Monthly Archives: January 2018

NO RESURRECTION & THE CROSS IS NONSENSE!

Here’s repetition for you! Please be patient! The Lord’s Supper is not a funeral occasion. Let’s put an end to that sad, gloomy, funereal atmosphere and allow it to be what Paul calls it: an ANNOUNCEMENT, a PROCLAMATION.
Paul said the cross was an offense to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. But there was good reason for Jews to take offense. And there was good reason for Greeks (Gentiles) to think it nonsense IF…….
There is no way to make the crucifixion of Jesus Christ into (saving) power or wisdom! The Jews were promised deliverance and their Messiah ended up hung by the powers that held Israel captive. The rational and practical thinkers saw another hanging of another young man—an event like thousands of other events, dictated by the powerful; an event that might or might not have happened. This event had no cosmic value—it was just another death like a million others!
There is no gospel in the hanging of that young man if there was no resurrection! And since there was no resurrection it was just another of the countless illustrations that the legionnaires or the jackbooted, the spear or the gun, the arrows or the nukes have the power. You can’t get wisdom and power from the Roman killing of a young man who claimed to be the one who would deliver his people from Rome (and more). The cross is an offense precisely because the one who was hung is said to be the LORD! He cannot be the Lord if death ends Him! It makes no manner of sense!  If He was the Lord then the cross couldn’t have happened! That’s what Peter said in Matthew 16. And he was wrong—dead wrong!
Unless the hanging death of that young man is inseparably linked to the resurrection of that young man we cannot understand it as some divine way of dealing with humanity! Only the resurrection to deathless life can defeat Death! Only the resurrection to deathless life can lead us to look at the young man hanging there and invest His death with “deeper magic.” When Paul calls it God’s (saving) power he is speaking of it with the resurrection in mind precisely because without the resurrection it is not wisdom or power! Without the resurrection ”we have nothing to believe and we have nothing to preach” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). Without the resurrection the apostles are liars when they said God raised Him!  If Jesus remains dead, our hope is fatuous, our sins weren’t dealt with, of all people we are most miserable because we have been duped worse than all others and all our beloved ones who died trusting Christ have perished and all hope dies with physical death. If Christ is still dead and has been dead for 2,000 years then the cross was precisely what everyone thought it was—another pathetic failure.
Without the resurrection the claim of salvation through His death is sheer nonsense! Paul was right in saying the cross was the “deep magic” of a redeeming God but only if he believed in the resurrection of Jesus. The cross did not show God as faithful to His promises and purposes, the cross did not bring salvation without the resurrection! The jeering crowds and the shouted scorn made perfect sense! This was “weakness” and “failure” and they were right to reject Him unless there was the resurrection that transformed what was transparent weakness and not power into the way God dealt with Sin & Death. (Jesus Himself said people were to reject false Messiahs.) If Jesus didn’t rise deathless He was just another liar like Theudas of Galilee!
Jesus’ resurrection was not a resurrection that led to a few more years of life before that young man got to be old and finally died as everyone else grew old and feeble and dead (as Lazaruses’ was—John 12:1, 9). That kind of “resurrection”—however it might have come about—is no defeat of Death; it is/would be only some bizarre postponement. And if Death still reigns so does Sin because Sin reigns through death (Romans 5:21) and the sting of Death is Sin (1 Corinthians 15:56) and the wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6:23).
Paul says the truth didn’t come by wise men and their reasoning. “Eye hasn’t seen nor has ear heard nor has it entered into the heart of man” (1 Corinthians 2:9 and context, 6—16) is a denial that humans could have come up with the “deep magic”. The only way what happened in the person of the crucified Jesus could be grasped as what it truly was, was by Christ’s resurrection to Death-killing life. The realities (His life, death and resurrection) preceded the words (gospel) that were based on those realities. The gospel committed to the chosen witnesses made the realities known and that gospeling therefore made known the powerful redeeming God’s truth and so was the medium through which salvation came to all (1 Corinthians 1:21; Romans 10;14-17). Without the resurrection there was no gospel; the words have no power in themselves. They only have power if indeed the resurrection truly happened and Sin and Death were thus conquered.
The cross is only power and wisdom if the resurrection tells us that! Once the resurrection is known and embraced to be true THEN the cross is seen for what it is—God entering into the world in weakness and vulnerability (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 13:4; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Corinthians 15:43, 45) with a redeeming purpose because He had promised (Romans 1:1-4, 16). And He didn’t fail (Colossians 2:15)! But we only know all that because Jesus rose everlastingly triumphant over Sin & Death.
The resurrection enables us to make of the cross what it really was—The sovereign God and our Father entering with us into the realm of creaturely weakness to deliver us from weakness and Sin and Death (Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:50). Without the resurrection that could not be known. No wishing, no shrewd talk, no philosophy or argument, no tender whispered words could make anything of it but nonsense. The world with all its wisdom (and there are wise men and women in the world) just can’t make sense of it. It still remains impossible to make the crucifixion anything other than sheer foolishness and another exhibition of fleshly powerlessness unless God raised Jesus from the dead! He not only died in the flesh, He died to it and rose in glory so that we who bore the image of the one from dust would bear the image of the one from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47-49).
We MUST keep the cross at the center of God’s dealing with humanity’s desperate plight but we mustn’t stop at the cross! The Gospels all go their own way in dealing with the life of Christ until the crucifixion but they all end, not with the cross, but with the resurrection. Christ died 2,000 years ago but He hasn’t been dead since—He’s alive! And those who teach us must make that clear! Paul’s constant message was “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that follows” (Romans 4:25; 8:34; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Acts 26:22-23; see also 1 Peter 1:11, 21; 3:21). In Romans 5:10 Paul says we are reconciled to God by His Son’s death and “much more having been reconciled we shall be saved by His life.” (His resurrection—Philippians 3:20-21.) See Romans 8:17 and 8:29 and our conformity to our Lord!
God deliver us from ending the gospel proclamation with the (saving) death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross was the glorious door to the everlastingly glorious resurrection (read John 10:17 carefully). God is about LIFE!

