Friday, May 28, 2010

The Purpose of Beliefs ...

It is an amazing phenomenon that while each Christian should be submitting their will to Christ and thus be led by Him to His truth, in His time, in His way – there are as many as 38,000 different denominations of churches who claim to follow Christ. At heart all Christians should be united in principles of love for each other, service to others, and submission to Christ – yet there remain differences that keep us segregated. Past the basics of salvation, could anything else be important enough to keep us apart? The call to preach the gospel to the entire world consisted of the teaching of Salvation (i.e. Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf). It was combined with specific instructions to love one another as a witness to the world. On these principles most Christians seem to agree, so what remains to keep us so differentiated?

Doctrines appear to be the culprit. Doctrines are the accepted statements of belief of a given religious organization. They are designed to illuminate truth and make it clear to understand. They are usually constructed around a single topic or similar set of ideas and are put together to help both new and older members of a church to understand why a church teaches what it does. In fairness, Salvation itself is a doctrine of most Christian Churches. So of course not all doctrines are wrong by design. But then how do so many variations develop, and why do they persist over time? If Christ leads, why do doctrines differ? It is a conundrum not easily answered. It gives an Atheist a plausible response to a call from Christianity, to say – which version is “the” version?

Of course the simplistic answer is that whatever church I belong to is the “one” being led by Christ, with “all” the others simply mistaken in their interpretations of doctrines. But this logic quickly falls apart as no consistency can be applied with it. Many churches share doctrines with each other. It is not as if all 38,000 churches have completely unique applications of scripture. Many share history, traditions, philosophies, and ideas about God that inevitably leads to shared teachings or doctrines. But the ones that differ tend to be the ones that make a denomination distinct.

History and tradition play a role in this. New churches seem to spring up over differences in doctrines with a parent organization. The differences may be subtle and seemingly meaningless over a long term, but nonetheless they are an effective catalyst to see new denominations spring up. Catholics like to claim that they are the original Christian church, descending from the Apostle Peter himself right through to today. They credit their mere longevity as a sign from God that they are the “one” true church with every protestant Christian denomination as merely erring children who refuse to come home. Catholics maintain that salvation can only be found through membership in its organization, though this exclusionary teaching can be found in many other organizations as well.

Of course just because a church claims something to be true does not make it so. The Catholic Church formally began in about 300AD under Emperor Constantine who blended Roman pagan traditions of the day into the current Christian religion and formed a singular religious belief system later titled Catholicism. Constantine therefore would have been the first formal Pope, although Bishops existed in Christianity prior to Constantine and Catholicism. In point of fact, upon Christ’s ascension, the head of the early Christian church was based in Jerusalem until its destruction. The destruction of Jerusalem pushed Christianity into Asia Minor and around the Middle Eastern world, including both Rome and Constantinople. Later the leadership of the early Christian church seemed to divide into factions based in Rome in the West, and Constantinople in the East. Eventually this eastern group split from those in the west forming the first splintering of Christianity.

But at the same time a group of believers carrying the name Waldensians copied scripture by hand and disseminated it to the people in native languages. This practice was severely forbidden by the Catholic Church and as such, they hunted the Waldensians to exterminate them over hundreds of years, but without success. After more than 1200 years, the reformation began in earnest with leaders like Huss and Jerome, and Martin Luther. They split from the Catholic Church over the basic doctrine of Salvation itself. Protestants would have remained Catholic if the church would have revised its view of how Salvation is obtained (through Christ alone, not through the purchase of absolutions). But as the Vatican believed itself to be infallible, it would not accept change on matters of doctrine, and tried hard to extinguish the lives of these early reformers. They failed. And Protestant churches began springing up all over Europe.

It took many centuries of persecution to enjoy the religious freedoms we have today. When the Catholic Church held both religious and political power, it used this power to attempt to enforce its version of morality on the rest of the world. It killed millions during the inquisitions, and persecuted by practice anyone who challenged its ideas on faith, science, or morality. This object lesson would be well spent on today’s Protestant churches who continue to seek political power to unite with religion once again. Power does not help a Christian church, it corrupts it. Men are not equipped to wield power very well, when combined with religious fervor; it is a recipe for the murder of millions.

