thereforenow.com is back up!

Thanks to a generous gift from a donor, thereforenow.com is back up and running on a fabulous new web host. Head on over and check out the new site! We’re grateful to have had this temporary place to keep posting, but we’re back over at thereforenow.com now, where all the fresh posts are happening.

Thanks to all the beloved and rare believers in real love and grace in Christ!

Jim

What does it take to be a Christian?

skeptical-kid

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

These kinds of pithy quotes abound, so much so that it can become dizzying to keep your head. It seems crazy to object to something like this. Bonhoeffer was a true Christian and a hero! For God’s sake, ERIC METAXIS wrote a biography about him! Who can dispute with a Bonhoeffer quote? This even sounds like a halfway gracey quote, let’s let this slide, right? However, I think this notion from Mr. Bonhoeffer is extremely wrong and damaging.

I think that being a Christian is more about believing that you are one whom Christ loves. We’re inevitably going to be less than perfect, and sometimes far less than perfect, at avoiding sin AND courageously and actively doing God’s will. When that happens does it mean I am no longer “being a Christian?” I need my justification every hour. I need a savior, not a leader, because I am a bad follower. That’s how I got into this mess. When I’m doing something active and even perhaps courageous, how can I know that I am doing enough? Even when I am in the middle of doing good things I still feel sinful and uncourageous and inactive. When is what we’re doing ever enough?

I’ve had this talk about 100,000 times now. I say the important part is to believe that we are loved by Jesus. John 3:16-21. 1 John all of it. Romans 3 and 5. And 6 and 7 and 8. 1 John 4:10. Psalm 103. Psalm 51. Basically the whole Bible. He loves us all the way to eternity. For real. HE has saved us. It is finished. This is a BIG DEAL. We are bound to fail. We can’t depend on ourselves, and this is beautiful. We don’t have to. He has loved us with an everlasting love. When you let go of everything else and believe that, it is a complete game changer.

And someone says, yes, but SANCTIFICATION! Sanctification sanctification sanctification. Sanctification (justification?) (janctification / sustification?) sanctification sanctification SANCTIFICATION. And I say, everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, 1 John 3:1-3. Hope and assurance come from forgiveness and acceptance in His blood. Mere belief in FORGIVING love and grace is the ground of hope and purification. We should be way more consumed with being loved (1 John 4:10), and we should be less consumed by our always paltry works.

At my house, many times we help “homeless” people by letting them live with us. I don’t care. I don’t believe in homeless people anyway; I believe in sinners who (just like me) need redemption. But I don’t trust in that “work”. I am ecstatic to do some little thing for them because I see them as someone that Jesus died for. It is BELIEF in forgiving love that does all of this. But I see Christians as largely engrossed in the “all of this” action who give no credence to the main treasure – His one -way unconditional awesome great beautiful spectacular enduring love for us! Our works are never enough, and the kingdom of God is a kingdom of gifts, not works. Well, I am taking my stand to defend this little hill: the gospel of forgiveness through mere belief is EVERYTHING! Stop worrying about your response to his and start worrying about your beliefin it. From where I stand, a great deal of Christendom is way more consumed about justifying themselves through what they do and way less preoccupied with Jesus’ justification of them. Christians are just plain uncomfortable with grace. They even redefine it to mean works – “grace empowers us to love” and all of that. If you think the main purpose of grace is to empower us, you are not grasping the gospel. And that is some twisted stuff you’re spouting as a result. If you’re not really sure about how salvation in Christ works, then how about if you shut your mouth and stop damaging the world with your wretched tongue?

Think about it like a normal person for just a second: how can you say He was sacrificed for sins and then say that if you sin, the sacrifice is no good?

You know what else? What people call “sanctification” is ultimately about love, and love is really about relationship. The only people we can have relationship with are other imperfect sinners. So the only hope we’ve got for real working rubber meets the road sanctification is easy greasy sloppy agape grace. Otherwise you’re stuck judging and hating people. Including yourself. But easy greasy sloppy agape grace is not as convicting and manly. “My yoke is easy” (Matthew 11:30). “His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Man oh man, we always want to lay that burden on thick and bring the sting with that convicting talk about sanctification! None of it works. You want more holiness? Get lost in how much He loves you! It’s the only thing that’s real about you anyway!