THE GOD WHO LOVES LOSERS

“Father forgive them–they don’t know what they’re doing.”
That’s what He said while hanging on the cross.
He didn’t say this but it’s written all over the Old & New Testament and comes to its fullest expression on the cross: “Do I look like I want you to grovel and crawl to get forgiveness? Do I look like I find it hard to love you? If I give you Myself how can you doubt that I would GLADLY give you everything else?” (Rom 8:32)

Listen, losers lose in spite of what God wants for them! If Ezekiel 18:23 and 32 mean anything at all, they mean God feels awful pain when losers lose. Love involves a desire to see righteousness lived out, but if we think God is a “heavenly hit man” who enjoys His work, we haven’t begun to know him! (Note Jesus’ fearful remark to very religious people–—preachers in particular. John 8:54-55!)
Matthew 23 is one of the most scathing pieces in literature, but it doesn’t end with: “Woe … hypocrites … sons of hell!” It ends with a heartbroken Christ saying He felt like a mother hen in panic, desperately wanting to hide her chicks under her wings because danger is near.
Luke 15 makes it very clear that when sinners lose, God loses too. No shepherd sought a lost sheep more fervently than God pursues lost people! No finder is more thrilled as he joyously walks home with a lamb on his shoulders than God is when he holds a former wanderer close to his heart (out of which the wanderer had never wandered however far he had wandered).
The God who has uniquely revealed Himself in Jesus Christ is for us (Romans 8:31). If He came at all, He came to do us good! If He came to serve, He came to serve the selfish, for that’s what we are. If He came to die along with us and for us. He came to die for destroyers of life, for that’s what we are. If He came to offer friendship and reconciliation, He came to offer it to treacherous people, for that’s what we are.
We’re going to have to make up our minds to this, God thinks us precious. He thinks it worthwhile to redeem us at awful cost. In Romans 5:6-10 we’re assured that He died for the weak and ungodly (v. 6), for the sinner (v. 8) and for the enemy (v. 10). And can God who so loved us, rejoice when we eternally lose?
We read of a father who’s worth millions and lives in the lap of luxury. His boy is wayward and far from home. The father is fragmented, lonely, and he lives oblivious to all his vast wealth. That doesn’t surprise us, does it? We know of a mother who is honored by the community, the state, maybe even the nation. Her daughter lives in shameful rebellion in some squalid hut, away from the mother who adores her. Does it surprise us that the mother finds no lasting joy in the recognition she receives? She’d gladly swap it all for the love and blessing of her foolish daughter. That isn’t hard for us to believe! We know of friends, brothers, sisters who gladly give themselves one for another, who compete, it appears, to outdo one another in expressions of genuine love and affection. We see all this, and because we believe it, we are warmed and moved by it.
We can believe that sinners can give their children bread rather than stones; we can accept fully that a father can give his son fish rather than a serpent—but we find it hard to believe God can outdo sinners in his love for his creation! How tragic is that?Luke 15 says something to us, but never enough. The book of Hosea grabs us by the lapels and looks right into our eyes with its message of God’s passionate love for wicked people, urging us: “Believe it! Believe it!”
Do we think, because our love is shallow, that His is? He has already endured the final insult! He passionately sought the opportunity to embrace the ultimate insult and dishonor! Does that not tell us once and for all that God rejoices in our joy and grieves at our loss? After the cross, it isn’t fair to doubt God!
But I’m sure it’s the holiness of God, His justice, that makes many of us afraid to lean too heavily on His love toward us. And yet we’re explicitly told that God is righteous in forgiving our sins (1 John 1:9). In forgiving us God is acting like Himself! We’re expressly told that God shows himself righteous in passing over our sins and demonstrating it in the death of Christ (Rom. 3:24-26). In the death of Christ a righteous God is expressing His love to us; a love that embraces the entire human family (John 3:16-17). His love isn’t immoral, it isn’t unrighteous. His love doesn’t despise righteousness. But His righteousness doesn’t get in the way of his loving us! It never did! The cross didn’t enable God to love us—it demonstrated that He did and does! Whatever theory of the atonement you subscribe to, it’s still true that in Christ, God loves us!
We permit our sins to separate us from God even when He assures us that it has been dealt with in Christ Jesus. Many of us live, never free from the notion that God is always on edge, becoming more and more irritable with us. We glance around fearing a smashing blow from his huge fist because we’ve wronged Him again. We see what we take to be His act of discipline as proof of His lovelessness rather than what He has expressly told us it is (Rev. 3:19) if indeed He did chastise us—it is an expressions of His love toward us. And when we reject Him with finality and insist on losing, we feel we’re getting what God wanted us to have all along and we feel, since we are now utterly lost, God is content. The truth is, when we reject God he feels again the throb in His hands and feet and head and weeps.
               God loses when we lose because God loves losers!

 