Sometime later a doctrine arose within many protestant churches that Christ would return in October 1844. The teaching of the cleansing of the temple prophecy carried worldwide acclaim and was taught with regularity in many different versions of Christianity. A great religious revival preceded the target return date for Christ’s second coming, but when it failed to materialize, most left their respective faiths, or resumed a nominal relationship with Christ and the church. Out of this great disappointment, members from the Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches continued to study the prophecy to determine where they were wrong. The results developed into yet another new church entitled “Seventh Day Adventists”. This example of believers coming from different doctrinal backgrounds and holding to new teachings has been a common phenomenon in Christianity and is why we see so many denominations today.

Credit where credit is due, Catholics recognized that the multiplicity of Christian Churches does not reflect well on Christ and so started a movement back in the early 1970’s to reunite churches back into the fold. This Ecumenical movement was based on uniting Christianity around its basic common denominator (Christ) and leaving doctrinal differences as much less important. This effort has had some success, but the sheer number of remaining Christian denominations is a testament to the segregating power of doctrinal ideas.

Then enter the fanatics. In an effort to preserve the hierarchical power structure of a given religious organization, parishioners are taught to both live and die by their adherence to the specific doctrines of the church. The concept of Salvation itself is broadened to include obedience by its membership to ALL of the teachings that a particular church espouses. Thus what was originally designed to bring people closer to God by revealing truth, become tools to maintain a power structure within a religious organization. Why does this occur? The same reason it occurs in countries, governments, and companies, because it is usually accompanied with significant financial implications. Power and wealth are huge human motivators that work on our frailty, appealing to our base nature to serve self. When done in a religious construct we rationalize that the greater good is served by maintaining the “good” work of the church. Even if maintaining it, means adopting a dogmatic, if not fanatical approach to teaching its doctrines. We can rationalize almost any behavior including murder when done for God’s glory and honor. Though in reality, it is nothing more than our rationalization for self-service done in the name of our God – a blasphemy of every basic Christian teaching clearly taught in our Bibles.

So which religious organizations are guilty of participating in this kind of behavior? Unfortunately, almost ALL of them. And while you may take the word “almost” as meaning that “your” church as never done anything like this; consider that is how every Christian responds, and we know that this cannot be true. Any Christians who doubt this idea, should go talk to a Native American Indian such as the Mohawks, Mohicans, or the hundreds of other tribes wiped out in the name of “civilizing the savages by bringing them Christianity”. Those that still doubt, ask yourself this question – if obedience to ALL of your churches teachings is NOT so important why does your church never seem to evolve its doctrine? Why does it take the creation of a new church or the splitting of an existing one to embrace “new” truth? Hierarchies tend to have highly developed self-preservational instincts even if not by specific intent. While the financial rivers flow, denominations seem to defend their distinct identities.

So how do we fix it? How do we teach truth without compromise, yet break down the barriers between Christians that carry different sub-names? It begins with absolute humility. It begins by looking in the mirror and telling that person just how little he/she really knows. It begins by recognizing the folly of human wisdom, and need for divine instruction. All of our history must be placed in the trashcan, along with traditions that color our ideas of God and scripture – if we are ever to learn truth. We must become willing to accept the concept of being taught by God, of being led, rather than doing the leading. We must be humble enough to accept instruction in the methods He chooses to offer it to us. We sometimes think of ourselves as “above” learning from those who are not as “smart” as us, or not as “experienced” as us, or not as “spiritually mature” as us. In short, we put ourselves on a pedestal and make us unreachable by the plain truth He would have us learn. We can learn GREAT lessons from those whose IQ is far below average, by the disadvantaged, by the poor, by the homeless, by those we think to be “crazy”. We can learn great truth from those who DO NOT SHARE our denominational beliefs. But not while we hold on the arrogance of believing we already know it all.

