An Unlawful God

Christianity is not about law.

This post is going to collate a few things that have been running through my head lately which culminated a while back for me over the course of Baxter Kruger’s book Jesus and The Undoing of Adam (which is a wordy-but-wonderful short book that sums up the gospel as believed by the early church, and following through with Saints in the Arms of a Happy God by Jeff Turner (a much longer but also very good book as far as I have read).

One of Kruger’s main focuses is, of course, that Christianity is not about legality – the plan of salvation was not a court room drama. And he speaks so brazenly about the fact that today’s Christianity has got God so wrong. 

(It’s a good book, you should check it out)

And it only continued to confirm what I’ve come to believe – that Father is not really all that interested in law and retribution, that the gospel message was not about Jesus taking our punishment primarily and sin didn’t put us out of legal standing with God that we had to be atoned for before God could have an interest in us again, but that the gospel message is about a God who met us where we were, made himself vulnerable to the weight of the wrath of our sin, buried it in the grave and took his life back up to lift us up with himself to Father’s right hand.

The heart of the Father has always been relationship. The primary goal of the Father has always been to adopt us in to the relationship He shares with Jesus and Holy Spirit, through what Jesus did at the cross. It was planned from the beginning, before the beginning, before Adam was even a twinkle in Father’s eye, Father said ‘Let’s make man…and let’s invite him into our relationship.’

And then Adam fell.

Which means sin was only ever a side-note on Father’s already-eternal plan to adopt us, and Jesus’ primary goal has always been to raise us up to the Father’s side with him. That happened when he himself ascended to Father’s right hand – and he rewrote Adam’s history to bring us back from our anguished separation and into the family. There was no holy standard standing in our way, no wrath or vengeance, no anger, no; Jesus didn’t come to set our legal record straight or change Father’s attitude about us, he came (indeed, Father himself came in Jesus) to change our situation as Adam’s sons so that we could be adopted–so that our hearts would once more cry out “Abba! Daddy!” And maybe you don’t think that’s such a big deal but you’re living post-cross post-Adamic nature and Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh which means your heart has already been turned toward Father; imagine having only total animosity in your heart and inherently believing you are an enemy of God and God is an enemy of you. It’s always been about restoring relationship by restoring the heart for Father we were created with–a heart which sees only the eternal proclamation, “It is Good!” over all creation. It is good, there is no evil but that which we created in our perceptions as soon as we ate the fruit that told us there was such a thing as ‘not good’.

And you know, I grew up with a legal-based view of God. I always had some kind of idea that when the prodigal son spent his inheritance, that was it, there was nothing else for him–I mean, how could there be, really? Legally it would’ve been a mess, everything left should have gone to the older brother. (Maybe that’s part of why he was so ticked when little brother came home – you mean now I have to share what’s left with this boy?) And who really knows, I mean it was a hypothetical story, after all. But it wasn’t really about the physical inheritance, was it. It was about the inheritance of the Father’s love for his children. It was about his deepest desire being to have his boys with him, to give them everything he had. There simply wasn’t any place for a legal reconciliation when that boy appeared on the horizon because Father’s attitude toward his son had always been for him, and for relationship, and for his son’s homecoming. And so the son was reconciled to his father; he was welcomed with open arms back into his place within Father’s household.

And I know I said that story wasn’t about salvation–the more I mull it over in my mind the more I’m convinced of that because there was no re-adoption when the son came home, he was already a son – so maybe that isn’t as good an example. But what about the lost sheep, or the lost coin? They were never about anything remotely legal; the good shepherd didn’t bring his lawyer along looking for his lamb. He didn’t bring his little boy along to kick in his anger so he wouldn’t kill that lamb with his wrath. Was there a transformation required after Adam? Absolutely. But it wasn’t about a legal dispute, or Father dishing it out on the Son. I find the idea so twisted that a just God would kill his innocent son to satisfy his anger for us. “Why would a god do that?” Young Piscing Patel asks, “Why would he send his only son to atone for the sins of the whole world?” A just God would put us all on death row and start over, but Father is not only just but he is intimately in love with us–with you–the crown jewel of his affection, and justice is wrought differently out of love.

I mean…read 1 John. It’s all about love. Love. Love… God is love and we know we are his children if we love others because there is no love outside of Father. Do you love? Then you are a child of God, it’s that simple because He did it all so that now our nature is his nature. He is over all and in all and through all. [ephesians 4] Love. That’s why the good news is so good! 