THE SUFFERING OF A CHILD

Young Sean died soon after he went into hospital. The cancer raged through him with lightning speed. The poor, worn out child made his departure from the world and the parents were beyond consolation. It must have been three weeks later that the preacher got a call from Sean’s father who just couldn’t bear to think that the last word had been said when they laid Sean in the ground. But he couldn’t pretend to believe what he felt he had no grounds for. The opening line was simple.
I’m Sean’s dad, Do you remember me?
“I do,” the man said. “Have been wondering how you were getting on.”
“I told you at the hospital that I thought Sean’s life was pointless.” There was a catch in his voice. “But I didn’t feel that. I only meant…I was only saying since there’s no God then this whole existence was unplanned. Sean meant everything to us and whether anyone planned him to be here or not he made our lives richer, and our hearts are broken. I needed you to know that.”
“I knew it,” said the man that had talked to the parents at the hospital. “Nobody with a grain of sense would have thought you were making little of Sean. In any case, those were awful days and maybe not the best time for a discussion of world-views. I say ‘maybe’ because I’m not sure. In any case, here you are and I want to tell you I’m genuinely saddened by your loss.”
The grieving father said, “You said things I didn’t understand, things I wasn’t in the mood to wrestle with. But I knew you were saying that our son’s life and death had some profound meaning. It didn’t matter to me at the time for all I could think of was that he was suffering and going to die. I think I’m grasping at straws simply because I want to believe that there’s more to his life than a few happy years and a hard death. I’d like you to tell me what you meant, unless you were only saying stuff in an attempt to make us feel a bit better.”
They arranged to meet, met, sat a while, walked a while and then sat some more. And all the while they talked.
“I wanted to talk now,” said Danny, “because I think I’m more open now to being persuaded. I want to believe. As the months go by and the pain eases and I become adjusted to his being gone I’ll not feel the need as I feel it now. I know I’m vulnerable but I think I’ll recognize religious nonsense when I hear it.”
“All that makes sense,” the man said. “And I think you’re right in talking further about this while you feel this way. I hear a lot of talk about ‘rational argument’ and the fact that we shouldn’t discuss things while we’re emotional. Cool logic and rationality’s critically important but there are areas of life that don’t fit neatly into the realm of logic and rationality. Computers are marvelous things but they have their limitations; people are more than breathing computers. To battle injustice in society with nothing but rationality isn’t possible and there are things that human icicles can’t see. There are truths we can’t grasp until we experience love or driving passion. Not everything’s settled by the law of the excluded middle.”
“You said something about Sean and kids like him suffering for the world. If you meant that a child’s suffering might move some people to be more compassionate, I can see that. But it’s suspiciously like one of those empty pious remarks. It can equally make people bitter. Is that what you meant?”
“No, that’s not what I meant; and you’re right, a child’s suffering can work either way. We see that nearly every day, don’t we? Look, I told you that what I believe has nothing to support it if we can’t give Jesus Christ and the Judeo-Christian scriptures a fair hearing. And I do know that that is sometimes very difficult.”
“Do you mean I have to believe everything I read in the Bible before I can see Sean in a right way? If that’s it, we’re wasting our time here.”
“I don’t believe that at all, but the Bible does have a grand drift that comes to a climax in Jesus Christ. I’m one of those that believe God is the ultimate author of the Bible. I’m not interested here in theories of inspiration or exactly how He got that done, but I believe that in the final analysis we have the Bible we have because God wanted it that way. It’s like an historical drama that’s moving toward a finale of cosmic renewal, where all wrongs are righted and there’s a happy ending. Yes, I know, I know—. But it isn’t always wrong to want something to be true. The atheist H.J Blackham said the most powerful argument against atheism is that it’s too bad to be true.”
“So what is it you say we have to do, believe it before we can believe it?”
