Monday, April 25, 2011

Grace without Justice

While the multi-cultural agenda embraces one aspect of the Gospel, grace; it rejects the other, righteousness and judgment. This often takes the form of some type of universalism. Either everyone is saved—or at least everyone who wants to be saved is saved—or there are many routes to salvation. One observer – a personal associate – explained this tendency this way:

• There are a number of contemporary cultural factors that are conducive to the acceptance of universalism. Western culture has become increasingly liberal in its tolerance and desire to be non-judgmental of every idea, person, and religion...The pluralism of multi-culturalism demands that we accept every opinion as having equal truth-value. The world-view that some have called “post-modernism” encourages a subjective orientation that is inclusively accepting and unwilling to identify anything as true or false, right or wrong. Such humanistic thinking promotes an irresponsibility that refuses to believe that people should be held accountable and responsible for their choices, identifying persons as “victims” when they have to face the consequences of their choices. Add to this the unitive emphasis that advocates the globalism of a one-world government, economy, and religion, and it is not difficult to see the cultural drift toward universalistic thought.

In any event, God’s particularism, judgmentalism, and exclusivism—it’s exclusively about faith in Jesus—have become unacceptable. Although one might guess that a narrowed preoccupation with mercy alone would produce a positive and comforting faith, it doesn’t. The denominations that have embraced this imbalanced “gospel” are shrinking fast, and those of their number who remain in them seem—surprisingly—to be somewhat cold to the reality of God’s grace. In an odd sort of contrast, those who believe in a God who will indeed judge the world are the very ones who are excited by and appreciative of God’s grace, while those who embrace grace without judgment seem to be untouched by the grace they claim to have. It seems that it is those who perceive that they truly merit judgment – ex-addicts and ex-criminals for example – who seem to really embrace grace! How can this be explained?

The two Gospel polarities—grace and righteousness/justice—correspond to our inner life. We experience guilt, shame and a resulting sense of threat (and even a knowledge that we deserve punishment), and the Gospel affirms this reality. However, the Gospel doesn’t leave us there, but beckons us to a garden of comfort where all is forgiven and all is cleansed—a place where we are relieved of our burden and grateful for God’s gracious gift to us.

I think that we sacrifice something very important—something central to the Gospel itself—when we soft-pedal God’s judgment of sin. It seems to me that if we minimize this part of God’s revelation, we minimize the rest. After all, how is it possible for us to fully appreciate God’s mercy unless we fully accept and understand his justice and impending judgment? Perhaps our love and delight in the Cross depends upon our awareness that we deserve the Cross? Perhaps, deep inside, we know that we can’t take grace seriously if we refuse to take judgment seriously.

Or, to look at this another way, perhaps the Spirit is grieved when we only embrace the truths of God that suit us? Jeremiah talks about the blessedness of knowing God, not just a selected aspect of Him:

• This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

If knowing God is worth boasting about beyond anything else, we lose out when we distort God’s self-disclosure by gladly accepting His kindness, while rejecting His justice and righteousness. He greatly values our knowing the truth about Himself. Jesus was emphatic that:

• …true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24).

Worshiping and loving God in truth are not optional. What happens when we “pick and choose” from the Word, taking only those parts that we like? Are we really getting the rich, true, full picture of Him that He wants us to have? Or, to use marriage as another analogy, can we just take the parts of our mate that we like, or is she a package-deal? So how would God feel if we seemingly carve Him into pieces, rejecting the unappetizing parts? Does this represent loving God or are we creating a Frankenstein monster of our own crafting? Is God likely to bless such an arrogant endeavor?

This is what we do when we perform radical surgery on God’s gift of Himself—His self-disclosure in the Word—picking and choosing what fits our specifications rather than submitting to His entire Person, as it is revealed in Scripture. It’s an all or nothing deal. To take only part of what God reveals about Himself in Scripture is to reject Him outright.

For years, I searched for God—or at least that’s what I thought I was doing. However, I was “searching” for a God who would conform to my specifications – a God created in my own image, who would necessarily heighten my sense of self. Consequently, one of my requirements was that God had to affirm my Jewishness, and therefore I could have nothing to do with the Jewish “traitor,” Jesus Christ. My search wasn’t actually a search but a demand that God conform to my worldview. As a result, in all my “searching,” I found nothing.

In stark contrast to all the arrogant demands of my quest for God, Jesus taught that we must humble ourselves to receive Him as a little child (Matthew 18:2-4). I was blind to the fact that I was trying to approach Him as a very demanding CEO. I failed to see that, instead, He is the CEO over all creation, truth, morality and love, and that every good thing that I possessed came from Him.

I can no more take the grace of God without the rest of His teachings than I can take life without its hardships. Mercy requires punishment. If we love our children, we will punish them. Likewise, a real grace refuses to indulge the destructive desires of the other. It refuses to say, “If heroin makes you feel like a man, then go for it!” Nor will grace declare all ways equal, not if grace and truth co-exist! If I try to separate them, it would be like separating hydrogen from oxygen, expecting that I will still be drinking water.

In the long run, I tend to think that God will be more merciful than I suspect. However, in the meantime, I do not have the luxury to bypass or dismiss His sayings that many consider to be offensive and judgmental. Scripture will not allow us to put any of its teachings aside (Deut. 4:2; 12:42; Rev. 22:18-19). Jesus said that not even the smallest mark could be removed from the law (Matthew 5:17-19). Can we do otherwise? He also stated:

• "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23)

If Jesus is our Savior, we have to allow Him to have His say and authority over our lives. When we choose grace and reject His warnings about judgment, we are telling Him that we want to retain control. After a while, He might just allow us to do that.

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