So often we approach studying the Bible with the idea of gathering texts that support our preconceived ideas. Rather we should pray to be led, and remain humble as we read, open to His influence, and the teachings of others. Not everyone you encounter can offer you priceless gems of wisdom, but not everyone you encounter is always wrong or in need of being taught either. It is the “truth” we should be evaluating on its own merits, not the mechanism of delivery. The Bible was written by sinful men, and the gospel is spread by weak willed sinners such as you and I. It is not the men who were to be judged against perfection, it was the message. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, an Alcoholic can build a boat to save the world, a hot-tempered murderer can part the Red Sea, a philandering womanizer can become a man after God’s own heart, and a simple fisherman can write a book of Revelation that is still a matter of relevance and study in our day in age. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit a young girl can call entire congregations to repentance, you or I could reach that unbeliever put in our pathway, and a sinning pastor caught in a moment of weakness can find redemption and still preach piercing truth. None of us are beyond His influence, or above being taught by someone else whose sins we may be aware of. It is not the messenger it is the message that counts.

It is arrogance to believe that your doctrines are complete, and perfect, and in no need of a deeper understanding, or perhaps complete revision if led by God. It is unbridled pride to cling to church doctrines that have been passed down as absolute merely due to their age. Truth is a process. Truth evolves. If we are to truly let Christ lead, we must be willing to adjust our thinking on every topic, not just the ones we’re not sure about. To truly let Christ lead us into His truth, means to abandon the idea that our truth is His truth. He must show us this, we cannot assume it. If Christ is truly to be our leader, we must be humble enough to realize we NEED to be led, as we do NOT know it all. Our comparative knowledge is very very little. If we can admit this to ourselves, we are ready to begin the study of doctrine.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Measuring Results ...

Like anything else, when we try something we want to know if it worked. When we give up control of our will to Christ, we look with expectation to see Him finally conquer something in our lives that we simply could not do. But sometimes in the looking, we affect the outcome, and not well. It works when we truly let go, and to a degree avoid even thinking about the problem we had, allowing Christ to fix it without us looking over His shoulder offering our advice. Our witnessing efforts are similar. We sometimes observe the lives of those we come in contact with, to see if our efforts have yielded a positive result yet. We measure our own success by the amount of perceived change we see in the life of someone we tried to touch. But in the looking, we sometimes affect the outcome, and not well.

So the basic question we face is … what does it mean to be “saved”? Does it mean that we are free from ALL sin, and can only claim salvation when perfection is achieved? Before immediately responding no, consider that those who have forestalled their hopes until they go to heaven, have long held this belief as the ONLY possibility. Does being “saved” mean that we have merely started the process and remain diseased with many sins, only attaching ourselves to the theoretical knowledge of Christ? Before immediately responding no, consider that the Bible states we only need to believe on Jesus in order to be saved (it does not say we need to have accomplished anything with our belief). Or does it mean we have reached some sort of process point that includes an experimental knowledge of salvation, while relying on forgiveness to cover the remainder of sin in our lives? Before responding yes or no, consider that perfection is something that is attained by the righteous few who live to see Christ return.

The idea that we have a hard definition of being saved is clouded by the personal nature of salvation, and the fact that it is a PROCESS more than merely an end-state of being. It is similar to the question of when is a child ready for baptism? Catholics believe we should not prejudge an infant and deny it opportunity to come to Christ in baptism. Protestants believe we need to understand the meaning of the tradition before we can participate in it. But then the debate arises, when is the age of accountability. You can argue it varies with each child, and you would be correct. But then too comes the question of the depth of understanding involved. When I come home and find the dirty napkins from my trashcan shredded on the floor, I look and speak sternly to my dogs, usually the guilty party has her ears go down, tail go down, and head bows a bit to the left as she looks at me and licks the air hoping this will serve as an apology. My dog knows she has done wrong. But she is a dog. How much can a dog really know? Is she sorry I am mad, or sorry she made a mistake, or does she even know what “sorry” really means?

Again the problem with trying to evaluate the quality of our knowledge of God, is that we are attempting to apply metrics from a fixed point in time to a moving event. A devout 5 year old who loves God may be as ready for baptism as a cynical 40 year old who is taking all of this “knowledge” on faith that it is correct. For what I knew about God at five is every bit as relevant as what I know about Him now, albeit I have learned so much since then. But my learning is at His hand. However close to God I may be experiencing now is not due to an achievement on my part, it is has been His work effort, His direction, His leadership that makes this possible. My efforts have led only the wrong way. It is His waking me up to this, that allowed me to give up the idea of control, and finally experience what He wanted for me for years. All of it, His doing, none of it mine. We are not capable of evaluating the quality of a relationship with Christ, EVEN when it is WE who are the subject of our evaluation. Christians cannot even do an effective self-exam.

