15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16
2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
So, in the last post we discussed how much and how easily we create a false gospel by defining a “real” or “authentic” gospel which functionally adds works to our justification. Today we’ll look at this from another angle.
The Church as a Moral Pillar
We often hear that the church is supposed to make a moral stand, and to be a pillar of traditional standards to the community. There are people who passionately push for consistent messages against abortion from the pulpit. I have been pushed from both sides to make a clear stand for or against gay acceptance. They want this to be the defining mark of the church: are we ‘inclusive’ or do we stand for ‘traditional family values’?
What is Essential to Salvation?
Here is the question I always ask. Is a correct stance on these controversial issues essential to a person’s salvation? Must a person be either for or against ‘LGBT’ acceptance to be a true Christian? Must a person have a proper pro-life stance to be a Christian? Does anyone come to Christ because they have a perfect grasp of God’s moral ideals? Doesn’t God have mercy on us despite our flawed moral understanding? Must a person believe that all of the Old Testament is the inspired Word of God, including all the genocidal parts, to be a true Christian? Must a person believe in young-earth creationism to be a true Christian? If so, then these things are essential to our eternal salvation. This is the plumb line for our public stance on things: is it essential to belief in the gospel?
The Church’s True Message
However, if these things are NOT essential to a person’s salvation, then why should we present them as being of such critical importance? Are we more interested in presenting a saving message of Christ crucified and resurrected, or are we more interested in presenting a strong moral stance on certain cultural issues? If we take our stand on ‘traditional family values’ issues such as abortion and one-man-one-woman marriage, then we set these things up as barriers to the gospel for unbelievers. People come to believe that the church’s true message is ‘traditional family values’ instead of the actual gospel of Christ and Him crucified. In many cases the message is traditional family values instead of Christ and Him crucified. Outsiders are then led to think that the church’s version of moral excellence consists of a select set of self-serving politically motivated issues that happen to exonerate themselves while excluding others. This is obviously happening, and their assessment in some cases is actually very close to the truth.
The true message of the church is not traditional family values. Sexual purity and sanctity of life are important moral points, but they are not the central message of the church. The true message of the church is Christ and Him crucified. The notion of “traditional family values” is much too tepid and loose an expression of the law. The standard of behavior that the Cross of Christ teaches isn’t just family values, but obedience to God to the point of death. If we make our stand on traditional family values, it is too broad – there are some people that seem to be acceptable under that umbrella, making the blood of Christ unnecessary. It says that if your sin happens to be more easily covered up and in line with traditional family values, you are allowed at the communion table, but if your sin is outside those traditional lines then you are not. The true law says that no one belongs at the communion table, and that no matter who you are, grace must be lavish and shocking and scandalous. There isn’t one person anywhere who isn’t a desperately evil and guilty sinner in need of salvation. That’s why they call it “salvation”!
Who stands for Christ and Him Crucified?
The logical problem is that people want the church to draw the lines of acceptance on their terms. They want you to say, same-sex attraction is lawful, or same-sex attraction is not lawful, and they want to define you by that stance. They are not interested in the message of the cross of Christ, because that is not the message they see as important. No one except the church is going to stand up and say that the cross of Christ is important. It’s not an obvious message. Ironically, although these two camps appear to be diametrically opposed, from the standpoint of the gospel, they are two sides of the same lost coin. This whole argument is a speculation and lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God. Neither of these are the message of the church, and they are not even really the message of the law. The real standard of the law is obedience to the point of shedding blood. This is the message of the Old Testament law, and this is the message of the cross. It doesn’t matter what you are attracted to, whether men, women, animals, or fruit, it is idolatry somehow unless it is only the true and living God. The purpose of the law is to press you to despair of your efforts and your self-justification, and to turn to Christ alone for justification. If your stance on the law turns people away from Christ instead of towards Him, obviously you have a defective idea about what the law is all about and what the gospel really is.
