Sunday, January 18, 2015

Standing in the Gap

Psalm 139:1-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  Martin Luther King, Jr

It occurred to me a few days ago that the phrase championed by evangelical Christianity, “I am a sinner saved by grace”, presents a few problems.  The statement is a summary understanding of what is written in the second chapter of Ephesians as Paul reminded the Ephesians that “The Lord, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of The Lord” (4-5, 8).

Yet what is problematic about such a summary statement as we have created for ourselves is that, first, the statement comes dangerously close to suggesting we are still actively, perhaps joyfully, and certainly willfully engaged without sorrow in a life of sin, which is always displeasing to The Lord.  Secondly, many who are outside of the Church, outside of the Covenant do not understand the word “grace” and are thus likely to focus on our boast of being still sinners – saved from nothing.  Lastly, the summation suggests that The Lord saves us IN our sin even while we are willfully and mindfully engaged in that sin.

Above all else, the statement is fundamentally wrong, in my humble opinion, because sin by its very nature separates us from The Lord.  The Lord does not sanctify sin.  We not only “miss the mark” of striving for spiritual perfection as we must, the statement suggests we have surrendered ourselves not to the will of The Lord which is the mission of the Church - but to our own will.  The statement denies our need to “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15) - that is, to think as justified persons as we are going about our business rather than to act purely according to our impulses and personal desires.  The statement also denies our real need to pray and to repent as necessary disciples of spiritual growth.

The statement also denies the importance of something much greater, as I shared last week.  It denies the point in our justification in which we are to become active partners with The Lord and with one another in our spiritual growth and in the mission of The Church.  The statement denies our need to “leave behind the elementary principles of Christ … and go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1).  It denies any need for effort, any need for discipline, on our part in order to grow.

Therefore the statement (and thus my personal disdain for “bumper sticker theology”) is not helpful for the growing Christian who should be mindful of The Holy Spirit’s real presence in our lives, in The Spirit’s Temple which is our mortal bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19), our mortal minds, our immortal souls!  The statement prevents us from thinking more broadly, more outwardly, and more inclusively especially toward those who should be thought of by the Church not as “outside” but rather as “not yet inside”. 

When we find ourselves so narrowly focused only on self with no regard for those we are commissioned to reach and teach, we deny the real presence of the Holy Spirit in His very Temple AND the reason The Spirit is present in the Spirit’s Temple in the first place!  When this happens, if we are honestly and spiritually introspective and discover we are still imprisoned by our personal desires and human impulses, we discover we have actually been delivered from nothing … and we have already lost sight of what matters most.

So what does matter most to us?  It could be different things for different persons, of course, but this is true only because we do not have the unified and sanctified Mind of Christ.  We do not think as THE Church commissioned to a common task of “making disciples”.  Rather we think as a bunch of individuals who happen to go to church – if we go at all.  We do not think of The Church as an instrument of The Lord’s grace, an extension of The Lord’s mercy to all the world; we think of it only as our personal “toy chest”, filled only with things we like and enjoy, things that bring joy and delight only to ourselves.  We do not think of The Church as The Lord’s “tool chest” filled with instruments suitable for “repairing” a broken world. 

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). 

It is not clear what “law” St. Paul may be referring to since we know the Law of Moses does not make “all things lawful” nor does Roman law.  It may be that St. Paul is attacking some sense of “bumper sticker theology” unique to Corinth expressing a newfound “freedom” in Christ, and yet a slogan as careless and as shallow as “I am [still] a sinner [yet] saved by grace”. 

There may be a fundamental truth in such a statement even as the statement as a whole can be fundamentally well off the mark, but Paul is beginning to fill what appears to be a substantial “gap” between the Truth as revealed in The Word, and a “truth” created by the ‘infant church’ in Corinth.

It is the same “gap” we find ourselves standing in today; the significant gulf between what we have been called to be – and what we actually are.  If we are indeed active and engaged “sinners” yet still claiming salvation in that impulsive and thoughtless life of sin, we are lost and don’t even know it. 

If we believe the Law of Christ, the Law of grace gives us unlimited and unchecked freedom in which “all things are lawful for us”, we may well be delivered from the sins of our past – BUT – our current state of sin in which we see no need to repent means only that we are walking directly toward The Bottomless Pit from which there may be no rescue, no salvation.

Yet the psalmist (139:7-10) writes that there is no depth at which our God and Father cannot reach us; “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your Presence?  If I ascend to Heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me and You right hand shall hold me!” 

We can run, but we cannot hide. All things are not “lawful” for us, but all things are permissible within the human freedom we often take for granted.  It is what we do with that freedom which defines the nature and the depth of a relationship we may choose to have with our God through His Son who is the Head of the Church.  If we are concerned only with what we can do when we choose to do it, there is no relationship with Christ anymore than there exists a relationship between husband and wife when one or the other goes and does with no thought or concern for the other!

We can do better and indeed we can be better, but we cannot do or be if we are unwilling to move beyond that “gap” in which so many new and complacent believers become lost.  We must act within the strength, faith, and courage of conviction in knowing our God and Father will not sanctify “The Gap” – but our God will sanctify and richly bless the Journey out of that Gap!  We must decide to move – and together we shall.  For like ancient Israel, we will move and grow together – or we will perish together.

Therefore “choose life, that you and your children may live and that you may love The Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For The Lord is your life and the strength of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).


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