And so Jesus (and Father in him) not only laid his own life down for us, he laid it down before us and let us dish out our wrath on him. Because remember, in our minds, we were enemies. He let us dish out all the animosity and wrath sin had nurtured in us to the point of his brutal death–and in the midst of it all, he forgives us.

If you read my last article, maybe you remember that God took pity on Nineveh, 120,000 people who he said didn’t know their right hand from their left. He opted not to destroy them. Jesus, before he died said ‘Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.’ The irony of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is that it left us even more clueless. But Father forgave, the last thing we expected.

And all those people, God didn’t throw down his stone tablets on their heads in divine wrath. It is so easy to ignore what Jonah knew all along–that Father is merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, eager to turn away from even a justified wrath, abounding in love for people. In fact, I never once heard that part of the story when I was growing up. No one ever talked about the motive behind God’s unwillingness to destroy Nineveh. And so I was left with a picture of a bi-polar God, angry and vengeful one moment, loving–or perhaps more accurately, tolerating–the next with little a care to the woes of man, merely bent on insuring that evildoers repent or die. But Jonah was sent on a mission of mercy, and he knew it.

And it’s re-emerging. Knowledge–revelation–of who Father truly is, what the gospel is really about, the true values at the heart of Christianity as it was at its birth. A generation is rising up that won’t be satisfied with the inconsistencies of Christian culture both new and old versus the truth. And I can only wait in expectant imagining how this revolution will change the world.

No Longer Prodigal

You know what just made me a little bit angry? It was this cute little picture on facebook with a big caption promising that blessings and breakthrough are coming if you can just hold out a little while longer. Don’t worry, your breakthrough is just around the next corner. Have you seen any of those? Maybe you’ve heard the Sunday-morning equivalent, preachers proclaiming tidings of revival soon to come if you can just hang on a little longer, pray just a little harder. There were at least a couple years during my childhood and into teen years that I got a good taste of that pre-revival culture, it seemed like that was all anybody wanted from God.

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Let me tell you something: you don’t need breakthrough, and you don’t need revival.

Everything is yours already.

You don’t have to wait for breakthrough, or blessings, or revival, or healing. Let me tell you something: there were two brothers. One took his inheritance and left home and squandered it away. The other stayed at home and worked. Now get this: both brothers squandered the wealth available to them, and both brothers were born with their wealth already secured. Younger brother takes his inheritance to the world to spend it how he will, older brother continues to serve his father bitterly on the farm.

The younger brother wakes up one day in a pig pen with nothing left, he’s thinking the pig food looks pretty great right about now. But he realizes that in his father’s house even the servants are taken care of. Even the servants. So he gets up and goes back to his father to ask for…a job. But of course you know this story; this dignified middle-eastern father runs full-tilt down the road and bear-hugs his son and brings him back into the house and back into his place as son. 

The older brother…is working in the fields. Hard at it. He comes back to the house–probably tired, probably dirty, probably with that accomplished feeling some people get from a hard day’s work when they believe hard work is the extent of their value–he finds out from one of the servants what all the commotion in the house is all about and he gets mad. He gets so angry he stays outside. Father comes out to him and he goes into an immediate tangent about ‘that son of yours’-this and ‘me and my friends’-that, like ‘Okay Dad if this is how you treat that little brat then you owe me big time…’

Father just looks at him and says ‘Son…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’

And then he says this: ‘it’s right that we should be celebrating; my son was dead, and is alive again – he was lost but now he’s found.’ This doesn’t have anything to do with labor efforts or work-induced loyalty, son, this isn’t about what he or you deserves, it isn’t about whether I’m partial or not, it’s about what you both have already had all along and who you both are to me.

I know, I’m paraphrasing. So sue me–or go read it again for yourself in Luke 15.

But something I’ve never thought about before came to me tonight as I’ve been thinking about this story. This can’t be a typical salvation story. I know what you’re thinking: ‘But context! Jesus just finished telling two parables about repentant sinners! How is this not a salvation story?’

First of all, the only ‘salvation story’ I know is where Jesus died on the cross in our place. And listen, I know this is a great parable for salvation–except that salvation isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. The very word ‘salvationin the original Hebrew of the Bible is interchangeable with Jesus’ name, Yeshua–it’s the same root, and some Jewish scholars believe it should be used in proper noun form every time so that we know, this is a person we’re really talking about here – this is Jesus. And second, if it were really about salvation the younger son could never have made it home on his own, because salvation is about Jesus finding us. Salvation is about Jesus finding that runaway lamb, and that lost coin. But this story is about the son remembering his Father’s favor and hoping that he could be counted worthy to be a servant. It isn’t about the journey back, it’s about the reception. But I digress: I don’t want to make a mountain out of that mole hill just yet.

