The Meaning of the Cross

On this Good Friday, I want to draw attention to another aspect of the atonement of Christ. Our traditional theological explanation is to say that Jesus died on the cross so we might escape the penalty for our sins. Most of the time we seem to treat it as a type of commercial transaction. Sure, we are grateful we don’t have to bear the consequences, but all too often we see what Jesus did as some kind of transfer: God the Father got mad at Him instead of us. Whew, that was close.

I don’t accept the idea that God was angry at Jesus, that He couldn’t stand Him at that moment because of all that ugly sin attached to Him. Well, the Father did abandon Him, right? It must have been, as the majority of preachers say, that He was pouring out judgment upon Him because He became the personification of sin. The scripture used to back that up is the one that says Jesus became sin. Yet a closer examination of the Greek shows a better translation is He became a sin offering—not the same thing.

Why did the Father turn away? Two reasons, I believe. First, Jesus had to suffer this alone. Just as any sinner separated from God will feel supreme emptiness at the Last Judgment, so Jesus had to fully grasp that experience. We’re told in the book of Hebrews He had to be made like us in all things so He could be the perfect sacrifice. He had to undergo every temptation as a man to be able to take our place. Yet until that moment on the cross when the Father turned away, He never had experienced alienation from Him. Throughout all eternity past, they were One. Now, for this one agonizing moment, He fully experienced the feeling of separation.

Second, and this is where some may say I’m speculating too much, think about the effect on the Father as well. This was new to Him also. He had never been separated from the Son. If Jesus was suffering, wasn’t the Father also? Yes, Jesus carried out the physical suffering, but both grieved in their hearts.

You see, God the Father and God the Son are not some faraway entities. They live with us, feel with us, work with us at all times. The crucifixion was an intensely personal act.

The other half of this is that we so cavalierly tell others to accept what Jesus has done for them and they can live forever. It’s much deeper than that. We need to come to grips with the personal nature of the crucifixion. We need to “see” the agony Jesus voluntarily submitted to for our sake. In our spirits, we need to view the cross as more than a commercial transaction where we dodge a bullet or have a debt paid. We need to gaze upon Jesus on that cross, realize the degree of His suffering, both physical and spiritual, and be so humbled by His love for us that we would never again want to do anything that would bring even more grief to Him.

In other words, we need a stronger sense of the absolute evil of every sin—the bottomless selfishness of every sinful thought or action—in order to bring us to a place of genuine repentance. The cross should break us down, humble us to the point where our commitment to Him is to live a life that honors Him at all times.

Salvation is not one prayer, and too often we push people into praying a prayer of salvation that may be phony. That prayer will only be real when we first acknowledge our complete spiritual poverty without Him and seek His forgiveness. When we come to that point, when we know in our spirit that we are nothing without Him, only then can we begin to walk in newness of life.

On this Good Friday, we should contemplate not some payment of a debt, but rather the kind of love that would lead the God of all creation to empty Himself of all Godhood, and to humble Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. If we understand the depth of that love, we will be changed. And that’s what it’s all about anyway.

Legislating Morality–Part Two

In yesterday’s post, I explained what I believe to be a self-evident truth: all legislation deals with right and wrong; therefore, we always legislate morality. The only question is whose morality will we legislate.

Today, I’d like to offer some examples that may not be as clear-cut as murder, theft, and fraud. For instance, there was a short time in American history when prohibition went into effect—the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was banned by constitutional amendment. It didn’t work. That amendment was overturned by another amendment later. While it may have been well-intentioned, hoping to diminish the damage done to individuals and families by drunkenness, it wasn’t really enforceable. Neither is all alcohol condemned in Scripture; the key is to not give oneself over to the sin of drunkenness. I believe the law should instead, in a case like this, penalize public drunkenness due to the specific dangers it creates to the community.

What about drugs? Many draw a parallel between alcohol and drugs, and say they are the same and should be handled identically. However, in my view, there is rarely any reason for a person to take a drug, outside of a doctor’s prescription, if that drug’s primary effect is to impair one’s connection to reality. A person normally has to imbibe a certain amount of alcohol to reach the same state that one drug dose will create. The drug itself has no nutritional value; there’s rarely any reason for taking it other than the desire to get high, thereby endangering others. I have no objection to the drug war, so-called, as long as it is effectively enforced.

