Is God For You? = The Biggest Unanswered(?) Question of Major Religions

I think if we are all really honest with ourselves, we will admit that we don’t like religion. Even the most religious people—who go to church and read religious books and constantly do great things in the name of religion—I think, deep down, don’t like religion and feel exhausted from it. I think deep down there are massive insecurities, fears, and wars of self-righteousness below the surface of an allegedly admirable religious persona.

Why do I say this? Because I know it personally. And all too well. But hang with me.

It seems that at the heart of most religions is fear. Underneath all the good deeds, there exists this heart-felt subtle pain that something isn’t right, and I think it expresses itself in the worried question, “is God for me?” You can’t rid the anxiety of this big question, regardless of how good you are. And accordingly, you need justification and resolution to this problem.

Judaism, Islam, Animism, Hinduism, and moralistic Christianity—I think—all fundamentally relate upon this question as their common denominator. “Is God for me?” is probably the biggest question… Ever. Think about it. In fact, scholar A.W. Tozer famously quotes, “What comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important about you.” Indeed, “Is God for me?” is an important question, yet because it often goes unanswered, it yields rigid strains of insecurity, fear, despair, and exhaustion.

And as a way to provide justification, resolution, and alleviation to this insufferable question, it seems natural to assume that doing good deeds becomes the solution. It becomes the transaction-based way of appeasing this God and ensuring that you are on his good side.

Thus, good deeds exists as the currency of peace, security, hope, and confidence. Good deeds become the inevitable, functional savior.

But still—like I have discovered myself—regardless of all the good deeds, you still don’t feel totally assured that God is for you.

And that’s when the questions come: So how much ‘good deeds’ is enough? How good is good enough to be ensured? Is it a matter of how gracious God is? Then everyone will be let in. Or is it a matter of how holy and just God is? Then no one will get in. So how do you know exactly? Will you ever come to a point in your life where you feel completely, totally ensured of your standing before this deity?

Yet, some say you can find assurance. But how? Mainly, by measuring yourself up against everyone else. The classic bell-curve of life. But how trustworthy is this methodology to gain assurance anyways? Let’s take a look.

For one, this is admittedly a very self-righteous thing to do. Especially because you really don’t know other people as much as you think, and additionally, everyone concurs that outward behavior isn’t the only barometer of moral goodness. Motivations, intentions, and attitude are incredibly important to morals. So is finding assurance of your salvation through the self-righteousness means of comparison a moral way of finding your moral assurance? Certainly not. Truly, as soon as you start comparing, you inevitably fail yourself morally.

In addition, this a also a very judgmental thing to do. For as soon as you become the judge of how much better you are than others, are you not assuming the role that only God has the authority to ultimately determine? Truly, as soon as you start comparing, you inevitably fail yourself morally—twice over. In essence, therefore, to find assurance of your moral standing by comparison to others is to lose assurance of your moral standing altogether.

What do major religions say about assurance for salvation?

Islam and Hinduism says that you can’t be totally ensured. And it is this fear of uncertainty over your salvation that motivates you to do more and more good deeds (to escape levels of spiritual purge or to escape levels of bad caste karma). This is the same ideology of moralistic Christianity, too. You just do better and better to give yourself an advantage in God’s eyes.

This is an age-old problem of all religions, too. Even in the New Testament, a young, rich ruler who claims to have kept the law perfectly since birth still comes to Jesus asking for how he can really, truly be sure if he is saved. Jesus’ response? Whatever is the most valuable thing in your heart is what indicates your functional savior.

Jesus says a rather counter cultural thing—religiously speaking.

In essence, he declares that true Christianity is radically and totally altogether different from every other religion when it comes to assurance of salvation. He says that any currency—especially wealth in god deeds—is not sufficient for salvation. Why? Because any currency before God that is not currency of God can never give you assurance with God.

The God of Christianity is totally holy and just—which means no one gets salvation because we are all too sinful and He is too holy. But the God of Christianity is also totally gracious and loving—which means he has made a way for everyone to be saved.

On the cross, Jesus paid our debt for sins before God, satisfying the just requirements of his holiness, but Jesus offers us his perfect righteousness as a gift of grace to all who would receive. Through Christ, God did not compromise his holiness or his grace. The intersection of the cross was the penultimate and perfection expression of them both.

Christian salvation, then, is radically different: because while major religions say salvation is achieved, Jesus says it is received.

Achieving salvation seems an impossible feat, and never alleviates the pang of whether or not you are assured that God is for you.

Receiving salvation, however, seems an impossible gift, yet always guarantees that God is for you.

The heart of true Christianity, therefore, is not fear, but gratitude and confidence. Unlike every other religion, it proclaims a Savior better than our good deeds—Jesus—whose righteousness was perfect and becomes our own through faith in his perfect life, his death in our place of punishment, and his resurrection, which proves that his righteousness was indeed sufficient for our salvation.

