...if we be honest with ourselves,
we shall be honest with each other.  ~ George MacDonald

Jesus Wept 

Jesus Wept

 

An Open Letter to Christians


Dear Christian brothers and sisters,


How wonderful it is to know the truth that we have been forgiven all our past sins. Remembering such a thing ought to make us grateful, and out of this appreciation, obedient. Only through obedience to Jesus will his words be properly understood.

Some of the following may disturb you. 

"Oh the folly of any mind that would explain God before obeying him! That would map out the character of God, instead of crying, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" (George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons)

I'm deeply concerned about the Church and a doctrine which has been widely embraced. It is a belief about God that has interfered with believing in God; it has led many who are going to hell, to believe they are going straight to heaven. It is the single greatest cause of apathy in the Church and therefore the greatest threat to the Church today.

It is time for a reformation, and I think C.S. Lewis' favourite author may be the man to bring it about. In his introduction to George MacDonald: An Anthology, C. S. Lewis speaks very highly of MacDonald:

 "This collection, as I have said, was designed not to revive MacDonald's literary reputation but to spread his religious teaching. Hence most of my extracts are taken from the three volumes of "Unspoken Sermons." My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help-sometimes indispensable help toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith.

"... I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined. ... In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it."

Some things can only be understood through obedience. It seems to me that the Church has unwittingly embraced a false view of God because many theologians tried to understand deep things before trying to obey. If only they valued obedience more than understanding, they would have developed a right understanding through their obedience. The simple truth is, the more we love people, the more we will understand God. This is the real key to hermeneutics. The more we put Jesus words into practice, the more we will understand him.

"To put off obeying him till we find a credible theory concerning him, is to set aside the potion we know it our duty to drink, for the study of the various schools of therapy. You know what Christ requires of you is right—much of it at least you believe to be right, and your duty to do, whether he said it or not: do it. If you do not do what you know of the truth, I do not wonder that you seek it intellectually, for that kind of search may well be, as Milton represents it, a solace even to the fallen angels. But do not call anything that may be so gained, The Truth. How can you, not caring to be true, judge concerning him whose life was to do for very love the things you confess your duty, yet do them not? Obey the truth, I say, and let theory wait. Theory may spring from life, but never life from theory" (MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons).


Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said,

"...faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience" (The Cost of Discipleship).

The Church is right. We are saved by faith. However, the churches definition of what faith is where the problem lies. Faith is not holding to a particular theory about the meaning of Jesus death and resurrection. Biblical faith is a two sided coin. One side is believing that God will do what he says he will do, and the other side is trusting him enough to do what he asks us to do. Both of those things together is biblical faith.

As Hebrews 11 tells us, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. But are not Mormons, Muslims and Jehovah's Witness sure of what they hope for and certain of what they do not see? Hebrews 11 explains the nature of true faith; the issue is who are we placing our faith in. What were the heroes of faith hoping for? What were they certain of? And was it not reflected by what they did?

If we trust God to do what he says he will do while failing to do what he asks us to do we are trusting him to send us to hell, for that is what he will do to those who will not follow Jesus. (There is an important distinction between claiming to believe Jesus died for us and trusting him.)
Faith is a choice; we can choose to put our faith in Jesus. It is through faith that Jesus brings us to his Father. It is faith in Jesus that enables him to mediate on our behalf.

Jesus is the mediator between God and man, just like a mother is a mediator between her young daughter and a doctor. The doctor wants to help, but the little girl does not trust the doctor. It is only because she trusts her mum that she allows this stranger to give her a needle. Jesus lived and died so that through trusting him we will begin to trust and cooperate with his Father;  this is how we are brought to God. God is just like the father in the story of the prodigal son. He doesn’t need to be brought to us, we need to be brought to him, and so Jesus brings us to God. God does not need someone to speak up for us so he can understand us; he is not dumb. All he wants is for us to begin to exercise faith (which is active trust) in him. I can trust someone who lived and died for me. I can trust someone who lived a perfect life. And if this one says that his Father is exactly like him, I believe it. So through trusting Jesus I trust God the Father also; this is expressed through obeying his commands and letting him do with me what he thinks best.

Many of you will agree with what I have written so far, but what I have written below will raise many theological questions for those who have been trained in or by the Church. All of them can be answered satisfactorily. The first and most important question is “What must I do to be saved?” Well, we must repent and believe in Jesus, but what exactly does it mean to repent?  

Is repentance accepting a theory about the meaning of Jesus death and resurrection or is it turning one's back on the world and following Jesus? Perhaps it is both? But if it is both, the person who rejects the “correct” theory yet turns their back on the world and follows Jesus is not saved. Obviously that is absurd. According to Jesus anyone who turns their back on the world and follows him is saved. Believing the correct theory about Jesus death and resurrection is not necessary for salvation.

Because of an attempt to understand before obeying, many theologians misunderstood God’s character, they imagined he kept a close record of all wrongs. But that is not the nature of love.

"I believe that no man is ever condemned for any sin except one—that he will not leave his sins and come out of them, and be the child of him who is his father" (MacDonald, "Justice").

The truer we are the more we will understand the one who is true. This short sermon explains what it means to be true; to be a king in God's Kingdom. "Kingship"

Very few people would trust God (live by faith) today if Jesus did not come. He came to bring us to his Father. He came so that just like him, we too would trust the Father. It is true that love keeps no record of wrongs, but how can we enjoy a relationship with God while we refuse to trust him? Jesus had to come to draw men to his Father. He came so that we, just like Abraham, might start to trust God. "The righteous shall live by faith."

