has. It is this unswerving purpose and the love of the Son for the Father that drove Jesus to the cross to bring about the Father’s will for us.

The Gospel, the “Good News,” is that Jesus completed this work that the Father gave him to do (John 17:4).

At the Father’s decree, Jesus entered into our wretched human condition, took our fallen and alienated human nature upon himself and turned it back to the Father in faith and obedience. During his sacrificial life he defeated Satan, and then took the old fallen humanity inherited from Adam to the cross and destroyed it. The Father resurrected Jesus as a new creation, a new humanity. He ascended and now sits incarnate at the right hand of the Father.

The really great news – the real Gospel – is that we are “hidden WITH him in God” (Colossians 3:3). If we can only see ourselves as a new creation, hidden with Christ at the right hand of God as his adopted children, sharing in all he has and is through the communion of the Spirit, then we have perhaps the greatest gift that God bestows upon us – total assurance. Resting in Christ, accepted, cherished and loved in him, and at peace, assured and blessed, we are free to go out of ourselves and give of ourselves to others. Released from any ulterior motive, self-centredness, and obsession with our own life and anxiety, we can care for others and turn to God in free, unrestrained love and joy. We are released from the burden of being “good enough” and the restraints of trying to achieve that which Jesus has already accomplished in our place.

The legalized God and the fear gospel often preached from the pulpit today have little relevance to our every day life, our marriages, our work and play, and they provide no answer to our inner anxieties. And the legalized gospel gives no assurance and no peace and no joy.

It’s not Good News, but bad news.

(By Ken Buck, my Dad)

Salvation eternal and salvation now

The gospel talks of two salvations, the salvation of John 3:16, “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,” and the salvation of Acts 2:40, when Peter cried out to the crowd, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

The first salvation is about saving us from the penalty of our sins forever. The second salvation is about saving us from the influence of sin now. Salvation eternal and salvation now, the two great salvations included in the gospel message.

It started with John the Baptist and his “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” in Mark 1:4, and it continued with the apostles and their preaching in Luke 24:46-47, that “Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”

And that’s exactly what Peter preached in Acts 3:19, when he told his fellow Jews: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may wiped out,” and verse 26: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you (Jews) to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” It was the same message in Acts 5:31 too: “God exalted Jesus to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” And thousands of Jews believed it, that their sins had been forgiven forever and their lives could be straightened out in this life now.

That same message then went to the Gentiles in Acts 26:17-18 when Jesus sent Paul “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” That’s the first salvation, salvation eternal, the total forgiveness of their sins forever made possible by Jesus’ death. And then in verse 20: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” That’s the other salvation, salvation now, where real changes start happening in one’s life now.

Peter talks again about both salvations in 2 Peter 1, how God has made it possible for us to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” verse 4. That’s the salvation we experience every day, but what stirs a person to live that salvation from the wrong ways and thinking of this world now is the ever present memory of being “cleansed from his past sins,” verse 9. He never forgets his salvation eternal either.

There are two salvations?

I don’t remember the day I was saved because I wasn’t there when it happened. I had to wait two thousand years before I discovered I’d been totally accepted by God before I was even born, and all due to Christ’s death on the cross.

Other Christians, on the other hand, DO remember the day they were saved, because they were there when it happened. They remember even the date, perhaps, when they believed and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. “And that’s the day I was saved,” they say.

So now we have two groups of Christians, one group that thinks they were saved before they even knew about salvation, and another group that thinks they were saved only after they knew about salvation. The first group believes they were saved without any acceptance or belief on their part, while the second group believes they were saved because of their acceptance and belief.

So who’s right?

Well, depending on one’s definition of “salvation” both groups can be right. If we’re talking salvation as defined by the first half of Romans 5:10 – “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” – then the first group would be right. God totally accepted us – even as his enemies – when his Son died, not because of any conscious acceptance or belief on our part.

But if we’re talking salvation as defined by the second half of Romans 5:10 – “how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be be saved through his life” – then the second group would also be right.

Yes, God accepted and forgave us because of Christ’s death, but there’s more to salvation than that. There’s also the salvation that comes with Christ’s life in the here and now. And this salvation does require acceptance and belief, Romans 10:9, because it’s only “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“Saved” here means the salvation that comes with the resurrected Christ’s life, that happens in this life now. And that’s what kicks in when a person accepts and believes that “Jesus is Lord.” He understands that Jesus as Lord is now saving us every day from “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” 2 Peter 1:4, and he “richly blesses all who call on him,” Romans 10:12.

That’s the other salvation we receive through Jesus. It’s not the salvation we receive from his death, it’s the salvation we receive from his resurrected life right now, that we experience daily as he transforms our lives into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Everybody’s saved; they just don’t know it yet

Christ “died for ALL,” 2 Corinthians 5:15, to be the “Saviour of ALL men,” 1 Timothy 4:10.

So Christ doesn’t miss anybody out. He “gave himself as a ransom for all men,” 1 Timothy 2:6, and he “tasted death for everyone,” Hebrews 2:9, “for the sins of the whole world,” 1 John 2:2, so that God could “reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” Colossians 1:19-20.

So it’s abundantly clear that Christ’s death covers everybody. And when he died, all humanity died with him, 2 Corinthians 5:14. Logically, then, if Christ died to save everyone and we’re all included in that death, then everybody must be saved already. Christ died, job done. “It is finished.”

