Who you gonna believe?

The problem with lines in the sand defining who’s “in” an “out” regarding salvation is that there are nearly as many lines as there are people. So, eventually, all you are really doing is choosing who’s line you are going to use to define your (and others) “salvation”. And whether that’s a small group of ONE congregation today, or a group of millions over 500 years makes little difference. It’s still ALL man’s opinion of what you “MUST believe” in order to be “saved”.
The Jews had THEIR ideas of what one needed to believe and do to please God. Jesus certainly challenged those. But then the disciples/apostles chose their OWN lines (for good or bad) for how one came to be “in Christ”. Paul, whom I consider to be the first “Christian universalist”, made some brilliant statements towards the inclusion of all, but STILL struggled with who was “saved” and who was “lost”.
I don’t think there ARE any lines, people. Everyone is “in Christ” because it’s not OUR choice that made for our inclusion. It was God’s plan from the beginning to “win us back” (reconcile us) to His heart after mankind decided that following rules would bring them back into favor with a God they decided was distant, authoritarian and retributive. Jesus challenged all THOSE ideas, too, and then showed us what God REALLY looks like — an innocent man, hanging on a cross at humanity’s  hand, who comes back and proclaims peace rather than “justice” (vengeance) over mankind.
We are ALL included in the plan. There’s only knowing that you are vs. still being blind to the truth of it. The “sheep” and the “goats” (kids) are all of us and we are all at some times more “sheep” and at others more “goat”, but God’s love keeps refining away our “goat” attitudes and showing us that we are REALLY His sheep and always have been. We just “forgot”… or were lied to.
So, stop drawing lines and start recognizing the face of Christ in every person you meet, including your OWN in the mirror, whether they are considered “in” or “out” by the mass of “Christendom” or not. And let them KNOW that they are God’s precious sheep and He loves them, and is only FOR them. Especially this time of year when God declared His “GOODWILL” (favor, kindness, mercy, love) toward man by giving us an example of who He is in human flesh, so that we can learn and then also be Him in human flesh to the rest of our brothers and sisters.

On Salvation, The Gospel & Imputed Righteousness

While folding some laundry this morning (typical weekend chore), I had a nice “chat” with the Holy Spirit on a variety of topics. It was like a stream of conscious that was interrupted here and there by a thought from the Spirit that then led me in some new directions (for me). I apologize for the length, but I hope, if you take the time, you will be blessed as I was.

My first thoughts were about the subtle difference between the church’s idea of salvation and the salvation that Jesus provided. They seem so close, in fact, I was thinking it was so close that maybe it doesn’t REALLY matter if people believe the traditional paradigm. I mean, the result — a heart that understands the love of God — is the same, right?

Actually, no, the Spirit convicted me and impressed on me that I need to tell the truth, even if it is uncomfortable.

The church’s idea of salvation, the one that you will hear from 95% of pulpits today is based on this: We are saved by grace through faith. Sounds great. Sounds “right”. It fleshes out something like this… When we believe in Jesus, which means believing a litany of things about Him: His Godhood. His sinlessness. His love of humanity. His act of sacrifice in our place on the cross, we are saved. The cross is where He took the world’s sin upon Himself, so that God could punish HIM for our sin instead of us, and in that act we could be forgiven and have the righteousness of Jesus cover our own sin. Believing ALL of that and recognizing your place, your NEED of it, allows God to forgive YOU personally and accept you (adopt you) as His child. To simplify… believe in Jesus (as described above) and be saved (be forgiven/accepted by God). Your repentance and belief results in your salvation by God. Again. Sounds good, sounds right, right? Well, yeah, it’s what we’ve always been told.

