Thursday, July 31, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

He stopped what he was doing, gazed at me out of his intensely blue eyes, and in all seriousness asked, “Does he worship God or Satan?” Apparently my six year old nephew had overheard me speaking about someone who had not yet surrendered his life to Christ. Concerned for the soul of this man, my nephew wanted to know where he stood spiritually. There was a sense of urgency and concern in his little vocal articulation. He must know: Did this man worship Jesus Christ or did he worship Satan?

Completely unaware that his attentive ears had been eavesdropping on my conversation with his mom, I began to backpedal in my mind. How do I explain such intellectual, theological matters to a six year old? Certainly the man about whom we were speaking did not worship God; he had never responded to Christ’s call to repentance or received His grace. But worship Satan? That description seemed so…harsh. Surely this unregenerate man must be somewhere on the journey between the two.

I peered back into my nephew’s piercing, intelligent eyes, and in that moment, I realized that a child with little more than a kindergarten education had a more profound theology than his aunt, twenty years his senior with a Masters degree in ministry. Luke was correct; either we worship, fear, and serve Jesus Christ; or we worship, fear, and serve Satan—the very Enemy of our souls. There is no intermediary state or tertiary option, regardless of culture’s insistence to the contrary.

I wrote in my previous post, “Let us not cling to any patronizing notion that tells us that we can obtain or achieve autonomous freedom. Both the Enemy and the Almighty require of us our lives. But the former takes our life in order to destroy it, and the latter takes our life to give us abundant life. With the former, our death is an end. With the latter, our death is a means to an end. And that end is the fullness of life in Christ!” Satan masquerades under many names and titles. We “complexify” distortions of truth in our society. There is the worship of man (humanism), the worship of material objects and consumer goods (materialism and consumerism), the worship of pleasure (hedonism), the worship of self (egocentrism), the worship of tolerance (tolerationism), the worship of feelings (emotionalism), the worship of the individual (individualism), etc. The list could continue indefinitely because an utterly depraved heart persistently seeks after false objects for worship. It did not take long before the Israelites formed a golden calf upon which to outpour the worship that was arising within their hearts. It does not take long before we locate some feeling or idea or person or object of worship and outpour deep expressions of love and adoration upon it/him/her, even though these expressions were created within us to be outpoured upon Jesus Christ exclusively and exhaustively.

As I reflected even more deeply on my nephew’s question, I also found it fascinating that he did not ask me whether my friend was going to heaven or hell. Rather, Luke wanted to know whether my friend worshipped God or Satan. His question was theologically sound. Salvation is not a matter of whether one wants heaven or hell: paradise or fire and brimstone. When given the choice, which mentally sound and rationally sensible person would not choose eternal paradise over eternal damnation? But as my six-year-old nephew can articulate, salvation is a matter of whether one wants God or Satan; there is no spiritual “purgatory” of choice. To choose anything other than Jesus Christ and His glory is to choose Satan. The natural consequence of either decision is heaven or hell. But heaven is no more of an end than hell is an end. They are both means to an end: one end results in the worship of Jesus Christ in His presence for all eternity; the other end results in separation from the love of God and the intimate experience of His wrath and displeasure.

Would you be content in Heaven if God were not there? The question is hardly original, yet absolutely essential to evaluating true salvation. In Altogether Lovely, Jonathan Edwards asks, “What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die? Indeed some have no great desire to go to heaven. They do not care to go to hell, but if they could be safe from that they would not much concern themselves about heaven. If it is not so with you, but you find that you have a desire after heaven, then inquire what it is for. Is the main reason that you may be with God, have communion with Him, and be conformed to Him? That you may see God and enjoy Him there? Is this the consideration which keeps your hearts, your desires, and your expectations towards heaven?” (10).

Or take Asaph. Can you honestly echo the cry of Asaph’s heart in Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but You? Besides You I desire nothing on earth.” Seeking after heaven in order to avoid eternal damnation is a search for safety, not for salvation. Salvation is nothing less than the desire for God Himself, which is expressed through obedient submission and humble worship. Edwards writes, “Now the main reason why the godly man has his heart thus to heaven is because God is there; that is the palace of the Most High. It is the place where God is gloriously present, where His love is gloriously manifested, where the godly may be with Him, see Him as He is, and love, serve, praise, and enjoy Him perfectly. If God and Christ were not in heaven, he would not be so earnest in seeking it, nor would he take so much pains in a laborious travel through this wilderness, nor would the consideration that he is going to heaven when he dies be such a comfort to him under toils and afflictions. The martyrs would not undergo cruel sufferings from their persecutors with a cheerful prospect of going to heaven did they not expect to be with Christ and to enjoy God there. They would not with cheerfulness forsake all their earthly possessions, and all their earthly friends, as many thousands of them have done, and wander about in poverty and banishment, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented, in hopes of exchanging their earthly for a heavenly inheritance, were it not that they hope to be with their glorious Redeemer and heavenly Father. The believer’s heart is in heaven because his treasure is there” (3-4).

So who do you worship, God or Satan? Where does the treasure of your heart reside?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Freedom in Christ

Today we celebrate our nation’s freedom. In the midst of listening to patriotic music, enjoying a cookout with my family, and watching fireworks light up the night sky, I am taking a moment to reflect on the freedom that is found in Christ. I have met many sincere, godly individuals who grapple with the concept of Christian freedom. Wrestling with the rules and regulation with which they have been raised, they question what activities, actions, and behaviors are appropriate for the one who worships Jesus Christ. To more fully understand the meaning of freedom in Christ, I turn to Paul’s exhortation recorded in the sixth chapter of Romans.

Dead to Sin

In the first verse of chapter six, Paul asks the same question as many well-meaning Christians. Because we have been given the grace of God, should we exercise our Christian freedom by engaging in sinful behaviors? It is an interesting question. But Paul’s answer is an emphatic, “By no means!” He masterfully uses the imagery of slavery, explaining that the follower of Christ is no longer a slave to sin; it has been mortified in the life of the believer. As long as we have a sin nature, we will have sinful tendencies. For the believer, however, freedom in Christ is the freedom to sever all allegiances to our old nature and to pledge our allegiances to Jesus Christ. We must exercise our freedom by moving away from the downward spiral of sin that results in death and moving onto the upward trajectory towards holiness—a journey called sanctification—that results in eternal life.

Slaves to Righteousness

Paul continues with his chosen slavery motif and labels the follower of Christ as a slave to righteousness. Your freedom in Christ necessitates your slavery to righteousness. Herein lies the great paradox. Your bondage and your freedom are both forms of slavery. Let us not cling to any patronizing notion that tells us that we can obtain or achieve autonomous freedom. Both the Enemy and the Almighty require of us our lives. But the former takes our life in order to destroy it, and the latter takes our life to give us abundant life. With the former, our death is an end. With the latter, our death is a means to an end. And that end is the fullness of life in Christ! Paul summarizes it this way: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:22-23, ESV).

As you rejoice today in your political freedom, rejoice all the more in your spiritual freedom. Friends, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we have been set free from slavery to sin which results in death! Just as our political freedom required the shedding of blood, so our spiritual freedom required the shedding of Christ’s blood on our behalf. Let us take a moment today to offer up thanksgiving to God for offering to us the greatest Freedom of all time—that which transcends geographical boundaries and transforms the hearts of humankind!