Christianity boldly proclaims that God is for you. And it doesn’t let you doubt it. Its motivation for living a life of good deeds is not by the elusive bait of spiritual gain, but by the concrete gift of obtaining all that is ever to be gained in Christ.

As such, having God’s full acceptance, approval, and love in Christ—not by our deeds—Christians are motivated to live in light of this reality, being grateful for such a salvation and boasting in the Savior who loved us and gave himself for us.

Indeed, we don’t live in fear, because our Savior took our punishment for sin. And we don’t love in un-assurance, because our object of assurance, Jesus, is surely alive and reigning over all things. And we don’t live as judges, because no one is better or worse before God in our own merit. Rather, the motivations for our living are confidence, gratitude, and humility, for we are constantly humbled by the truth that in Christ, God is indeed for us.

If God is for us, who can b against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 8:31-39

The bigger question is, therefore is not how do you feel about God?, but how does God feel about you?

Indeed, how God feels about you will inform how you feel about God. And how can we know how he feels about us? “He loved us and gave himself up for us” (Gal. 2:20-22); “God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); and “We love because God first loved us” (1 Jn. 1:19).

God is indeed for us, and we can be assured of that most ultimately through Christ.

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Five Love Languages Of GOD = JESUS

We’ve all heard of the five love languages, right? The book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman has been a best seller, not only among Christian circles, but in the non-Christian circles, too.

The basis of the book communicates that we are each wired to experience and give love in different ways. However, Chapman argues that there are five general ‘love languages’ categories and everyone typically falls into either one or two.

These five ‘love language’ categories include the following:

  1. Gifts
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Quality Time
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

Think about which category you generally fall into. Maybe you express and receive love the same way. Or maybe you express and receive love differently. Overall, the point is we are creatures that are wired—by our personalities, strengths, and experiences—to enjoy giving and receiving love in different ways.

So, it got me thinking. This renowned book points out the five love languages that apply at a horizontal level, between man and woman, but what about at a vertical level, between humanity and God? In fact, implicit to Chapman’s thesis—that we are created to give and receive love in different ways—lies a significant premise that flies completely under the radar. Namely, if we were created to give and receive love in different ways, then that means, therefore, there is a Creator who has wired us in that specific way for a specific reason. If that premise is true, that means the primary emphasis belongs first to how this Creator relates to us and us to Him, and then secondarily focuses on how we relate to one another in light of that first relation.

Ultimately, the Creator—along with all his characteristics, personality, and nature—is reflected in his design. This is true of authors, painters, basketball players, musicians, and etc. In other words, the art is always an imprint or an expression of the artist. Same goes with God. Being the Creator of the natural order, every aspect of the physical universe bears the weight of God’s glorious fingerprint.

But what else? We know can know God is a brilliant artist, but what about his heart? He simply could have created everything and then skipped out. Creation doesn’t exactly give us enough evidence for how God feels about us, relates with us, and how we are to relate to him.

And that’s where, significantly, these five love languages come in. While creation can deductively point us to God, these love languages can inductively point us to God. Meaning, how he has created us to give and receive love provides us the blueprints for how he wants to give and receive love to us. God is creator (Gen.1) and God is love (1 Jn. 4:19).

So these five love languages (gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and physical touch) tell us about the nature of God. However, before we start filling in the blanks for God is like all these things, we first must let God fill in the blanks about himself about he expresses himself in this way.

And his answer?

Jesus.

Jesus is the five love languages of God.

He is the ultimate Gift of God to us. He was given at the greatest cost, for the greatest purpose, to be the solution for the greatest need, when we were least worthy.

He is the Word of grace of truth, the ultimate dynamic of true affirmation. Being all grace unfortunately results in liberal sentimentalism, with no backbone for true justice. But being all truth all unfortunately results in cold-hearted fundamentalism, with no acceptance for true love. But Jesus exudes the perfect balance, who died for our sins to fulfill all justice, but who gives his righteousness as a gift to display only grace.

He is the embodiment of Quality Time, for he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and whose presence will never be exhausted from you (Heb. 13:5,8). In Christ, you can approach God with confidence whenever because Christ reigns as your mediator forever (Heb. 4:6; 3:12).

He is the ultimate example of Acts of Service, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Ph. 2:6-8).

He is the ultimate example of Physical Touch, who, while he was transcendent, became descendent, incarnating into our nature, being the God-man who alone could bridge the gap between God and fallen man.

Overall, God says that if you want to know who He is, then look at Jesus. And Jesus says, if you want to know who God is, look at Him. For Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” and “the image of the invisible God” (Heb. 1; Col. 1). Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn. 14:9).