But not all Christians see it this way, that salvation for all humans – past, present and future – was done and dusted by Jesus on the cross. Some, for instance, believe that only an elect few are saved. Others believe that only those who repent and believe receive salvation. In the minds of these Christians, therefore, salvation is either selective or conditional, that only some people are saved based on certain conditions being met. Salvation for them is definitely not for everybody, nor is it a free gift. Instead, salvation is only “potentially” ours, or it’s only granted in exchange for something we do.

That’s not what Ephesians 2:5 says, however, because “God made us alive with Christ EVEN WHEN we were dead in transgressions.” In other words, God saved us before we even had a clue what salvation was. He saved us from eternal death when we couldn’t care less about repentance and faith. It was when we were in no condition to be saved that he saved us. Why? Verse 8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the GIFT of God.” Salvation from beginning to end is a gift, and a gift that was ours already before we even knew about it.

So here we all are – all of us saved already as God’s amazing gift to us through Christ’s shed blood. But not everybody knows that yet, so it’s the job of the Christian church to tell them, Romans 10:15 – but – tell people in such a way that they get the message of how GOOD God is in making salvation his gift to us, so that people respond and “call on him” (verse 12), because in responding to God he then goes to work on “blessing” them (12) with his OTHER wonderful gift, “the righteousness that comes from him” (3). He now begins to change their lives, because that too is included in his gift of salvation – and if only people knew that as well.

Is everybody going to be saved?

Some say “yes, all human beings will be saved” – with scripture and logic to support it too. Logically, for instance, how could a loving God let anybody go to hell? It’s against his very nature, surely.

Scripturally too, Jesus “gave his life as a ransom for all,1 Timothy 2:6; he’s the “Saviour of all men,” 1 Timothy 4:10; and “in Christ all will be made alive,” 1 Corinthians 15:22. God also “wants all men to be saved,” 1 Timothy 2:4, he doesn’t want “anyone to perish,” 2 Peter 3:9, and Christ draws “all men to himself,” John 12:32. God also promises “mercy on all,Romans 11:32, and the restoration of “everything,Acts 3:21.

Clearly, God wants us all saved and sent Jesus so we could be. But there’s the awful irrationality of evil to consider too, that strange phenomenon that makes people reject God for no understandable reason. Why, for instance, did an archangel rebel against God after knowing God so well for so long? Why did Adam and Eve listen to a talking serpent? Why did Israel demand a return to Egypt after God had just rescued them? Why did people want Jesus dead after all his amazing miracles?

Something out there makes angels and humans do insane, stupid things – and it made a devil out of an archangel, who now disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He tempts, snares, upsets and deceives us by twisting the truth (John 8:44), blinding our minds (2 Corinthians 4:4) and stirring up jealousy and pride (James 3:14-16). The devil can really mess us up.

But Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil,” 1 John 3:8, and 4:4 says, “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world,” so how can the devil destroy us? But if he can’t destroy us, why would scripture also say, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” James 4:7, and “put on the full armour of God so you can stand against the devil’s schemes,” Ephesians 6:11, and pray that God will deliver us from evil, and be super careful that Satan doesn’t “outwit us,” 2 Corinthians 2:11?

Why? Because evil is real and deadly. It makes people do irrational things, think insane thoughts, choose darkness over light (John 3:19) and risk an unforgivable sin (Mark 3:29). But it also makes salvation real, because we see in brilliant clarity what we need saving from. Jesus described salvation as turning from Satan to God, Acts 26:18, because that’s the salvation we all so desperately need. It’s salvation from the awful irrationality of evil.

What’s more important, then? Is it figuring out if we’re all going to be saved (or not), or realizing what God is saving us from?

“Bah humbug” to New Year’s resolutions

As Christians do we need New Year’s resolutions or the rigorous practice of “spiritual disciplines” to make ourselves more spiritual? It sounds like we do in 1 Corinthians 9:27 when Paul says, “I beat my body and make it my slave,” and in 1 Timothy 4:7 when he tells Timothy to “train yourself to be godly.”

But if Paul was truly encouraging human resolve and the practice of spiritual disciplines for spiritual growth in those verses he’d be contradicting himself, because in 2 Corinthians 3:8-9 he says it’s the “ministry of the Spirit that brings righteousness,” and in verse 18 that we “are being transformed into his (Christ’s) likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

So, where does our spiritual formation come from? From the Lord.

And who is transforming us into Christ’s likeness? The Holy Spirit.

And whose ministry creates righteousness? The Spirit’s ministry.

There is no talk of us playing any part in our righteousness or transformation into Christ’s likeness. Our spiritual formation and growth are entirely the work of the Spirit. And for Paul to even hint that spiritual growth involves something we do would open him up to being challenged with the same question he challenged the Galatians with in Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish?” he asked them. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

The Galatians had been depending totally on the “miracle-working Spirit” (verse 5) for their spiritual growth – but now they were reverting back to depending on their own efforts.

But surely there’s some effort on our part required, isn’t there? Surely the effort of spiritual disciplines is necessary for “stirring” the Spirit, isn’t it? Won’t the Spirit work more effectively in our lives, in other words, if we’re doing our part better, like praying more, studying more and obeying more?

But that’s exactly what the Galatians thought and Paul took them to task for it in verse 2 with a very direct question: “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Did the Spirit work miracles in their lives because of their obedience or their belief in the gospel – which? Oh, they knew which: It was their belief, and nothing more.

And that’s why I say “bah humbug” to New Year’s resolutions, or resolve of any human sort, because our spiritual growth is entirely the work of the Spirit, not human effort, and the only thing needed for stirring that miracle-working Spirit in our lives is belief in the gospel. It’s only foolish people (says Paul) who believe they can grow spiritually by their own resolve and willpower.