Jesus finished what the Law started without changing it

When you think about the church as a whole in general, what’s the first thing you think of? Maybe if you’re in another country where the Bible is illegal and churches are threatened, you have a different perspective than we do here in America. But here in the US, generally what I run into when I talk to people about the church is the idea that “church people” are always fast to pass judgment.

This is a horrible example and it may not even be relevant, but one of the most popular comedy sketches in the history of television was Dana Carvey’s Church Lady–a cantankerous old woman character who fussed and fretted about modern trends and popular culture (and it was pretty funny, honestly).

I’ve had this conversation with people before. If you go to church, it usually means that you have no problem condemning actions or choices or the beliefs of other people. You sit on a high horse and pass judgment on people you don’t know. Whether it’s actually true or not, that seems to be the general perception.

But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Isn’t the Bible a book of dos and don’ts? As Christ-followers, don’t we have the right and a duty to tell other people when they’re wrong?

Oh, this is such a slippery slope. And in situations like this, it’s always best to go back to the source to see what the Bible actually says.

dreamstime_m_9338559Today’s verse is Matthew 5:17.

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

This is still the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ best known messages. One of many things I love about Jesus is that He wanted people to understand why He’d come. He didn’t just walk about thumping people on the head and telling people that they were wrong. He spent His time building relationships with people.

But by that same token, as He says in this verse, He didn’t come to do away with the Law. He came to finish what the Law started.

Everything that God had done throughout the Old Testament was a picture to demonstrate that God had a relationship with people. The Laws weren’t given as a means to get to heaven or to reach God. The Laws were given to show people they could never be good enough and that they would have to rely on God’s grace through faith for salvation. Sound familiar?

Jesus came to bridge the gap between a perfect God and a broken world. And He didn’t accomplish this by walking around beating people down because they had sinned. He didn’t make it happen by standing above everyone and pointing out everything they’d done wrong. He didn’t do it by jumping down somebody’s throat because they say something that disagrees with God’s Word.

No. But at the same time, Jesus didn’t pull His punches either. He spoke the Truth because He is the Truth. He didn’t change one thing about Scripture that God had already established. I mean, think about that. God doesn’t change, and Jesus is God. So if you can’t separate God from Jesus, you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible.

You can respect another person’s choice to believe something without believing it yourself. You can demonstrate love and kindness toward people who believe differently than you do without thinking poorly of them. Pointing out where people are wrong won’t help you build a relationship with them. When you point at someone else’s faults, remember there are four fingers pointing back at you. Try to keep that in mind the next time you are being critical of someone else’s choices. We can’t make decisions for other people, and I’ve never once seen where a heated debate changed anybody’s mind.

Be clear. What the Bible says goes, and you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible. What God says is true and right. Period. Whether we like it or not. But nobody has the right to tear someone else down for what they do or don’t believe.

Jesus wanted people to understand why He was here and make up their own minds. That’s what we should be doing too.

 

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You don’t have to be the best for God to accept you

While I was sitting eating Pei Wei honey-seared chicken and rice in the international concourse of the Atlanta airport, I noticed a young man with a strange t-shirt on. I’m sure it stood for something like a school or a club that he was in, but the slogan associated with his club is what caught my attention:

“God only takes the best.”

The first time I read it, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. I’m still not entirely sure what it’s trying to say, especially since I suspect it has to do with a sports club. So I admit I’m reading into it quite a bit. But one sure-fire way to understand a statement is to reverse it and see if it’s still true.

If God only takes the best, than that means He turns away those who aren’t the best. That means He rejects the unworthy. Is that true? Not according to the Bible, it isn’t.

beatup_carToday’s verses are Romans 5:6-11.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

The Bible says over and over and over again that you don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be righteous. God loves you even though you can’t be any of those things. And you can’t be.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but nobody is perfect. Nobody is good. Nobody is righteous. We can’t even be good enough for the world’s standards most of the time, let alone God’s. Yet somehow we still have this idea (and people still make t-shirts apparently) stating that you have to reach some level of perfection before God will accept you.

We didn’t have to be perfect in order for God to save us. No, Romans tells us that while we were imperfect, Christ came to save us. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies with God, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to give us the chance to be God’s friends.

