Below is a re-post from Stand To Reason’s Greg Koukl. I met some of Greg’s staff and volunteers a few years ago at BIOLA and immediately recognized him as someone who “gets it” when it comes to grace… and Jesus… and the cross. I hope you’ll visit his site, learn about his ministry, and be encouraged by his word.
Sometimes, knowing what Jesus did not come to do is almost as important as knowing what He did come to do because a wrong understanding of the first can lead to confusion on the second.
Two groups seem to go astray here.
The first are non-Christians enamored with Jesus for what they take to be His emphasis on the Golden Rule, love for one’s neighbor, concern for the poor and the outcast, and “tolerance” (the latter understood as accepting all and judging none)—broadly what has come to be called “social justice.”
The second group are Christians who, focusing on the “red letter” sections of the Gospels—the actual words of Jesus often rendered in red so they stand out—come to the same conclusion as the first group, on the main. These believers ask, “What if Jesus meant what He said?” in discourses like the Sermon on the Mount. Again, social justice.
For those tempted to summarize Jesus this way, consider for a moment the final record of Jesus’ life—the last testament of His purpose and mission—written by one of Jesus’ intimate inner circle, the “beloved” disciple John.
Surprisingly, from John 1:1 to John 21:25 there is not a single verse that advances the cause of social justice. Not one. Jesus’ only mention of the poor is this—“The poor you always have with you” (Jn. 12:8).
Check any major discourse of Jesus—the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), the Bread of Life Discourse (Jn. 6), the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Lk. 21, Mk. 13), or the Upper Room Discourse (Jn. 13-17)—and you will search in vain for emphasis on the social gospel. Why?
Indeed, check any Gospel. Yes, occasionally you will find a mention of the poor, but almost always when Jesus is making a point about something else—hypocrisy (Matt. 6:2-3), a widow’s generosity (Lk. 21:2-3), Zaccheus’s repentance (Lk. 19:8), the rich young ruler’s confusion (Matt. 19:21), or a lesson about the afterlife (Lk. 16:20, 22). Why?
Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason
Because proclaiming social justice was not Jesus’ mission. Jesus’ discourses focus on something else. The Gospels focus on something else. The Epistles focus on something else. Not on the works of Christians, but rather on the work of Christ.
It isn’t the poor who Jesus commends on the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere), but rather the poor in Spirit, not the poverty stricken, but the morally broken.
Picture the tax collector Jesus tells about—hardly destitute—beating his breast pleading, “God be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:9-14). This man proclaiming his spiritual poverty went away justified while the Pharisee, whose spiritual arrogance clouded his genuine spiritual need, did not.
The main divide for Jesus was not between the poor and the rich, but between the proud and the repentant. In His own words:
• “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 6:32).
• “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
• “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” ( Lk. 19:10).
• “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn. 3:17).
I point this out not to deemphasize our obligation to the poor because certainly the Bible teaches us to be compassionate and help those in material need. I point this out to emphasize the centrality of the Gospel. Did Jesus care about the poor and downtrodden? Of course He did. He also cared about the rich and powerful. Jesus helped everyone and anyone who came to Him—poor beggar or prostitute, wealthy tax collector or Pharisee.
“Social justice”—a.k.a. the “social gospel”—is not the Gospel. It was not Jesus’ message. It is not why He came. His real message was much more radical.
“What if Jesus meant what He said?” Indeed. That’s my question, too.
So many confusing messages and well-meaning, yet unbiblical viewpoints find their way to the forefront of our society. But at Stand to Reason, we continue to dedicate ourselves to ensuring you and others live and act in light of the true Gospel of Christ.
The week after “Snowmageddon” had most of Atlanta iced into their homes, we drove a quick hour away for a quick “staycation” in Helen, GA. Nothing fancy, bargain hotel deal with a pool to wear out the toddlers and breakfast included. Just had to get out of the house, you know? After a post-breakfast stroll, I went back to the hotel to find 3 urgent voice mails eagerly awaiting on my cell. It wasn’t “good” news: my sister Shanua, had suffered a stroke…in India… and the brain bleeding looked like it could go from bad to worse. Shortly after admission to ICU, the doctor gave her 24-48 hours to live. “Fine, how was your breakfast?”
I’m 42. My sister’s only a couple years my senior. Nobody in my family dies of a stroke in their 40s! Do they?
A few days pass, tons of prayer across the country, some emergency expediting of visas takes place and a few family members make haste to her side at the ICU. She’s better, still a little numb on one side, but would have to return to the States to complete her very miraculous turnaround and recovery. The day before she arrived home I got the news one of our most beloved uncles died. It was tough news for me and would be tough news for her even under normal circumstances. I spoke with her on the phone yesterday morning, she had taken it well. I could tell she was a bit busy wrapping her brain around the fact that her brain had almost taken her out… “Less than 10% of people who went through what I went through survive.”