What I do want to make clear is this: they were both sons. They were in the house, they both already had an inheritance. They both had benefits from their father, they were both in his favor. And they were born that way. If there were a point for a salvation-analogy it might’ve come years before in a generous display of adoption on the father’s part. But they are both already there. And what does that mean? It means both brothers were just as close to their breakthroughs, their blessings and their revivals in the beginning of the story, as they were at the end. It means the only breakthrough you need happens when you realize it’s already yours, because everything Father has is yours, and you’re always with him. You were born in his house.

Here’s what’s changed about my perspective: I’ve come to realize that when Jesus says it’s finished, then it’s finished. For almost 2000 years people have been born outside of sin–albeit, into a sin-marred world–because Jesus took care of sin on the cross; sin is no longer God’s issue which means everyone is free, everyone is accepted, and everyone is justified of sin against God. The kingdom has changed hands and you were not born into Adam’s bloodline but Christ is your brother and God is your father. You’re in the house.

Or maybe you’re the prodigal. Maybe you took your rightful inheritance and you squandered it with the world. Maybe you didn’t know just what it was worth, maybe you didn’t understand what it meant. But there is still a place back home for you.

Or maybe you’re the older brother, back home laboring in the fields hoping Father will notice you and give you some favor, but there is still a place in Father’s house for you, and you’ll miss the inheritance you were born with if you live your life believing your value is based on how hard you work rather than who you were born to. 

Do you want a breakthrough? Read Romans. Read Galatians. Read Ephesians. Read Hebrews. Get a handle on what Jesus did once for all time on the cross. Because listen; God is not limited by your faithfulness. He is not limited by whether you decide to be in sin, or not. Whether you decide or not, sin is dealt with.

I heard a story last night about a lady paying it forward to a rich-looking woman behind her in the drive-thru – it turned out the woman was bankrupt and completely out of hope but that one coffee turned everything on its head for her as a sign from God. Someone asked the question, what if that lady hadn’t listened to that voice in her head telling her to pay it forward in spite of the appearances of the woman in the convertible behind her?

And that used to be a gripping question for me – what if? What if I don’t listen to Holy Spirit’s voice? What if I miss it?

But my immediate thought was, God is not limited by my faithfulness. God is not dependent on my faithfulness. If that lady hadn’t paid it forward, I absolutely believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that Father would have given that woman hope some other way, because he’s Father. Of course he’s going to do everything he can for his children. He was probably dropping hints all around that woman so that whatever direction she looked she’d see at least one. And when it comes down to it anyway, the Rock is always present at Rock Bottom

But it’s our opportunity, not his. It’s our opportunity whether we let him use us or not, not his, because he’s going to accomplish his plans either way, but more importantly he’s already accomplished his big plan for us and we are back. That’s why salvation isn’t his opportunity anymore, it’s ours, because he already took his opportunity on the cross, now it’s your turn, to hear that good news, believe it, and let it change your mind because it really is good enough. Boom.

And that opportunity is instantaneous. You want breakthrough? Take it. You want revival? You are revival. You were born revival. You are alive! The life you now live you live by the Spirit of God, and there’s no jury on that because it is finished. 

And I’m not going to paint it pretty, because life isn’t easy, it’s a series of growth-enabling challenges and yes, we do live in a sin-marred world with sin-scarred bodies. But you don’t need breakthrough on your challenges, you need to grow through your challenges–or not, that’s up to you. But your challenges are too important to use to discredit the value and inheritance you already have in Father’s house.

So bottom line? Stop waiting for what you’ve been hoping for and try this thought on for size: Father has already given it to you – you just have to know it’s really yours. All the breakthrough you’ll ever need happened at the cross and Jesus cried out with his dying breath, ‘It is finished.‘ You can’t get any more complete than that. So come on into the house, join the party, because it’s all for you, too.

The Gospel and the Myth of Repentance

You have to come at the gospel from the truth, ‘There is nothing I can do.’

Yes, you were a sinner, you were drowned in sin. But nearly 2000 years ago God was born in human flesh. I know, it’s a long long time and maybe you wonder how two millennia ago there could have been anything relevant to you. But there was this. Jesus grew up. He lived as a man under sin. And then he died bearing all sin in his body. He took the whole sin problem on his shoulders and it crushed him–but it was finished.