We are as blind to our own sin, as we are blind to how much He succeeds with us despite our interference with Him. We are like blind referees at an NFL Super-bowl for our souls. We stumble out on the field during the middle of play, making calls that have no basis in fact, or relevance, and calling the whole process “spiritual growth”. We want credit for our accomplishments, instead of realizing we have none. The faith we brag about / cling to – even our faith came from Him first. Our faith, like our salvation, was also a gift. Our ability to choose freely was a gift. Everything about our salvation is a gift from start to FINISH. When even one cherished sin can cause a man to lose his own salvation, choosing rather to embrace evil than be with God Himself one-to-one personally – how do you assign a value to a life free from 3 sins, yet suffering from 2 more? Does the equation change when it is a life free from 10 sins only clinging to one left? Adam lost our entire world over a choice to be with Eve instead of God – no matter what.

The point of this is simply to restate – Christians are not capable of judging (themselves or others). The role of judge was never supposed to be ours, despite our fondness for it. Therefore you cannot ever conclude that your efforts in someone else’s life have succeeded or failed. Your measurement is based on a point in time that may not be relevant to the final disposition of the one you are trying to evaluate. And what is more, your measurement criterion is subjective, based on your own life experiences rather than on the ones that matter to the person under scrutiny. Bottom line, you will simply not know. You are not supposed to know. A person’s salvation is between them and God, as your own salvation is between you and God.

Knowing this can bring you freedom. Sow your seed everywhere. You are not capable of determining the quality of the ground you are planting so plant everywhere you walk. It may look like concrete to you; dry, infertile, hot, arid, with no chance of success – but to God that ground may be ready to be broken up, rototilled by His hands, and your casual superficial seed spreading may be kneaded deep into the soil by His Spirit. You do not need to believe your efforts will work, but do them anyway. Answer the questions of atheists as if they will someday believe. Be kind to conservative religious folks who spout hate in every word, and would mean to do you harm for your knowledge. Love your enemies. For you never know what effect your witness may have when combined with the Master of our salvation. Remembering always that salvation is a road that ALL may travel, few being on the same place at the same time, yet ALL bound for the ultimate prize. Be a faithful witness, and leave the saving up to our Savior.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Audience ...

“The gospel must be preached in all the world” before our Lord returns. “Go”, was His command, “teaching all nations”, “loving one another as I have loved you”, “for by this the world will know your Mine.” – New Testament paraphrase. These final directives by Christ seem to clearly indicate what He wants us to do now that He has returned to His Father in heaven. But in the intervening 2000 years, the Bible has been published in almost every language known to man. Christian missionaries have taken the gospel to the remotest parts of the globe. There are few, if any, accessible places left on earth where the gospel has not penetrated. So who do we witness to now?

To answer this query, we must ask ourselves what Gospel have we been teaching? The one we have discussed here in the previous 4 sections, of personal testimony about the power of Jesus Christ alive in our lives, removing our sin and self-inflicted pain, giving us a truly better life in the here and now – OR – have we only been teaching a theoretical knowledge of Jesus, forgiveness, the hope of heaven, and a resumption of our lives as they are with no real differences except for future hope of escape from sin’s consequences? I would submit that we have had too much of the latter in the last 2000 years and nowhere near enough of the former. This is by Satan’s design.

For Satan cannot compete with God in the present, but he can create a relatively attractive present if it only stands against a far-off future that no-one can factually testify about. Satan wraps the pain of sin in bright shiny packaging and calls pain “fun”. And like infants fascinated by sounds and shiny things we grasp what he is selling with both hands and begin to believe what we are told. With Christ alive and in control of our lives, truth is revealed. We begin to see evil for what it truly is, rather than for how it was sold to us. We begin to feel our need to be free from sin, from the pain that always accompanies our sins, and we begin to feel the urgency of this need. With Christ alive and well and in control of our lives, removing sin becomes a consuming passion of ours. And so the process can begin.