But it is wrong. So subtly wrong. We are saved by our faith yes, but it is not the faith that causes or allows God to save us. We are saved THROUGH (via the process of) our faith. It is not the faith which allows God to change our position before Him. It is our faith that allows us to see our ALREADY (and before time) position before Him, where before we DIDN’T see/believe it. Our faith is not just in what happened on the cross. Our faith is in what that TELLS us about who God is and what He thinks of us. And when we BELIEVE that God really does love and forgive us no matter what we do (including killing Him), then we are saved from what we USED to believe about Him (our foolish ideas about God as judge looking to punish us for wrongs done which offend Him). What we are saved from is not “Hell”, or God’s wrath (directly), or punishment, but our FALSE ideas. And when we have FAITH, we are dispelling/denying/repenting of (changing our minds) about those ideas and agreeing with who JESUS says and PROVED on the cross that God IS.

Such a subtle difference, but it means SO much because it changes how we see God. And THAT is the crux of being “saved”. Our false view of God is the “SIN” that Jesus came to save His people from. There is more to it, more details, more to unpack, but that is the “big picture” paradigm shift that we experience at “salvation”. And that brings me to the 2nd thought I had today.

We have “the gospel” wrong.

Traditionally the gospel is said to be the cross. The sacrifice, and the EXCHANGE that happened — our sin for His righteousness — is the good news. That we can appear righteous before God (and be accepted) because God punished our sins in JESUS, instead of in us.

But that’s NOT the good news (gospel) at all.

I submit that the GOSPEL was declared LONG before the cross. The gospel was declared at the incarnation. At Jesus’ birth. When the heavenly hosts said, “Peace, goodwill towards men, on whom His favor rests.” THAT is the gospel. God ALREADY favors (accepts/delights) in us. God ALREADY has nothing but GOOD in store for us (not punishment or wrath) and God is in the process of bringing PEACE to the world through His Son, and not JUST “spiritual peace” between God and man, but actual, practical world-changing, life-saving, war-ending peace.

It started when Jesus was born, and that is STILL the gospel message. God’s peace, God’s favor, God’s goodness. For you. Right here and now.

So how does the cross fit in?

The cross PROVED that this was true. The cross proved that even though we were allowed (Jesus laid down His life) to kill our OWN God, that when He rose again and came back, the first thing He said was to repeat what was said the day He was born, “Peace be with you.”. NOTHING you do will change the good news of God’s favor, goodness and peace. The good news is that we had God wrong, but NOW we can see, because of Jesus and because of the cross, what God is REALLY like and how He REALLY feels towards us. Mankind killing Jesus was not “good news”. It was a horrible act. But it is what God felt was necessary to PROVE to us who He really was.

What’s so bad is that now we found a way to believe in the cross, but STILL miss who God is. Not only that, but now we have used the cross to ENFORCE our terrible image of God as judge and punisher of evil, and have made Him into a child-sacrificer to boot. How BAD can we make Him look? How far short of His glory CAN we fall in disparaging His good reputation? We have TWISTED the cross and twisted God’s image in the process. And most everyone believes this is the truth. It almost makes me believe in the devil again because it’s such a subtle, but deadly deception that has totally derailed the gospel message of God’s peace, goodwill and favor toward man.

It’s time to RECLAIM the true gospel that was declared to man when Jesus arrived here. God’s favor rests on you. You, as you are. Not you as religion wants to MAKE you so God will accept you. Not you who believes just the “right things” about Jesus so God doesn’t have to avert His eyes from your loathsomeness. But you RIGHT NOW. THIS news will transform lives. I know because it has mine. It has given me such a love for God and for humanity that I never even understood before. I always believed I loved, but now I can see how superficial (though sincere) that love really was, because it was still based on a God who is looking to ERADICATE evil and punish and torture all those who break His moral standards.

And you can’t really love a God who tortures people. You can SAY you do, but it’s half-hearted at best, even if you BELIEVE it is whole-hearted. I know, again, because I’ve EXPERIENCED it. You can only see it from the OTHER side. (Yeah, I know how ‘conceited’ that sounds, but I’m really being sincere here). I couldn’t see how “weak” my love of God was until I really understood who He is and how much He loves me.

