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April 2016

April 4th 2016: Romans 5:12-21

With apologies to those who have been waiting, and probably given up, for these posts to return after a two-week break. I decided to pare down what I worked on in the week before Easter, and have then been on holiday this past week. Normal service will now, I hope, be resumed.

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

 ‘Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’

Do we believe what Paul says about the saving work of Jesus Christ (his death and resurrection) here? People have spent whole lifetimes trying to work out the salvific value of the cross, to whom it applies and what must be done in order to benefit from its consequence (or, to be crude, to be saved). Who’s in? Who’s out? What do we do to get ‘in’?

There are things that Christians are expected to do. We are to love others at least as much, if not more, than we love ourselves. We are to love the poor. We are to partner with God in building his new way of life here, because has given us that privilege. We are, primarily, to love God with everything we have, worshipping him, but not just with Rend Collective songs, or Charles Wesley hymns, with who we are and how we live. We’re to prioritise service, with everything we have, including our money. We’re to pray for those in authority, speaking the truth in love to power.

But none of that, in and of itself, gives life to anyone. Jesus Christ gives life and justification, purpose and all that goes with it, to everyone. Not just some people, his one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all, Paul says. All. Not just some. There’s no contraction or contingency here based on us behaving rightly in order to receive the undeserved consequences of the act of righteousness. We don’t even have to say a special prayer at a particularly emotive moment in our lives. Jesus has brought justification and life to all.

If this is true, and I can see already the sharpening of keyboards everywhere quoting various scriptures that might argue against it, doesn’t this have a monumental impact on everything? Perhaps Paul misunderstood salvation. Well, wouldn’t that be interesting. Some of us would struggle with that even being possible. Perhaps he’s journeying with his thinking on the issue. Perhaps what he really meant isn’t what has been communicated to us by the translation here. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about what he is asserting here.

But what about this: what if the greatest lie the devil uses in this age to confuse and concern people, aside from the one about not existing at all, is that Jesus did not know what he meant when he said ‘it is finished’ on the Cross? Wouldn’t that be a neat and powerful trick? See, I believe Jesus did know what he meant. Exactly what he meant. He meant that we have life and justification. Not so that we could build edifices, power structures, empires, whole industries, around his name and following him. We have life and justification so we can share it with everyone, those who know the life Jesus has won for them and those who do not.

A time is coming when evil’s complete annihilation and the total, final victory of love will become plain to all. This is the promise of the Cross and the wonder of the grace and mercy of God. So, lots of fine and fancy words, but what difference will they make to how we live today?

 

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February 2016

February 11th 2016: Galatians 2:11-21

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

If you’re a Christian, and you have been for any length of time, you’ll probably know this passage. It’s one of Paul’s most famous ‘explanations’ of the insufficiency of the Old Testament Law for salvation. I use inverted commas because his explanation is closely-argued and takes some teasing out. It’s a rich banquet of hope which reveals more and more tender morsels of delight with each fresh reading. This is definitely not a passage to skim read once and move on!

As I reflect on it today, the challenge it presents to me is this: I’ve been freed from the demands of the Old Testament law, because they were fulfilled by Jesus. I’ve been freed, made new, made alive, by the Spirit of God, which dwells within me. All things are possible with God. All things are permissible, even as many things are not helpful for me, for all people.

So, I need to stop living as if there is any other law but love. I do not benefit from exchanging one crippling law code, the one of the Old Testament, for another, the weight of expectation I place on myself and allow others to place on me. In fact I suffer. Grievously. So, more to the point, do those around me. Even more to the point, this was never, as far as I can see, God’s intention. Freedom is freedom. Freedom with caveats or constraints is no kind of freedom at all, it is the exchange of one set of barriers for another. That’s the point of the good news Jesus came to tell and to live out for us. Every barrier between God and man is now broken down. We might try and build them up again to make ourselves more comfortable – after all, most of us like to, actually, give control to others, most of us are used to and prefer to carry an element of caution in the way we live, which quickly morphs into fear and anxiety if given the chance. Freedom is freedom is freedom is freedom, is….freedom. Jesus did not die and rise that we might seek to enslave ourselves again.If our approaches to faith, the way our Churches or faith communities function, force us into a way of being and existing which stipulates the possibility of condemnation, we have missed the point. Where the spirit of the Lord, there is freedom.

Of course, we are to live responsibly in the way we love God, others and ourselves. We’re to make good use of the gifts we are given in seeking to serve others, build others up, building the kingdom of God. By no means do we have carte blanche to live just as we please to the detriment of anyone else. We are freed for lives of joyful obedience. Obedience to the law of love, to live the way of the master, the way of the cross, the way that leads to life, the way that glorifies God.