As each piece of evil is removed, we see clearer how much better off we are without sin in our lives. Satan’s clanking keys and shiny wrappers no longer demand our attention, we recognize them for the traps they are, and look for something more meaningful from our heavenly Father. This becomes our testimony, and our witness. But again to who is the question. Think of the answer this way, if you were given a billion tax free dollars, with who would you want to share it? The answer to that question may well be the same as the answer to who is your audience for witnessing. Those you love come first to mind, but then comes those who know you and know you have something to offer (despite whether you like them or not). Next would come those who have heard of you from the testimony of others who claim to know you. This I would submit is the Christian version of the trickle-down effect. In short, everyone would want a piece of your billion dollars, just like everyone will want a better life and if they see you living one, they are going to want to know how.

It is ironic that England and the United States share a common phenomenon in the reduction of religious influence in the upper and upper-middle class families. Even the middle-class families in England show religion on the decline. It seems only the poor who need hope still cling to religion to answer this need. And in England the majority of the poor tend to be immigrants from Muslim nations, clinging not to Christianity but to other forms of doctrine. In the U.S., the Muslim religion is the fastest growing one, and Christianity has lost much of its influence. Why? Why is our reputation and gospel to have fallen into such disrepute? I submit that our ideas about spreading the gospel have translated into the spreading of ideologies wrapped up like doctrines and church dogma – not personal testimonies about the power of Christ in our lives.

Doctrines are supposed to bring us closer to Christ by revealing more truth about Him. But doctrines (outside of Salvation) should be taught AFTER Salvation has been personally experienced. We can sort out the denominations later, first we must bring people to Christ. An experimental knowledge of Christ reveals to us, that He will lead us to His truth, in His time, in His way. Knowing this frees us from the burden of convicting others of the truth of our doctrines. We can safely leave them in the hands of Christ, and He will lead them into the doctrines they need to know, in the time frame they will need to know them, and in the manner best suited for them to comprehend what He needs to teach them. Doctrines then are secondary to Salvation. We must be saved from evil first, before we can begin to understand the beauty and power of deeper truth.

As I stated the premise of this entire volume is, if we have nothing of substance to offer the world around us, why should they care what we have to say? In short, we have been doing it wrong. But now we have a method outlined here to change this. Instead of babbling on about the distinctions of doctrines we can focus first on the power of the gospel. First letting it change us, so that we will have a testimony. Then pointing others to the source of the victories they are curious how we obtained. For you see we humans are pretty much all the same in certain respects. We all have sin in our past. None of us are perfect. And almost all of us want to be happy. When someone we know succeeds, we all want to know how they did it. Our natural inclination is to have this knowledge so that if possible we can use it ourselves to succeed like they did.

Christians sometimes believe that the only place where they need to worry about witnessing is in far off missionary fields. But nothing could be farther from the truth. How can you testify of the love and power of Christ, if your life looks just like everyone else’s? Your family will be the first to know the truth of this. Therefore I submit your own family is the first audience you will meet in your new role as witness to His power. Those who know you best, will not hesitate to call you out on a B.S. story. You will have less ability to fool them, but more opportunity to truly woo them, if what you speak about is real. Those who care about you, have shared the suffering of you embracing evil, even if it is only in your own life. Parents cannot look upon their children making bad decisions, and not share the grief of the outcomes with them. Siblings rarely wish to see each other truly in pain, particularly when it might have been avoidable.

“Tough love” is a concept that originated inside of families, to break the dependency on family to continue on a path of self-destruction. Anyone who has had to be involved in “tough love” from either side knows full well the pain of it. How much better what Christ offers us? Not “tough love”, but real relief; an end to the horrifically addictive cycles of evil in our lives. What family would not relish the idea of finding hope, of finding a cure, of finding an infinitely renewable source of love? What family member could continue to ridicule and make fun of real results in your life when they see them in action, in responses, and in deeds? Our families may be our toughest critics, as they have come to know our shortfalls best. But then no-one is more important to us than them. We would wish to spend eternity with them most of all. And we would share with them first the GOOD news and power of the gospel.

After our focus on our family, will come those who know us, to find out for themselves, how we seem to have eluded the evils we used to share with them. Our drinking buddies, our smoking buddies, our friends with benefits, our cohorts in crime – all will want to know why we do not hang out anymore, or more precisely, why we don’t miss what we used to do. This will be followed by those who casually know us, and see a marked difference in our lives. They may remember us with a forlorn countenance, or seemingly having a marriage on life-support, and now see a remarkable difference. These too will want to know how it occurred. And finally, there are no coincidences in a life led by Christ. You will encounter those He leads to you, for something only you can give them. He does this knowing our unique particularities, knowing how personal Salvation is to each of us, and that our unique perspective may be just what the searching soul needs to hear, and just when they need to hear it.

