13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Jn 1:10-13  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

Continuation:  Let’s be honest, none of us can fully comprehend what we have been considering in the previous studies, that Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, left heaven, put aside all the glory he had there, and came and lived in human form, experiencing everything we experience (but without sinning), taught and did good in amazing ways, but was then falsely tried, condemned and crucified. There’s more to come but even that bit is hard enough to swallow – it is too good to be true. (We also struggle to face our need and so make excuses!) And the truth, as I have suggested before is that you will only accept it with God’s help.

The Process: There is a process that all Christians go through, in a variety of ways, before they become a Christian. It is important to understand this, to understand how God works in this, because it all goes back to what I just said above, it is almost impossible to believe because we have too much pride hanging in the balance. But when I look back on my own experience, when I listen to the testimonies of many other Christians and when I see what the scriptures say, I have to say there is a common process that takes place.

The changes: The first thing that happens is either that the individual starts to find they are thinking spiritual thoughts, or having spiritual questions, or finding themselves in a spiritual context (being asked to church, say). The more they think and the more they read and the more they hear, the more challenged they find themselves getting. The challenge is a) about the sort of person they are and b) who they are hearing Jesus Christ claims to be. Sometimes this process is accelerated by a personal crisis in their life and maybe it is the crisis that provokes them to reassess themselves and their personal lifestyle. And so there will be these two things running in parallel, this growth in personal dissatisfaction and this growth in knowledge of who Jesus Christ could be. And then at some point they find a challenge, a call to recognize this personal dissatisfaction as a need to call on God for forgiveness and a call to recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior he wants to be.

The surrender: Before a person becomes a Christian, there comes a surrender. It comes as a confession of failure and a call to be forgiven, combined with a declaration, “I believe in Jesus.”  Sometimes it is a crisis of a moment and sometimes it may be spread over weeks or even months. And they pray. The transaction with God is always made through prayer. What is prayed? It varies according to the individual. For me initially it was, having just been at a meeting where I heard the gospel preached, “God, I’ve heard it all. I understand you want my life. I give it to you. Please take it and lead me. I’ve heard about Jesus and thank you for him. Amen”  Now looking back over fifty years, I think that was pretty basic and I am sure I prayed more things to do with forgiveness and belief in the following days, but from that moment, there was no doubt, I was changed, I was transformed, I was in Jesus’ words ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3-8).  The Bible speaks about being converted (Acts 15:3) which simply means to be changed.

Pray: I hesitate to proscribe a prayer but if it would help you and you find you want to do this (only pray it if you are sincere) then pray, “Lord, I recognize my failures, and my weakness and my need of you in my life. Please forgive me that I have been self-centred and godless, I want you to change me. I believe Jesus is your Son and he died for me to take my punishment and I invite you to come into my life to change me and lead me from now on. Thank you that you will do that. Amen.”

The Result: The process takes us up to the point of surrender. When we come to that point something amazing happens. This is what the Bible says takes place: God forgives us and cleanses us and sets us free from our past life, declares we are now part of His family (adopted), and that He has plans to bless us as we allow Him to lead us, and that will go on and on throughout our life here on earth and then on past death into eternity, a life with Him, a life blessed by Him. To enable us to live that life He imparts His Holy Spirit who indwells us and empowers us and is the changing force, cooperating with us to lead, guide, inspire, teach, empower and change us.

Death & Resurrection: Remember the Old Testament picture of sacrifices we considered previously, translated into the picture of Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins, taking our punishment? Well there are further death AND RESURRECTION pictures that are part of this whole package which we need to look at.

i) Jesus’ Resurrection: We haven’t touched on it yet but the great truth (and you can see more if this in that previous series of studies I mentioned, ‘Focus on Christ’) is that Jesus did not remain dead: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24) The same testimony is repeated again and again in the New Testament.

ii) Us: The apostle Paul in his teaching letters in the New Testament urges us to see this picture of death and resurrection as what has happened to us when we became believers. Let’s see it in the paraphrase version of The Message: “Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” (Rom 6:6-11) What he is saying is that when you surrendered, as we said above, it was like you died to your old life (which you gave up) and were empowered by God with a new life, like you have been resurrected, you have a new life: if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17) When Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ it just means united with him, one with him.

iii) A New Approach to Life: Listen again to Paul’s teaching: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:1,2) See the language he uses: ‘your body’, i.e. the whole of your life; ‘living sacrifice’ – having an attitude of ongoing surrender for God to take you lead you, use you, change you (all things you can totally trust Him with); ‘renewing of your mind’ – no longer thinking in a self-centered, godless way, but having Christ as the central focus of all your thinking, making his will – which is ‘good, pleasing and perfect’ (it is for your blessing!) – the heart and foundation of the way you look at life from now on.

Justice? Oh yes, this is still all about how our past self-centered, godless lives that got so much wrong, can be dealt with so we can stand up in the court of universal assessment, pardoned and be set free, not just because of a whim of the judge but because Justice has been satisfied because someone else – Christ – stepped into the court and took your place and your punishment on the Cross. This is what the ‘gospel’ is all about: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) Justice has been satisfied and a new life is offered for anyone who will accept Jesus as their Savior.  If you don’t do this, you have to ‘carry the can’ yourself and face judgment and rejection on the Last Day. What a decision to make! It’s a ‘no-brainer’ isn’t it. It can only be spiritual blindness that hold people back and the answer has got to be to pray with the blind man, “I want to see.” (see Mk 10:46-52)  My prayer is that everyone who reads these words, will respond accordingly if they have not done so already.   Amen.

