Archive for September 2009

Cross-ed.

September 30, 2009

So Voxo gave me the almost certainly impossible yet irresistible (at least to me) challenge of talking about what ‘actually happened at the cross’.  I’m not entirely sure what Voxo is requesting, and the cross is an area too big to capture, especially in one post but here is what i’ve been thinking about so far.

There has been huge debate about the technicalities of the cross. Debate deep enough to cause factions among the body of  Christ (which is a little ironic to me what with the cross enabling reconciliation and all…).  Nonetheless, it is a weighty issue (and I am definitely ill equipped, so these are just my personal musings).

From what i can see the two main controversal issues surrounding the cross are about what happened to us (the justification debate); and what God was like in the moment of the cross.  Not surprisingly, the two are linked.

If we hold to the view that at the cross double imputation occurred – where Jesus took on our sin and then also transferred his moral record of righteousness to us – we then tend to infer that our righteousness is a requirement for membership in God’s family the way a prestigious college might require 600 points on the leaving cert for admission to the course. Like we have to be ‘good enough’ to get in, and we cant do that by ourselves so God makes us ‘good enough’.

In this sense we come to attribute God’s wrath and hatred of sin (poured out on Jesus at the cross) to his disapproval of sin, the way the queen might disapprove of a hair in her soup (except way more extreme!).  We presume that God’s concern for our righteousness is because he desires our perfection as an end in itself.  We presume that someone like HIM could never associate himself with someone like US and so the cross makes it possible for us to become like him, reach his standard so to speak.

We view the cross as though it were a loophole allowing God to be true to his hatred of sin and yet true to his love for us at the same time.  It’s as though God looked at us, loved us, wanted relationship with us but he couldn’t just ignore our sin.  It’s like with one hand he was drawing us towards himself and with the other hand he was destroying us.  It’s like God was so ‘wound up’ because of our sin (because sin irritates him so much) that he had all this pent-up aggression which had to be released, but if he released it on us then he’d have to deny the part of him that actually loves us but if he couldn’t express his wrath he’d have to deny his commitment to holiness.  Because God couldn’t have his cake and eat it too he poured out his wrath on Jesus rather than us, that way he could still be a man of integrity.

But here’s the problem… God’s is not a person/being committed to holiness, He IS holiness.  God is not a person/being committed to love, He IS love. I don’t think the cross was the solution to God’s personal confusion or schizophrenic tendencies.  I think we have got so much so right, and yet the part i think we may have misunderstood when we talk about what happened at the cross is the ‘why?’ of God’s wrath and hatred of sin. The out workings dont look much different but there is something significantly different about it.

God doesn’t hate sin because it pisses him off or because it makes him unable to love us or like us.  God’s desire to deal with our sin and make us righteous isn’t because he’s obsessed with perfection per se.

Sin is death. It is the absence of life, the absence of God.  God hates sin not because it disgusts him, he hates it because his deepest desire for us is to KNOW HIM and sin blocks us from truly experiencing and knowing God and therefore it robs us of our ability to live the life that is truly life.  It robs us from being and doing what we were created for… being loved by God.

God doesn’t hate sin because he is a pompous, legalistic, arrogant being, he hates sin because he loves us with a fury and passion that we will never understand.  He hates sin FOR us.  He hates it like we hate the cancer in the body of our friend.  He hates it because its robbing us of life, of him.

On the cross therefore, Jesus was not a substitute punchbag upon which God took out his bad mood at humanity (did someone mention cosmic child abuse? *wink*). The purpose of the cross wasn’t to provide a dumping ground for God’s wrath, the purpose of the cross was the battle between God and the sin that destroys us and robs us and divides us.

We need to be justified, made righteous not because God is unable to love us unless we are but because unless we are we will never be able to truly know God or receive his love for us and therefore we will never be able to fully love him which is what we were created for.  That is why God is concerned with it.  He fought and won the battle with sin on our behalf and we get to live in the fruit of that through his spirit.

The cross gives way for relationships to be restored and reconciled both with God and each other because the sin which stops us from loving and being loved has been destroyed in Christ and if we are in Christ we participate in that reality and life.

The cross isn’t just about the reconciliation of individuals, it’s about the renewal of all things through his body which is the church.

NT Wright puts it like this: “God must curse everything that thwarts and destroys the blessing of his world and his people.”

So yes, Jesus still has to die, but the image of God as he sends Jesus to the cross i think becomes a significantly different one.

… nervously posted by transfarmer.

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Just as if I’d never sinned… or is it?

September 17, 2009

A few months ago I was given the task of writing a talk on what it is that gives me confidence as a child of God.  ‘How can I be sure God looks on me with a smile?’ they asked.  I thought, ‘this is easy, I know this one, this is the one about my passive righteousness because of Christ’s imputed righteousness’…

You know the drill… I am a wretched sinner, God is perfectly holy, something needs to happen to me in order for me to be able to have a relationship with God (’cause sin and holiness don’t mix).