“I’m saying that to the degree that you’re able, give the Story a fair hearing. Do what you would do in so many other areas when someone is proposing something you don’t go along with—give it a good hearing. Nothing’s gained if we continue to reject it without really hearing it.”
“What if it’s stupid at every point? Should we pretend to be listening?”
“No, I think life’s too short to throw that much time away; but I’d hope that you wouldn’t think that the Christian faith is that far out of whack. I know you know people that are devoted Christians, people intellectually capable, maybe even brilliant, and practical too, so there must be something credible in it.
“Well, can we cut to the chase? I’ll just have to do my best and if I feel I’ve heard enough we’ll leave it at that. That okay with you?”
“Sure. But I need you to understand that ‘cutting to the chase’ doesn’t mean there’s a ten-minute presentation coming up. And you need to understand that to give it a fair hearing means you have to judge the Story within its own parameters. The blacksmith that proved iron ships couldn’t float by throwing a horseshoe into a barrel of water helped nobody.” And listen, Danny, what if it’s true? If the Story Jesus offers is true it changes the world, it changes our view of your beloved Sean; it changes things for you and Denise!
The biblical Story says that God created us out of love and joy. That He created us in His own image—that is, He created us to live in creative, joyful and holy reflection of Himself. So we didn’t arrive here by chance and our lives weren’t meant to be misery, a ceaseless brawl with disease and death.”
Sean’s dad stirred but said nothing.
“But the human family—our parents at that point—rebelled and ‘Sin’ entered. From there it spread throughout the human family, polluting and hurting everyone it touched. Sin enters people and it’s there it must be dealt with. God moved to deal with Sin and the curse that affected both the earth and the life on it. Death was part of that curse.”
“Spiteful, isn’t he!”
“I can see how you could view it that way, but that’s not the only option. The biblical claim is that God didn’t bring alienation from fullness of life—we did and He moved to redeem humanity from sin and mend the relationship—life was the end aim. He was and is the only source of fullness of life and we chose alienation and so chose abuse and hatred, hunger and illness and death. But God refused to dehumanize humans; He doesn’t work magic and He works within a world that has suffered from a moral collapse; He works with a human family that abuses its own and generates disease and deprivation. It’s humans He wants to redeem and He will not turn us into puppets or automata—He simply won’t obliterate humanness.”
“The final goal is life, so he brings death? Even to innocent children? If you’re saying that God put the guilty to death I’d even have some reservations about that, but when you talk about his punishing children…I think that’s obscene.”
“God doesn’t punish the innocent! To punish those you know are innocent is obscene! But yes, the Bible says that He has chosen to allow even children and good people to endure pain and loss—He doesn’t turn such people into bionic beings. He has chosen to allow children to suffer! But, again, motive matters supremely, doesn’t it? You watched doctors do things to Sean that were physically appalling. No, you didn’t just watch it; you asked for it and even paid to have it done. You couldn’t have done that unless you loved the boy supremely. This was no easy decision for you and Denise and it was nothing but your love and compassion for the child that drove you to say yes to it. The aim was life! If you can even begin to credit a God with love for the human family—the kind of love you and Denise felt and feel for Sean—you are on your way to the possibility of seeing Sean’s life and suffering in a different light—on your way to seeing them as having something truly in common with Jesus’ suffering.
“I can see some point to that. But we did that only because Sean was desperately ill. We wouldn’t have done it to him if he’d been well. If you’re saying that God brought this on him that means God thought he was ill—I suppose you’d say with sin.”
“I’m making no suggestion that your child was a sinner! None! Nor do I say God was punishing him. GOD DOES NOT PUNISH THE INNOCENT! No, the point I want to make about paramedics and surgeons is that their motive is not spite, and it’s not to inflict pain. It’s to save life! Motive makes a difference to actions. And the more desperate the situation the more radical our loving response will be. Surgeons don’t amputate limbs to cure a cold.
