Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Does God seem to Care more about what we Believe than what we Do?

God is often indicted because He sanctions deathbed conversions. The logic goes like this:

  • It is not fair for God to excuse a mass murderer on his deathbed by virtue of a mere confession of sin, while condemning many good people who haven’t repented.

This “logic” suggests that God is unjust in valuing a confession over a life of good deeds. However, there is another way to understand this. Imagine a son who habitually robbed, disgraced, and maligned his parents. He then stole a large sum and left them. What would the parents want most:

  • Reparations from the son? (This would not restore the relationship and would minimize the extent of the wrong.)

  • The return of the son? (A return would merely invite more problems without a change of heart.)

  • To hear reports that the son had done well and had earned a doctorate? (This might merely make it easier for the son to justify his conduct and leave the underlying problems unaddressed.)

Instead, any reconciliation would have to include a sincere and humble confession of sin. Only this would provide a foundation for hope and a real reconciliation. Of course, a sincere confession necessarily includes a determination to change (repentance), and this determination, if real, will produce results.

It is not that God disdains or minimizes a changed life. However, He knows that a changed life must be based on a changed (converted) heart. If not, it will be based on self-righteousness and the arrogance that always follows.

Jesus told a parable – the Parable of the Prodigal Son – showing what happens when our personhood is based on self-righteousness, the performance of good deeds. It produces arrogance and contempt for others (also Luke 18:9-14).

The prodigal son had lived in a way that disgraced his father (Luke 15). However, when the son repentantly returned, the father received him with joy and celebration. Meanwhile, the older son, convinced of his own righteousness, moral superiority, and lack of need of any mercy, resented his wayward brother and rejected his father’s overtures to join the celebration. He was convinced that he was too deserving to humble himself to rejoice with his repentant brother.

For many, this parable is deeply troubling. We tend to identify with the older son and feel that it was unjust for the father to celebrate the return of the prodigal in such an extravagant way. This is only because we are convinced of our moral superiority and entitlement!

But perhaps we are morally superior and therefore more deserving? However, not according to Jesus! Instead, we live in the deepest denial, always ready to judge others but unwilling to see that we are only superficially different (Mat. 7:1-5). Consequently, salvation is humanly impossible even for the “best” of us (Mat. 19:26). Consistent with this fact, Jesus informed the religious leadership that the mercy of God, through faith in Him, was their only hope (John 8:24; 6:29).

Real change must begin from the inside (Mat. 23:26). We must be born again (John 3:3-5). Anything short of this represents an unwillingness to engage the truth about oneself and an entitlement mentality.

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