5 things the world needs to hear from the church

“The world” means not only institutions and cultures, but every person. “The church” means not only preachers and organizations, but every Christian. The world is full of prejudices and misunderstandings, and the church is full of bad examples and average people without all the answers.

We all could use some clarity.

1. We [Christians] are not interested in collecting converts like trophies on a shelf. If we are talking at you to prove anything to ourselves, our Christian friends, or God, we are completely in the wrong. Christians are under scriptural mandate to respect all people (1 Peter 3:15). We adhere to a biblical, dual anthropology which teaches that, on the one hand, every human being is an image-bearer of God and therefore valuable and honorable, and that, on the other hand, humanity is, comprehensively, morally broken and spiritual bankrupt, Christians included. In other words, we are no better or smarter than anyone else. In fact, we may appear weaker and more foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27), because God wants us to be amazed at him, not ourselves.

The reason we want to talk to you about our faith is that we earnestly believe Jesus is who he said he is and that he really is able to give the joy, peace, answers, and fellowship with God that he offered. We want the world – especially our friends and family, the people we care about most – to hear him out.

2. We care deeply about personal morality, but not for its own sakeThe aim of a Christian’s life is this: to worship God and express love for him by thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting like Jesus Christ. This means much more than behaving like a better person or giving up bad habits for good ones. It is more spiritual and more profound, and more impossibly difficult. Some of us with the right genes could pull off being “good people”; i.e. people with enough morality and likability to please the culture. None of us accomplish Christ-likeness in its fullness before we die. The idea of grace is so important to us for this reason. We want to be like Christ, but we fail miserably, and still, God chooses to love us as if we had succeeded, for Christ’s sake.

This is the tension behind our views on personal morality. The personal conduct of you and me is extremely important because it has to do with the aim and orientation of our lives, and yet is almost trivial when considered in the light of our failure and God’s grace.

3. We actually believe what the Bible says about Judgment Day, the wrath of God, and life after deathWe believe that God, who is exactingly holy, is angry with the world. We do not believe that he is only angry – Jesus taught that God loved the world to the point of sending his Son, Jesus, into it, to save it (John 3:16-17). Yet our scripture teaches that God will not overlook our outrageous disregard and mockery of him, which is the disease of sin that infects both our societies and our personal lives, forever. Soon, God will demand from every human being an exhaustive account of how they lived their lives. On those souls not shielded by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God will rain down his justice in hell. It will be terrible, and fair.

In a culture of Self and non-accountability, we take this seriously. We want to do whatever we can to help people save themselves from themselves by entrusting their lives and their fates to Christ.

4. We struggle (with depression, anxiety, stress, unhappiness, loneliness, unmet expectations, sexual temptation, doubt, and on and on) as much as everybody, but we believe that Jesus is more real than all of itWe do not fool ourselves into thinking we have it all together or can refute every argument. We understand that Christian belief is hard – the  apostles understood that (Matthew 28:16-17). Our inner turmoil is often intense and our lives are often a mess, like everyone else.

We are also aware that we are not doing everything as we should be doing it, and that very often our words must speak louder than our actions. The difference for the Christian is not his or her own ability to rise above. The difference is faith in a God who transcends us and a Messiah who knows what it is like to be us.

5. What we are staking our lives on is Jesus, especially his death and resurrectionThe death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are even more fundamental to Christian faith than the existence of God or the inerrancy of the Bible. That is, we believe in God and the Bible because Jesus did, and we believe in Jesus because he rose from the dead. At the center, our belief stands or falls with him. Understanding the Bible and dealing with questions about Christianity’s rationality become possible in the context of faith in Jesus.

We believe that intellectually satisfying answers to questions about God and the Bible exist and are accessible. It is true to say, however, that everything we are and believe hangs on one person, and the historical reality of two events. Jesus is the central thing, and we believe that every person must ultimately deal with him.

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Good Friday: the cross is an intersection

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts

The shape of the cross is the universal symbol of the Christian faith. Geometrically, a cross is two perpendicular lines intersecting. One vertical, the other horizontal.

When Jesus Christ died on his cross nearly two thousand years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem, paradoxes were proclaimed and unlike realities intersected with each other in a way that they never had before or will again.

God + humanity
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the God-man, fully human and fully divine, yet one person with one nature. Simple enough to say, impossible to comprehend. Yet what that means is that when Christ died on his cross, the world of heaven – the vertical beam, if you will – cut into the world of earth – the horizontal beam. Jesus hung there, suspended between the two worlds, bridging the impasse between them. You could say that the cross was the ladder down which God climbed to make peace with humanity, to reach us. Therefore, to reach God, all a person needs is to come to the cross.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:20

wrath + grace
Sin provokes the Holy One to ferocious, irrepressible anger. God’s own love provokes him pardon sinners. At the cross, these two elemental aspects of God’s character met and embraced. The wrath of God against human sin inflicted itself on Jesus’ shoulders, back, neck, hands, feet, body, soul, mind and spirit; totally, comprehensively, exhaustively. He took every ounce, for my sin and yours. He absorbed the blow, stepping in as the scapegoat, the sacrifice, the substitute. All that is left over for us, the ones standing in Jesus’ shadow, are the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness, the love.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 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. Isaiah 53:4-6

decimation of our pride + affirmation of our worth
The cross gives us a revolutionized way to look at ourselves, one that is painful and profoundly sweet at the same time. I’m using the strong word “decimation” here to mean “totally cancel and destroy.” The cross certainly decimates our pride, or our self-esteem, depending on your vocabulary. It asserts without apology that our self-imposed predicament of sin, death, hell, and alienation from God is so severe that nothing less than the Son of God’s torture and death could hope to address it. An extreme problem – the human condition – called for an extreme solution. No one but Jesus will cut down your pride and self-justification so thoroughly, because no one but Jesus loves you so deeply.

While decimating our attempts at self-worth, the cross affirms with abandon our value to God. It asserts, likewise without apology, that the depths of God’s grace towards us are so unfathomable that he found it worthwhile sacrifice the Son for the rabble outside, in order to turn the rabble into sons! Therefore, you count. You are not a waste. You are worthy. God says so.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. Galatians 6:14

suffering + glory
The Bible is chock full of paradoxes, as we should expect from a book claiming to contain divine truth. One of the most essential paradoxes in Christian thought – in my mind, it’s the key to the whole thing – is the one that Jesus expressed a few hours before his arrest:

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” John 13:31-32

Now is the Son of Man glorified. Now, as he is arrested, falsely accused, beaten, scourged, stripped, mocked, crucified, murdered. On the cross, glory intersected with suffering. Honor with shame, life with death. I do not understand it, but the brutally disfigured, naked body of Jesus on the cross brought glory to God. It blazed through and through with the glory of God. The Son of Man’s suffering screamed glory! glory! hallelujah!

That is the Christian paradigm. In our lives, that means that suffering and glory are intertwined, and death always comes before a resurrection.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18