Monday, October 18, 2010

Justice and Mercy

"God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:25-26

Yesterday at my church service they played Benton Brown's "Jesus You are worthy". The refrain at the end is "justice and mercy". And for some reason, I suddenly got what that song meant.

Justice and mercy seem like a contradiction when together. I googled them together trying to find the song, and half the hits (that weren't about the flyleaf song) were about the contradiction. This one is from
True virtues are not supposed to clash - at least that is the ideal. Our personal interests or baser instincts may at times conflict with the virtues we are trying to cultivate, but higher virtues themselves are always supposed to be in harmony with one another. How, then, do we explain the apparent conflict between the virtues of mercy and justice?

But "Justice and Mercy meet on the cross".

How was justice served when Jesus died on the cross? Justice was carried out on ALL the sins of the world, all at once. All sinners and sins were punished. Fallen man was summarily punished for his depravity. And since we can agree that we've all fallen short of perfection, we've all sinned, that none of us is perfect - we can probably also agree that we deserve such justice served against us.

Then the mercy: We deserved punishment. And punishment was meted out... but not on us. Jesus mercifully put himself before us on the cross, receiving punishment we all should have borne and be bearing now. But we received grace instead of punishment, mercy instead of justice.

An excerpt from Philip Yancy's "What's So Amazing About Grace?" really hits it home:
"I agreed that the notion that a man could go to a store where a group of unarmed human beings are drinking soda pop and eating moon pies, fire a shotgun blast at one of them, tearing his lungs and heart and bowels from his body, turn on another and send lead pellets ripping through his flesh and bones, and that God would set him free is almost more than I could stand. But unless that is precisely the case then there is no Gospel, there is no Good News. Unless that is the truth we have only bad news, we are back with law alone."
In this except, Yancy is recounting a story of pre-civil rights era America, where a white man armed with a shotgun killed several innocent African-Americans. The crazy concept here is that both have opportunities to get into heaven.

God doesn't differentiate between our sins. Jealousy and gluttony are no less sins than racism and murder. Both sins put the sinners clearly on the fallen side of the law. If God can't forgive a murderer, than someone who's guilty of jealousy can't be forgiven either. But God does forgive jealousy, and gluttony, and racism, and murder. He is capable of forgiving all sins. Romans 10:10 tells us "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Paul tells us earlier in Romans 8:30 "And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified."

So the idea that a victim and his murderer could both end up in heaven is appalling to us. But not to God. If both have believed in their hearts and confessed with their mouths, they are saved. We have to believe that we can't be "too bad" for God's love. And if we are able to believe that we ourselves can't be too bad for His love, we also need to believe that others can't be too bad either. We must remember two keys parts: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."; and "[all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23-24

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

James I - wisdom

So often I find myself praying to God for discernment, for an indication of which choice to make - for wisdom.

The first lesson on wisdom that James teaches us is that we should ask for it.
James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James also tells us in this passage that when we ask for it, God not only can give us wisdom, but he wants to do so! He's only waiting for us to ask for it, and He can't wait to pour it out on us, to share his knowledge with us:
Matthew 7:7-12 "For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
We must know that God provides! His knowledge is something he craves to share with us, and when we receive it, we'll be better able to glorify Him.
Proverbs 2:2-5 "If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding...then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God."

Proverbs 2:9-10 "Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul."

So we must know that when we ask for wisdom, God provides it in abundance! The second lesson James teaches us, is that we need to believe that God will provide this wisdom when we ask for it - and that we need to authentically live this belief in our actions:

James 1:6-8 "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

So praying to God for wisdom is not merely being revealed to this knowledge, but a commitment to obey what God reveals to you. The imagery of the sea changing directions because of the wind - it illustrates for us that we cannot ask for God's wisdom one day, and then follow the world's wisdom the next. We need to be grounded in our faith, and stand firm on our foundation of Christ.

Ephesians 4:14 "We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in the deceitful scheming."

When God provides you wisdom... use it! Would you refuse or misuse a gift? "Wisdom is not just acquired information but practicing insight with spiritual applications". In other words, we cannot ask for wisdom, for help, and then refuse it. We must apply the wisdom gifted from God.

We can't just pray that God makes good choices for us, and that's what James 1:5 is about. God gives us the wisdom to choose between right and wrong, but He can't make the right choice for us. We must pray, ask God, for the wisdom to discern the good, Godly choice for us, even if following that choice means the trials and suffering outlined in James 1:2-4.