You cannot love humanity, when you think the majority of them are lost forever because of their depraved state before God. You can PITY them, yes, but pity is NOT love. Pity does not give them the intrinsic worth and love that God gives them AS THEY ARE, “evil” and all. Yes, INTRINSIC worth, not IMPUTED worth. Which brings me to my third, final and most profound thought of the day.

The traditional view of “imputed righteousness” says that when Jesus died for our sins, He took them on Himself and gave US His righteousness, so that when God looks at US (if we’ve “accepted Christ”), He sees Jesus’ righteousness instead of our sin. It’s kind of like we are wearing a Jesus-cloak of righteousness that covers up our “filthy rags” of sin. But let’s examine this idea more closely.

The first problem is our misunderstanding of the word “righteous” or “righteousness”. We have equated this with “sinless” and “sinlessness” or “perfect goodness” or “purity”. And the word CAN be used that way in Greek, but it’s meaning is much more about trajectory than about purity. Righteousness is “going in the right direction”. That’s what the word actually means. If you were travelling down the road, and you stopped and asked for directions, and found out you were headed the wrong way, you were “unrighteous” (headed in the wrong direction). You needed to be made righteous (ie. JUSTIFIED, adjusted) and placed in the right direction (made righteous), so that then, as you continued your journey, you would be displaying “righteousness” in being headed in the right direction, and people could actually follow YOU if they wanted to know the right way to go. THIS is the picture of what righteousness is.

God is ALWAYS righteous, always headed in the right direction, towards peace, goodwill and love. His desire is to make us righteous, as well. To place us in the right direction, with the right goals. Now go back through your Bible and read all those verses that talk about righteousness and insert this idea into them and be amazed at how much sense they make. Not EVERY verse will work, as there are other words that have been translated as righteousness in the Bible. But most will work with this “going in the right direction” meaning. No, really, go look some up. I’ll wait. 🙂

So, then, how does this affect the idea of “imputed righteousness”? Can you only LOOK like your headed in the right direction, but not REALLY be righteous yourself? No. Jesus doesn’t just make us LOOK righteous. He places us in the right direction (justifies us), so we ARE headed in the right direction.

Then I started thinking about the idea of wearing Jesus righteousness like a garment. There’s a verse that says to “put on” the breastplate of righteousness. So I was thinking about whether there were any other places in the Bible where putting on a garment had to do with changing or going a particular direction. And the Spirit brought Elijah’s cloak to mind. Elijah passed his cloak on to Elisha in the old Bible story. However, my mind immediately dismissed this as I have always been taught that the cloak represented God’s power and authority being passed from Elijah to Elisha and that had nothing to do with going in a particular direction.

I continued thinking about this idea of righteousness being about being headed in the right direction, and thinking if about how FAITH puts us in the right direction (is counted as righteousness). When Abraham BELIEVED God, that God would make him a great nation and give him a land, he started out on a JOURNEY, both spiritually and physically, with God. He started on a particular trajectory. He was “made righteous” (placed on a certain path with a certain goal) THROUGH his faith. He certainly wasn’t thought of as “good” as in pure or morally perfect. Far from it. He made awful choices. God wasn’t OVERLOOKING those because Abraham believed in Him. His righteousness was not about what he did, but the TRAJECTORY of his life.

And then AGAIN, the Spirit brought up the cloak of Elijah. And I said, “OK, how does this fit, God, because I don’t see it?”

And then, I did.

The cloak of Elijah was how Elisha was COMMISSIONED, how he was “chosen” for the task as a prophet of God. When he took on the cloak, he took on the job, the mission, the PATH that was set before him by God. He “put on” his righteousness, because the cloak put him on the path that would determine the rest of his life. My jaw dropped. This is how Jesus “imputes” His righteousness to us. He gives us HIS commission to be HIS ambassadors of reconciliation. To continue down the path that He showed us. The path, the trajectory, of peace, goodwill and love towards mankind. And we “take up” this cloak (or breastplate), when we BELIEVE in the message of Jesus, in the Gospel. When we ACCEPT the commission (the way pointed out) of Jesus.

