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Archive for September, 2013

Does A Legalistic View Of The Cross Undermine God’s Unconditional Love?

A legalistic view of the Cross suggests God was more concerned with our guilt and restoring His honor than desiring a personal relationship. Did God really need to be appeased by human sacrifice as the other Old Testament gods? The focus on blood being spilled for God’s sake is culturally and relationally irrelevant.

A legalistic view of the Cross undermines the beauty of God’s unconditional love. The Cross was not necessary as if God couldn’t love us until death accounted for our sins. Even human parents don’t stop loving their children because they sin. The Cross was meant to change our view of God, not God’s view of us.  The Cross reconciles us to God, not God to us (2 Cor 5:19). The Cross is about changing human attitudes and not God’s attitude. We must avoid any suggestion that the purpose of the Cross is so that God could better accept or love us.

No single biblical passage indicates that we must interpret the Cross in legalistic terms as if God needed to be appeased or satisfied before He could fully love us. I Tim 2:5-6 says: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people…” The passage does not explicitly say the ransom was just to appease God. The ransom can easily be understood as necessary much more for us. Jesus’ death wasn’t legally necessary from God’s perspective. The Bible says God delights more in a broken and contrite heart than sacrifice (Ps 51:16-17).

Other passages can be interpreted to suggest Jesus died to influence and prove His love for us. Some will die for a good man. Who dies for good much less evil people? God desires to save us from ourselves and the path of destruction we are headed toward. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn 3:17).  If the Cross is a one-act of appeasement, why does Jesus exhort to take up the Cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23)? The Cross is not just something Jesus did to appease God. Christ, by following the path of the Cross to love and influence others toward God, is someone we can all follow in His footsteps.

Do we really think:

  • God was so mad that He needed to be appeased by human sacrifice like the other OT gods
  • God needed Jesus to die to change His attitude toward us
  • God was more concerned with the guilt of our sins than the restoration of the relationship
  • God had to be appeased and His honor restored before God could love us
  • God couldn’t forgive us until God’s Son died

Is it more likely Jesus died to:

  • Demonstrate to us the destructiveness of sin and forgiveness is never without a cost
  • Convince us God would do anything to gain moral authority and credibility
  • Prove to us God loves us more than we can ever imagine
  • Enable us to know God sees us as Christ as our sins are nailed to the Cross
  • Empower us to be comfortable with God despite our guilty feelings
  • Persuade us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps to trust in God than our own wisdom

How Do We Discuss God With Others?

I grew up feeling guilty because I wasn’t discussing God with more people. It didn’t matter that people didn’t really want to talk about God. It was my job to make them want to talk! That attitude was relationally irrational if I wanted others to consider whether living with God is better than living without God. I don’t have enough faith to believe I evolved by change. Now, I don’t make judgments about why people don’t want to talk about spiritual issues. I am free to simple love people as I wish to be loved without a hidden agenda. We will know when one wishes or needs to discuss God, just as we know when they wish to discuss other subjects.

The idea that we must get people to talk about something they don’t wish suggests true love is controlling. If God was controlling He wouldn’t respect freedom. We know what it feels like for friends to push their agenda and passions on us, supposedly for our own good, when we didn’t invite such discussions. Spirituality can be a touchy subject for many. God can work in one’s life without our pushiness. Do we really think God is not going to welcome those eventually who had never heard of God or had experiences that have driven them away from God?

“Mike, if you don’t talk to someone now they may go to Hell!” It is important to know such a place does not exist, so you don’t approach relationships as if you need to sell fire insurance. It turns out Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Hell was an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. When Jesus supposedly spoke on Hell, He used the Greek word Gehenna.  Gehenna is a proper noun and was the name of a real valley nearby Jerusalem that had a history Jesus’ audience understood. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago.  The Bible never speaks of God being a hellish, sadistic torturer. Are we concerned that intimacy with our Creator is not attractive enough and people must be scared into a relationship?

Jesus didn’t use Hell to threaten others into heaven because no such place existed. Jesus never had people bow their head and pray a certain prayer to get in heaven. The thief on the cross just asked to be remembered. Jesus said “you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23). When the Pharisees wanted to stone a woman for adultery, Jesus got the crowd to look in the mirror and told the woman “go now, and leave your life of sin” (John 8). C’mon! Didn’t Jesus have a better evangelical spiel in case He never saw the woman again? Jesus wasn’t saying if you sin again, “you are out.” Jesus seemed to think Heaven begin now if you want to have a relationship with God and follow His wisdom.  It is a slap in God’s “unconditional love” face to suggest Jesus’ agenda with people was anything other than loving people as they deep down desire to be loved.