And there’s nothing you can do. Want to rid yourself of sin against Father? Too bad: Jesus already rid the whole world of sin. You can’t get any more sinless. Want to make yourself acceptable before God? Too bad: Jesus already made you acceptable when he died and rose again from the grave three days later, representing you. That means that when he died it was just as if you died. When Father raised him to life, Father raised you to life. You are justified, as in ‘just-as-ifIed never sinned, because sin is no longer an issue.

And there is nothing you can do; almost 2000 years ago while he was dying on the cross Jesus suddenly knew that what he had come to accomplish had been accomplished, and he yelled out with a dying breath, ‘It is finished!’

Religion, and corporate church, think they have monopoly on finishing; they will teach you to repent your sins and beg for God’s forgiveness, and then tell you that you must work hard to be good enough to earn Father’s favor. Or they might say to show yourself worthy or deserving. But there is nothing you can do.

And while we’re on the subject of repentance

Repentance isn’t a Greek word, which means you won’t find it in the original language of the New Testament-side of the Bible, and you certainly won’t find it in the Old Testament-side. It’s a Latin word, which means somewhere down the line someone took a Greek word and a Hebrew word and a Latin word and decided that they all matched. But do you want to know what the words meant?

נָחַם (Strong’s H5162, pronounced na-cham): properly, to sigh, i.e. breathe strongly; by implication, to be sorry, i.e. (in a favorable sense) to pity, console or (reflexively) rue; or (unfavorably) to avenge (oneself):—comfort (self), ease (one’s self), repent(-er,-ing, self)

נָחַם is translated more often as ‘comforted’ in the Old Testament, than as ‘repented’, but actually as a primitive root it simply describes that emotive exhale that always says more than any words. Look it up on Blue Letter Bible.

μετανοέω (Strong’s G3340, pronounced me-tä-no-e’-ō): to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction):—repent.

And here’s a fun fact: when the Septuagint (the early Greek Bible) was translated from Hebrew, μετανοέω was used several times to translate נָחַם, but in the King James Bible μετανοέω is translated repent every time.

So what’s the problem with that? I wasn’t going to get into the etymology of the word but pictures tell more than I can say.

Repent and penance come from the same Latin root; in fact the only real difference between them is that repentance jumped into Old French before it became an –ance word. If you line up these etymologies, penance and repentance are actually the same word. And that shouldn’t surprise you if you look at how English has preserved their similarities. And here’s another interesting fact: the word penitentiary–as in, a prison–comes from that same Latin root paenitere.

So what’s the problem? Penance is not a Biblical concept. Here’s a Google definition:

  1. 1.

    voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

     “he had done public penance for those hasty words”

    2.

     a Christian sacrament in which a member of the Church confesses sins to a priest and is given absolution.

Voluntary selfpunishment, confessing sins to a priest for absolution? Are you getting this? There’s nothing you can do! There’s nothing a priest can do for you. You can’t beat yourself up enough for God. Did you know that repentance could be a form of self-harm? I didn’t–until now. Does that sound Biblical? Does that sound like Father? Many people think so.

People deep in religion will tell you there’s no way you could actually know or prove this, or maybe that you have to have a seminary degree to really understand. Do you want to know how long it took me to put together this little word study? About 20 minutes. On my 4-inch cell phone screen. And it’s true whether you have a seminary degree or not. But it is people such as these who have twisted and modified entire translations to seize religious control and promote their man-made pseudo-covenant.

So what is real…repentance? I don’t even want to use that word anymore because it carries so much religious manipulation with it for me now. To distinguish, you have to keep in mind that sin is already dealt with – there is no sin issue between you and God anymore; the only thing he keeps tract of is Jesus crying out, ‘It is finished!’ and either Jesus took care of all your sins past present and future irregardless of repentance, or he didn’t really take care of any until you repent (and repent regularly)–as many of the religious teach. But we know that the religious concepts of repentance and penance are not actually in the Bible, so that simply can’t be true.