It seems understandable that the solution to this problem would be that I become a perfect holy person rather than a wee devil.  BUT, because by nature I’d rather punch you (or maybe just nelly) than forgive you, I’ll never be good enough or perfect enough for God.  … Then Jesus comes along, and he says ‘ok here’s the deal, you suck, i’m perfect but i’ll lend you my perfect-ness and you can wear it like a cloak and then God will look at you with the same favour he looks at me because it’ll be ‘just as if you’ve never sinned’… in fact it’ll be better than that, God will look at you ‘as if you’ve done it all right’ just like me,’ says Jesus.  …This, we say, is what it means that we are justified. At the cross our sin was put on Christ, and we go on to say, the exchange happened in reverse so that Christ’s (record) of righteousness (all the good things he did, his perfectly lived life) was put on us. we did a swapsies.

ok, this is a very crude and quick description, but i think the basic idea is there.

This is a pretty nice concept.  Many have acknowledged it’s pastoral benefits but for many years this understanding of justification has caused me pastoral trouble rather than comfort.  For example:

1) It makes my comfort/security in approaching God to be based on me (all be it my passive righteousness ) rather than God’s character.

2) it makes me feel like i’ve tricked God into liking me.  That makes me feel like Jesus might like me but God sure doesn’t.  – but this is not true, God loved me while i was a sinner, if he could feel love for me then, then he can feel love for me now.

3) who i am without Christ’s record of righteousness upon me never really gets addressed. Can God see my sin at all? Can he see ME? how does he feel about it?

4) i feel schizophrenic and it seems God is a little bit schizophrenic too –  he hates me, no he loves me, but he has to hate me but he loves me and so on and so on…

there are more problems but that’ll do for now.

This idea that to be clothed in Christ means somehow that we have been given Christ’s record of good deeds as NT points out makes God the greatest legalist there is!

Something is terribly wrong.  To recognise this isn’t a threat, it’s an invitation to see God to be even more gracious, powerful, faithful and loving.

It is true that God’s family is a righteous one and if i am to be part of his family i need to be righteous, and i cannot do that on my own.  God the Judge however has declared us to be righteous.  But this righteousness is a declaration of my status as part of God’s family rather than a description of my character.  NT Wright helpfully uses the law court analogy (ps so does the bible) – the judge declares the defendant innocent.  That person is now free to go and enjoy the privileges of an innocent person but that verdict does not MAKE him an innocent person.  If he is guilty of the crime and the judge declares him innocent does that mean he is not guilty of the crime? of course not.  But is he free to live an innocent man’s life? yes.

In terms of me and God this means that he looks at me, knows i’m guilty but says you’re ‘in the right’ you’re free to live the life of a free person ie a child of God.  Undeserved grace.  But my righteous status isn’t just words either.  My righteousness actually becomes a living reality in my life as i live out of my new identity as a beloved member of God’s family.  I become who God says i am.  But it is not my becoming that makes God say what i am. it’s the other way round.  As a child of God i am a slave to righteousness.  I can’t not become who he has declared me to be. His spirit is in me.

So what does this mean for how God looks at me today, in the ‘now and not yet’ phase?  To me it all makes much more sense.  God looks at me transfarmer and sees exactly what is true.  He sees a girl whom he loves and whom he has without any merit of her own welcomed freely into his family.  She has equal standing with his beloved son Jesus, she has equal standing with his beloved son zoomtard, and beloved daughter clairbo she has equal standing with all the saints as beloved children of God.  One day transfarmer will be so transformed (see what i did there) that she will not only be called a member of God’s family but she will begin to look like it.  Already you can see some evidence if you look very closely and if you consider who she was a long time ago.  God looks at transfarmer and sees her failures and the hatred in her heart and the selfish lusts but all the time he sees these realities in the context of the perfectly redeemed transfarmer, He can do so because he already knows that version of her.  today he just whispers… you’ll not believe who you’ll be, you’ll not believe who you really are, i cant wait to see the look on your face when on that glorious day i give you a white stone with your new name that reveals the true you.

There is no lies, there is not hiden-ness, there is no tricking God into liking me because Jesus swapped the cover on our book of deeds.  There is truth.  God interacts with me as i am now, warts and all and speaks directly to this version of me, but he interacts with me now knowing who i will be because he has defeated death and all of his friends on the cross.  The battle has already been won.  Who i will be on the last day is a reality because of the cross.  It is the truest reality about me and God treats me so.  He hates and addresses my sin becasue it is preventing me from enjoying the fullness of my new identity as a memeber of His family, not because i have to be good enough for him to let me in.

there is so much more to say and so much more to write, but i need to stop somewhere.

PS. NT Wrights book called Justification is simply stunning at explaining all this.  read it and read it again.

later