After all, how we can really know what all these five love languages are without the Standard to measure them by? Jesus, indeed, is this standard and the ultimate example for all these languages.

So when you think about how you like to give and receive love, be assured that God has first given that type of love to you, and that you can ultimately know His love by the person and work of Jesus. Whatever love language you are and whatever longings you need fulfilled, God has fulfilled it.

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Motivations of Christianity

Let’s just be honest for a second. With the exceptions of Christianity’s ethics toward sex, money, and power (which I understand are pretty big things), Christian ethics look a lot like secular ethics. In fact, secular ethics borrow much of their ethics from Christianity. The 10 Commandments, for example, are a prime example. Everyone seems to inherently understand that stealing is wrong, murdering is wrong, false witness is wrong, and sleeping with someone else’s spouse is wrong—even the most passionate relativist (which is a whole other argument in and of itself).

However, the motivations that lie at the bottom of Christian ethics and secular ethics could not be more different. In fact, the motivations behind Christian ethics even differ from every single other world religion, too. On the surface, each ethical system—secular or religious—calls forth similar external behavior, but Christianity makes a case that only it can deliver the best type of ‘external’ behavior, because only it starts with a radically different set of ‘internal’ motivations to cause such a type of behavior after all.

So, what is this motivation, and why is it even important?

Author and theologian, J. I. Packer, brilliantly explains the power of biblical motivation, and what sets it apart from every other world religion or ethical system. Check out what he has to say:

The secular world never understands Christian motivation. Faced with the question of what makes Christians tick, unbelievers maintain that Christianity is practiced only out of self-serving purposes. They see Christians as fearing the consequences of not being Christians (religion as fire insurance), or feeling the need of help and support to achieve their goals (religion as crutch), or wishing to sustain a social identity (religion as a badge of respectability). No doubt all these motivations can be found among the membership of churches: it would be futile to dispute that. But . . . a self-seeking motivation brought into the church is not thereby made Christian, nor will holiness ever be the right name for religious routines thus motivated. From the plan of salvation I learn that the true driving force in authentic Christian living is, and ever must be, not the hope of gain but the heart of gratitude.[1]

In a nutshell, the distinctive factor that sets Christian ethics apart from every other secular or religious system is that its motives starts as a response to what has already been gained—not a response to gain.

Do you do good deeds to gain reward from God or do you do good deeds for God because you’re grateful that in Christ God has given you everything that you could ever want or need by His grace, and that there is nothing left to be gained by your works?

In fact, when we think that there is more love, acceptance, and approval to be gained by our good works, we are essentially implying that Jesus’ work on the cross for us was lacking, and that we must or can even add to that.

For one, we can’t even add to Jesus’ work for us to gain God’s love and forgiveness and approval. If we think we can, we are overestimating how sinful we are and how holy he is. Besides, can an inherently sinful person strive in his naturally unholy ways to present God with a holiness on par with Jesus’ holy work, who was inherently holy, as a way to add to Jesus’ work for us? No, of course not. It’s logically inconceivable and functionally impossible.

Here are some critical implications of the belief that we think we can earn God’s blessing, love, approval, and acceptance by our works. If our motive is fundamentally to gain, then the result of our works will be either despair or pride. If you end up morally succeeding, then you inevitably become prideful because you can only credit yourself for earning God’s approval. However, if you end up morally failing, then you inevitably despair because you can only blame yourself for failing to earn God’s approval. So what are the moral byproducts of such a moral spectrum? Pride and despair. Seems like a moral dead end to me.

So, regardless, morally speaking, you are all the way back to square one. And let’s be reassess the situation as it is—are self-righteous pride and self-loathing despair the best sources of motivation to constantly refuel and strengthen your moral endeavors anyways? No, of course not. If anything, they will just exhaust you. And in the process of your exhaustion, it is likely that you will inevitably resort to do three things. In fact, I have witnessed this in the church—and in my own life—more than I would ever like to confess. Here’s what you will do if you are exhausted morally:

  1. You will lower the demand and the law, cheapening the requirements of goodness, so that you can feel better about yourself. I’m not that bad after all, right?
  2. You will give yourself cheap grace, continually sweeping sin under the rug and trying to maintain the appearance of goodness. I’m pretty good after all, right?
  3. You will actually believe something else. You can’t live according to your beliefs, so you change them in order to alleviate your stress over the issue. As long as I’m a good person, it doesn’t matter what I believe, right?

In other words, an ethical system from secular society or other religions motivates ethical living by the whip and spur of fear, guilt, pride, or self-preservation. All these start and end with the individual.

But the motivations at the heart of Christian ethics are radically different, as J.I. Packer explains. Instead of starting with the individual, it starts with God. Before we could even think about doing good works for gain, God gives us everything that we could never have earned, even if we had infinite lifetimes to try to earn it.