Here’s a picture: Jesus dies and Father raises him from the dead three days later. Jesus stays with his disciples for 40 days letting his living presence seep into them. Then he ascends into the sky–he’s just carried away–after telling them to wait in Jerusalem. They wait in Jerusalem, ten days later the Holy Spirit falls on them on Pentecost, Peter preaches to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover who are all astir because all these simple Galileans are praising God and all the people understand in their own native languages. Peter proclaims the death, resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ through King David’s prophecy and the people respond:

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  – Acts 2:37-39

Cut to the heart. Pricked deep. The Greek word for this is only used once in the Bible and it has a very literal physical and metaphorical definition which is reflected very well by the phrase ‘cut to the heart‘. This is a Holy-Spirit-level event that would definitely cause you to experience נָחַם–nacham–and make you want to μετανοέω–metänoe’ō.

And did you catch what Peter says about the promise of the outpouring of Holy Spirit? It is for everyone who is called by God. And guess what: it was Holy Spirit that brought those people to that heart-in-throat, mind-changing moment. Holy Spirit called them, and they responded.

There is nothing you can do–except, respond. Let your heart be pricked and your mind be changed by the good news: the Jesus who your sin crushed is alive and he is King!

From Works to Warfare

A police woman came to my door this morning.

It was around 4:15 AM. She was looking for a young woman whom, according to her friend, was attempting suicide. I confirmed the name and gave her a key to the room. Minutes later the phone rang; it was the young woman who had reported the attempt to 9-1-1 – she asked if her friend was there and what room and I explained that yes, she was here and that police had already arrived. She waited on the phone till 9-1-1 called back to let her know that the police had found her friend in the room and called for the ambulance. There was more than worry in her voice, there was fear.

I’ve been trying to put this into words all week: the “works” system is so shallow. And I’ll tell you something. “Works” just aren’t going to cut it.

I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,

To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.

                            – Isaiah 42:7

The truth is…

The Father (because let’s not forget that God was Jesus’ Daddy, first) didn’t call Jesus to a life of works–and let’s not forget that Jesus spent his first 30-some years learning the works thing. And how much do you want to bet he understood a lot better than we have how every aspect of the ceremony pointed right to him at that very point in history?

But when Jesus walked into that synagogue on the exact day that Isaiah 61 was next in line for the reading, he didn’t declare a mission of works, mundane prayers and devotion. He said,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, 
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,

                                 – Isaiah 61:1-2a

And then he closed the book.

Preach good things to the poor, heal the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound like “read your Bible, pray every day” to me. And don’t get me wrong, Jesus had to know his scripture! It was the written word of God that Jesus used when he was tempted by the devil, and it was fine-print details in the written word of God that he pointed the Pharisees to in order to leave them completely speechless. Jesus didn’t skip out on his Torah lessons. But when the time came, he left home. They didn’t exactly have any Gideons’ pocket edition scrolls for him back then, but Jesus didn’t need it, because what living came down to wasn’t a written understanding of his father, it was a living, breathing relationship; it was real-time and it was actual.

Preach good things to the poor. Heal the broken-hearted. Proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those bound inside.

I’m coming to the realization that everything I learned from my “Church Culture,” was nothing but selfish pursuits. First, to work my own way to God – for myself, by myself. And then, once I’ve arrived (I could have never arrived, and the only one who ever has was Jesus) to “save” others and give them their commission of works so that they can get to God, too (because I get the referral bonus for each and every one of the poor souls). I’m trying to make it obvious but think about it: religion is purely selfish.

Because the kind of compassion it would take to intervene for someone as broken as to try to take their own life–the works system didn’t teach me that… Even though the outward premises of a system of works might sound like it’s about having compassion for the broken, it’s only about mechanical compassion–doing “good things” not out of a revelation of the Father’s love but out of a sense of duty and false promises of entitlement.

We’ve got to get out of this works system, because the only thing it’s teaching us is how to be justifiably passive. Because if you can feel completely accomplished because you think you do everything right, and the only reason you have to do anything is to feel that accomplishment, then why does compassion for the broken-hearted and the captive even need to come into play? Do you see how dangerous this system of thinking is yet? The kingdom is here and it doesn’t need more workers, the kingdom needs warriors to bring back the POWs because no matter how defeated the enemy is he’ll still hold captives till someone breaks them free. Are you hearing me yet?

The church has been so shallowly involved in the gospel. The reason that resting in Jesus is so important, is because he gave us back dominion of the earth, and that’s a big job to fill, and there’s still an enemy out there. And the church has been duped into passivity through works; Church, stop trying to get to God! Stop trying to “arrive”. Jesus died so that God could get to you! 

He has arrived.

Church, the only work left for you to do, is to let your roots grow down into Jesus Christ, and let your lives be built on him; 

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 

                       – Colossians 2:6-10