Can a person be saved without trusting God and shouldering God's will? Can a person be saved without carrying their cross? Not according to Jesus. The cross that saves is the cross we carry as we follow our Lord and Saviour (Matt 10:38; 16:24).
Atonement is impossible without faith.

According to Jesus, only those who begin to put his words into practice can be saved. Far too many believe they can be saved by accepting as true a theory about the meaning of Jesus death and resurrection and saying a prayer; having done this they’re “in” (or so they believe) and now they need do no more than attend Church on Sunday.

No one can be saved by believing something about the purpose of Jesus death and resurrection−no matter how correct that theory may be−or even by making a decision to follow him; believing a theory and making a decision to follow is not the same thing as actually following. (This does not mean a person’s faith and consequent behaviour has to be perfect to go to heaven, but there must be an active and ongoing trust which is reflected by obedience. The kingdom of God belongs to him who overcomes. To put this in the clearest terms possible, the back slidden “Christian” will go to hell if they do not repent.)

Because we have placed a greater emphasis on understanding truth than on being true, we have embraced a doctrine which makes God look anything but good. God does not keep a close record of every wrong, he holds nothing against anyone. As the NASB puts it, love "does not take into account a wrong suffered" (1 Cor 13:5b).

It is worth repeating the quote from MacDonald,

"I believe that no man is ever condemned for any sin except one—that he will not leave his sins and come out of them, and be the child of him who is his father."

That is the nature of love. God is love. This is truly good news. God forgives because it is right to forgive and so he asks us to do as he does.

Having misunderstood the nature of God theologians had to look for a way to appease him. The propitiation he was, is and is always seeking, is godly sorrow, a living sacrifice. The good news is God's character. The good news is the Father is exactly like the Son. God is truly good.

When we say, "God is good" are we not saying that God is good some of the time. We are not saying that he chooses to be good to some people. We are referring to something much deeper. When we say, "God is good" we mean everything he does is good, that he is good all the time and that he is good to all people. He never stops being good. It is God's character which we are referring to when we say he is good.

Why is it we do not apply the same logic to statements such as "God is merciful" and "God is just"? If we apply this same logic then God in his dealings with each individual is always good, always just and is always merciful. But how can that be? Most of us have been led to believe that God is merciful to some people and just toward others. Certainly it must appear that way to human eyes, because the most important thing to the majority of people is their physical comfort. But is it merciful if a parent places a child's physical comfort above their moral development? We've all see children behave badly and we've also seen foolish parents who failed to punish them when they should have. Are such parents being kind when they fail to punish their children? Showing justice toward a child is to be merciful to the child.

Like the statement, "God is good" the statements "God is just" and "God is merciful" also refer to God's character. God is always just and always merciful. He is always just toward all people and he is always merciful toward all people. When he shows justice towards a person he does not stop being merciful towards that person and when he shows mercy towards a person he does not stop being just toward that person. This might seem strange, but it is not so strange when we think about what a good parent is like. A good parent warns as well as punishes because of love. In fact their punishment is a kind of mercy. God is always merciful and just because he is the Father of us all.

If you take the time to listen to the sermon "Justice" you will see that MacDonald clearly believed that Christ's dying in our place is a figurative substitution as opposed to being a literal substitution. (But he was no liberal, he believed Jesus did die and his body literally rose from the dead.) If a person turns and follows Jesus, on account of how he lived and died, then that person is literally forgiven. They are forgiven whether Jesus dying in their place is figurative or literal, but if we are to take Jesus words seriously, we must accept that his dying in our place was a figurative substitution and not a literal one. Was Jesus not serious when he said:

"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matt 10:37)

Either, Jesus death is a literal substitution and therefore such verses are figurative (we can all breathe a sigh of relief because that much is not literally demanded of us), or his death is a figurative substitution and such verses are literal. Considering Jesus stern warnings about forgiveness and judgement ("as you judge you will be judged") and the hundreds of verses which suggest that our belief (or lack of) is reflected by what we do (rather than by what we claim to believe) we should examine this issue very carefully.

"Justice" http://youtu.be/TC1danjfrmM

To summarise: The purpose of Jesus death was so that we might trust him. God's wrath is appeased when we begin to trust him. When we begin to trust him it is as though Jesus died in our place but this is not a literal substitution it is a figurative substitution.

"Hold on," you might be saying. "Jesus was innocent, we are guilty, the innocent died for the guilty to bring us to God." That is true. So what's your point? Jesus died for me so that I, through trusting him, will also trust the Father who sent him. Trusting him is not believing a theory about him.  Real faith in God is following Jesus. Faith in God is not holding the right beliefs about God. (though wrong beliefs about God often interfere with believing in God and therefore should be given up.) "But," you might ask, "If Jesus  dying in our place was a figurative substitution; how can we be sure of our salvation?" Isn't it more important to ask the question, "Am I, this very moment, doing what Jesus asks me to do?"  Why worry about whether or not you are saved? The nature of love is to always hope and always persevere. God's love is eternal.

If the Church is not reformed, and quickly, western civilization will collapse, democracy will be lost, and the salt will be taken out and trampled on.

It is my belief that if the Church embraced the message in the sermon "Justice" it would lead to a reformation as great, if not greater than that of the 16th Century and cause many who think God is unjust to take a closer look at Jesus. Perhaps these things raise many questions for you, such as, "what was the faith of Abraham's that was accredited to him as righteousness?" And "If no belief about God can save a person, can I be assured of my final destination?" These and many other questions are answered in Unspoken Sermons.

May God bless you with greater intimacy with him.

 

Yours,

Brad