One more thing for the skeptical theologians among us: what about Romans 6? Ask yourself this, skeptical theologian: what does death to self really look like? That you try really really hard to do better? That’s death to self? Balderdash! It means, you forget yourself, you are lost in Christ, your identity has become completely wrapped up in His love for you. You don’t even think about whether you are doing bad or good at your sanctification. That is all about self-salvation. Instead you say, to live is Christ and to die is gain, because He has a very great love for me. People say of us, is that all they think about is Jesus Jesus Jesus? How gross! It’s like the old “us” isn’t even there any more. And I say – BINGO!!! That’s it! And when I forget that, and go back into worrying about sanctification – that is Romans 7:15 again. Living by the flesh. Measuring my goodness. Saving myself by my deeds. Being my own God. Worrying about my merit. But none of it is true of us any more. There is therefore now no condemnation!

So in the end it is very simple. Being a Christian is about knowing and believing the love which God has for us (1 John 4:17). It is about believing that when Jesus died for our sins, it worked. We’re really forgiven everything forever. We have, in Him, eternal life. We are very greatly loved. Being a Christian is about this.

The Cross of Christ Declares that Virtue Does Not Secure Blessing

The_Last_Temptation_of_Christ_poster

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:3-4

I recently watched a movie which starred Slavoj Zizek entitled “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.” Before you think I have gone of the rails and become a “Christian atheist” and that I think he has the right thinking concerning these things, let me assure you I don’t. However, there is a very profound point he touches on that I want to pick up and examine. Let’s read what he had to say in the film about Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ”:

… I think one can read the Christian gesture in a much more radical way. This is what the sequence of crucifixion in Scorsese’s film shows us. What dies on the cross is precisely this guarantee of the big Other. The message of Christianity is here radically atheist. It’s the death of Christ is not any kind of redemption or commercial affair in the sense of Christ suffers to pay for our sins. Pay to whom? For what? And so on. It’s simply the disintegration of the God which guarantees the meaning of our lives. And that’s the meaning of the famous phrase Eli, Eli Lama Sabachthani. “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Just before Christ’s death we get what in psychoanalytic terms we call subjective destitution, stepping out totally of the domain of symbolic identification, canceling or suspending the entire field of symbolic authority, the entire field of the big Other. Of course, we cannot know what God wants from us because there is no God. … This is why I claim that the only way to really be an atheist is to go through Christianity. Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism, which can claim there is no God and so on. But nonetheless it retains a certain trust into the big Other. This big Other can be called natural necessity or evolution or whatever. We humans are nonetheless reduced to a position within a harmonious whole of evolution, whatever. But the difficult thing to accept is, again that there is no big Other, no point of reference which guarantees meaning.

To take the meaning of the crucifixion this way is of course to completely disbelieve in the justificatory power of the cross, the resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, and the existence of the Father, and ultimately to deny the divinity of Christ. Zizek is not even close to being faithful to the true person of Christ as presented in scripture. However, I am not citing this in order to dispute it. His idea here is so crazy and difficult to grasp that I don’t think there is much threat that many people will be influenced by it at all. After I watched this, I began to reflect on what he was saying, and I think there is an important element of truth here. The cross tells us that there truly is no immediate connection between virtue and blessing. Here is the most virtuous man who ever lived and who ever could live, in fact here is a man who is morally perfect. His moral perfection does not lead him to a place of blessing but to the cross. We may want to dispute this in light of the resurrection, but even He, in light of the resurrection which He already had foretold, sweated blood and pleaded in prayer to be spared the unjustified agony of the cross. What we see is that moralistic perfection itself cannot manipulate the favor and protection of God. The Father does not act on this basis.

In general we interpret the idea that we have “died with Christ” and that we have been “raised with Christ” to mean that we have left a place of loose and unsuccessful moral responsibility and have entered a place of greater moral responsibility, and that we have come by one means or another to better adhere to this greater moral framework. Yet, Job’s story and the cross of Christ declare that no great virtue can ensure blessing with God. Psalms and Proverbs remind us that many times the wicked prosper and the righteous struggle. This was why the “Lord Lord didn’t I” people in the sermon on the Mount were turned away. They equated virtue with earning the bestowal of favor. The cross of Christ severs this tie completely. It says, when you do right, you will be rejected and crucified. It says, if you want to be my disciple, you must bear the cross. The Father God will not necessarily step in and help you in the way and at the time that you think He must. We learn the secret of contentment at the point when it becomes evident that our virtue has not secured our blessing (Philippians 4:12-13).

