Thursday, August 10, 2006

Missing the Point

About 11 o'clock this morning, the elder teen and I started a 3200-foot climb up Yosemite's "Four Mile Trail," and as we walked, we discussed a much more strenuous exercise -- that of updating the way we think about the gospel. What is the gospel, fundamentally? When I think about preaching it, one of the first things that comes to mind is the illustration that the Navigators call the "Bridge to Life" or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association calls "Steps to Peace with God."

Perhaps you've seen it. There are minor variations, but essentially we have humanity on the left side of the page, God on the right, and between them is a chasm, representing the separation we experience from God because of our sin. The solution to this separation is Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for our sin, and as a consequence, we can have eternity with God instead of spending it in hell.

I believe and agree with every statement there, but someone listening to the explanation might think that the main point of the gospel is that "You, too, can meet the minimum entrance requirements for heaven."

Now that is one point of the gospel, but it is not the main point of the gospel. It never has been the main point of the gospel, but I think for an earlier generation it was a point of great interest -- and so God used that interest to draw people's attention to the good news. I mean, the rest of the good news. Because it is good news to me to know where I'm going after I die.

But what about the rest? If life is hard, then you die, but then you get to go to heaven, the last part isn't exactly bad news -- but when Jesus talked about living the abundant life, I don't think he meant primarily "after you're dead."

I'll come back to this issue of focus in a minute, but let's take a look at 1 Corinthians 6, where the Apostle Paul takes on two significant issues with the church (i.e., the first century church at Corinth -- but it could just as well be the church in North America today). First, Paul doesn't think Christians should be suing each other:
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? ...

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

1 Corinthians 6.1,7
Second, Paul is very concerned about sexual immorality in the church. He begins this by apparently quoting something they wrote him, and responding to it.
"Everything is permissible for me" -- but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me" -- but I will not be mastered by anything....

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

1 Corinthians 6.12,18
Until a few minutes ago, it hadn't struck me how these were related, why they're presented together here in 1 Corinthians 6.

And then it hit me: I could have either of these problems easily, if I think the main point of the gospel is to keep me out of hell when I die (regardless of how I live before I die). Put another way, if I think the gospel is irrelevant until I'm actually dead, then it won't have much effect on my life.

If I have a dispute with a brother, why would I sue rather than settle? Well, if I thought the man really was a brother in Christ, it would mean, as Paul said, that we're defeated already because we're treating money as a higher priority than fellowship and grace. It would mean that being a member of the body of Christ didn't actually transform my life and attitudes.

How about the other issue? If my excuse for sexual misbehavior is that it's permissible (i.e., God won't strike me dead or send me to hell because of it), that shows that my attitudes haven't changed. My life hasn't been, as some consultants say, "repurposed" for Christ.

What's the cure? Let me take them in reverse order. First, for sexual immorality, we need to consider this:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6.19
Basically, part of the package of becoming a Christian is to say, "My life isn't my own; I belong to God" and to orient our lives that way. This is one of those things where God is easily pleased but never satisfied. You or I can make a good start in a few weeks or months, but it's taken me decades so far and I still need help from God every day.

And for lawsuits, Paul tells us basically to submit to binding arbitration. Basically, we (the saints) will judge the world, and this includes judging angels.
Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!
1 Corinthians 6.4
To tell you the truth, I don't know how well this would work. Are we defeated already? May it not be!

posted 8/14

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