There is a new mission field in the world. It begins in the mirror. It spreads to our families. It infects our coworkers. And it changes our communities, and then our nation, and then the world. But it is powerless to begin, until the man in the mirror is willing to humble himself and allow Christ to change him, truly change him. Then instead of us leading the charge, we can allow Christ to bring those in need to our doorsteps. Instead of wildly going off to a far off mission field to spread ideology and doctrine, we may find close personal conversations with a loved family member right here in our own living rooms, or over the phone. Lives will be changed, in a meaningful way. Testimonies will be real, for the power of Christ to change us is real. What is different about our audience is a reflection of the differences in us. We now speak from a personal perspective, and now target a much more personal audience. And in this way, the entire world will see His power and His light.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Our Role ...

So often Christian witnesses take on a role from the analogy of the final judgment, they are not fitted to perform. And as such, they fail miserably at drawing people to Christ. A witness must understand his/her place in the “unseen war” between light and darkness in order to be effective. To that end we should first debunk a powerful myth about the “final judgment” of humanity. It is finished.

Yes, the verdict is in, and you, like all the rest of humanity has been found guilty. But before we get too far down the road on this, let’s begin with identifying the players in this drama. The most important role of course is the judge, final arbiter of justice and mercy. Our judge, even Satan recognizes as being bound by His own laws of love and justice. Our judge is fair, impartial, and cannot be lied to. He is incapable of being deceived so only the facts can be used in this trial. Our judge is God the Father.

In order to have a trial, at least a criminal trial, we must also have a defendant. We are that defendant. We are on trial for our worthiness to be accepted into the kingdom of God and His perfection. All of our motives, traits, weaknesses, and actions over our entire lifetime will be laid bare in this heavenly courtroom. The lies we have told ourselves to justify what we have done, are all exposed. The selfishness behind even those acts of kindness are revealed for all to see. In short, this trial will be different, because we will be unable to hide or exclude evidence. Our lives will be an open book for all to read.

We are accused of being unworthy of entering heaven. The accused must have an accuser, and so in our heavenly courtroom enters Satan, the great accuser of the brethren. He has a massive case file on each of us. Having been an instigator of, or present at, many of the wrong deeds we have committed in our lives, we cannot even hide the truth from him. Our prosecutor is convinced he has an excellent case against us, and that the facts and therefore justice, is completely on his side. He is right.

To defend us from the heinous truth of our lives is our advocate, our High Priest who speaks on our behalf, the greatest and only savior of the people, Jesus Christ. While Jesus will do an excellent job defending us against any false accusations, he will not lie, or cover up the truth of our guilt in any way. We therefore stand before God, accused of horrific crimes of selfish behavior, with full premeditation. For let’s face it, we always knew what we were doing was wrong, we just chose to do it anyway. So we stand charged of premeditated sin, premeditated evil, murder one, the worst of all crimes. And our sentence must be rendered by a Judge who sees all, and knows the truth of our guilt. And so we are found guilty.

There is only one penalty for the crimes of self-service we have been found guilty of. Death: For to continue to choose to embrace the pain of evil is to live a tortured life. To die then, is to be granted a merciful release from this self-inflicted pain of repeated evil actions in our lives, that hurt us, those who care about us, God, as well as our victims, and those who care about them. Our penalty of death is to be permanent, and the sentence is scheduled to be carried out very soon. This is the fate of all of humanity. There are none excepted from it. There are none who can withstand a trial of their life with the truth laid bare and not be found guilty and worthy of death. “No, not one”, says the scripture.