Practical Sense Churchianity
One might think that these things may be true, but that we can’t have abortionists and homosexuals running around in the church as if it is OK. This is true. We can’t have any of these people running around in the church:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
If you are covetous or you angrily criticize people, or have come by your wealth at the expense of justice, you will be excluded just like the fornicators and homosexuals and drunkards. Jesus says that if you are even angry with your brother – which is an internal feeling – you are guilty of the fires of hell. Do you think he was lying? Do you think God incarnate was soft on sin? So does this mean I’m saying that homosexuality and fornication and adultery and stealing and coveting and swindling and reviling are OK? Of course not! Nothing is OK! “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) How do you reconcile this with the fact that He was a friend of sinners? Sexual sinners (John 8:2-11). Swindling sinners (Luke 19:1-10). Covetous sinners. Angry sinners. Idolatrous sinners. People who should not inherit the kingdom of God. How did Jesus work this out? How can you take a strong moral stand and still be a friend of sinners? How can the church maintain this perfect stance on the strict full law and still be a refuge of mercy for the sinful and lost?
Let This Question Scour You
I want to let that question hang on you for a moment. Stop all your incessant pretense that you have a correct answer for this and admit that it is weird. Can you, can your fellowship, take a strong stance on the exacting moral code of the law, all of it, and also take a strong stance for welcoming sinners and offering a true and enduring mercy? Can you take a strong stance on the law and still not judge? Can you say “if you are angry with your brother for a moment, you are going to hell” and still claim to serve a merciful loving God? What does that even look like? Do you really know how to do that, or are you just pretending you know how to do that? You have to let that question scour you and admit that you really have no idea what you are doing. Admit that when you show mercy and compassion you feel guilty that you are just letting people get away with things. Your stance on the law is soft and your mercy is tepid. You are utterly worthless in the kingdom. Really, you truly are. You barely believe anything. You are just pretending at your theology and you have not worked out how to do this at all. You may quote councils and catechisms and even Bible verses but you are an enemy of justice and an enemy of grace. The ways of Jesus are a complete and utter mystery to you. You must face these things and indeed one way or the other you will face these things.
The Answer at the Foot of the Cross
The answer to these things lies at the foot of the Cross. The fulfillment of the law and the ultimate stronghold of justice was expressed with extreme wrath and passion at the cross. The impulse in you that says, “no, this isn’t enough” — stems directly from unbelief. Let this sink into you: it was God’s good pleasure to let the fullness of wrath fall on Him:
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
This is because it pleases God to express wrath against evil. You understand that! You want people to pay for what they’ve done. You love it. If we’re honest we’ll admit that we hate forgiveness and rightly so – our way of achieving it is all a sham. You feel the rightness of holding sinners strongly accountable. No one should get away with the things they’ve done. They should not be in the Church! You want to soften this, you want to make things nice, because you don’t want to look mean and crazy. And what’s worse, you think all this mess of confusion is godliness. It is actually you in the state of being lost trying to pretend you are OK.
But, there has been wrath expressed. At the cross of Christ. The fierce anger and hot righteous holy indignation of God has been poured out in full. It is finished. And your belief in this has justified you. It has sanctified you. It has transformed you. It has cleansed you (1 Corinthians 6:11). No longer are you slinking around pretending to be good while you are guilty guilty guilty. You’re not guilty any more. You haven’t simply “repented.” You have believed. Belief isn’t less than repentance — it is the very meat and substance of repentance. Justice has been served and your evil has been avenged. Avenged!
The Cross is Our Moral Stance and Our Merciful Welcome
And so the wrath of God and the love of God is at once expressed at the cross. More than simply sweeping our guilt under a rug, our shame and sin has been lavishly and harshly judged. We have been justified and this is the greatest most wonderful thing in the world! It is a strong moral stance! It is true mercy! It is true forgiveness! It is lasting and lavish grace! Look what He has done for us! The Cross of Christ is the church’s one message. It is our strong moral stance, and our compassionate merciful help for guilty sinners. There is no moral stance apart from the cross, and there is no mercy and no love apart from the cross.
The Cross of Christ is indeed the true message of the church.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9 And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.