What Makes Good News Good?


reading_newspaper_276396976Since I’m a fiction writer, let’s pretend.

You’re rich. Not just comfortably middle class, but within reach of Bill Gates. We’re talking loaded, filthy rich, a billionaire. One day, you get an email notification that you have won a new car, the latest low-end Nissan—a stripped down car with no radio, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, or automatic transmission. Did you receive good news?

But let’s pretend you’re a twenty-year-old college student with mounting loans, and the only way you can get to work from school is public transportation — if the professor lets class out five minutes early, and then you have to make a dash for the bus stop. One day, you get an email notification that you have won a new car, the latest low-end Nissan—-a stripped down car with no radio, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, or automatic transmission. Did you receive good news?

I suspect someone in scenario number two would be ecstatic with such wonderful news, but why? It’s the same news the person in scenario number one received. In all likelihood, that individual would either look at the prize as just one more thing to have to deal with or more probably, as something to hand off to an assistant to dispose of. He might not give the matter a second thought.

Clearly the different reactions are based upon the differing circumstances.

In the spiritual realm, while we all have identical circumstances to deal with, our perception might be that we don’t.

All mankind labors under the weight of our selfish, prideful, self-righteous hearts that want to see us enthroned, not God; that want to see us first, not our neighbor. Our condition leaves us separated from our Creator and at odds with the people around us.

Some of us have learned to mask our disappointment at our isolation and some have learned to numb it by activity or some destructive behavior. Some try to overcome it, thinking it is possible to do enough good things to crawl out of the abyss. None of it works, but we keep trying because we think perhaps we just haven’t found the right key.

On the other hand, some seem to have it all figured out. They are successful, on the way to fulfilling all their dreams, happy in the truest sense of the word. They are the spiritual billionaires.

But the truth is, they are no less dead in their sins, destined for destruction. They just don’t know it. Their perception is, All is well. Their reality is, The wages of sin is death.

If I were to come up to one of these spiritual billionaires and say, God loves you; His grace is available for you; His forgiveness is free—that individual would most likely think I was offering him the equivalent of a cheap car he doesn’t want, a burden he’ll have to get rid of as soon as possible.

It takes thirsty people to want water, hungry people to want bread. It takes lost people to want to be found.

Enter God’s law. Scripture calls it a tutor. Without the law I wouldn’t know that my covetousness or lust or hatred is not OK.

Jesus Himself expanded the Ten Commandments. In fact one of His first public discourses was all about how the Law was not only external but internal—lust was the same as committing adultery, hatred the same as committing murder. In the end He said, Be perfect as My Father is perfect.

As if!

When you put it in the terms Jesus did, we all know we aren’t perfect, can’t be perfect. And therefore, that we stand in need of a Savior.

We—all of us—need the good news, but it will only seem good if we know we need it.

This post, a reprint of an article that first appeared here in February 2011, is a follow up to Who Believes In Sin These Days? and Sin Is Not The Problem.

Published in: on May 26, 2016 at 5:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Offerings, Leprosy, And Issues Of Blood


On one Christian radio program I listen to, the pastor did a “fly by” of the entire Bible so that listeners could get the panoramic view of Scripture. Not only do we need to see the particulars of an individual passage or its immediate context, his reasoning is, we also need to see how it fits in with the big picture.

No disagreement. But far better than listening to someone else sketch out the whole, in my view, is to read Scripture in its entirety and see the big picture for myself.

Hence I find myself reading in the book of Leviticus, that portion of Scripture I used to skip lest it defeat my entire journey through the Bible. The fact is, as I’ve put in various other pieces to the grand view of God’s revelation, without realizing it, I was laying the necessary framework to understand, at least in part, this book of Israelite laws for living in community as God’s chosen people.

From the kinds of sacrifices and how they should be performed, on through to the treatment of “leprosy” (which may have included the disease we know as leprosy today, but was not limited to it) and the religious cleansing from handling anything unclean like a dead body or human waste to the same cleansing after sex or childbirth, Leviticus is regulatory.

In reading the book, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one was ever going to be exempt from the need to perform cleansing sacrifices. In other words, Leviticus shows how inescapable sin is.

No, having an infection wasn’t sin, and neither was childbirth. But these human conditions required cleansing–not just physical but religious. They stood as reminders that God is pure and Man is not.

Eventually we come to the passage about bodily discharges and the process of cleansing for each. Then this verse: “Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean” (15:25). Unclean people were forbidden to be a part of worship activities. Anything they sat on or lay on would become unclean, anyone who touched them would become unclean.

Flash forward hundreds of years to a dusty Judean street where crowds pressed in around Jesus as He made His way toward Jarius’s house and the little girl who lay dying. From among all those people, a woman with a hemorrhage, who had sought help from the physicians for twelve years, reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’s cloak.

