Which Jesus?

This time of year it is a good thing to remind ourselves that we need to celebrate the right Jesus. This classic from Kevin DeYoung helps us put things in perspective.

The greatness of God is most clearly displayed in his Son. And the glory of the gospel is only made evident in his Son. That’s why Jesus’ question to his disciples [in Matthew 16] is so important: “Who do you say that I am?”

The question is doubly crucial in our day, because [no one is as popular in the U.S. as Jesus]—and not every Jesus is the real Jesus. …

There’s the Republican Jesus—who is against tax increases and activist judges, for family values and owning firearms.

There’s Democrat Jesus—who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.

There’s Therapist Jesus—who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.

There’s Starbucks Jesus—who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid, and goes to film festivals.

There’s Open-minded Jesus—who loves everyone all the time no matter what (except for people who are not as open-minded as you).

There’s Touchdown Jesus—who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.

There’s Martyr Jesus—a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.

There’s Gentle Jesus—who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash (while looking very German).

There’s Hippie Jesus—who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagines a world without religion, and helps us remember that “all you need is love.”

There’s Yuppie Jesus—who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.

There’s Spirituality Jesus—who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine, and would rather have people out in nature, finding “the god within” while listening to ambiguously spiritual music.

There’s Platitude Jesus—good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons, inspiring people to believe in themselves.

There’s Revolutionary Jesus—who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and blame things on “the system.”

There’s Guru Jesus—a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.

There’s Boyfriend Jesus—who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love in our secret place.

There’s Good Example Jesus—who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.

And then there’s Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed; the one to deliver us from captivity; the goal of the Mosaic law; Yahweh in the flesh; the one to establish God’s reign and rule; the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim Good News to the poor; the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

This Jesus was the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a New Creation. He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the Serpent; the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood; the Christ promised to Abraham; the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites; the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died; the Christ promised to David when he was king; the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a Suffering Servant; the Christ predicted through the Prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.

This Christ is not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God. He is the Father’s Son, Savior of the world, and substitute for our sins—more loving, more holy, and more wonderfully terrifying than we ever thought possible.

Kevin DeYoung, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” from his DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed blog (posted 6-10-09)

Isolation Makes Us Easy Prey

When Michael Todd Wilson was recently asked what advice he would give to Christian leaders who were struggling with sexual sin, he stated:

If I had to guess, 95 out of 100 of them are trying to fight it in isolation. Remember, Satan seeks to devour like a lion. That means he’s looking for the isolated ones, the ones not running with the rest of the pack because they’re easier to pick off. And our enemy is patient. He’s willing to wait for the right opportunity. And when that happens, it will hit us without warning.

God never intended us to fight sin alone. We need to fight sin in community with others who are pursuing holiness. Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:22: So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. We need to “run with a pack” of people who are running away from the wrong things and running toward the right things because they love Jesus.

Isolation weakens us spiritually and makes us vulnerable to Satan’s clever schemes. We find encouragement and accountability in community with others who call on the Lord. Don’t fight sin alone. Develop and maintain Christ-centered relationships with other believers and fight sin together.

Don’t Waste Your Disgust

Disgust. It is admittedly one of the feelings I had when I heard about the recent Ashley Madison – Joshua Duggar connection. The fact that a web-based adultery broker even exists is disgusting to me. The fact that a high-profile person associated with evangelical Christianity was outed as a client of a web-based adultery broker is more disgusting. The damage done to Mrs. Duggar and the Duggar children and Mr. Duggar himself is disgusting. The slander which will no doubt fall upon Christ and his church due to this situation is disgusting.  If you are a follower of Christ you may be disgusted as well. There is plenty of disgust to go around here.

Can our disgust be leveraged in a positive way? I believe so. Here are a few ways we can avoid wasting our disgust.

  • Disgust at the sins of others reminds us of our own sin and our vulnerability to sin in general. To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “let him who stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).” Considering Mr. Duggar’s sin reminds me that I am capable of lust and adultery. To say in one’s heart “I would never…” is to strip oneself of the armor of humility and dependence on Christ necessary to fight sin.
  • Disgust at the sins of others moves us to greater watchfulness in the pursuit of personal holiness. When we hear about a person who perished in a car accident because they failed to wear their safety belt, we are more likely to buckle up next time we get behind the wheel. In a similar way, hearing about Joshua Duggar’s sin may move us to be more vigilant in establishing boundaries for our eyes and hearts. We may be more apt to pray for God’s help in our marriages. We may be driven deeper into God’s Word.
  • Disgust at the sins of others warns us of the ugliness of sin and the damage it can do to our lives and others. Are we not warned in our souls when we think of the waves of destruction Joshua Duggar’s choices have unleashed in his life, his family, his church, and even the evangelical community at large? Wouldn’t we want to avoid this kind of damage at any cost?
  • Disgust at the sins of others drives us to Christ who alone forgives sin and equips us to fight against it. It can be a short step from disgust to self-righteousness. We must never allow our disgust to push us toward a pharisaical posture of self-congratulation. Rather, our disgust must drive us to say “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our standing with God is not that we have performed better than Joshua Duggar. It can only rest on the perfect righteousness of Jesus credited to us when we believe in him.