To save your beloved from a killing bone cancer you subjected him to terrible trauma. If you’re able, give God the credit for wanting to bring life to a whole human family by dealing with the thing that devours it—Sin and its consequences and effects. I’m saying that your motive relative to Sean is God’s motive relative to His entire human family.”
“But how does Sean fit into this? I can make sense of my putting him to this because he was desperately ill, but are you saying God thought he was desperately ill and gave him bone cancer?”
“No, Sean was a member of a family that’s desperately ill and he suffered from the curse that was inevitable when God, the source of fullness of life, was rejected. GOD so created the human family that if it rejected Him curse would follow even though His response would be work to bring it back to life.”
“But why should an innocent child be punished for the crimes of the family? That stinks!”
“Listen, and listen to this carefully, God doesn’t punish the innocent! Punishment is only for the guilty. Sean’s suffering was not punishment for wrong that he did! He’s a sweet child but he’s a human child and because he is a human he shares in the suffering triggered by a God-rejecting human family. The biblical Story says that Jesus became a boy like your boy and that he suffered on behalf of the human family. Jesus and Sean have some things in common. God wouldn’t exempt His unique Son who was part of the human family—a family under God’s redeeming judgment—and He wouldn’t dehumanize Sean. I’m not suggesting that Sean and Jesus are altogether alike—Christ alone is the world’s Redeemer! The way in which God has moved to redeem the world comes to its highest point in Jesus Christ—a place no other can share. But the truth of vicarious suffering is at the heart of that process and it didn’t begin with Jesus on the cross and it didn’t end there.”
“But why should Sean suffer for anyone? Why him? How does his pain affect anything? Why should God pick on him? His suffering is so senseless!”
“It would be if atheism is true! It would all come down to ‘bad luck’. All life and death would turn out to be sheer chance. At some point you came to believe that, and it brings you no comfort. There’s a choice to make. Believe that death is another pointless inevitability in a pointless universe or believe that it’s an inevitable part of alienation from God. God made the choice to create humans to be humans and to be utterly dependent on Him for complete and unending well-being. God’s Son suffered and died as your son did. Christ rose from the dead and lives immortal now. His claim is that death is not the final word about Sean.”
“So, I’m to find comfort in the fact that Sean will live again?”
“Yes! That’s part of it. It’s the claim of the living Lord Jesus Christ over against the theory that the only future is the vast death of the universe, eternal darkness and unimaginable cold. All heat and light exhausted, all life extinguished and no possibility of it ever returning.”
“If that’s the truth, it’s the truth and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Of course! I’m just pointing out that facing a future of unyielding despair should make anyone want something better. I’m saying that Jesus Christ says we don’t have to believe that about Sean or anyone else like him. He isn’t gone forever and the life he lived here was not without significance. The Christ’s life, suffering and death give meaning to Sean’s. In the light of Jesus Christ we can’t look at suffering and death and simply damn it as pointless in a pointless universe. In the light of Jesus Christ we can’t look at Sean’s suffering and death and reduce it to nothing more than something to weep about thought it’s that. The glory of God was seen here! Mary mourned at the cross of her Son as you and Denise mourn at the death of yours—that makes perfect sense. But there’s more there than something to mourn! I don’t want to suppress your grief. I say that innocent children suffer because humanity turned to moral insanity and God is using them to bring it back to sanity and life.
“Using them sounds like they expendable—used paper plates and plastic forks.”
“No! No! God loves Sean even more than you do. Your son will live again. The entire story about your son will be told, along with the stories of millions of other innocents that have borne the burden of humanity’s guilt. Atheism might offer the view that we’re organisms that just happened to grow like fungus on the face of a tiny planet in the middle of nowhere. Christ knows Sean personally and they have shared some things in common.”
They agreed to meet again.