Today, with my sister’s miracle as the first word of the sentence and Uncle Rufus’ death as the period, I understand a phrase that Shanua now knows in all too vivid detail: we all have an expiration date.
“There are only two certainties in this life – death and taxes.” Today, we get to talk about both.
Day 1 – Taxes… If you’re planning to support Seasons of Life Ministries this year, you’ve got until Monday, December 31st to either get it post marked or give online. Anything after that and the IRS requires us to count it for 2013. The rest is in your hands. As of today, we’re only about $4,000 away from a “clean ending” for 2012. We have about $1,500 in matching funds still available to help meet that goal. So, if you’re planning to give, now’s a time when anything you give will make twice the impact.
Helping us meet our support needs will ensure we continue supporting about a dozen families in the “working poor” and poor class that receive food delivery either weekly or monthly. You’ll also help support the many men I have the honor of walking with as a spiritual director. This year, our focus begins to shift from building up many of these men to guiding them as they begin discipling other men.
What to Do About This Day: Partner with us now. We’re praying for new quarterly partners at $125, $250, and $500 per quarter. If we reach our need of 16 of these, “Support” updates will likely become a thing of the past on our blog, giving me back a lot of time that can be more deeply invested in the men in my pastoral/discipleship care. Whatever you do, whether $20 a month or $2,000 this week, get it in the mail by Monday afternoon or online by that night. To send it to us, use our secure address at 2659 Freedom Parkway, Suite 285, Cumming, GA 30041.
2 Cor. 5:10 “That Day” Dan Matthewson is a high powered software sales guy. Top in his class, top in the firm, being groomed for partner. Gorgeous wife, model children. Placed his faith in Christ as a young teenager. He’s got it going on.
But, he’s dying inside.
This year, you may have a chance to hear Dan’s story. He, like you and I, doesn’t get out of here alive. Like you and I, he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be rewarded for the things he did for God’s kingdom and in God’s power and timing. He doesn’t realize he’s headed for a fiscal cliff that will last much longer than the US economy.
That Day is an interactive, two-act, one man show that uses about a dozen characters to tell the story of what it will look like when Dan, and by extension you and I, may witness the day Christ calls us to account for all we’ve done here on earth. It’s funny, unnerving, engaging, and loaded as Bill Ibsen says “with more truth than a sermon and it all flies under the radar until after you’ve seen it.” This production has already impacted over 500 people in the metro Atlanta area and this year, we’re already being sought out for new performances that will more than double that.
Participants at a “That Day” event react to what they’ve just seen and discuss “table questions” and scripture related to the topic.
What to Do About “That Day”: Keep your eyes on our Facebook page, the blog, or www.thatday.info. As soon as new dates are announced, you’ll hear about them first. But, read and pray about the judgment seat and consider the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 & 3. Start and continue conversations in your church, organization, or small group about “eternal rewards” and the role grace has in our salvation but works has in our rewards. Pray for wisdom and revelation about how eternity impacts today and vice versa. And, when new dates are announced, get your tickets right away. Who wants to be one of those people who couldn’t get tickets last minute like the last time?
Lost the Plot, Did We? Amazing how great and tragic loss gets us asking the right questions, isn’t it? Sad there are so many distractions to take our eyes off the plot. Ever felt so stuck in the swamp you forgot you were sent there to drain it? Then, you must have seen the news on Friday, too… Terrible that we have to lose dozens of precious children to get us to pray more fervently, attend church more faithfully (even at all), or take a break from the busy-ness of business to consider what really matters at the time of year that really matters… Then, as the media cycle dies down… back to our Christmas shopping again, right?
Which is more tragic, the tragedy we saw or the tragedy of forgetting it?
OK, Shift Gears… In Pursuit of Happiness… At the intersection of all the newer stuff out there every year – the better, sleeker, smaller/larger (depending on the technology) – the “better deals than ever“, and the constant IV-drip of the marketers’ “you, you, you”, lies what used to be the village of “I really ought to get something for me”.
It was founded decades ago when Madison Avenue discovered that adding a few drops of consumer psychology to our water supply could turn grown adults into whiny, tantruming children who lose their minds when they can’t have what they want when they want it. Today, the town has grown up into a bustling city, renamed “Gimme” and you and I all have hearts that speak its native language.We even have a gift or two on our list that we’re buying just for us, right?
Paul makes in interesting point in 1 Corinthians 1, as he points to the identity of his audience:
“[I am writing this letter] to those who have been set aside/dedicated to serving God – holy by calling”
In fact, the letters God inspired Paul to write are all reminders to people who have lost the plot. “You started out on the right foot. You just got so caught up in the walking, you forgot where you were supposed to be headed. You’re so wrapped up in the men around you, you’ve lost touch with the Maker. You were called out to be holy – turn around and stick with first things in light of what’s been done for you!”
