Two Ways to Justify Our Self

I love when I get the opportunity to talk with and teach students. They are at the stage of life where they are simultaneously beginning to define their self while trying to understand how their faith relates to the life they want to live. Yesterday we were talking about what sin is and how we overcome it. Broad topic. One common response in our discussion was that we overcome sin by following the rules. And while for the students, they are just beginning to explore if this is a good spiritual strategy, for most of us, it is our default way of functioning in our spiritual life. When push comes to shove, just try harder to stop sinning! This is simply our attempt to justify our self before God. “Here I am God, I’ve made my self good enough.” It is the Lie, another way – although a religious way – to pursue wholeness apart from God. Because we are broken image bearers, our focus is self-centered. As disciples, that concept extends to the functional ways we attempt to be right before God. Self-justification is the idea that being right before God is up to us. Our effort. Our results. It is the attitude that says grace was OK for salvation, but grace is not part of sanctification. And there are two patterns that we follow to do this. They are extensions of the old or false self  that is comfortable and familiar and at war with our new self in Christ. One pattern of self-justification is by following the rules. Then we can look to God and say I...

An Encounter with the Older Son

In Luke 15 we find one of the most memorable stories of our faith, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Chances are, even if you are not an avid church goer, you have heard of or read this story. The younger son wants identity outside of the father’s household – he lives to satisfy the false self. So, this son pursues a life that seeks wholeness apart from the father and his standards. Yet, this path ends with the son becoming aware of his own brokenness and his lack of satisfaction. Within it are many of the qualities that make following Jesus unique – grace, God’s faithfulness, mercy, and covering to name just a few. What makes this story of God so beautiful is that it is the father – the father who was wronged, disgraced, and sinned against – who waits for the son. The father runs to the exhausted, repentant son. The father forgives. The father provides the sacrifice. The father declares righteous. The father clothes. The father celebrates. There is an oft overlooked character in this parable. He is treated as an insignificant addendum. The older son. The one who will inherit all that is left. What if the father had left him in charge and given him the ability to speak on his behalf. How would the parable be different if these two brothers had interacted directly? Adapting their words from the text of the parable: Prodigal: “I have sinned against heaven and before our father. I am no longer worth to be called his son.” Older: “Look these many years I have served him, and never disobeyed his command, yet he has never given me a young goat, that I...

The Question to Ask

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. – 1 Corinthians 10:23 This verse is delivered by Paul in the context of discussing the eating of meat that has been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthians wanted to know if this was a problem for the follower of Christ who does not believe in, follow, nor derive wholeness from the idol. For us and our post-christian culture the thought behind this question is still relevant and crucial. It could be phrased like this: Can I participate in trick-or-treating? Is it OK to go to that movie? Can I wear that bikini at the beach? And there are numerous other situations in which the question could be asked. We like black and white answers. A clear right and wrong. But, unfortunately Paul seems to paint with a lot of gray on his brush. The answer is that we have a great amount of liberty in Christ. There is nothing inherently wrong with going to people’s doors and asking for candy. Or wearing a particular bathing suit. Yet, there is a further, deeper consideration. As believers, we are all interconnected. This is the premise that what I do as part of the body can have real – even if unintended – consequences to other parts of the body. We need to live in awareness of this interconnection. Paul reiterates this idea in Romans 14:1 – 12. So, is it OK to eat the meat sacrificed to idols? Well, yes it is. Christ is the fulfillment of the law. Yet the reality is –...

No Images – Identity and the Second Commandment

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:4 – 6 In the first post of this series No Other Gods, the point was made that God wants exclusivity. He will not compete for our attention with idols. Within the second commandment, the Lord takes this idea a step further and commands that we not even make an image or likeness of what we assume him to be like. God, the One true God, is our source of significance and wholeness. His truth becomes our truth and the definition of who we are and our purpose in this world. And God is bigger than we are. With regard to our identity – our sense of self and our worth – there are a couple of good reasons not to make for our self an image… 1. When we construct an image of God, we create a caricature of God with which we are comfortable. {click here to tweet that!} This image that we create will not challenge our false sense of self. We settle for something lesser that, by comparison, makes us feel more righteous. God is then created in our image. Like the...

Gain Perspective. Live Well.

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