Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What We Believe Matters

If you have been a Christian for any length of time you've probably heard at some point "I'm just a sinner who has been saved by God's grace" or "I'm not perfect but I am forgiven." Often I wonder about this. Most any of the better radio preachers that I listen to have said something along these lines at some point, and nearly all the better Christian books that you find have this as a central theme.

To me though it seems as though it's a bit defeatist. Actually, I take that back: it is defeatist.

The belief that we are these horrible sinners who a born so far apart from God and that we are deserving of nothing but His wrath and vengeance and judgment forms the theological basis for many churches. I need to say that yes I agree we are born into sin and apart from God. I don't dispute that whatsoever and, if you have listened to any of the sermons I have posted on here you would know that I don't preach anything contrary to that.

Yet, there is such a thing as God's love for us that compelled Him to step out of heaven and bear for us the sin and death we all deserve, so that by satisfying the penalty of sin and death we could be made free from it.

For those who have experienced freedom, it is unthinkable that they should ever want to go back to what enslaved them in the first place. If someone who has been a smoker for years finally kicks the habit, the thought of having another cigarette sickens them. If someone experiences sobriety after living a life enslaved to alcohol the last thing they want to do is celebrate with a bottle of wine.

However, it becomes chic for many Christians to say "God saved me from this life, yet it's still something I do on a daily basis. But God loves me anyway." To me this is a very cheap form of both God's grace and love that has been extended to us.

In John 5 we read the account of a man who had been dealing with a problem for 38 years. His life consisted of laying beside the pool of Bethesda, waiting for the water to be stirred by an angel, so that he could potentially be the first to throw himself into the water and be healed. His condition was such that he never quite made it, someone always arrived at the pool before he could.

Can you think of a more depressing state? I would think that after maybe a couple years of this the man would have resigned himself to the fact that this was something he would have to live with the rest of his life, yet he still struggled in vain to be first one in. Why? Maybe he saw some little value in the struggle, yet it served to reinforce his state. But he could not bring himself to do anything else.

Jesus sees this man and says to him "Do you wish to be well?" The man, apparently not even looking at Jesus, doesn't even answer the question. Rather he says "There is nobody to carry me to the pool." The man was so fixated on the problem that he didn't see Jesus nor did he even hear what Jesus was asking him. It became part of the ritual to simply answer the question with that response. Maybe the man thought Jesus would simply leave him alone after that.

Jesus however says to the man "Pick up your bed and walk." Maybe there was something authoritative about the way Jesus said it, or maybe the man was genuinely surprised by Jesus' response, that for whatever reason he did. After 38 years he was able to pick up his bed and walk.

When the Pharisees saw this man, perhaps they knew who he was, instead of celebrating they criticized him. But the man was celebrating what Jesus had done, even though he didn't know it was Jesus who had done it, would not stop walking or carrying his bed. Eventually he discovered it was Jesus who made him well.

If all Jesus came to do was heal us, fix what was broken, then saying we are sinners saved by grace would make a lot of sense. Being healed of something doesn't demand much, if anything, from us. My mother works in the medical profession as a physician assistant. She can prescribe medicine that will heal someone from what ails them. The underlying problem may still exist however, and though the person may experience momentary freedom from their ailments the problem does not truly go away until it is completely rooted out. In fact it's a reality of the medical profession that the patients my mother sees she will see again and again and again, despite her skill and years of experience.

But Jesus asked the broken man the question "Do you wish to be well?" Not healed, but made well? Jesus knew that what this man needed had to go beyond being healed. Sure, healing would have sufficed, but does God want us living a sufficient Christian life, or one that speaks to His power that is at work in us?

Romans 8 talks about how, through Christ, we overcome the problem of sin in our life. Not just live with it. Not just go to church and pray and read scripture and meditate on it like we're laying on our beds hoping that we'll be the first into the pool, but getting to the point where we can live a victorious life over sin.

What are we really believing then if we think that all we will ever be is a sinner, saved by grace? Perhaps we're saying "Well God you put a bandage on my soul, you stopped the bleeding, but it's never truly going to get well." Jesus will either seek to make us well wholly and completely, or else He's wasting His effort in your life.

When the man who was laying on his bed found Jesus later, Jesus said to him "Do not sin anymore." What He was saying is "live in the wellness that I have given you." It may take time to learn, but no longer do we need to struggle in vain, not when Christ has done more than heal us, but made us well.

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