While we were at our absolute worst, being enemies of God, being in direct rebellion against him, and living for ourselves and under our own lordship—God gave up everything he had to save us from our own destruction, took our penalty of sin into himself, and died in our place. And even while we were at our absolute best, trying to be friends of God, trying to live in direct adoration of Him, living for his approval and lordship—our efforts are too stained with selfishness and are too unholy, so God died for our sins and offers the perfect righteousness we need for salvation through Christ.

Before we could do anything for God, Christ did it all for God, for us. Now it’s our turn—so is there anything left to do? No. Jesus claimed, “It is finished.” All the work for salvation is completed, and His righteousness is offered to you. In Christ’s righteousness, you have perfect fellowship, approval, acceptance, and love from God the Father. You can’t add to it.

There’s nothing left to be gained, for you have gained it all in Christ. So, now you live motivated with a supernaturally huge amount of gratefulness, humility, and confidence in God’s love.

Remember how the motivations from other ethical systems end in either pride or despair when they start with the effort to gain? Well now let’s see what happens when we start with gratefulness and humility for the fact that we have gained everything in Christ. So you succeed morally? Fantastic, and praise the Lord, for he’s worth living for, right? So you fail morally? Get back up, and praise the Lord, for he’s forgiven you already, right? The gospel doesn’t allow you to boast in your goodness and doesn’t allow you to despair in your badness; instead it motivates by gratefulness, humility, and confidence and produces exactly what it promises: righteousness. Because Christ gave you his righteousness, you inevitably become functionally for God what you already are positionally before God: righteous. You become in practice what you already are in position: righteous.

And what about long term progress? You won’t grow exhausted. Rather, you will grow encouraged, even in your shortcomings. And you will get better morally, too. Ironically, though, you won’t even know you are getting better because your focus will not be on your improvement, but will be on your great Savior. In fact, the paradox of Christianity is this: if you work on your improvement and not Christ, you won’t really get either. But if you seek Jesus as your ultimate ends, you will find great improvement along the way. Indeed, when you stop naval-gazing morally, you will only then become more attuned to others’ needs instead of your own, and your Savior’s glory and kingdom more than your own.

All in all, Christian motivations are important. They start with God, and end with God, and in the process we are swept away in a glory that transforms us more and more into the person of Jesus, who is the ultimate example of morality after all.

Therefore, don’t get caught up in the DO of Christianity. Get caught up in the DONE. And meanwhile, I think you’ll find the ‘DO’ a lot easier, more enjoyable, and more motivating than before.

_______

Here’s another blog of mine on motivations: https://gospelfocus289.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/extravagant-motivations-come-from-our-extravagant-god/

[1] J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor, Mich: Servant Press, 1992), 75.

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Bringing Up Past Sins

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but ironically, I think that sometimes we Christians bring up past sins we have committed for three main reasons: we want to get God’s attention, we want to feel more pious about ourselves, or we don’t really believe in his forgiveness.

Initially, I think we tend to bring up past sins with God as a way to show Him how sorry we really are about our sin, how serious we are about holiness, and how much better we have become since then. And I think we subconsciously do these three things as a faux-holy attempt to get leverage with God. What do I mean? I think that sometimes we bring up past sins in order to prove to God how sorry we are for our sin, and by showing how sorry we are for sin, we actually show how pious we really are. Our intense reaction to sin is actually a subtle way to prove our alleged holiness to God—that we aren’t that bad after all.

I think we do this because the spiritual default of our human nature is to prove ourselves to God. We see this all over the Bible and in every nook and cranny of our own lives. And in this case, we wrongly believe that our degree of sorrow over sin is what ushers us back into right standing with God, as if the intensity of our sorrow over sin—a subtle way of proving our own piety—is what gives us renewed favor before God.

Thus, bringing up past sins before God to show our own piety or goodness is actually never about God, but it’s ironically about our goodness, and we’re consciously or unconsciously using it as leverage for why God should bless us. Moralism can literally make us so delusional we deceive ourselves about the very thing we are trying to prove.

But maybe this isn’t you. Maybe when you bring up past, forgiven sins, it is not about feeling more pious for feeling sorrow over sin. Maybe it is truly the belief that you don’t think God really forgave you through Christ. In this case, you must believe that when God said he forgives sins, you must take him at his trustworthy, unerring word, and not your feeble, changing feelings. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what God says and thinks. So if He says you’re forgiven, you can’t veto his verdict. He’s the Judge after all. If you feel unforgiven, but have gone to God for forgiveness, then you need to believe the truth that God has in fact forgiven you, then you must let your feelings catch up to that reality of your freedom from sin.

Overall, bringing up past forgiven sins is highly offensive to Jesus.

Why? Because he took your sins upon himself, nailed them to the cross on which he died, and buried them in the grave in which he overcame.