WE’RE NEVER GOING BACK!

”For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”    1 John 5:4-5
And what is it that has overcome the world? Not the wisdom of proto-Gnostics or the moral excellence that some might claim but “our faith”. And what is it that has overcome the world? Not God’s faith in Jesus Christ—that’s another all- encompassing truth, but it’s not the truth John mentions here. And what is it that has overcome the world? Not Jesus’ faith in his Holy Father—that’s another massive truth hammered home in other texts, but it’s not the truth John mentions here.
And what is it that has overcome the world? “Our” faith, said John. The faith of the Christian community that is seen expressed in each Christian. “Our” faith—our personal subjective experience, something that happens within us, something we are glad to say is part of us, an expression of us, the inner reality that has restructured our inner world; that is the center of all our convictions and hopes and commitments. It’s “ours”—because we are organically part of the body of Christ and cannot otherwise exist as Christians; it’s “ours”. It isn’t God’s faith in us or Christ’s faith in us—it’s our faith in them!
Yes, but what is this faith. This faith is many things that we can look at from many angles. For those confronted by the gospel it is a condition to be met if we wish to avoid dying in our sins (John 8:24 and Mark 16:16b, for example). For those confronted by the gospel it is a gift of God through the gospel to those God has called not only to salvation but to be part of his elect community (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 10:17; Philippians 1:29, for example). It is what assures us that salvation and life is not confined to any ethnic or social category (Romans 4:13 and Galatians 3:26-28. for example). It is the proof that God has entered our lives via the gospel and taken us back to his heart (John 6:44-45 and 1 Peter 1:5, for example). It’s many things, but here I’d like to stress that it is an inner moral transformation, a moral realignment of the heart with the Holy Father.
I don’t mean it leads to moral transformation though that is true. I don’t mean it leads to a moral realignment of the heart with the Holy Father though that is true. I mean it IS these things already. Faith, in the name of Jesus Christ, is the definitive rejection of the world. The person who loves the world does not and cannot at the same time love the Holy Father or have faith in Jesus Christ (compare 1 John 2:15-16). Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have judged, denounced and renounced the world (compare John 12:31). Faith in Jesus Christ is a moral reality experienced by a moral being that no longer belongs to or submits to the world!
When the Spirit of God has generated in a man or woman faith in Jesus Christ by the gospel (see Romans 10:13-15 and 1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 16:13-14) Jesus Christ is in such people. Jesus has become an indwelling presence at the center of them by faith—Ephesians 3:16-17. “I pray that…you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (NRSV)
Faith that conquers “the world” is the believer’s personal experience but it isn’t faith in the believer—it is faith in someone other than the believer, faith in Jesus Christ! Faith in Jesus Christ is the glad acceptance of who and what Jesus is and what His purpose is. No extra Gnostic wisdom is needed. Nothing beyond Him is needed (1 John 2:20-21). Having come to Him in a commitment of faith, John says the believer has conquered the world; conquered that mass of anti-God, anti-life, anti-holiness feelings, agendas, convictions and practices that has been organized into “a world” without God.
It isn’t just immorality or foul language or war-mongering or sharp business practices or family abuse or arrogance or gossip that the believer has stood up against; it’s more than specific sins! By saying, “I believe in Him!” the believer has said No! to the entire sinful restructuring of reality that the NT calls “the world” (see 1 John 2:15-16; John 12:31). By saying, “I believe in Him!” the believer says, “I do not and cannot and will not trust in me nor will I accept the evil that still clings to me and shows itself in various ways. I condemn that as I condemned some evils that by God’s empowering I’ve outgrown!”
Such a one is born again (see John 3:3-5; Titus 3:4-5 and 1 Peter 1:3).
This is more than a commitment to certain truths about Jesus though it is not and cannot be less! It is a commitment to an actual Person and the commitment is a personal relationship that is experienced along with all those who have committed to Jesus by faith (Galatians 3:26-29).
The relationship is more than feeling and it is not to be defined by the degree of moral excellence we attain (though the pursuit of holiness in the image of Jesus is an intrinsic pursuit)!