Abortion, to me, is not an ambivalent issue. This is the taking of innocent life. I would like to see the law come down hard on those who perform this “service,” in order to restore the concept of each person as inherently valuable, made in the image of God. It would also stop the downward slide of our society into hardheartedness and the development of what the Bible calls a “seared conscience.”

Homosexuality is probably the most controversial moral issue at present, particularly now that there is movement toward homosexual marriage. Our society has shifted significantly on this in the past thirty years. As someone who takes Scripture seriously, I cannot condone personally the practice of homosexuality. I believe it is a sin. But then comes the question as to when a sin becomes a matter for the civil government to punish. All criminal acts [at least those in accord with the Biblical understanding of crime] are sinful as well; not all sins are criminal acts. Pride is one of the most deadly of all sins, but we don’t pass laws putting people in prison for demonstrating pride and arrogance [Congress would be nearly emptied]. That’s something God deals with directly, and it’s the church’s responsibility to confront such an attitude.

Some will disagree with me, but I don’t think it would work very well to criminalize homosexuality. I would prefer that to be a moral issue that the church confronts, and that we work to salvage the lives of those who have trapped themselves in the sin via genuine repentance and God’s redemption.

However, there are some points at which government should play a role with this moral issue. First, it should never allow homosexuality to be accorded some type of special status in the law, and neither should it punish those who disapprove of the practice. Unfortunately, the first has occurred, and the second may be on the way. Already one courts ostracism if one speaks openly of homosexuality being a sin. Frankly, another four years of an Obama administration may see an attack on blogs like mine that refuse to bow to political correctness. We could expect as well an attack on churches that continue to be faithful to what Scripture says about this sin.

I have no problem at all with setting a standard in society by legislating against homosexual marriage. It not only makes a mockery of the original intent of marriage, but it marks the beginnings of the destruction of the family, which is the cornerstone of society. Although some try to deny it, the next step will be to legalize anything that anyone considers a marriage. Last week, I saw a news report about a women who fell in love with a building that might be demolished, so she “married” the building—in a wedding dress, no less. Absurd? Unthinkable? Not anymore.

Christians still have a voice in this nation, not only within the church, but also in civil governance. We have just as much right as anyone to argue for the kind of moral standard we believe is essential for the spiritual health of the society. Yes, morality will be legislated, one way or the other. For the sake of our future as a nation, it had better be Biblical morality that wins in the end.

The Latest Manifestation of the Sinfulness of Man

There are so many disturbing aspects of the “occupy” movement that it’s difficult to catalog them all. At its root is the desire to get something for nothing, a malady born out of an entitlement mentality that we have nurtured in our society. Where will it end?

That mentality is central to the greatest heresy of the twentieth century, one that ultimately led to the deaths of more than thirty million in the Soviet Union, even more in China, and also in smaller nations such as Cambodia, North Korea, and Cuba. We’re now seeing it at work in Venezuela. It doesn’t always begin as a full-blown radicalism, but it eventually descends to that low level.

I like to teach history because I believe we can see what went wrong in the past and avoid repeating those mistakes. At least, that is my hope. There certainly are enough object lessons from which we can gain wisdom.

The problem, of course, is that most of us are not wise. We too often reject sound knowledge and understanding. The result is to walk in darkness. Why is this? My authority for understanding why this is the case states it this way:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. We seek scapegoats. We want to believe that “others” cause all our problems, yet the biggest problem is what we see in the mirror. The “occupy” movement is simply the latest manifestation of the sinfulness of man.

Reflections on American Morality

The whole Anthony Weiner incident has left me deeply disturbed about the tenor of our society. That’s nothing new, of course, since I believe man in sinful and plays out that sinfulness continually. Yet this particular episode I find particularly perturbing. Let me see if I can explain why.

Weiner himself is what I always expected him to be; I’m less concerned about him personally than I am about other aspects of this. The media, both liberal and conservative, seem to be painting the women involved as victims of a sexual predator. There’s no disputing Weiner is a sexual predator, but if these women were victims, they were more than willing to be victimized.

