Monday, 13 June 2011

Pharisees need the gospel too

Churches are full of Pharisees. Churches are full of people who subscribe to a certain morality, to a certain set of values and to a certain view of religion without any real knowledge of, love of or relationship with Jesus. Churches are so full of Pharisees that when people hear that I go to church people assume that I am a Pharisee. They assume that I believe that if I do certain things God will like me as long as I also avoid doing things God does not like. Pharisees preach an anti-gospel. They are about morality, appearances and judgmentalism when the gospel is about forgiveness, the heart and graciousness. Pharisees discredit Christianity, damage my witness and poison the church.

But the problem is that I dislike Pharisees so much that sometimes I forget that they need the gospel too. You see Pharisees are just like everyone else who hasn't been reconciled to God through Jesus' death - they are just people looking for something with which to make sense of, and bring some meaning to, life. As such they need to hear the good news of a relationship with God which makes sense of why we're here and brings meaning into life. They need to hear the good news of forgiveness which frees us from moral superiority and constantly trying to appear good. They need to be rescued and changed by Jesus' death. They need to repent of their Pharisaism.

As a minister I need to work hard to make sure I don't give up on the Pharisees. I don't write them off but I keep trying to preach the gospel to them and demonstrate their need of it. I have just listened to a fantastic evangelistic service which effectively preached the gospel in a powerful way to Pharisees and I was forced to ask myself am I lovingly but forcefully preaching the gospel to Pharisees or have I given up on them. Pharisees are hard - the Bible clearly shows that and warns us about it. But God can change anyone's heart so I need to think about how I do evangelism for Pharisees.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Obedience

The idea of obedience is horribly unfashionable. So unpopular is the idea of obedience that I even thought about renaming this post in an attempt to get more clicks. However, when it comes to Christianity obedience is incredibly important. Jesus calls on his followers to obey him and Peter in his first letter refers to his recipients as 'Obedient Children'.

However, we struggle with obedience. Many of us know that it is important, we would even say that we want to obey and yet time and time again we fail. We long to pray like God says we should but we lack discipline, get distracted and find it repeatedly pushed out. We long to love like God calls us to but when such a person (insert name here) comes along we find ourselves again and again giving into impatience or malice or selfishness. How can we obey better? Is it even possible?

Well let me suggest that much of this will depend on our attitude towards obedience. Let me articulate two attitudes towards obedience and explain the difference the attitudes will have.
The first attitude goes something like this...
'God created me. he gave me life and breath and many good gifts. He then came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and went to the cross to suffer humiliation, death and hell on my behalf. He now offers me free forgiveness (not earned by obedience) and an eternity with him. It therefore goes without saying that I should obey him.'

The second attitude goes something like this...
'God is absolutely and completely holy. He is perfect in his morality, in his judgment, in his decision making and in his actions. He loves perfectly. He is completely satisfied. He is completely joyful. He doesn't make mistakes. He doesn't fail to see the consequences of his actions and his is completely in control as demonstrated perfectly in Jesus' work on earth and I get to obey him. I get to be like him.'

You see the first one seems fine. It seems like it is grounded in the gospel but the problem with it is that it still sees obedience as the thing we should do as a result of the gospel. Now whilst it is true that we should obey all too often that fails to motivate us. The second way, however, offers something completely different. Still routed in the gospel rather that concentrating on what God has done it concentrates on what God is like. Rather than being motivated by God's actions it is motivated by God's character. When Peter talks about us as 'Obedient Children' he is conjuring up the picture of a child who longs to be like their dad. He goes onto say 'As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct' Do you see the difference? Rather than obeying as a response to what God has done we obey because we see God in all his wonder and long to be like him. Obedience is the act of us becoming like God.

Too often we see obedience as the unfortunate side effect of eternal life. In order to be saved from hell and get heaven we need to put up with the earthly side effect of obedience. This all too often fails to motivate us to obey. But when we realise that obedience is not something a Christian has to do but rather something the Christian's birth enables him to do well then we're excited to be like God and so rather than thinking we have to obey we consider it a great joy and a privilege that we get to obey. Maybe now we will find greater motivation to obey as we seek to become more like God during our time on earth.