But then, a miracle happens; perhaps the greatest miracle in the existence of creation. Our defense attorney, Jesus Christ, approaches the bench and requests to take on our sentence Himself in our place. He asks the judge to allow Him to die in our stead, take on our punishment including any pain that may be involved, in order that our judge could still fulfill the requirements of the law, and yet redeem those who are lost and guilty as charged. The judge considers the motion. Satan nods his approval as he is more than willing to kill a God, than mere mortals weak in the flesh. This, he believes, will further his goals of becoming higher in the God-like food chain, after all once dead, Christ is less competition. The judge decrees he will allow the motion to go forward despite a great deal of personal pain on His own part. For you see, the judge sent His only son to be our advocate. He wanted for us to have the best defense possible, and now His sentence is to be carried out on His only son. Heaven mourns at this prospect.

Christ submits to our fate, in silence and humility. The God of the universe lays naked on the cross, the blood dripping from the wounds meant for our sin. He cannot see past the grave. He does not know if His own sacrifice will be enough to redeem mankind. The weight of evil He has never partaken of presses in on Him. Evil tries to convince Him there is always another way, He need not have to die, but He knows the truth, and the sentence must be carried out. In His great love for fallen man, for you and me, He submits to death, and dies on the cross for our lives, and our premeditation. In 3 days, just as He foretold, He springs forth from the grave. For He now holds the keys even to death itself. Still unsure if His sacrifice is enough, He goes to His Father. The verdict is in – His sacrifice is MORE than sufficient to redeem fallen man.

And so, those who are guilty, you and I, and the world at large – are granted a stay of execution. Those who will accept the gift of redemption Christ offers are to be saved, and spared death eternal. This gift is greater than we had imagined, for it is not just our final disposition that has changed – it is our current method of living life. Christ broke the chains of bondage that sin had over mankind. In His gift, He offers to change who we are from the inside out. He will change our hearts and minds so that we do not WANT to sin, nor do we WALK in sin any longer. Bit by bit, as we surrender to the gift of His salvation, yielding control of our lives and hearts to Him, He removes the pain we have so long embraced.

Perfection then, is no longer a far off dream. It is a current reality. It is a process we can begin in the here and the now. Through His gift, we are MADE FREE FROM sin. It is not by our actions, or our will, that we are set free, but by His divine power in our lives. We are born again, that is remade in His image, with His desires in our hearts, with His love in our minds. We are NEW creations, because our creator begins His work within us NOW! And THIS is what we have been called into existence to witness of – the victories of Christ wrought in our lives.

A Christian witness is neither Judge, Prosecutor, Defender, or even defendant. A Christian witness is one who is already chosen to be redeemed, and is now testifying as to what God is doing in our lives this day. We are stating what we have seen with our own eyes, in our own lives, by His power and His grace. We become character witnesses not to each other, but to our Lord and Savior. We testify that His gift works. His gift is the freedom we have long sought from the pain of sin and evil. We testify that ONLY Christ can SAVE fallen man from himself and his own desire to serve self. This is our only role in the judgment.

We have nothing to do with identifying the sins that plague the world and each other. The Holy Spirit will alone convict of this. We do not save each other, as only the Savior, can save from sin itself. We do not chastise or carry our sentences on each other as only the judge can render a sentence, and see it carried out. We do not condemn, or judge, or even remark the spiritual condition of others. We ONLY testify as to what God has done for us. Where it comes to our fellow man, we are to strictly follow the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ – LOVE one another, Love your enemies, Love unconditionally everyone. We are to love more than just those who love us. For so it was that God loved us while we were yet His enemy. We cannot love the sins and pains that others embrace, in this we feel as He felt for them, pity. But we can remain steadfast in our love of the person, and see them through the eyes of our God, see them without the sins they carry now, as Christ saves them just as He saves us.

We can finally trust God to save those we love, as we trust Him to save us from us. We are now free to love, without fear, without prejudice or pre-judgment. We are free to see the worth of every man. We are free to love the uniqueness of each individual and respect the differences between us. For we know God will lead every willing heart to His truth, in His time, and in His way. We know this because He is doing it INSIDE of us right now. This is our role, we have been called to give witness to what the Lord has done in us. When He is truly alive in us, we cannot keep silent. We are incapable of not sharing the good news of our personal benefits from His victories in us. The world will be drawn to this love, and this testimony, but only when it is real and meaningful in our lives. If the world is not knocking on your door yet, perhaps you do not have enough to offer it of Him. Let Christ truly change you, and your door will hardly cease from inquiry. Just remember your role when it does, you are a witness of His grace in action in you, nothing more …