Summer Peace, Blessings and Joy in Jesus.
The attached essay authored by Audrey Johnson is well-written and speaks to the tension inherent in Christianity. As Christians, we see and react to a sinful world. At the same time, being forgiven by the Grace of God that is in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to share that forgiveness and Grace, even with those we fundamentally disagree with.
Audrey makes a case for properly living with this tension without going crazy in the process. I commend it to your reading schedule.
And, thanks, Audrey for your taking the Apostle Peter to heart.
13Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
1 Peter 3:13–16
Yours in Christ,
In the media, in sermons, in casual conversations with friends, I hear a note of despondency about the way our society is changing. In a nation riven by culture wars, each side is sure of the righteousness of their own position and refuses to listen to the other. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, liberals are rejoicing in victory and conservatives bemoaning the erosion of Biblical morals in our society. Compromising or even acknowledging the moral arguments on the other side is taboo – you must choose a side or both sides will deem you a traitor. What a depressing situation – I can understand that note of despair.
But we must not forget what the Bible says about despair – it is the most deadly of sins. And I think that the reason the culture wars are getting people down is because we’ve lost sight of the gospel and what it really means. Many people think that as Bible-believing Christians, we need to be on the conservative side – to fight for God’s law in an increasingly irreligious society. But I would argue that as gospel-believing Christians, we need to remember that we are not to be a part of the world. The gospel is for all people, and if we choose a side in the culture wars, we demonize half the population – people that Christ died for, the same as for you and me.
There’s a parable that has helped me see this more clearly in my life – the wonderful story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. We have three characters – the older brother, the prodigal younger brother, and the loving father. The culture wars in our nation are wars between older and younger brothers – conservatives vs. liberals; orthodoxy vs. antinomianism, religion vs. irreligion. Everyone has a natural tendency to be one of those brothers, and if you talk about people going to conservative churches, I think the tendency is to be an older brother – someone who’s at least trying to follow God’s law. Hence the despair when the ‘younger brothers’ of our society seem to be winning the culture wars and throwing God’s law to the pigs.
But who is the real protagonist in the story? It is not either of the brothers. It is the father. He loves both to a degree almost unimaginable in a real father. He forgives the squandering of one third of his property and welcomes the repentant younger son back with open arms. He cares little for his own pride, leaving the feast to invite the sulky older son inside personally. It is the father who is on the side of the gospel – because the gospel is the good news of the Father’s overwhelming love for us and His desire to welcome repentant sinners back home.
In fact, the story ends unresolved – will the older brother come into the party? Or will he sulk outside? If you think you’re an older brother, the cliff-hanger ending is a wake-up call. The one whose salvation is uncertain is the older brother. He didn’t spend his father’s fortune on wild living. He stayed home and did what was expected of him. But his reaction to his brother’s forgiveness betrays his heart. He’s not a dutiful son out of love for his father – he’s busy making sure his father gives him the inheritance he feels is his due. He loves his father’s blessings more than he loves his father, and when his father welcomes his brother back he feels cheated.
In the worldly fight between older brother conservatives and younger brother liberals, we have to remember which side we’re on. We are on the Father’s side! As Joshua is reminded before the battle of Jericho, that’s not the same as God being on “our side”. He’s the one in charge, not us – we are to follow His gospel, though the world call us foolish or worse.
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us, or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Joshua 5:13-14
The Father loves us, calling us to repent of our sins and receive his abundant grace – he calls us to believe the gospel message and come in to His feast. Older brothers – the religious people trying to earn their own salvation – are calling us to their side to help defend God’s law, not realizing that they haven’t understood the gospel at all. Unrepentant younger brothers – those who deny God’s authority over them – call us to defend individual freedom of choice, a human right that they won’t admit stems from an understanding of God’s love for all people as individuals.
The gospel has always been a hard thing for the world to understand – a third way. We can’t condone the actions of those who live in blatant opposition to God’s law; the prodigal son must come back to his father, acknowledge his authority with repentance, and receive forgiveness. We can’t expect God’s blessings as a reward for faithfully trying to follow His law, for then we are loving His blessings more than Him. We must love all in deep humility while holding steadfast to God’s truth – a task we know we aren’t really capable of. That’s why the gospel is such good news; Jesus did for us what we truly couldn’t do on our own – love God and our neighbor with a selfless, perfect love. Only the gospel shows both God’s overwhelming righteousness and His infinite lovingkindness, for it does not deny the high price of sin, while at the same time allowing us to rejoice that God took the price upon himself and defeated death for our sake.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17
It is not necessary for us to win a culture war to preserve the gospel. God is with us and will cause His light to shine in our dark world through us. You can argue that it was easier to be Christian in a world run by Pharisees and “older brothers” who called themselves Christians. You can argue that you’d feel safer with an older brother in charge of the country rather than a prodigal. But no matter which brother is pushing the agenda, the culture and the country aren’t really Christian.
It is always hard to get a hearing for the gospel in the world. Whether the message is blurred and confused by religious people calling themselves Christians, or shouted down by irreligious people who don’t want to be told what to do, the ruler of this world does his best to drown it out. I think it’s clear that the world is changing, but I’m not sure it’s really for the worse. Each age has its favorite sins, but God’s grace preserves some virtues as well. We are entering an age dominated by the irreligious and prodigal – a scary thought. But when Jesus preached his message, who was it who came to him? The tax collectors and sinners were listening up, and the Pharisees were plotting against him. The light of the gospel will shine all the more clearly against the darkness.
It won’t be easy, but Jesus said it wouldn’t be. We must not get confused and led astray in the culture wars. Kingdoms rise and fall but in the end, God rules. We must follow Him and not man; proclaim His gospel message and not any human agenda. Instead of asking God to be on our side, we should make sure we’re following Him.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12
Dr. Audrey Johnson