Our faith is counted as righteousness. I hope this blessed you today.

The Oft-Maligned Innkeeper

(Note: this was first posted on my Facebook on Dec. 8, 2014, before I had a blog. I thought it was appropriate to add it here during the Christmas season.)

Ah, Christmas!

The blessed baby. The virgin mother. The proud, but confused father. The excited shepherds. The majestic (if out of place) “wise men”. The lovely angels.

And the stingy, no-good innkeeper. 😦

We see him in all the Christmas pageants where the story is acted out. Everybody’s thrilled about Jesus, but THAT guy. I mean, what IS his problem anyway? Why does this “Scrooge” show up in the story?

Or does he?

We get the idea of an innkeeper from ONE verse in the Bible. Yep. ONE VERSE.

Luke 2:7: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Well, if there was “no room”, then SOMEBODY had to tell them that, right? So, it must have been that stingy innkeeper, who was apparently SO stressed out that he would turn away a pregnant woman about to give birth.

Never mind the fact that to do so would have been anathema in Jewish society, where taking care of travelers and guests was one of the MOST important things you could do. For a PREGNANT women, an innkeeper would have likely given up his OWN bed. If word of such a slight had got around, his inn would have been “out of business” in days.

But the idea of Mary and Joseph going to an inn is flawed in the first place.

The Greek word translated as “inn” is ‘kataluma’. But kataluma would be better translated “guest room”. In fact, most modern translations actually are now using that word. The only other time the word is used is in Mark 14:14-15 “And wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples? And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.”

This is referring to the “upper room” where Jesus and the disciples had The Last Supper.

Houses (at least of fairly well-to-do people) of that time were two-stories. On the first floor there would be a central courtyard where the animals were kept at night. Around this area would be common rooms, the kitchen, servants quarters, etc. On the upper floors (away from the dust) were the bedrooms, and the “guest room(s)”. As I said, hospitality was a BIG thing back then, and most houses had an available guest room both for relatives and friends or a stranger or sojourner. This was the norm. Not having a room for a stranger to stay in would have been a “bad thing”.

While we have no direct evidence, odds would favor the fact that both Joseph AND Mary had relatives IN Bethlehem. They were going there for the census, so it was his hometown. We also know that Elizabeth and Zachariah lived “in the hill country of Judea”. This COULD have been near Bethlehem. It makes sense, because Zachariah, as a priest in the temple, probably would not have owned property IN the city proper, but settled just on the outskirts of town. This would have also have made it fairly easy for the shepherds to find the babe, as well. Regardless of whether it was Elizabeth’s house or another relative, it makes more than a little sense that they were planning to stay with relatives, not going to an “inn”.

But “while they were there” (which could have been two hours or two weeks), it was time for her to give birth. I tend to go with a shorter time, because if they KNEW she was going to deliver, whomever was IN the guest room would most probably have given it to Mary. But if they did arrive late at night, and everyone was sleeping, Mary probably told them NOT to wake up the household, and that she would be fine downstairs in the courtyard area (with the animals), at least until the morning. Maybe she couldn’t even climb the ladder/stairs to the upper floors in her condition. (I’ll also note here that it’s quite likely she delivered earlier than expected due to the stressful journey there. They would have likely planned to travel AFTER the baby was born if she had been THAT close to delivering.) It’s also more than likely there would have been at least ONE other family member up with them, and probably some servants as well. They were not completely alone in this, like the romanticized story depicts. If they had been, the shepherds would have been mortified at such a thing, and would have taken them to their OWN homes. In the morning, the family would have been moved to an “upper guest room” and they would have stayed there until the child was old enough to travel. This COULD be the very house that the “wise men” visited after the baby became a “young child”.

But my point is…. NO innkeeper. NO “Scrooges” during the night of His birth. No abandoned mother and father. Jewish hospitality ensured that Mary and Joseph would have been well taken care of by family and baby Jesus was surrounded by those who were happy He was there. No grumps allowed!

So let there be “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Even innkeepers. 🙂