Writing to free the prisoner of one idea, crossing the bridge of paradox to truth, serving the legacies of Chesterton and Lewis who defended their faith in Christ
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about[a] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.- Jude 3-4 (NIV)
Yesterday I chatted with a friend who lives in Texas about the occurrence of some very sorrowful but unsurprising (to us) recent events. There was the news of a missing girl whose friends chose their own protection over telling the police what they knew that might help find her. There was the news of the resultant consenting vote in a state to legalize homosexual unions – a vote that would not even be newsworthy were it not that for so long “we the people” of the United States understood that certain acts, such as homosexuality, were and are still morally wrong. And when something is immoral, you don’t reflect the opposite message in the laws of your country so that it becomes legal. But “we the people” have been going down that road for some time now. We’ve allowed doors to be opened that should never have been opened about so many things that viscerally we know are wrong. For many of us, that knowledge stems from what’s left of the Imago Dei (the image of God) still in is (Romans 2:14). For those of us who should know better from a Word we have read and through the promptings of the Holy Spirit it is quite another matter. We have given in, many of us, and that cannot pass without examination and a testimony.
We have given in to the willful child’s argument of our society. It’s an argument not unlike the nature of which a 13-year old trying to get around their parents uses to get their way: one wrong accepted and tolerated by a powerful person or group supports the argument for another wrong to be accepted and tolerated, even embraced: “But Debbie’s parents are letting her do it!“. The final coup d’état on this argument is the bully, the perverse scream, if not given its way: “But you don’t love me!” Ad infinitum. It doesn’t just work in the beleaguered home, it works in the beleaguered society because the beleaguered society is all the homes who agree to this skewed vision of love. Skewed love in this sense means giving in to whatever behavior pleasures are wanted, no matter how perverse. The abnormal is made to look normal by changing the meaning of words and rational minds (and most dangerously those in authority) stall with sputtering argument when they face such an attack. Media follows suit until people are “thinking with their eyes and seeing with their feelings”. Try to look at films, books, magazines, and such promoting what our society now thinks is “normal” in reverse without all that “willing suspension of disbelief”. Not an encouraging thought for the cause of critical thinking that education was supposed to supply us, is it? But that is the state of society. The church is a whole other matter…or it should be.
And so my friend shared with me this following open letter to the churches. I warn you its not a pleasant letter to read. The book of Jude is never a promising start for a “haven’t heard from you in awhile” letter. But like Jude’s letter, it is needed. And after you read it, I want you to meditate on what grace really means. As my friend said yesterday to me: “Grace is not an innertube in which we float down the river of life.” No, no it isn’t. And if you think it is, then a reading of Jude should be the first thing on your summer reading list. Wilberforce reminded us that grace is not to be taken lightly. Bonhoeffer reminded us even more.
To put it forthrightly, it really has come to this: there has been a fundamental (and at times willful) misunderstanding and preaching on the atonement of Christ’s sacrifice. It is not to be reduced to a cheap grace or a get-out-of-jail free card to be given at the gates of judgement.
To put it in terms of our own legal system for a stark understanding of where we all stand without grace and with it, I like to use the OJ Simpson case as an example. He had a murder trial and a civil suit before which he had to stand and answer. In his case, there were two different verdicts and here is why. Even in a court of law you have a criminal case and a civil case. One deals with the charges of a crime committed with a penalty sentence. The other deals with the damages resulting from that crime with a restitution involved to see that justice is done. Christ’s sacrifice deals with the first. And from His sacrifice in our place, we are given salvation. He takes that penalty. His Lordship deals with the second case: the damages and the justice. If we are asked to make right to the extent of our ability to do so by the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit motivates us to do justice for what we have done wrong to those whom we have sinned against. We long to give restitution. We long to see justice done to those we have wronged. That’s grace. But we have been forgiven of the crime because the penalty has been paid for by Christ’s death on the Cross. Forgiveness is not to be used selfishly. It is to be gratefully accepted as a means to restore relationship, first with God, and then with others. We do not skirt the issues involved. We are given strength to see it through to the right end. That’s grace. It’s not selfish. All involved are to benefit from it. For Christ would never leave a hurt one behind as many of us have done when seeking our own salvation without acknowledging His Lordship in our lives. To do otherwise, is a cheap grace. It has no Holy Spirit behind it, no supernatural strength. And it leads to opening the door for greater and greater sin and perversity to be accepted in the church. Our love then becomes skewed. It becomes motivated as Lewis observes, by the “pity of passion rather than the pity of action”. One gives in to the sin and tries to accommodate it (as noted in the cases at the beginning) and the other takes firm and loving action to help snatch the loved one from his sin. (2 Timothy 2:26, Jude 1:23)
Come, let us pray for forgiveness and strength to do the right thing. Let us pray for our ministers to take the lead among us to teach what we know by Holy Spirit and His word is true and just so that they may encourage us and God be pleased.
Let us show daily our gratefulness for grace in all our dealings both past and present. Restore your relationships as God would have you do. Persist and stand firm for Christ!