Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Obedience of Faith

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (ESV)
This morning I read Romans 1 as part of my devotional reading. One phrase from the above paragraph kept coming back to mind throughout the day - "the obedience of faith".  The NIV renders it as "the obedience that comes from faith". 

My first thought was personal. My faith, the beliefs in the truths of Scripture, my trust in Christ my King...all of this ought to lead to obedience. There is a malfunction in my faith if it isn't leading to obedience.

My second thought was church related. This was Paul's goal; it ought to be ours too. Not just acceptance of doctrines, not just faith by itself, but faith accompanied by works, trust and obedience. Not cheap grace and flimsy faith, but vital faith that produces the fruit of obedience.

Paul holds together two great doctrines we have driven a wedge between - justification and sanctification. They are different, but go together. Justification is by faith. So is sanctification. Justification precedes sanctification, but is never found all by itself.

These two doctrines go hand in hand because both are found in, and only in, union with Christ. It is by being united to Christ that we receive his righteousness and are declared 'saints' before God's bar. But, being united to Christ means his life flows through us and pushes itself out in good works, in love and in holiness. We can't be united to Christ for one, justification, and not the other.

Paul's ambition should be ours - obedience from faith for the sake of his name!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Shakespeare and Cats

Imagine with me two actors stepping onto stage to do a scene. One of these actors is dressed in a traditional Elizabethan costume - fine, clean, almost regal. The other actor, is in a Cat costume. They begin delivering their lines, and they are very clearly reading from a different script, with a different setting, different use of language, etc.

That was me. And, it is indicative of many churches and the fundamentalist church culture. We were cats on stage in a Shakespearean play. We were out of place, looked odd, talked funny. I wore shirts that said "His Pain, Your Gain." I listened to different music (Petra, Degarmo and Key, Stryper if I was in a spandex mood), read different books, spent my time in different ways (though we had a weakness for movies, so on that point there was commonality between me and my non church friends).

Looking back, there was benefit to this kind of church culture. It was clear we were to be different; we were living a different story. But it is possible that these kinds of superficial differences between the church and the wider surrounding culture can, I'm afraid, mask points of alikeness - even sinful alikeness. We may listen to different music and wear weird tshirts, but do we still love money, worship power, etc.?

Imagine a different, but similar scenario. Two actors walk onto stage, both wearing the same Elizabethan type costume. Both deliver their lines with the same accent, cadence. It takes a little while because of the similarities, but eventually you realize that they too are reading from different scripts. One is reading from Othello, the other Hamlet. Different stories, but similar in more ways than Shakepeare and Cats.

That, I feel is an appropriate illustration for much of modern evangelicalism. We're similar to the wider culture in many ways - and that is not always inappropriate. One can listen to U2, or even Megadeth on occasion and enjoy the talent of these musicians, even be edified by truths the speak of in their lyrics. I can buy some shirts from Old Navy and not all from Christian bookstores. I can read non Christian novels. I watch many of the same shows and movies (though not all) that my non-church going friends do.  Many similarities. But many very important differences.

The challenge is that these differences are not always easy to notice.  They differences are less superficial and more nuanced, not at the level of fashion or musical preferences, but of loves and priorities. For this reason, it is easy for watchers to think we're reading from the same script, at least for a while.

I think this is true for our kids too; after all, our kids are our biggest watchers. Growing up in a fundamentalist background, we knew we were 'aliens and strangers'. It's not as clear to my kids, I would suspect. The differences aren't as blaring, not as noticeable to the naked eye.

So I, and all parents of kids in evangelical or mainline churches need to be more vigilant, pointing out where the scripts for the Christian and the nonChristian diverge. Our kids need to know that they're living in a different story and a different plot line. It won't be as obvious as when you see a Cat on stage with Romeo, but it's incredibly important. So, we need to be vocal about our loves, motivations, priorities, etc. And, we need to make sure out kids have a firm grip on the central story of God and his people!

We need to do this work of reminding ourselves, and our kids we're in God's story.