What dies at the cross is this idolatrous notion of a God who can be controlled through our moral success. We have so many idols. Our highest, most dignified, most cherished and sophisticated pictures of deity are shown as graven images at the cross. All we do in our religion without the cross of Christ is name God in vain. The cross shows us that these notions are really God in our own image. I think that to truly die with Christ, we must be able to say from our heart, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” We must functionally become atheists in the sense that we lay down our most cherished notions of who we think God is and what we think He is supposed to do for us. Then the God who is real can by His own initiative raise us from the dead, so to speak, and express favor and love to us because of pure one-way love without the slightest reference to the quality of our virtue. Virtue and blessing have been forever rent asunder by the cross. Truly, the poor in spirit are the inheritors of the kingdom. True virtue is only born once it is a product of this one-way love and is shown through the cross to be no longer a requirement but a gift.

Jesus Doesn’t Believe in You! Hallelujah!

Your righteousness hides your sin about as well as these guys' disguise!
Your righteousness hides your sin about as well as these guys’ disguise!

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

John 2:23-25

The guys in the picture above scribbled marker on their face in an attempt to disguise themselves to rob a bank. HA HA HA!!! Your attempt to appear even marginally righteous in God’s eyes (or probably anyone’s eyes who knows you at all) is just as ridiculous.

Apparently the Greek text here indicates that people were seeing His signs and were believing in His name, but He was not believing in them. He could see straight through what their belief and their righteousness was made of. At first blush, we are tempted to think, “what a cynic Jesus is!” However, on reflection, what a relief this is! I don’t want Him to have to believe in me! I am glad that He knows up front that I am not to be trusted, and that I am a sinner, and that even all of my righteousness is selfishly and sinfully motivated. I need a savior who does not require my faithfulness and trustworthiness. I need a savior who sees me exactly how I really am at my worst and still offers Himself as the Lamb who takes away my sin. I need a husband who loves me so much that He forgives all and gives all for the love of me! He is the giver of new wine at weddings, and His blood is the new wine we get drunk on. All is forgiven, and He loves us forever! Amen!

Oh Happy Day! Depression and Suicide and the Crushing Idealism of the Law

depression

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I have had severe problems with my web host on thereforenow.com, in fact my wordpress installation has been unable to talk to the backend database for the last 2 days, and they haven’t lifted a finger to fix it. Let’s just say, if you are looking into running a blog on your own domain, don’t get cheap on the host. Look around very hard for a good host, an pony up the denaros for it. If it seems like too good a deal to be true, trust me. It isn’t true!

That said, I’ve had a number of ideas floating around, so I thought I would start with the sunny and happy topic of depression and suicide! Ha ha!

I’m so slow on responding to these things as they come along as front burner issues! Robin Williams’ suicide had everyone talking about this for a while, and I’m probably the last person to jump on this bandwagon. I’ve experienced a good deal of depression, so I have a couple of things to say about this from the lens of grace and community.

We are very rooted in the unspoken and perhaps unnoticed but very real idea that we are our own God. We may not even realize it, but we believe that we are in control of ourselves and ultimately of our own destiny. And we have a very strict ideal for how success in life should be defined. I should be fulfilled, I should be amazing, I should be respected and successful in a truly non-trivial and meaningful way. This is my only life and it should matter somehow. But I myself and the people around me keep getting in the way of my success and fulfillment and I seem unable to stop this. My own hurts, habits, and hangups seem to be whack-a-mole problems, so that as soon as I think I have a handle on one thing, another thing pops up elsewhere. I quit my porn addiction, I start to gain weight. I start to lose weight, I start to get attracted to porn again. I start to put a lid on those, I get serious anger issues. Or I descend into this lazy netflix thing which eats up my life. And all of this is failure. I should not be such a failure, so bankrupt intellectually and morally and physically and financially. More than that, there is a never-ending stream of failure all around me. Close to me, family and friends and acquaintances, people not only fail in very persistent ways over and over and over, but they gloss over their own problems and then have the gall to judge me for my failures. What is worse, they don’t even know what kind of ammunition they could have if I really let on with how much of a struggle my little whack-a-mole war is. Larger society seems even more hopeless. The world is going steadily and inevitably on to complete ruin and destruction and there seems to be nothing anyone can do to stop it.