See? You just read half of the New Testament.
To Regain the Plot, Consider the Characters We were created in God’s image, not a carbon copy of God, though. We are the creation, not the creator, and not endowed with the wisdom of all He knows. We lose the plot constantly because we don’t think like God. Yeah, you’ve been reading the Bible for a decade or two. That’s great. Me, too. That just makes me more prone to the sin of pride. God calls out to His people over and over again – “repent” – change your mind, radically and agree with the ways of God.
God isn’t so busy wrapped up with my deadline, your project problems, her sales quota, their ballet, soccer, karate, and gymnastics schedule. He always knows what the plot is… His glory. He’s totally stuck on Himself, but it’s okay. He’s the most important person in His life, and that’s okay. Implication: we’re not. We’re not the reason we’re alive, not the answer, not the point of the story… So, when we get all caught up in “us”, by whatever device, we’ve hijacked the lead role and lost the plot.
The Good News The Good News, of course, is Jesus. But, the message of the Gospel isn’t. The Message of the Gospel is something far more offensive to our carefully tuned ears: “repent”. That’s great news – there’s a solution to… us. Repent… Turn away from the way that you used to think when you were, as God calls us, dead in your sin. Take off the old self, what’s familiar to you, “The Pursuit of Me and My Stuff”, and put on new thoughts. Renovate your mind.
But, the news Paul writes in 1 Corinthians is not to those who don’t know Christ. These aren’t people who are “dead in their sin”. These are people who’ve received grace by faith, but are being tugged this way and that by “every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). Know anyone like that?
The great news is, at least we know the Main Character and the plot. At least we have a means to regain the plot once we’ve lost it. And, despite the pain we’re feeling over our loss, their loss, any loss, we have gained something by the tragedy – a painful post it note that reminds us there was a plot in the first place. Go ahead, put your kids’ picture or one of the photos of those victims of the shooting on your dash board. But, don’t let it be there in vain – let it be a reminder of who the story is about and who you and I are not.
Pray for comfort for the families who have lost. Pray that God puts a smile on their face through the comfort that can only come from “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our troubles (2 Cor. 1:3-4)”. But, pray also for the salvation of all around them. No sense in showing up to the gates of Hell with a smile on your face… Let’s not gain a smile and lose the plot. Give the gift of the Plot Writer to yourself and others this Christmas.
Jesus is the reason, not just a season. Grace, peace, and momentum to you today in Christ!
“the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. (John 1:27b)”
Pretend one of these guys is your boss for a moment… Will ya?
Meet the New Boss Pick your hero of industry – Trump, Gates, Ellison, whoever – they’re your boss and you’re their direct report. At a private lunch they tell you about this amazing concept that’s going to revolutionize your industry, even the world. It’s one of those ideas that’s actually been around for a long time, but the company got busy with other things, and now the simplest, cleanest idea that actually launched the whole industry has become crystal clear, relevant, and the timing has never been better!
As the check comes, he drops the bomb on you – “We’re going to give the technology/idea away for free and I want you to be the worldwide spokesman for the campaign!”
John the Baptist had a great head on his shoulders – lived outside the mainstream, ate non-GMO honey and free-range grass fed locusts, wore organic clothes… But, he also had an amazing attitude. Despite the fact that God had given him the same news “you’re going to be the worldwide spokesman for the free gift of the oldest, simplest concept, ever!” John kept an incredibly level, sober head. “This idea I’m about to drop on you comes from the biggest boss out there – I’m not going to take an ounce of credit for it, but you’d best pay attention.” There are two ways to look at this – “I’m such a loser. I’ve been wracking my brain for years and the Boss comes up with something so big it even makes my life simpler, because I’ve been complicating my life for all my life.” This is not the Gospel. The Lord of Grace doesn’t lord grace over our heads to make us feel like crap. Second way to look at this is honor by association – “Our company’s idea kicks your company’s butt so bad and you’d better listen to me because I’m with company X!”
If I were John, I’d have probably erred on the side of #2 and gotten cocky because my boss is bigger than all of your bosses combined and he tasked me with bringing the greatest idea, ever, to market.
The good news of Christianity is the Gospel of grace – we don’t deserve anything but God’s wrath and yet He’s sparing us from that so long as we repent and turn back to Him. The great news about the good news is not only is option 2 put to death by the humility of Ephesians 2:8-9, but also option 1 is over as well. Condemnation is through (see Romans 8:1). We can keep our heads bowed in humility rather than condemnation, yet held high as we boast in the Cross of Christ and the power of God (Gal 6:14).