Your sins are dead to you in light of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and forgiveness for you.

Don’t resurrect your sins with Jesus. You never had leverage with Him anyways, so don’t do it as a way to establish leverage. You’ll only be re-establishing your own moralistic delusions and self-deception in the process. You had nothing to offer him and still have nothing to give him, no matter how ‘righteous’ or ‘pious’ or ‘improved’ you think you are. His righteousness to you and forgiveness of you is a gift of grace so that no one can boast. And conversely, if you don’t believe you’re really forgiven or really loved or think you’re too bad for God’s grace, look at the cross and his resurrection. God’s wrath was poured out for sin once and for all, completely on Jesus, every ounce. Not one drop remains for you if you have claimed Christ as your sacrifice and righteousness.

So don’t resurrect your sins with Jesus. Why? Because He intends to unearth your sin as much as he intends to climb back into the grave. Therefore, bringing up past forgiven sins with Jesus is the same thing as telling him that his suffering for you wasn’t enough to give you the peace you need. In this case, the problem isn’t with His suffering; for God already confirmed it as sufficient. The problem is with our obsession with leverage before God or your unbelief in the sufficiency of his grace. Thankfully, however, only the gospel can snap our obsession with leverage, and only it can calm our doubts in His grace. Rest in it, and rejoice you’ve indeed been forgiven and in Christ, have God’s love and acceptance in full and in permanence.

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Moralism vs. Gospel

There’s a rival to the gospel in the church that goes largely unnoticed. It’s not another religious point of view. It’s not a political situation. It’s not popular culture. It’s actually a subtle distortion of the gospel that we too carelessly assume and too quickly embrace. Which makes it, I think, a more dangerous opponent to the gospel than another religious viewpoint, political situation, or cultural phenomenon. What it is, then? Moralism.

“Woah, now hold on here. Is not the church about moral behavior anyways? Don’t beat a dead horse…” Sorry… This is no dead horse beating. And the fact that so many Christians immediately associate ‘Christianity’ and ‘morality’ as synonymous terms is not just beating a dead horse. It’s even worse: it’s beating their own dead religion. It’s already evidence of defeat.

Sure, Christianity undeniably teaches a distinctive morality, and that’s because it projects a distinctive God who is the ultimate source of all distinctive moral right and wrongs. However, to falsely assume that Christianity is primarily about your moral behavior, personal transformation, or individual betterment is the same thing as to falsely assume your salvation. I know…this is serious stuff. But let’s also remember that God thought it was so serious that He died in light of it. If it’s that serious, you can be sure that He doesn’t want you to miss it.

So what is legalism/moralism and why is it so dangerous and destructive? Moralism denotes the idea that God’s love, approval, and acceptance are based on our moral performance for Him. It says that your good deeds set the relationship status between you and God. Moralism says that the amount of favor and blessing God will send your way is directly proportional to your amount of obedience to Him. Essentially, your identity and self-worth ride on how good of a person you are.

To be sure, many churches will not explicitly say this. But the messages and culture of the church overflow with these moralistic implications.

A gospel-centered church, on the other hand, is the exact, stark opposite. It’s the arch-enemy of moralism. A gospel-centered approach denotes the idea that God’s love, approval, and acceptance are based on Jesus’ moral performance for God, for us—not our own. It says our relationship status with God was based on Jesus’ works—not ours. And our identity and self-worth are determined by how great God loves us—and Jesus’ sacrificial life and death are proof of that. These are counterintuitive, counter-religious truths. It’s this gospel that makes Christianity different from every other religion.

So how can one distinguish a moralistic impulse from a gospel impulse in the church?

Moralism will diagnose our problems as behavioral or circumstantial, but it won’t really identify our functional problems beneath the behavioral or circumstantial dimension (the need for love, approval, acceptance, validation, and security). As a result, moralism will prescribe our solution as behavioral or circumstantial, but it won’t identify our practical solution for the Savior who provides all functional needs in full.

To be more specific, moralism will say our problems are anger and pride and lust and greed. And then it would say our practical solutions are peace and humility and love and generosity. Practically, it will diagnose sin as character flaws and bad living, and will prescribe checklists for behavioral solutions and better living.

Conversely, the gospel will diagnose character flaws and bad living as our sinful nature, and will prescribe Jesus for heart solutions and stronger living. It says that anger, pride, lust, and greed are problems—but that they are merely fruits of a deeper problem. And like any tree rooted in poison, fixing the fruit will not help the problem. You must fix the roots to get to the root of the problem. And the deeper root to each of these behavioral problems is our lack of understanding of our right standing with God through Christ. It says the deeper root to each of these solutions is our restored and fully accepted, fully loved, fully approved relationship with God through our Savior, who is the ultimate source and ultimate example of peace, humility, love, and generosity after all.