So not only does an honest person start to feel terrible about themselves, but they start to realize that our close relationships are really just warmed over self-serving lying death. We start to see that there is no enduring justice or good in the world. This is so pervasive that small kindnesses shock us and even bring us to tears. This is depressing, and intelligent sensitive powerful people see it. They want release. Suicide is this person’s judgment on the world. The world would never look past their superficial faults to see who they really are, what kind of love was really possible with them. No one would ever really give them a chance. So suicide is not a retreat, it is a judgment. It is the sentence of death on the entire universe, that it was not worthy of their presence. When there is no strong genuine grace, no unbreakable resurrection level relationship, when there is no faith in a God-initiated God-maintained love, there is only isolation because of the judgment of the law that reigns over it. The ultimate expression of the judgment is suicide. The law is the expression of an ideal, and idealists require perfection and reality in a visceral way. Suicide becomes the only way to express this ideal.

People are proud of their idealism. They believe that their high standards and their perfectionism are a sign of integrity and success. Actually our ideals are weapons that will ultimately turn on us and kill us. What we need is a rescue and an escape from our ideals. We need to be seen and loved and accepted and forgiven as we really are, and we need a way to love others the same way. This is exactly what the gospel offers us! The law was given through Moses (John 1:17) but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. So, the law always represents an impossible ideal, a beautiful and right and unattainable standard. It is given, but it is not realized. There is only One who fulfilled the law, for unless every jot and tittle is performed, the ideal has not been maintained. Grace is realized, because it takes us as we are and loves us. It recognizes the ugly genuine truth that we daily squirm in, and loves us there. It grants meaning and relationship and authenticity and significance without idealism. I can be boring and fat and poor and normal and still be loved. I can realize this grace towards others, I can own my failure in a community of people who are empowered through Christ’s blood to love me without injustice. I can recognize and own my depression and accept comfort from others because I have escaped the prison and condemnation of the law’s ideal standards, and take refuge in being defined by my belovedness and not my failure.

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
1 John 4:7-14

Grace and More Grace! John 1:16

Gospel of John

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.

Fullness. He has fullness. There is a completion, an abundance, a sufficiency in His glory. In verse 14 John says that the Word made flesh is full of grace and truth. This fullness, this grace and truth, is something we have received. It isn’t distant and theoretical and ephemeral; no one has seen god, but we have received of the fullness of His grace and truth in Jesus Christ. His fullness of grace and truth is something which can be apprehended by people.

In what sense might we understand His fullness? He fulfilled the requirement of the law, through obedience, and for us, as a blood propitiation. He fulfilled the prophecies of the coming Messiah. He completed our salvation when He cried out from the cross, “it is finished”. He fulfilled our needs in being the way, the truth, and the life. He is the path, the destination, and party once we get there. He is the fulfillment of all justice, so that we have a fullness of forgiveness and acceptance all the way to eternal life.

Of His Fullness. What does it mean that we have received “of His fullness”? He has completed and fulfilled grace and truth, and we have received some portion of that. We received “of” it. We are yet incomplete, as Paul the Apostle says in his famous treatise on love in 1 Corinthians:

8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12

We have all received. Who is “all”? All believers, of which the apostle John is one? Or the whole world, as in John 3:16? One might think, who has received of His grace? Those who believe, or those who do not? Don’t those who do not believe also receive of it? God causes the rain to pour on the righteous and the unrighteous, after all. This question is a recurring motive in John’s writings, as in 1 John 2:2 and John 3:16. Jesus died for all but not all received the gift through faith. Yet, perhaps, all humanity has received some portion of His fullness of grace.

Grace upon grace. So, He has the fullness, and we have received of it. We have the promise of receiving fully of the fullness. For now, there is always room for the revelation and application of more and more grace. Grace, and then more grace! Grace upon grace! And people say I’m obsessed with grace! Leon Morris says,

“Probably also he means that as one piece of divine grace  (so to speak) recedes, it is replaced by another. God’s grace to His people is continuous and is never exhausted. Grace knows no interruption and no limit. In contrast with the Law it stresses the dyadic character of the Christian life.”

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John; the English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971. 110-111.