Part 3 in a 3 Part Series...
Part 2: Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen!
It might seem peculiar to think that the doomed history of the first century Church and the bleeding of youth from the Christian culture have anything in common, but all will soon become clear. I mentioned in part one of the series that many parents and youth groups fail to cause their young to embrace a Christian identity due to a lack of preparation in both a knowledge of God’s Word and a development of a living, breathing relationship with the Heavenly Father. Throughout this article, we will explore the relationship aspect and the role condemnation plays in stunting our ability to see ourselves as children of God.
One of the most famous sermons in all of Christianity is Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God which paints quite a grand picture of the sinfulness of humanity and the righteous vengeance of an angry Almighty God. Contained within this seminal work of the First Great Awakening is a powerful warning of the future eternal hell fire a sinner will face if he does not turn to the Lord. The sermon is a great example of a method of evangelism affectionately titled, “Scaring the hell out of you,” a method which might seem somewhat antiquated but has developed into the most common form of Christian outreach and teaching.
As an undergraduate, I was a member of a number of Christian groups and each of these groups heavily stressed evangelism as their main focus. Almost every case these young Christians made would begin with the question, “If you died today, where will you go?” After breaking the ice with such a positive question, a lecture on the sinfulness of humanity and the finality of hell would ensue. This type of evangelism caused me to really think about our approach and I eventually settled on a simple question: Is this angry God as presented by these young Christians congruent with the God presented in the Bible?
One of the most quoted verses, John 3:16, is a good place to start on this journey of Godly discovery:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16
It is interesting to note that the words angry, sin, and hell appear nowhere in this verse. According to the passage in John, God is motivated by His love for us. In fact, God is portrayed countless times in His Word as a loving and kind God.
He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins –1 John 4:8-10
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. –Romans 5:8
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us. –Ephesians 2:4
Not once in these passages do we see the portrait of an angry God; instead, we see a wonderful Heavenly Father whose purpose through the death and resurrection of His Son was to save us and bless us with life everlasting. God’s mercy and love toward humanity is further expounded upon in 1 Timothy:
This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. –1 Timothy 2:3-4
Looking at this passage, we see a different message presented by Edward’s famous sermon and the average youth group evangelist. These methods promote a message of exclusion, begging individuals to “Escape the perils of hell by becoming a believer;” though God, through His Word, is promising inclusion into His family. We cannot forget the importance of the word family when it comes to God and His Son Jesus Christ. I once heard that Christianity is a not religion but a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This is a statement supported by scripture.
But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" –Galatians 4:4-6
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:15-17
The use of the word Abba is extremely telling in its demonstration of how God feels about us as His children. The word is an Aramaic word which translates most accurately to the modern term daddy. God wants us to be on such an intimate relationship with Him that we can call him, “Daddy!” We can see this intimate reference to God used by Jesus Christ in Mark 14:
And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt." –Mark 14:36
God doesn’t just want us only to be His children, He wants us be children who can have a relationship with Him on the same level His only begotten Son had. However, this intimate relationship seems to be severely lacking in the modern day Church. This lack of relationship is leading many young men and women astray. How do I know that a failed relationship is one of the culprits in the exodus of youth from the Church? It’s easy to make the conclusion because, if Millennials really had a strong relationship with God, they would have a hard time forsaking Him. By the time most people leave the faith, they have little negative emotion to the contrary. Leaving God, in many sad respects, is as emotionally draining as changing one’s clothes.
Why can’t these young people develop a meaningful relationship with the Father? Well, it stems from a few reasons. One of the reasons is that they were not taught adequately enough by their parents or Christian who, in turn, probably did not have that intimate relationship with God and they were not encouraged to study to show themselves approved as it says 2 Timothy 2:15. Another reason, and a very serious one at that, is the condemnation and constant reminders of the individual’s sinfulness and unworthiness before God.
Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon, uses mainly verse from the Old Testament to prove his point about the wickedness of man and the anger of God. He teaches from verses in Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, and Ezekiel which were all written at a time when Israel was still under the Law (He does use Romans 9:22; however, the emphasis from the context in the passage is not on God's wrath but about His mercy toward both Jews and Greeks). This was a time when only the Jews were the chose people of God. Just as we see in Edwards’ famous sermon, many teachers today still teach with an emphasis on the condemning ideals presented during the time of the covenant of the Law. There is a great dichotomy between God’s attitude toward humanity under the Law and under grace which we live under now. Let’s explore:
For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. –Romans 3:20-26
It is surprising to me that this passage is such a stumbling block to so many. One verse that probably stands out to you is verse 23, which states, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is one of the most quoted verses by so many teachers and evangelists and almost every one of their messages is the same: we are not worthy of God because we are sinners. Teachers constantly only quote this one verse outside of the passage to support their own message. Though, is this really the intention of the passage?
I included much more of the chapter to show that the context is totally different from what so many have reported the verse to be saying about our sin nature. The point of the verse is not to explain how sinful and horrible we are, but to show us that there is no partiality when it comes to our justification through Jesus’ sacrifice. It is disingenuous for so many to not even include verse 24, “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,” which would destroy their inaccurate conclusions.
I will sometimes listen to teachers on the radio as I drive to and from work and I once heard a pastor teach on Romans 3:23 and then tell his audience how we are to constantly remind ourselves about how sinful we are and how God is Holy. What is ironic about teaching on Romans 3:23 in this manner is that the man is totally ignoring verses 20-22 in Romans 3. This pastor’s sermon is stuck within the confines of the Law because it is the Law, according to verse 20, which reminds us of our sin. Thus, we can say that the teacher in question was preaching a sermon steeped in the traditions of the Law and not of sound Christian doctrine.
How can we ever expect the members of the body of Christ, especially the youngest ones, to ever have a strong relationship with God if we are constantly reminding ourselves of why we don’t deserve that very relationship. Can you tell me how many times we are called “sinners” in the Epistles? 200 maybe? Not even close! How about 100? Nope! Okay, what about 50 times? Getting warmer, but still wrong. Wait a minute we are never referred to as sinners? Ding, ding, ding, you got it!
We, as Christians, are not sinners according to how God sees us. Even though we still sin, we can be forgiven. So, if we are not sinners than what does God say we are? There are many answers to that question in the Word.
We are joint heirs with Christ:
It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:16-17
We are as He is in this world:
In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. –1 John 4:17
We cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:37-39
The Law was made to remind of us of our sin and we were originally condemned to death under the covenant with no hope for salvation; however, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law and saved us through His death and resurrection. Now we are justified by faith, children of the Most High God, and are seated with Christ as His fellow heirs.
Instead of condemning ourselves in sin as was the reality under the Law and preventing ourselves from obtaining a living, breathing relationship with God and Jesus Christ, let us understand who we are and teach those younger than us to do the same. We can halt the disturbing trends of our young generation and, in turn, strengthen the whole body of Christ.