NT faith is not about my level of moral achievement!

It is a heartfelt surrendering of oneself to Jesus as the One who stands over against the world for the Holy Father in the Holy Spirit and for us. That is what the NT calls “faith” in Jesus and that conquerors the world, now and in the future!
It is wrong, absolutely wrong to say that one who is in the Lord Jesus can live as they wish; it is a sin-hating, sin-destroying, sin-forgiving Lord Jesus they have been baptized into (Romans 6:1-11). It is wrong, absolutely wrong to say that one who is in Christ will not continue to wrestle with sin (1 John 1:5—2:2). The presence of sin in the lives of those who have turned to the Lord Jesus in faith does not mean the believer has been overcome by the world! John is writing to sinners who are world-conquerors in the Lord Jesus. He uses all the grammatical forms (perfect tenses, aorists in the indicative, present tenses and present participles) to proclaim the truth that his sinning brothers and sisters who confess they are sinners have overcome the Evil One and “the world” over which we made him prince (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4).

Tell that to believers! Tell them that when they go down in baptism they are proclaiming that they believe in God who, to rescue us, became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, that He lived against Sin, that He died to destroy it and when they come up out of the water they proclaim that He rose again Conqueror of Death by which Sin reigned (Romans 5:12, 21) and so showed Himself as the conqueror of Sin (Hebrews 2:14-15 Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 3:21—saved by the resurrection). Tell them that by faith they have become one with the Conqueror of the World (John 16:33 and so share in His triumph).

Urge them to tell “the world,” that seething, breeding mass of evil that like a massive crawling parasite feeds on and poisons a vulnerable human family—”We know you’re still there, we experience your presence and we see you everywhere we look. But we know you’ve been conquered and we know the One who has done it for us. We’ve denounced you and renounce you. We’ve been freed from you, brought out of you into a new creation, a different world (2 Corinthians 5:17). And we’re glad! We’re not going back to you. We’re never going back to you! We hate it that we still have ulcers on us that are the marks of our having lived so long in you but we’re free, the ulcers are healing, some of them need sustained treatment but we have a Great Physician and He has assured us that there’s a day coming when all signs that you ever existed will be gone. Sometimes we can hardly wait, but we will wait, certain that you and all that goes with you will be obliterated and that we’ll happily look in a mirror one day and see someone beautiful looking back at us. And if it is the case that when we look and see some scars they will remind us of a wondrous salvation and a wonderful Savior!
We have conquered you. We have! You can sneer all you want when you hear us say such a thing but the Lord Jesus had and has your number. In Him we’re free and glad of it. We’re not going back to you—You hear? We’re never going back to you; it’s too lovely out here!
(Holy One, thank you for coming and for liberating us from such a death camp.)