How do we tell others about God if we are full of passion to do so? It is obvious when people want to talk about God. Live a life where they understand you are capable of such discussions. Love others because it is the right thing to do and how Jesus did things. Of course Jesus wanted others to consider how life can go so much better with God. Most people know this intuitively, but they still have a right to be open when they are ready. Jesus wasn’t pushy. Jesus only got pissed at those who acted religious and weren’t. We have a right to act judgmental when peoples’ immorality is hurting others.

I don’t carry around a weight of guilt. I love to talk to others about and admit that I try to interject God into conversations subtle. Honestly, few take my bait but God doesn’t force Himself on others so why should I. I suspect people kind of know I am a Jesus freak. It isn’t because I am such a great lover of people always. I know how to sin with the best of them, but I think I know how to repent well thanks to God’s unconditionally love. I think people know I try harder than most to speak the truth in love and try to not talk behind their back.

Years ago no one was asking me to say prayers in non-religious group settings. Now, people look to me as if I am expected to pray. Maybe they sense God and I hang together. Maybe they know I went to seminary a year and mistakenly think that qualifies me. But, my prayers are fun and open because God in my life is fun and open. I am not praying with an agenda: you better believe or else. I just love talking about God anyway I can because He is worth consideration. It is like asking me to play tennis. Anytime, anywhere! I don’t have to get them to believe.

The good news is that we do not have to try to force God on others. We can stop feeling guilty. The truth is God is patient and waits for an invitation.  Jesus at the well didn’t give the woman a canned evangelistic speech and berate her about her sin. He simply said “Then, neither do I condemn you….Go now and leave your life of sin” (Jn 8:11).  God only pulled out the whooping stick with religious people pushing their brand of God on others. God is ready to talk when we are ready. Sometimes, I will interject God’s name briefly in a conversation because I think about God all the time, but I don’t go any further than one wants.  The only pressure I feel is to love people as I wish to be loved. If they leads to conversations about God, so be it.

Does God Want Us To Love Or Fear God?

A theology based on the fear of God can be an obstacle to moral progress and other unwanted consequences. We discuss and defend God’s justice more than His love. Really though justice is simply an aspect of God’s love. God’s love was center stage in Scriptures (I John 4:8). A survey of the times “fear of God” is used in the Bible suggests fearing God was synonymous with fearing evil. Those who deny their horrible evil acts should be warned. The Bible never says “believe or go to Hell” as if that would lead one to a relationship with God anyway.

It turns out Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Hell was an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. The Hebrew word Sheol in the OT is often translated as “Hell.” Sheol was simply a region or place of darkness occupied by the dead regardless of beliefs. Job desired to go there to escape his tremendous suffering (10:21 -22). The Greek word Gehenna in the NT is wrongly translated as Hell. Gehenna is a proper noun and was the name of a real, literal, valley nearby Jerusalem that had a history. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago.

The Bible never speaks of eternal punishment or torment to deter or punish behaviors. Laws were given to warn and punish wrongdoing. What gives us the right to heap on more from God? Are we concerned that intimacy with our Creator is not attractive enough? Jesus detested the religious of His day who suggested a relationship with God was adherence to a bunch of rules. Telling children and adults that they are going to burn forever if they don’t stop sinning can riddle them with fear. Such talk doesn’t lead to intimacy with one’s Creator and creates a false image of God. Jesus never threatened Hell to lead one to a relationship with God.

Fear in relationships may deter in the short-run but doesn’t lead to lifelong transformations. The fear of punishment doesn’t prevent one from finding ways to hide their actions. Obligatory obedience doesn’t lead to reflections how to better ourselves, only to reach certain “good” standards. Do we truly love our partner if we are successful 85% of the time? Focusing on our goodness doesn’t produce genuine love toward others and can lead to a false pride. We may be tempted to puff ourselves up over others and minimize others’ works because they have a checkered past or their works are not as great or numerous as ours. Has gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor conquered battles against self-centeredness or long standing habitual sins for you?

We often are not invited to know God and understand how much He loves us so a true friendship can develop.  God’s love, not His fear, is what can transform us into the kind of person we truly want to be. time. Understanding God’s unconditional love can inspire as does such parental love.  God is the eternal optimist. It is never too late to start in God’s eyes. God’s accounting system is different than ours (Mt 20). God is always waiting with open, loving arms for those who desire to be loved and encouraged. God’s love and His mercy is our necessary nourishment. We can start each day feeling accepted rather than rejected. The beauty of the relationship is loving God is loving yourself and others to the fullest.

We understand in human relationships it is far better to be motivated by love than fear. Serving a boss out of respect than obligation empowers to be our best. It always inspires to follow because we want to than have to. Relationships based on fear can lead to temporary changes but not lifelong transformations. Intimacy which can inspire is never obtained. Parents ultimately want their children to understand their unconditional love for them so they might follow their wisdom for their own good. God is no different as a Parent.

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