Therefore, moralism will say, don’t be angry when people unfairly attack you, because you’re an important person and you should love them back. The gospel says, don’t be angry when people unfairly attack you, because your ultimate sense of approval and validation is from God, and if you have that, it doesn’t matter what others think—their opinions change like the wind anyways. But love them undeservedly anyways, because I have loved you undeservedly in the most ultimate sense; so love me back by loving them like I love you.

Moralism will say, be humble because it’s the best thing to do, it blesses others, and God opposes the proud; here are 5 ways to be a more humble person. The gospel says, be humble because in light of God’s holiness, you have absolutely nothing to boast in; your best morality is filthy rags stained with sin; your greatest talents and opportunities are gifts of God; you’re equally sinful as everyone else, equally needing of a Savior, and equally receiving of this Savior. The only thing you contributed to your relationship with God was your sin and fundamental sameness all other humans—therefore, be humble and boast in Him. And so forth.

In essence the main moral difference between moralism and the gospel lies in its incentive. Moralism says ‘Do!’ because it’s the moral thing. However, the gospel says ‘Do!’ because Jesus has already said ‘Done!’ on the cross to lovingly fulfill the moral obligations to God we unable to pay ourselves.

Moralism primarily emphasizes Christian-living. The gospel primarily emphasizes Christ dying for our failure to live Christ-like.

Moralism is good advice. The gospel is good news.

Moralism promises something it actually can never deliver. For instance, it makes you inevitably self-righteous when you succeed and makes you despair when you fail. If you’re a generally moral person, your position before God is because of your ability to do good works; so you boast in yourself. And if you’re a generally immoral person, your position before God is because of your inability to do good works; so you despair in yourself. Therefore, it’s an inevitable moral dead end. You can’t really be moral with this approach.

But the gospel makes a promise and actually delivers even more: it promises a Savior for your badness, and your understanding of such grace is actually the empowerment to transform your heart of rebellion toward God and cause you to love him, thus becoming moral. The gospel, thus, breeds a culture of confidence, not self-righteousness—because Christ gained all that is to be gained. And it also breeds humility, not despair—because we’re all equally undeserving, all equally forgiven, and all equally cherished.

Moralism eclipses the grandeur of Christ with human moral performance because it moves the spotlight away from Christ and places it on Christians. But the gospel enhances the grandeur of Christ because it moves the spotlight to Christ, and makes Christians premier reflectors of this Light. In the same way that an in tact mirror can only reflect light in one direction—but a broken mirror can reflect light in many directions—so also do broken Christians who own their brokenness reflect the Light more profusely than those who act like they are in tact.

Moralism inevitably produces Pharisees who love their appearance, improvement, and morality. But the gospel produces people who genuinely love God, with or without the moral spotlight.

Moralism is exclusive—only the good get ‘right’ with God. But the gospel is inclusive—all people can get right with God because of Jesus.

So what does this all mean, functionally? Do real Christians simply neglect morality, then? No. Here’s the paradox of Christian morality: if you treat Christianity primarily as a morality, you won’t get Christian morality or its Christ. But if you go to Christianity’s Christ and relate to him on his terms, you’ll get both. If you primarily seek the law over grace, you actually won’t get either. But if you seek Jesus, you’ll get both.

In Galatians 2:16-21, you will specifically see in one place where 1) we cannot be justified by our own morality (in italics) and 2) where it’s Christ work for us that compels in us good deeds for him in light of his love for us (in bold italics).

We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

To conclude, it’s a shame that churches emphasize step-by-step solutions for problems instead of primarily the Jesus who took an infinite amount of steps towards us in love through his incarnation, life of obedience, substitution, and resurrection. The deeper, functional needs beneath all problems is the reality that sin has made us feel self-sufficient for supplying our own sense of self-validation, self-worth, approval, acceptance, and security that our heart so desperately longs for. All these things we try to find apart from God will keep killing us, too.

I love what Tullian Tchividjian has said in his book, Jesus+Nothing=Everything: “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.” Therefore, providing behavioral solutions to solve heart problems is like trying to write an English paper with a calculator. Because only the gospel gives us everything our heart really needs, only it is fit to be the solution for our every need.

Thus, we need first a good news that all these heart longings have been given ultimately, unconditionally, maximally, and permanently in Christ. This gospel is the blueprint and foundations for any ‘practical message’ we will ever hear from the pulpit anyways. In fact, a practical message unfounded on the gospel is a house of sand that will eventually crumble down with circumstance. But the gospel gives you a firm foundation, an anchor for the soul, that remains just as immovable in the greatest of storms as in the calmest of calms.

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Genealogical Significance & Kingly Dating Controversies

If you have ever read the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings, you might have noticed that a significant portion of both of these books consists of dating the reigns of kings who ruled the Jewish nation in Israel (the northern kingdom) and in Judah (the southern kingdom).

I’m just going to flat honest with you: whenever I see paragraphs and paragraphs of dates in the Bible, or long genealogies, or something similar to that, I just skip right on by so I can get to the ‘good stuff’ of the biblical text. You know, the places in the Bible where I can find some solid truth and application. However, I have actually realized this is a foolish thing to do, especially since genealogies can communicate major theological truths that have massive implications to my life. For instance, the genealogy of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke are laced with significant themes that contextualize the whole book. If you look closely at Jesus’ genealogies, you will realize there are murders, prostitutes, foreigners, and rebels listed in his family tree… for the public to see. Why would the authors of the gospels include these ‘bad apples’ of the family tree if they were making a kingly argument for Jesus? Everyone else who was trying to establish himself in a high position in society would absolutely shy away from relations to the ‘rebel brother’ or ‘awkward uncle’ or ‘murderous father’ or ‘immoral relative.’ But Jesus didn’t. In short, he includes every type of sinner and outcast in his genealogy because that’s his point exactly: to identify with all of humanity. He came for sinners. That includes us all. And every type of sinner. Even though Jesus is fundamentally not one of us, he is making the statement that no one is excluded from having the opportunity to be linked to his spiritual lineage through faith–no matter what you’ve done.

So that’s my quick quip about how genealogies are important. Complete rabbit trail. Yeah, I will not be focusing on genealogies in this blog, in particular. I am focusing on the dates of kingly reigns in the books of 1-2 Kings. So, you might now be wondering–in light of the theology evidenced in genealogies–“are there equally, theologically riveting truths that I can glean from these kingly dates in the books of 1-2 Kings?”

Well, to be honest, I have not found them yet, haha. However, if you have a critical eye, you might realize that the kingly dates in 1 Kings and in 2 Kings are skewed every here and there by a year or two. Which is important to consider, especially if you hold that the Bible does not err.

Enter you: “But wait… I thought the Bible was infallible and inerrant?” Well, Sparky, the dates are clearly contradictory. So, now what?

That’s where taking a seminary class can really help iron out these allegedly apparent contradictions. Obviously, I would have never come up with this on my own. But ultimately, we diagnosed this problem in my Old Testament II class, highlighting that there are three historical factors at play that complicate the chronological picture we see in 1-2 Kings.

Here are three of them, in case you were wondering:

First, powerful empires on either side of Israel followed different practices in reckoning the length of a king’s reign. For instance, while Egypt followed the practice of antedating,  Mesopotamia followed the practice of postdating. Antedating was a system where time of reign would be measured in such a way that the 1st year of reign would begin from accession to the beginning of the new year. For example, a King began to reign in Dec. 10th, 2000 and then finished his reign January 10th, 2001. In this case, he would have reigned for two years, because December 10th, 2000 to December 31st, 2000 counts as 1 year, and then he reigned into the ‘next year’. Postdating, however, was a system where time of reign would be measured in such a way that the 1st year of reign begins at the new year. Thus, if a king begins his reign on Jan. 10th, 2014, a year would not be credited until he reached Jan. 10th, 2015 in his term. Israel seems to have followed Egypt’s practice of antedating, which does not seem unusual since Jeroboam, their first king, spent much time in Egypt before his reign. Judah, on the other hand, may have used the system of antedating at certain points. However, it may have been that Judah alternated between antedating and post-dating, too. These different systems of measuring time of reign would explain the slight yearly difference or ‘contradiction’ in the dating.

Secondly, there was uncertainty regarding the beginning of the new year in the different kingdoms. There was a royal new year, which began in the spring/Nisan (referred to as a new year for kings, which began in the spring). And there was a calendrical new year, which began in the fall/Tishri (referred to as a new year for years, which began in the fall). Israel and Judah varied in this matter, and in various times of their history, they might have switched systems in terms of when they considered the new year, therefore, complicating the beginning and ending dates of a king’s reign.

Thirdly, the reality of co-regencies also skews how we might try to make sense of the slightly varying dates of between kingly reigns. A co-regency is the terminology used to describe when a son of a king began to reign before the father king died. So, the older king’s kingship would be counted all the way until he died, even if his son was currently reigning. And so the younger king’s term would start as he began his reign, even if his father king had not yet passed. Throw this factor into the mix too, and you have a quite the confusion of dates from a year-to-year basis.

Ultimately, these are three factors that can aid in reconciling the chronological difficulties and seemingly contradictory dates in the book of 1-2 Kings.

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I apologize that this was a blog of quite randomized topics and applications, but I nevertheless hope that it was helpful in better understanding the theological backdrop of genealogies and in better clarifying the alleged chronological problems in the book of 1-2 Kings.