Twelve years! This woman didn’t just have a medical condition. According to Levitical law, she was cut off from worship and isolated from normal community activities. Anyone touching her would become unclean.

But what happens when that human contact has a reverse effect and instead of the other person becoming unclean, she becomes healed, whole, and clean? Is the other person still unclean? This, I suspect, was one of the dilemmas the Pharisees grappled with when it came to Jesus, because He was constantly touching people that by Levitical law should have made Him unclean, and yet the diseased became well.

What a vivid picture of Jesus imparting His righteousness to those who stand before Him helpless and hopeless and forever cut off from worship because of our uncleanness. What we cannot accomplish, He does with a touch.

At the cross, however, He bore our sins.

Back in Leviticus, a chapter after the law about discharges, God instituted an atonement ritual that involved two goats–one to be sacrificed and one to be released bearing the sins of the nation:

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities (Lev 16:21-22a)

Christ imparting righteousness, Christ bearing our sins in his body on the cross (see 1 Peter 2:24)–it’s all pictured in Scripture. Leviticus sets it up, the gospels take it home, and the epistles explain it all.

Sixty-six books, but one grand story of God redeeming a people for Himself.

This post first appeared here in September 2012.

Published in: on February 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Do Christians Need To Obey The Mosaic Law?


The_Crucifixion011If you spend much time around Bible-believing Christians, you’ll undoubtedly hear something about grace. We’re saved by grace, not by works. And yet in any number of conversations, these same Christians will bring up something found in the Mosaic Law. Just this week I referenced a verse in the Law in regard to capital punishment.

So are Christians “cherry picking” when we say we’re to keep the Ten Commandments, but don’t have to worry about the dietary laws or about stoning people for breaking the Sabbath?

The notion that believers under grace are picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they want to follow is easy to understand. From the outside, it certainly looks inconsistent. But the truth is, there are passages of Scripture that are game changers.

The first of these is Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus fulfilled the Law. Peter explains it a bit more: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

How does Jesus’s death fulfill the Law? On our own, we cannot fulfill the requirements of the Law. Jesus basically said as much in the Sermon on the Mount. Not just what we do falls under the law, but what we think—the anger or lust or covetousness in our hearts. Sin requires sacrifice. Christ’s death was the sacrifice “once for all” that fulfills the requirements of the Law. Paul fleshed this out in several of his letters. In Galatians he said,

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (2:16)

Paul explained that it is Christ’s work on the cross that saved us from the Law and its requirements.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—

Another game changer is the establishment of the Church. In the Old Testament God chose Israel to represent Him to the rest of the world, but after Christ came, His followers are God’s representatives on earth. The verses are 1 Peter 2:9-10.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

The Church, made up of peoples of every tribe and tongue and nation, isn’t under a single government as Israel was. Their national law was to be God’s Law. But not so the Church.

Then why do Christians go on about the Bible, including the books of the Law?

Game changer number three: 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

The Old Testament, just like the New is to teach, reprove, correct, train—not so that we can work our way into God’s good graces. Rather, Scripture equips us for every good work.

Paul, in Philippians, calls this the “righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” We are saved in order that we might do good. We don’t do good in order that we might be saved.

It’s an important distinction.

The Bible, then, from cover to cover, reveals God: His character, His qualities, His work, His plan. It’s not a list of rules. It’s a revelation.

We who have been saved by grace ought logically to be about God’s business, doing and living the way He wants us to. In fact, game changer number four shows us that “faith” isn’t alive unless it translates into a changed life that cares about what God cares about:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:19-20)

So what about those dietary laws? Mark addressed this issue when he explained something Jesus said about the legalistic Pharisees:

And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) [Mark 7:18-19]

The issue came up later in the book of Acts, this time in the context of God making it clear that He was including Gentiles in the Church. Here’s the part of the passage that deals with the dietary laws:

Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.

A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”

But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 1

Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 10:9b-15)

God wasn’t just talking about food, as the rest of the story reveals, but He was nevertheless also talking about food.

The short answer to the question is this: God revealed His heart throughout the Bible, including through the Law. We aren’t under the Law, but it can and should inform our good works which we do as a reflection of the faith we have in Christ. Jesus summed the law up by saying we are to love God and love our neighbors.

Love means protecting some against predators. Are we also loving the predators when we do so? I think so. People who get away with murder don’t realize they are sinners in need of a Savior. They think they are the gods of their own world and can do whatever they want. God’s judgment reveals the truth: He is God and we are not. If we love our neighbor who is facing God’s judgment, we ought not be silent. (We also ought not be strident and mean spirited, but that’s another issue for another day.)