Monday, January 6, 2014

The Radical Jesus: Sinner’s Savior; The Self-Righteous Christian: Sinner’s Satan.

Contained in the angel’s first message about the birth of Christ to Joseph was Christ’s identity - Son of God, and HIS purpose - to save people from their sins. If God, in Christ, came to save people from their sins, how did Christ respond to sin?

In HIS first encounter with the devil, the source of sin, Christ quoted three verses from Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, 6:13 while overcoming the devil. The three verses cited by Christ ascribe preeminence to God over devil and sin.

In HIS first encounter with people, the doers of sins, Christ’s first message was for them to repent of their sins (Matthew 4: 17; Mark 1: 15). We should repent to God, for only God can forgive sins. Once again Christ ascribes preeminence to God – that God alone can forgive sins. 

If we recollect Matthew 1, we remember that Christ is Immanuel – ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1: 23). Christ is God!

True to HIS Immanuelness, the gospels narrate instances of Christ claiming to be God. Christ’s claim to divinity offended the unbelieving Jews, who accused HIM of blasphemy. However, Christ continued to assert HIS divinity.

Therefore as an initial response to sin, Christ affirms the Scriptures, ascribes preeminence to God, stakes claim to HIS divinity and urges people to repent of their sins.

Christ did not desire for people to continue in sin. Instead, HE desired that people be righteous. While describing sins, Christ taught that anger is as sinful as murder, and lust is as sinful as physical adultery (Matthew 5: 29 - 30). Christ thus revealed a new dimension to sin.

While urging people to not sin, Christ travels to the metaphorical extreme of urging people to pluck out or tear off that part of our body that leads to sin (Matthew 5: 29-30). Such an opposition to sin was expected of Christ, since HE is God and in God is no sin. Sin is an assault on God. 

While urging people to be righteous, why did Christ NOT say that our righteousness should exceed that of a murderer or an adulterer? If murder, adultery and the likes are sins, shouldn’t righteousness be classified as not committing these sins? Interestingly, Christ taught that our righteousness should exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5: 20). Have you wondered why? Surely, Christ was not promoting or endorsing sins!

How did the Scribes and Pharisees respond to sinners? The answer to this question could answer the question as to why Christ used Scribes and Pharisees as an example for sin over a common sinner such as a murderer or an adulterer.

Luke 18: 9 states that the Pharisees were so confident of their own righteousness that they looked down on others, the sinners, with contempt (“God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18: 11, NASB). These so-called holy men (scribes, teachers of the law and pharisees) separated themselves from the sinners to the extent of condemning them. Little did they understand that holiness is separation from sins and not sinners. 

Christ came to save people from their sins and not condemn them (John 3: 17). If this were to be accomplished, then HE most surely had to be friendly with the sinners. And HE was more than friendly with the sinners, so much so that Christ was notoriously branded as a ‘friend of sinners’ (Matthew 11: 19 & Luke 7: 34). 

The radical Christ was thoroughly unlike the so-called holy men (scribes, teachers of the law and pharisees). While these so-called holy men hated sinners, Christ loved sinners. The radical Christ did not promote sin, instead HE taught people not to sin. But please remember that Christ loved sinners.

Do we love sinners? We most surely love ourselves, and we most surely are sinners. If we are to be as radical as Christ, then we are to love our fellow sinners as we love ourselves. If we so love our sinful selves, what makes it difficult for us to love our fellow sinners? Our self-righteousness is the most significant barrier that prevents us from loving our fellow sinners. 

Often some Christians move away from the sinner. If he moves away in fear of falling into the same sin, then the disconnecting Christian could be justified (cf. 1 Corinthians 15: 33; 1 Thessalonians 5: 22). But if the disconnect happens because the Christian does not deem it fit to socialize with the sinner, then he surely is wrong.  

The error of the Scribes, teachers of the law and Pharisees was further revealed by their perverted encouragement or ignorance of businessmen at the temple (John 2: 13-16). The Scribes, teachers of the law and Pharisees remained ignorant of the businessmen at the temple, whereas in utter contrast Christ eliminated these very businessmen from the temple precincts.

While the so-called holy men deplored the sinners because of their own righteousness, they allowed a sin of a greater kind at the temple. Shouldn’t these holy men have known what they were doing? Shouldn’t they have known if their actions were pleasing to God or not? They distorted or damaged worship to God at the temple by making the temple a marketplace. This certainly did not please God!

The temple was not to be a marketplace. It was to have been a place of worship. Thus the scribes, teachers of the law and pharisees were greater sinners than a thief, murderer or adulterer (cf. “And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin”” - Luke 17: 1-2, ESV).

This seems to be the problem plaguing Christianity today! The greater sinners feign holiness and ridicule the average sinner. The holy men are so intent in removing the speck from their neighbor’s eye that they ignore the log in their own eye. Therefore, we do not see an average sinner walking into the church of Jesus Christ and being loved graciously (without supporting the sin).

If the sinless Lord socialized actively with the sinners, why aren’t we socializing with a fellow sinner? Please allow your imaginations to wander. If a person honestly announces his sin in your church, how would your church respond? Importantly, how would you respond?

We don’t need to support his sins, but would he be welcome and loved by our church? If we say no, then our self-righteousness is at fault. So we are the greater sinners (cf. Luke 18: 14). When our self-righteousness prevents a sinner from worshipping the living God, then not only are we NOT radical but we are NOT Christlike. We are the greater sinners.

We are called to save sinners (cf. 1 Corinthians 9: 22-23; James 5: 19-20). We are not called to encourage sin. Satan encourages sin. The Savior saves people from their sins. If we claim to be Christlike, we are called to save people from their sins and not encourage them to sin.

We cannot save people if we do not love them. Christ loved and still loves sinners. If we do not love our fellow sinners, then we are not being Christlike.

Love is the antecedent to salvation. Christ came to save sinners. A perfect God desires and loves all sinners to save them. Since Christians are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12: 27), we should love all sinners so to be an instrument of their salvation.

Some will believe in Christ to accept HIS free gift of salvation, and some will reject Christ and HIS free gift of salvation. But if we claim to love God, we should love our neighbors, who are as sinful as we are, if not lesser (Leviticus 19: 18; Matthew 22: 36-40).

If Christians do not love their fellow sinners, they cannot be Christlike, let alone be radical. Failure to love fellow sinners is a violation of all God’s commands (cf. Matthew 22: 40).

Since our self-righteousness is the greatest enemy to love sinners, we ought to plead fervently with Christ to enable us to be humble in our innermost being. We need to intentionally be humble in our thoughts, words and deeds. May the good Lord bless those who fervently pray for Christlike humility in their lives. A humble Christian is a Christlike radical. Amen. 

Postscript: My next blog will be on 1 Corinthians 5: 11, which could be used by some Christians to detach from sinners. Is this a univocal teaching? How do we understand and practice this verse? May the good Lord guide and bless our thoughts as we strive to understand HIS will for our lives. 

No comments: