Question for you. What does it mean to be a Christian? Does it mean to believe something about Jesus? Yes it does, but only as a starting point. Because we believe something about Jesus, we begin to follow him. But ultimately, to be a Christian means to embark on a life of imitating Jesus. But I’m afraid that we have defined being a Christian as only something we believe about Jesus. We believe something about Jesus, this alters our afterlife expectation so that now we are going to heaven and not hell when we die, and therefore we are a Christian. Right?
NO!!! To be a Christian means you have intentionally embarked upon a life of imitating Jesus. He has become your mentor, your teacher, your rabbi, your professor, you master. You are the disciple. You are the student, the learner, you are the pupil, you are the one who is following his way of life. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
Anything short of that is short of being a Christian. Just saying I believe something about Jesus that changes my afterlife, this does not make you a Christian. What makes you a Christian is deliberately, intentionally embarking upon a life of imitating the way Jesus lived his life. This makes you a Christ-like one, a Christ-ian, a disciple of Jesus.
Human beings have lost our way. I am serious. We don’t know how to be human. Cats know how to be cats, dogs know how to be dogs, but humans have lost the way of being human. We think that the way to be human is to fight, kill, keep score, get even, and paybacks. This is what Cain did when he refused to see his brother as his brother. He kills his brother, lies to himself and God about it, and goes off and starts civilization. That’s the beginning of Genesis chapter 4. At the end of Genesis 4, seven generations later, we come to Lamech, who says “…I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”” Genesis 4:23-24 ESV. What does this do? It puts the world on a completely destructive course leading to the deadly days of Noah and the flood that nearly destroys humanity. What happens is that Christ has to come much later and give us a whole new meaning of seventy times seven.
Cain says “If my brother is in my way I’m going to kill him. My vengeance will be seven-fold.” Lamech says “it’s going to be seventy times seven for me.” And the world is out of control, baptized in violence, under the flood of judgement nearly destroying the human race.
When Jesus comes, he comes as the word, the logos, the logic of God made human flesh. You want to know what God thinks? Want to know what God’s opinion is? Want to know how God looks at things? Up until Christ we have hints, we have prophets, we have guesses, ideas, psalms, we have stories, but when we get to Christ we have the logic of God made flesh so that we can actually look at him and say “that’s what God is like.” The apostle Paul tells us “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God…” Colossians 1:15 NLT. He is the image, greek word icon, of the invisible God. God is invisible so that we are guessing, we are wondering, we are speculating what God is like. Some get it right, some get it kinda right, some get it wrong, some get it a lot wrong.
But when Jesus comes the mystery begins to be solved. We can look at the icon of Christ, who is the flesh and blood manifestation of the logic of God. We begin to know what God is like when we look at Jesus.
But Jesus is not just the icon of God, but also the icon of what the apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 2:15 the new humanity. Things go wrong with Adam and Eve. Things go wrong with Cain and Abel. Things go very wrong with Lamech. We’ve lost our way. We don’t know how to be human. Jesus comes not only as the icon of the invisible God, but also the icon of what human beings are to be like. Jesus gives us a new way to be human.
Jesus doesn’t just do things for us that requires only a response of passive faith. Jesus blazes a trail for us to follow. Too often we think “Jesus came, did all this for us, and I just believe, so everything is good.” No. Jesus came, blazed a trail, then said come on, follow me! When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John on the Sea of Galilee, follow me, it’s a call to all of humanity. It’s a call to you, too. Jesus is not just doing something for us so that we can sit by passively. “Yes I believe Jesus did that. Hallelujah. It’s going to be a great afterlife. Let’s sing a hymn and go home.”
No. Jesus comes, blazes a trail, and calls to the human race, this way! Follow me. Do it the way I do. I’m going to show you how to live life right. You have forgotten how to be human. You have forgotten how to bear the image of God. You have forgotten to be what you were supposed to be. I’m going to show you again. Follow me.
Jesus did not live and die and rise again just to save us from afterlife consequences. Jesus lived his life to show us as human beings how to live our lives. He did not just die on the cross for you, he calls out pick up your cross and follow me!!
What Jesus did on the cross is the defining moment of his life. It was inevitable and right that the Roman cross would become the symbol of the Christian faith. If we want to pick a single moment, from his birth, his miracles, his life, his teaching, and message, if we want to pick a defining moment from the life of Jesus Christ, you will find none better than Christ upon the cross, arms outstretched in offered embrace, saying father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
In that moment, we find the clearest picture of what God is like. We also find the new picture of who we are to be like. We see our model. We find the cruciform standard for true beauty. Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the truest revelation of who God is.
Another question. Does the dominant expression of public Christianity in America look like Christ on the cross loving and forgiving his enemies. What if we surveyed the “man on the street”, asking them if the dominant form of Christianity in America, expressed as modern evangelicalism, publicly expressed in this land, does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies? How is the dominant form of public Christianity in America identified? Does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies?
If the answer is no, then we should be alarmed. We should be deeply troubled. We should be seeking to repent and change things. But enough of the small talk. I’ll get to the point. If we have to express public contempt and thinly veiled hate for liberals, gays and Muslims in order to prove what good Christians we are, we have invented a false religion that takes the name of Christ in vain. I understand it feels right, but it’s wrong. It looks nothing like Jesus.
I don’t want those dark eyes anymore. I don’t want a dark soul. I don’t want a soul made dark because I spend my life looking at others through the squinty eyes of judgement. I want to look at others with the wide eyes of love and wonder knowing that they, too, are loved by God. I will not play the us vs them game.
We have a public expression of Christian faith that has been almost entirely defined by a quest for power. As Dr Russell Moore, a leading theologian among the southern baptists, said a few years ago “For far too long, American Christianity has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.” What a disaster.
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,”. Colossians 1:15 NLT
“by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,” Ephesians 2:15 NIV
In reading the Old Testament book of Judges, there is a phrase that appears, Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. This is during the period when Israel had no government as we currently understand it. In fact, in both these verses from Judges 17:6 and 21:25, it says precisely the same thing – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. There was no king in Israel.
We think in America that we are the first to institute such a limited government, but we have nothing on Israel in the days of the judges. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro gave him a system for local, direct governance, which Moses put into place in Deuteronomy chapter 1. The system of Judges. Moses had been trying to do too much, as can be the case sometimes in any form of government. He was trying to guide, counsel, and help people in all matters where they had need. But, then as in now, there is a limit to what one person can do for the entire social order and individuals need, no matter how close to God that person may be.
So Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised him to look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. These able, God-fearing and trustworthy men were to “judge” the people in all matters as needed, bringing only the most challenging cases to Moses.
Here is Moses’ own description for what he told them to do – “And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” Deuteronomy 1:16-18 ESV. So, this system of Judges was in force as the “government” of Israel, most visibly in the form of the “elders” who sat regularly in public places to take care of any matter that required such attention. And in times of need or emergency, a “judge” would become a “natural” national leader, as seen in the book of Judges.
Which brings me to my point. We read in the book of Judges and find it said In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. And we think in our own 21st century secular minds all the terrible things that must have been going on as Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Probably because we think of the things that might be right in our own eyes. And yes, the people of this time went wrong in many ways. But isn’t doing as one pleases really the ideal condition of humanity? Isn’t that what we would call “freedom”? Why do we think this implies wrongdoing? In fact, it implies no wrongdoing at all. In Judges, doing what was right in ones own eyes was not opposed to doing what was right in God’s eyes, but it was opposed to doing as some government official saw as right. It was always God’s intention, all the way back to the garden, that we walk with him on a personal basis, be pleased by and come to love all the right things, and then do what is right in our own eyes. This is why we were made and what makes up our individuality.
So what did God say when the time of the Judges, this time when Everyone did what was right in his own eyes, came to an end ? What did He say when his people Israel demanded to have a king and a traditional, power and force based government to replace their condition of freedom under God? Was He pleased by this. Did He say his people were moving onto some better way of being by giving up their natural born position of walking with God and doing what was right in their own eyes? This is what he told Samuel, the last of the judges in the original, full sense – “And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV. We have rejected God as our true king and demanded a king to rule over us. Instead of doing what is right in our own eyes, we now must bow down to whatever government official might claim jurisdiction over a certain place or action. Is this a better way of being than walking directly with god as our one true king? As Samuel told the people when he presented Saul as King, “But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’…” 1 Samuel 10:19 ESV.
As the people had earlier refused to speak directly with God and had Moses do it for them (Deut 5:24-27), to this day we refuse to let God (or his Son Jesus Christ) directly govern us by his law and empowering individuals for tasks as occasions might demand. We prefer to have an ever more powerful and omnipresent standing government running on its own power, and running our lives. And we assume that a time when God most directly his people and Everyone did what was right in his own eyes must have been a time filled with sin and evil, more so than even our world today. Really??
But as Jesus told us in his great announcement, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ” Matthew 4:17 NLT. All of humanity is invited into a family, we are all called to recline at the table in the kingdom of heaven. When this Gospel, this good news, has been adequately presented in the lives of Christ’s people, it will mark the end of human history as we know it. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14 ESV. Humanity will once again fall under the leadership of those who stand upon the earth as judges. As Paul tells us “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ESV
Then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to walk once again directly in the government of God, and everyone will once again do what is right in his own eyes…
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Judges 17:6 ESV
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Judges 21:25 ESV
“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”
Exodus 18:21 ESV
During my contemplation time this morning, as Pastor Brian Zahnd would call it my time to “sit with Jesus”, I was thinking about beginning the home stretch of my look at the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve looked at Matthew Chapters 5 and 6, and hopefully you’ve followed along and seen that Jesus great discourse is not just a collection of saying randomly thrown together, but rather a single, unified talk (sermon) which has a definite starting point, message, and finish. This morning I was contemplating this little nugget – “”Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 ESV. This may not be my favorite verse, or your favorite verse. But it just may be the favorite verse in the Bible of those who want to turn things back around on us when we seek to correct them on some point in their life or behavior. It’s used sometimes as a “Get out of jail free card” shielding us from having to listen to correction or think about our own behaviors, isn’t it?
As I’m contemplating this verse, I am led to the apostle Paul’s writing to the Romans, and our own “Get our if jail free” card. The protective shield we as believers like to pull out if the hat when someone may be correcting us. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1. To which every believer in Christ can give a rousing AMEN and HALLELUJAH!! This is used as our shield and our sword, “We are in Christ and you are not! You are condemned but we are not!!” We may not be able to judge you, but we know there is no condemnation for US. We are in Christ Jesus!
So let me head into deep water and drown myself. The verse says There is THEREFORE now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore means that Paul has been building from another point to make this point. It doesn’t drop out of thin air. We Christian believers like to pull it out of thin air, but it doesn’t drop from thin air. Because of that therefore, we therefore had better look at what leads up to the point Paul is making. We had better look at the previous chapter, chapter 7.
Let’s look specifically at the last verse of chapter 7, verse 7:25, and connect it with Romans 8:1. So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So, with my flesh I serve the law of sin, therefore there is no condemnation?? Because we sin we are not condemned? Let’s look at more of chapter 7 leading up to this.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So is it because it is not us but sin that does our sin that we are not condemned? I am not condemned because I agree with the law, even though I continue to break the law? Try telling that to the judge…
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So are we not condemned simply because we want to do what is good? We are not condemned because we can not carry out what we want to do?? I am a sinner, I do the things I don’t want to do, therefore there is no condemnation?
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ. It is only Jesus who saves, we can not save ourselves, Amen to that! But still, Paul says he serves God in his mind, but still sins in his body. Just as we strive to serve God in our minds, but still sin everyday. But because of our sin, there is no condemnation?? It doesn’t make any sense if you read it all together, does it?
The problem with reading this all together, and seeing what it is that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, is that we might have to see that we misinterpret what Paul is saying, probably because it serves us to misinterpret it. When Paul says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, he is actually saying the exact same thing Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-2. When Paul says that sin lives in him, that he does what he does not want to do, that with his flesh he still serves the law of sin, and therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, he is not saying that he is not condemned. He is saying that because, try as he might, he still lives in this life as a sinner, he does not condemn others. This is what it means when he says there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus – the we do not go around condemning other people for their sins!! Because we are all sinners, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, because no matter how much we live for God we still live in sin, and we do not point the finger at others condemning them. Judge not, that you be not judged, and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus are saying the exact same thing.
Look at how Paul continues after his declaration of no condemnation. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. The law of the spirit of life is what? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV. What is the law of sin and death? It is the “law” of shame, blame and accusation, the “law” of the devil, the false ruler of our fallen world. As Christians we are called to love God and love our neighbors. We are free from the game shame, blame, accusation and vilification, the game if the the devil – “the accuser” himself. Because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If we are not free from that game, if we are still pointing fingers, judging, shaming blaming others for what we see as their fault and failures, we are playing the devil’s game. It doesn’t matter that we are blaming and shaming in the name of Christ, it’s still the devil’s game, and if we are playing his game, he is winning. It doesn’t matter if we are right or wrong in our point, if we play his game, he is winning. The devil doesn’t care that you are right. The accuser doesn’t care that you use the name of Christ. If you are playing his game, he wins.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. How did Jesus condemn sin in the flesh? That’s easy – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 ESV. Jesus condemns sin in the flesh by praying forgiveness, not revenge, from the cross, revealing the way of revenge as the way of the devil. Jesus Himself WAS condemned, but did he condemn in return? NO. He offered a prayer of love and forgiveness. He loved God and showed it by living his neighbor, who was, in fact, his own enemy who was crucifying him. Because there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is a wide gate and a narrow gate. “”Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14 ESV. To follow Jesus is to take the narrowest gate and and the hardest walk. Take up your cross and follow me, all the way through our own torment and crucifixion, offering forgiveness to those who crucify us, was never meant to be easy. Because there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Romans 7:7-25 ESV
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:1-8 ESV
Psalms 14:1-7 ESV