Don’t waste your disgust. Leverage it in a Christ-exalting way as fuel for your own spiritual benefit.

The Gift of a New Identity

While picking up a friend I noticed the car next to me in the parking lot of the apartment complex. Someone had scratched into the door the word “cheater.” I wondered whether it was a betrayed spouse or “significant other” who angrily etched those words into the driver’s side door. Or was it a former friend who had been wounded by some breach of friendship? Perhaps it was a fellow student who discovered that this person was taking academic shortcuts. I’ll probably never know. But someone clearly wanted everyone to know that this driver was a “cheater.”

Sin deeply etches all kinds of identities into our lives. Paul lists several of them in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Some are labeled sexually immoral, idolater, adulterer, practicing homosexual, thief, greedy, drunkard, reviler, swindler. These are just representative identities that sin scratches into our lives. There are many, many others such as proud, angry, liar, lustful, and the list goes on. They are well-deserved labels. Repeated and willing acts of rebellion against God which flow from a fallen and scarred nature cut grooves into our lives which mark us with patterns of sin. Sometimes one particular category of sin so imprisons us that we become known by it. Like the unknown “cheater”, we are identified by categories which highlight the shame of sin.

The gospel of Christ gives us the hope of a new identity. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” By faith in Christ, the cheater, the idolater, the drunkard, the liar, and the practicing homosexual is given a new identity. That identity consists of one who has been washed, sanctified, and justified in Jesus Christ by the work of the Spirit of God. Those who are in Christ need no longer carry around the old labels etched into their lives by sin. They have been made new in Christ. Now, by God’s grace, they have been renamed. They have been given the gift of a new identity.

God’s Glory in the Gospel

In 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Paul recounts in summary fashion his conversion story. Once a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of Christ, by God’s mercy, grace, and patience he was saved and set apart for gospel work. He was a living example of the trustworthy statement that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Imagine Saul, the poster boy for gospel opposition, being changed by the very gospel he opposed into Paul the apostle, church planter, and gospel preacher.

As Paul reflected on this unlikely turn in his life, he broke out into doxology. The grip of the gospel on his heart squeezed out a stream of praise as Paul ascribed glory and honor to God. The sovereign, immortal, invisible, exclusive King had rescued Paul from his sin and gifted him with eternal life. The saved sinner could not contain his praise.

There are many reasons to glorify God. The beauty of his perfections is pristine. His mysterious ways are unfathomable. The world he has made declares his glory. But we should not overlook the glory of God displayed in the gospel as motive for praise. As Stuart K. Hine wrote:

And when I think, that God his Son not sparing;

Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.

That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing;

He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;

How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Cultural Pessimism and Gospel Optimism

For evangelical Christians, it is tempting to become pessimistic or even cynical about the state of things these days. Relativism seems to reign when it comes to morality and spirituality. There is pessimism about whether there is such a thing as absolute truth. Ethical norms that once seemed unassailable are regularly questioned if not totally jettisoned. Confusion is common regarding gender and sexuality and the place of marriage in society. Christianity is tolerated as long one doesn’t suggest that Christianity is the only true religion and Christ is the only true Savior. We lament the loss of the Judeo-Christian consensus that once permeated our culture. We are living in a post-Christian society. It is easy to feel agitated, desperate, and even defeated.

Evangelicals find ourselves feeling much like Paul walking the streets of Athens and being deeply troubled by the plethora of idols (Acts 17:16). But, like Paul, in midst of this smorgasbord of deities, there is also reason to be encouraged. Even as our culture is looking more and more like Corinth or Athens in the first century, we have reason to be hopeful. Why? Because of the gospel. The gospel flourished in the first century culture of the Roman Empire which was anything but Christian. Though the church had no political clout and no real cultural standing, the message of the church penetrated and largely transformed the culture.

The gospel is powerful. Consider how the apostles thought about the gospel.

  • They were not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for every culture (Rom. 1:16).
  • The gospel is the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18-25).
  • The gospel is a message of truth which brings salvation (Eph. 1:13).
  • The gospel transforms idolaters into Christians (1 Thess. 1:4-10).
  • The gospel is about the eternal plan of God to save sinners (2 Tim. 1:8-10).
  • The gospel is not bound even when its messengers are in chains (2 Tim. 2:9).

Much more could be said about this. But a small sampling of apostolic statements about the gospel demonstrates the reason why the church must not despair when darkness is encroaching. Darkness is penetrated by light through the clear and loving presentation of the gospel by those whose lives give evidence of gospel-driven change.

Because cultures change, the church must adapt in appropriate ways to communicate the gospel. But the gospel does not change. It is still the saving truth about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is still the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, even in our declining spiritual climate.

No Drifting toward Holiness

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

 We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

D. A. Carson, quoted in “Reflections,” Christianity Today (7-31-00)

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