11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Ex 34:6,7  Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;

Reassurance:  I am sure there are some Christian readers who may have been tutting about the last study in that I have dealt first with the end product and have not yet dealt with how that can come about – the Cross – and I want to reassure you that as with the apostle Paul, “Christ crucified” is first and foremost in my mind. Having said that I put the previous study about behaviour first for two reasons: first, it shows us the need that we have as fallen, dysfunctional human beings and, second, it shows us God’s end goal – to redeem us and that means to restore us, change us, remake us, and that very often gets forgotten in Christian circles.

Only the other day I came across the following quote (which may need a little thinking about) from a modern Christian writer who I respect: “Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message” but that came just after references to, “the gospel of sin management…. behaviour modification, avoiding obvious sins through a kind of religious willpower.”  What that highly acclaimed Christian writer was saying – and I totally agree with it – is that ‘trying hard to be good’ is not what makes a person a Christian. Unless the foundation, that I am now going back to consider, is laid in a person’s life, ‘trying hard to be good’ is all that we are left with and that is doomed to failure.

Approach: In order to be as clear as I possibly can in this study (and possibly the next one that I may have to extend this into) this is how I intend to cover this subject

  1. Recap the human need.
  2. Initial thoughts about Justice.
  3. What happened on the cross and the potential of what follows.
  4. How that can be applied into individual lives.

 Recap the human need: I believe I have shown quite reasonably in the previous study, not only the amazing potential that there is for every human being, but also the reality of how it so often works out. We may wish we could live spectacular lives, lives that are positive, affirming myself and others, bring peace and blessing wherever I go, but left to my own devices that is not how it works out.

The Bible is very realistic without being depressing. For instance the apostle Paul addressing just this same problem  wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” (Rom 7:15) and then, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing,” (v.19) and then, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me ….. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (v. 24,25) and he then goes on to talk about what Christ has achieved on the cross and what power from God – the Holy Spirit –  now does to change him.

But he highlights the dilemma that confronts us: I am faced with my own fallibility, my own weaknesses, my own failings and I am uncomfortable with them.  Now there may be three responses here:

i) deny my failings, blame others for them, ignore all this and continue to be a self-centred, godless person getting it wrong, or

ii) start trying to be religious or good, still being self-centred, focusing on ‘my ‘ efforts, or

iii) we accept the Bible teaching.

Before I move on, I must note  that when people start thinking about these things – and being concerned about them – it is usually a sign of God moving. People do not move from a quick casual thought to deep reflection and conviction without help from God, yet the moment He sees there is an opening of heart, He will be there, gently speaking in the background, although we tend never to be aware of it at the time; it is only awareness retrospectively.

Thoughts about Justice: Justice is a strange concept. As the Internet puts it,  ‘Justice is the morally fair and right state of everything and, Justice is a concept … that means that people behave in a way that is fair, equal and balanced for everyone.’ We may watch TV police dramas and justice is always there in the background.

We take it for granted, yet when it comes to the way we think as a society, or as individuals within society, we find that today there are two prevailing moods or outlooks. One says don’t bother me with such things and lives in a happy state of blissful ignorance, but sadly it is neither happy nor blissful. The other says that absolutes and boundaries are restrictive psychological constructs, and so have been abandoned so that, in the eyes of many at least, anything goes and ‘right’ is what feels right to the individual and varies with the situation. (hence ‘relativism’ and ‘situation ethics’). To talk about ‘justice’ in this sort of environment seems quite alien. But when we have the nerve or courage to stop and think about these things, this relative morality backfires on us because a) we don’t want it to apply in my own life and b) we do have specific ideas of things that we consider ‘wrong’, and c) we are often uncomfortable with applying justice to my own foibles and failings.  In fact the second group become clearer when they have become personal in my own life. So let’s give some examples.

a) My own life: I can be very casual about behaviour in general until it impacts me personally, for example, someone breaks into my house and trashes it, I scream for the police, and demand justice; I want these vandals caught and punished. My mother is badly mugged walking down the street and ends up a bruised mess in hospital. Ditto response. My daughter is gang raped and severely traumatized. Ditto response. It is right to demand justice; it is right to demand an end be brought to such behaviour and the perpetrators be severely dealt with. That is justice, bringing rightness to a wrong situation.

b) My lists of wrongs: But each of us have, when we pause to think about it, a list of things we consider wrong. For example the moment I use the word ‘pedophile’ most right thinking people will say that sexual child abuse is wrong – always. We could, no doubt, create long lists of things that each of us say is ‘wrong’. Sometimes we may hesitate because we feel certain things get a bit close to home, for example anger if we ourselves struggle with it.

c) Hesitant Justice: Because so often we are unsure about ourselves, lacking confidence in who we are, and because we have so often succumbed to the false doctrine of relative ethics, we are so often hesitant to consider the thought that moral failure carries with it consequences, and one of those consequences is a sense of guilt. We can make excuses but deep down – and sometimes we try to suppress it – we know that there are standards and we are guilty of either not having reached them or of having broken them. We also so often have a feeling that there is nothing to be said here because this is just how life is, and I am stuck here. We may have read self-help books, even gone on courses, but then failure struck and as much as we try to deny it, we know it is our failure. For all these sorts of reasons we so often try to duck the issue: I am guilty and there are consequences.

And So? Well, we have run out of space for this study and have only managed to cover two of the four subjects I want to cover – 1. Recap the human need, and 2. Initial thoughts about Justice – and so we will leave the other two until the next two studies.