Saturday, September 15, 2012

Does your morality require the cross?

"Christian" today has become a bit of an odd label.  Many people call themselves "Christian" because they are not really anything else, or because their parents or grandparents were "Christian."  "Christian" has become a label that is basically meaningless.  People talk about a Christian nation, Christian values, Christian music.  There are Christian vacations and Christian companies.

Multitudes of people today call themselves "Christian" but don't really have a clue what it means.  Jesus anticipated this state of affairs in Luke 6:46: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' but do not do what I tell you?"  Submission and obedience to Jesus are part and parcel of what it means to follow him.  Taking on the Christian "brand" doesn't make you a follower of Jesus, which is what the word Christ-ian originally meant.

At the same time many people who call themselves Christian are spouting off ideas totally opposed to what Jesus was really about.  Here are some of the sound bites you'll hear today that give you a clue that the speaker really hasn't done his or her homework about what Jesus is up to, or what "Christian" really means:

  • God wants me / you to be happy.
  • I just want to love everybody.
  • If we could just love each other like Jesus said, everything would work out.
  • I want people to be happy.
  • I will never vote against anyone's right to be happy.
  • If you feel something strongly enough, you should act based on that feeling.
  • People have the right to be happy.
  • We should just be nice to each other.
  • If you were created a certain way, that makes it right for you.
  • Why can't we all just get along?
  • If two people love each other, that can't be wrong.
  • Jesus said "Love God and love your neighbor."  That's all that matters.
So think about something for a moment.  If you call yourself a Christian and if your particular value system embraces any of those bullet-pointed statements, ask yourself this question:

Does your moral system, your values, your beliefs, require the cross?

I know this might be hard to think about but please, if you claim the title of Christian, think it through.  Does what you believe make sense without the cross of Jesus Christ where he died?  Or, to put it another way, if Jesus had never died on the cross -- if, for example, he died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 95 or if he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot and never died -- would your view of the world still make sense?

If you can answer yes to that question, you are not, in the classic sense, a Christian.  Or as I prefer to put it on this blog, a Jesus-follower.

The cross defines everything about Jesus.  He said so himself on more than one occasion.  Read the gospels -- over and over Jesus talks about the necessity of going to the cross, of his purpose in life being to die on the cross and rise again, of the cross being God's plan for him, and of the cross defining not only his life but also the life of his followers.

If your philosophy works without the cross, you're not following Jesus.

So you can say, "I just want to love God and love my neighbor," and you don't need the cross at all.  You can say, "God wants people to be happy," and the cross makes absolutely no sense for your philosophy.  Your moral system, centered on whatever it is centered on, is not centered on Jesus.  More than likely it is centered on your own beliefs, adopted from the culture around you, that go something like this:

1. People are inherently good.
2. Everyone is created / evolved with basic internal needs and drives.
3. Each person should act on their internal needs and drives.
4. If people act on those drives and don't do stupid things, they'll be happy.
5. Individual happiness is the primary goal of life.
6. We all need other people in order to be truly happy, so we should learn to live well together.

None of this is Christian.  In fact, most of it is diametrically opposed to Jesus' teaching, except perhaps #2.

One of the biggest problems in the "Christian" church today is that people come to worship with these basic cultural assumptions, and then they hear the Bible read or a preacher speaking and they try to fit what they hear into their previous assumptions about reality.  

That's why well-meaning people who consider themselves Christian can say that Jesus is just concerned for us to love God and love other people.  This simple statement, based on Jesus' own words (see Mark 12:28-34) taken radically out of context, totally contradicts everything Jesus said about himself and about his mission.  Here's how you can tell: You can pursue these two commands in a totally sensible way all your life and never need to deal with the cross.

At the cross, all of the Old Testament -- the story of creation and fall, the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12, the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt under Moses, the conquest of Canaan, the Davidic monarchy, the tabernacle, the laws about sacrifice from Leviticus, the priesthood, the prophets -- at the cross, all these things come together into sharp focus.  These things are fulfilled at the cross, woven together into a larger whole.  

At the cross, the brokenness of creation and human rebellion against God's sovereignty is taken into the being of God.  Jesus takes our sin upon himself, to put it scripturally.  Without this, all our efforts -- including our efforts to love God and love our neighbor -- are simply a continual act of willful rebellion, an attempt to do life on our own without God's intervention.  Unless our brokenness is dealt with, all the morality in the world is just a pathetic self-help program.  It's like trying to do physical therapy before the broken bone is set and healed -- the structure isn't there to support the effort, and the wound is just going to get worse the harder you work.

At the cross, the problem of sin -- that antiquated word -- is resolved.  Sin, of course, is still present in our day, which simply drives us back to the cross as an ongoing reality rather than only a historical event.  Our lives are lived at the foot of the cross, in a manner of speaking, where we constantly return to confess our brokenness and receive healing.

Which brings us to the other face of the cross.  The cross doesn't exist in a vacuum; Jesus' dead body was placed in a tomb and on the third day, he rose from death.  This resurrection is not just good news for Jesus, but for everyone who lives shaped by his cross.  What's more, this resurrection becomes a re-creation, a new initiation of the creation of all things, so that flowing out of Jesus' death and resurrection is not only individual forgiveness but also healing for the brokenness of all creation (see Romans 8).  God's plan, in fact, from the beginning has been to roll out a new creation through Jesus' death and resurrection, and to announce and enact this new creation through those who follow Jesus.

This way of life, this way of cross and resurrection, this way of brokenness and healing, this way of dependency, runs totally counter to the world's desire to live in the anarchy of rebellion against God and independent of God's sovereignty.  So the world will bring more brokenness down on those who strive to follow Jesus.  

This is why so many who take the name of "Christian" have unwittingly adopted the world's philosophies and moralities.  "Jesus wants everyone to be happy" is totally inoffensive, except to those who truly know him.  You can claim the name of Jesus on the surface but never have to swim upstream against the world's systems.

But God's plan is to roll out a new creation, a new heavens and a new earth, and the entrance to this plan is through Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection.  You will never participate in this new creation by believing that Jesus just wants everyone to be happy.  That belief binds people to their brokenness, chains people to their dysfunction, imprisons people in their delusion.

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