That’s a gift, pure and simple, and you can’t do anything to earn a gift.

God’s grace is a gift. It’s free for us. And anyone who tries to add to that gift isn’t telling the truth. Anyone who says God’s grace is something you have to earn isn’t telling you what the Bible actually says.

You don’t have to get your life in order before you come to Him. You don’t have to clean up your act. Just come to Him now. You’re all He wants. Yes, God deserves the best, but you don’t have to be the best for Him to take you. God wants you just the way you are.

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Staying free

Have you ever been set free from something? Like debt? There’s nothing quite like getting out from under the stress of knowing you owe someone money. But I’ve learned over the years that there’s a big difference between my reaction when I have to pay my own debt and when someone pays my debt for me.

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Seagull flying – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Galatians 5:1.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

The Book of Galatians was written by Paul to the Church at Galatia. The Church at Galatia had started to turn away from following Christ and believing in His sacrifice as what saved them, and instead they were returning to the Law. They were trusting in their own actions and in their rituals to save them instead of believing that Jesus had already done it. And that’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to them, to remind them who they were and to tell them that what they were doing was wrong.

As a distant, third-party observer to Scripture, it’s easy for me to stand back and criticize the Galatians, just as it’s easy to criticize the Israelites, for their poor choices. Whenever God would intervene in their lives and save them supernaturally, they would rejoice and turn back to Him for a season. But shortly afterward, they’d go back to living the way they always lived. Like nothing had happened at all.

But as much as I would like to think that Christians living now are different, our choices demonstrate that we’re just the same. And I’m not really talking about sin here, though. At least, not the sin that we think about. When I think about sin, I think about lying and stealing and cheating and immorality. But the sin that was going on in Galatia wasn’t any of that. The sin in Galatia was pride, turning back to religion, trusting their own righteousness instead of God’s.

Why are the shackles of religion so hard to escape? Why do we think we have anything to do with our own salvation? Why do we think we have to pay for any of it? Where does that come from?

When I have to pay my own debt, I hesitate before I go into debt again. Why? Because it’s hard work to pay my own debt. It’s grueling. But when someone else pays my accumulated debt for me? Well, there’s nothing I have to do. I don’t feel it. I don’t suffer or struggle. So it’s more difficult to avoid going into debt again. That’s the way it works for me, at least. I don’t know if it’s that same way with everyone.

The struggle with salvation is that I absolutely can’t pay my own debt. I have no way to pay for my own sins, and that’s why Jesus did it. He loves all of us enough that He didn’t want to be separated from us for eternity. Hell is the only way I could even begin to pay for my sins, but God doesn’t want that for anyone. That’s why He sent Jesus to make a way for us, to provide a choice for us.

But somehow, even though the choice between eternal suffering and Jesus is clear, people still choose to try to pay for their own sins through good works, through being a good person, through going to church and learning Scripture.

It’s like a slave who was set free running back to his master and requesting to be shackled up again to face a life of brutality and forced labor. Why does it make sense in the church when in “real life” people look at you like you’re an idiot?

So what does this mean today?

Be careful.

Pride is sneaky. It appears in so many forms, and it’s so difficult to fight sometimes. But if you’re trusting in anything other than Christ to save you, you’ve allowed yourself to be made a slave again.

Even if you already follow Jesus, if you think your church attendance or your Bible knowledge or your charity work makes you right with God, you’re telling God that Jesus didn’t need to die for you.

Even as a believer, I’m always tempted to try to prove to God that I’m worth His time. I want to show Him that I deserve His goodness. But in all honesty, I can’t. I can’t be good enough. I can do my best. I can try my hardest. But even on my best day, I’m not perfect, and that’s what I need to be good enough for God. And that’s beyond my capability. That’s why I have Christ.

So watch your step and listen carefully to what people in the church tell you about your salvation. Check everything against Scripture. Don’t just take it for granted that the people you’ve always listened to are telling you the truth. Check me. Check anyone who says they think they understand.

Salvation is free. And since it didn’t cost us anything, it’s easy to take for granted. So don’t. Remember what Christ did for us and leave the Law where it belongs, as a reminder that we’re not perfect.