One of them, Megan Broussard, has conducted interviews over the past two days, one on ABC, the other on Sean Hannity’s Fox program. I watched the latter. First of all, I was not impressed with her grasp of basic morality. She thought it would be “fun,” I guess, to banter sexually with a married congressman. Only when she feared her tweets would become public, or the pictures she sent him would be displayed on the Internet did she decide to preempt that exposure by speaking up. Even now, she doesn’t seem to have any real concept of having done anything inappropriate—at least on her part. And when asked if Weiner should remain a congressman, she had no opinion, saying that it was up to the voters in his district.

She is a microcosm of the state of morality in America at this time, I fear. She obviously doesn’t represent the morality of all, but I do wonder if she is representative of the majority: morally clueless.

Even now, only a slim plurality of Weiner’s constituents think he should step down. He may be able to ride this out. His arrogance is that great.

I think back on the Clinton impeachment. Even though it was evident that he had abused the trust given him by the electorate, and that he had committed perjury, public opinion polls indicated that about 2/3 of the country didn’t want him removed from office. I recall being dispirited over that at the time.

Just who are we as a people?

I want to believe better about us, but I don’t know if I can. After all, we put Barack Obama into the highest office in the land.

There is no golden age in our history where everyone was Christian and all was well, but there certainly was a time when we, as a society, had a keener understanding of eternal right and wrong, and when we veered off course, we at least felt guilty.

Does genuine guilt exist as a force in America anymore? Only by comprehending guilt will we ever seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God. I hold the firm conviction that nothing less than an explicitly Christian moral standard, and a firm belief in the transforming power of a Spirit-filled existence, will suffice to hold our society together. Without that basis, we will spin out of control.

I’m reminded of a quote from Christian statesman Robert Winthrop, who, in a speech to the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1849, pointed out a significant truth:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.

Here’s the rub: do we still have enough people who live by individual self-government to make the difference, or are we in the process of losing all moral restraint? The reason I write and teach is that I believe there is still hope. I hope I’m right.

Evil and Good, Darkness and Light

Today I want to take a break from a specific current event, from cartoons, from book reviews, from links to other articles. Instead, I want to share a few thoughts from what I read in the Bible the other day. Going through the book of Isaiah, I came across a passage I’ve noted before, but one that deserves greater attention. It’s found in chapter five:

Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes; …

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;

Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;

Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!

It seems as if we are surrounded by those who have turned everything upside down. What used to be considered evil [abortion; homosexuality] is now considered a “good” for society. We walk in spiritual and moral darkness and proclaim that it is “light.” We’re more intelligent than those who came before us, you see. They weren’t as sophisticated as we are. They actually believed there were eternal laws and God-given concepts of right and wrong.

We’ve come so far.

This attitude also reminds me of a passage in the book of Romans, chapter one, where the apostle Paul speaks of those who practice such things as homosexuality, envy, murder, greed, strife, deceit, and malice. He remarks that gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, and mercilessness abound. Further, he instructs,

And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

These two passages fit together nicely, Old and New Testament confirming the continuity of the message. And as it was in ancient Israel and in the Roman Empire of New Testament times, so it is today.

Jesus solidified this principle in His talk with Nicodemus when He told him,

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

Men still hate the Light—otherwise known as Jesus the Messiah—because the light He shines on them exposes their evil.

“Religion is okay, but don’t get too specific about this Jesus fellow, and don’t tell me I have to submit my life to Him. I want to do what I want to do.”

That attitude is the essence of sin—a self-centeredness that rejects the Lordship of the rightful Lord.

The book of James gets to the bottom line:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Too much of modern Christianity avoids tough language like this. We don’t speak enough about sin, repentance, and the kind of life God expects us to lead when we say we give our hearts to Him. There’s a gap between what we say and what we do as the “church” of the living God.

That gap needs to go away. We need to be what we say we are.

That was just on my mind today. Yes, I know it came across as a sermon. I would apologize, but I don’t think God wants me to. We need to take Him more seriously.