RUSSIAN DOLLS & MY SISTER ANNIE

It happened a long time ago but I’m still pained by it when it arises unbidden. His veins were bulging, his voice was strident and at some points close to screaming at me, I tried to speak but he wouldn’t allow it and I was terribly frightened by him. He had no good cause for his unbridled tirade. Still, he made me very afraid and I was experiencing again what I had experienced as a young boy in numerous situations that don’t need developed here. (I don’t mean that while he was savagely going after me that I was thinking of those early childhood experiences—I only mean that a current experience of pain subconsciously joins earlier and almost forgotten experiences and without conscious linking they merge and the current pain is more painful because it doesn’t exist in isolation. For so many of us our history remains easily available, so available that we don’t have to call it up—the events just appear with all the details vivid or at least with the hurt as intense decades later as it was then.) I’ve seen that happen to other people, many times, in my life.
I’m sure I’ve been guilty of doing it and I’m certain if I stopped right now and looked for example of that that I’d find it but I don’t want to do that right now. I only know that I want to do no more of it! I believe in “tough love” if indeed tough love is “love”. I’ve read quite a bit about that and listened to people discuss it but it remains difficult for me to work with. Talking about it is a good thing, well, some talking about it can be a good thing, but when the talking is over there they are—the existential moments, the events that demand a decision and action. Life has a way of showing us that even good and wise words have their limits. You know what I mean.
But I didn’t begin this piece thinking about the sad or excruciatingly painful or hard to fathom issues of life. I wanted to tell you about my sister Annie and an occasion that I can’t think about without smiling and then because I’m very God-conscious, conscious of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, my mind before long links things to Him. In saying that I’m not bragging—I’m another one of multiplied millions that are like that. But I’m not prepared to apologize either that I’m a Christian.
Anyway, here’s what happened. I came back from a trip to Russia where I picked up two beautiful Russian dolls; one for my Ethel and one for Annie. Annie had just past eighty, lived alone in a tough part of Belfast during “The Troubles”. Her husband her beloved son, an only child, Jim, were dead. Jim’s death came right out of the blue; young, vibrant, his mother’s closest and attentive friend (mid-fifties I’d guess), died within 24 hours!
Annie had suffered some from dementia but when Jim died a profound depression set in and the dementia accelerated. (Seems like everything is called Alzheimer’s these days—sigh.) She didn’t want to live anymore and told me that repeatedly. Every now and then she was happy for me to bring her to visit Ethel and my sister-in-law Ann and if we had more friends in Annie would sing for us; she was a great singer, the “blues” kind of songs. I didn’t know that until very late in our relationship—our lives had taken us in different directions.
Okay, so she was in the wee living area when I brought in the doll. The colors were beautiful. I made a big deal of the surprise I had for her and when she finally saw it she was pleased, said it was lovely, but wasn’t especially taken with it. Her tone and face made that clear; she didn’t have the emotional energy to be very impressed. I said something like, “Look at this” as I took the top off and there was another doll. She smiled, looked at me and said, “Isn’t that great?!” She examined it for a moment and then I took off another and she laughed a bit and with a more lively tone said, “Look at that would ye!” I removed another and she started cackling and joyously said, “Oh my God. Look at that!” (I hate that expression. You’d think that writers and people at large would come up with some other expression than that usual mindless response to just about any word or happening. But that’s not how Annie used it. She was stunned as well as pleased. Before I had removed all the tops and she was left with a little baby doll she was rocking back and forward in her chair, clapping her hands, laughing like a child and repeatedly in her lovely and broad Belfast accent telling somebody, nobody, anybody, “Wud ye luck at that! Wud ye luck at that!”
I love telling that story. Into her sad day came moments of truly happy surprise. Something new, something lovely, something that for a while shut out the darkness and brought light, something that lifted her poor sad heart and gave it a chance to beat faster, something that channeled her thoughts in a happier direction. She died not long after. In some ways she had died a good while before she died. Sigh.
I didn’t take that occasion to teach her about God though we had talked frequently about Him. She wasn’t especially impressed with Him for she had had a very hard life but I know He must have been impressed with her.
There is a day coming, there’s a new world coming, when each uncovering will show more and more of His wisdom and His goodness. For eye hasn’t seen nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who have come to know and love Him.
There is new life coming, new adventure, new understanding. “See this?” He will say and then show something more and then even more. And everyone embraced in His redeeming work in and through the Lord Jesus will clap their hands and laugh out loud like happy astonished children.

Think noble things of God!