Thanks again, everyone, for all your support and encouragement. It means a lot!

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‘God Loves You’ – What Does That Even Mean?

We have all heard that ‘God loves you’ before, right? Blah blah blah. We hear it so much that it hardly moves us at all (if it even moves at all).

I am guilty of this.

But what does this actually mean? The phrase ‘God loves you’?

I think if we really grasped this truth, then it would change everything. Everything about us. Everything in terms of how we view God, how we view ourselves, how we relate with others, how we view our work, and how we view our world.

Unfortunately, the phrase ‘God loves you’ passes through one ear and out the other so often. It doesn’t move us. It barely means anything to us.

Most of us—if we are honest—believe that God ‘loves us’ just like we called to ‘love’ someone we don’t like or don’t even know.

In other words, we believe that God ‘loves’ us, but we don’t believe that God actually likes us, delights in us, and is crazy about us. In the book of Zephaniah (and all throughout Scripture), God literally says he dances over the thought of us (3:17). References like these in Scripture aren’t there to make our heads big, but to overwhelm our hearts towards grateful humility and outward confidence.

But don’t make a fatal mistake of distorting what this means: The amazingness of God’s ridiculous, unending, intense, full, maximal love for you—the emphasis of this reality is not centered in how great you are to have attracted such unbelievable attention from God; the emphasis is on how great God is that he gives you such wild attention in the first place. God’s attention of us does not primarily mean we are inherently amazing creatures. Rather, God’s attention of us means that God is an inherently amazing God. After all, we are human; he is God. After all, we are imperfect; he is God. After all, we are weak and fragile and changing and sinful; he is God.

Like the psalmist says, ‘who am I that you are mindful of me?’ This is not a proud declaration of the psalmist’s own stature; this is an overwhelmed exclamation of God’s amazing grace despite his pitiful stature in the scheme of the cosmos.

But why? Why does God feel so strongly about us? Have we earned such approval from God? Is there anything in us that would warrant this striking, mysterious love of God for us? No. If anything, we deserve it the least! We constantly reject him in our heart of hearts, claiming lordship over our own lives, rejecting his design for life and creating our own. Rather, God loves us, delights in us, and rejoices over us… simply because he does. And overall, Jesus is ultimate proof of God’s crazy love towards us—not our deeds. And getting those confused will make the biggest difference in the world. In fact, Jesus came to save us from how our deeds were wrongly the default way of relating to God.

WHAT ‘LOVE’ PRACTICALLY MEAN?

The big part—which I believe we so often overlook—however, is that this massive love of God for us in Christ supplies us our deepest longings in life: value, our self-worth, our significance, our security, our validation. Your worth doesn’t come from what you do or accomplish—for God or for yourself or for your business or family or whatever. Your worth isn’t determined by yourself. We live in a post-modern culture that proclaims ‘you define your own essence.’ Unfortunately, this is quite contrary to what we read in Scripture. Rather, your worth or ultimate essence comes from what Jesus has done and accomplished for you on the cross. The fact that God came down in the flesh, lived and died for you to make a way to Himself is proof—in and of itself—of how valuable, significant, and secure you truly are.

If he loves you, then that means that you are valuable. If God’s says you are valuable, then you are. And his actions prove it. And not just pithy actions either. We are talking incarnating, living, dying, and resurrecting for you to pay the penalty of sin you were condemned to die and provide the position of reconciliation He longed for you to have.

IMPLICATIONS

Furthermore, there are massive implications that come with this massive love of God. If we really believed that God truly loved us, then we would stop trying so strenuously to determine our worth and significance by our job, our relationships, our position, or our stature. If we really believed that God truly delights in us, rejoices in us, dances over us—only because of his sheer grace—we would stop trying so strenuously to locate our self-worth in what we look like or who we can become or what we can accomplish. We would no longer be a working so tirelessly for these things to give us what we truly need for satisfaction. We would no longer be slaves to these things.

So, what if God was our ultimate sense of significance, security, and self-worth? Well, that now means we can finally approach our jobs, relationships, money, looks, blessings, platforms, etc. not as an means to end… not as a god that will satisfy our deepest longings… but finally being able to treat them as what they really are: just jobs, relationships, money, looks, blessings, platforms. Now, we are freed from their control. They don’t rule our hearts. Let’s be honest: most conflict in life happens when we make gods out of others and things to satisfy us supremely, and they end up disappointing us in varying ways.

Now you might be thinking, ‘well, this is stupid! This doesn’t even work on a practical level! This ideology dismantles all incentive to work hard at your job, or to try hard in your relationships, or enjoy the gifts and pleasures of earth!

Not too fast. No one said you shouldn’t work hard at relationships, or your treat job with excellence, or really enjoy the things of earth. What I am saying is that when you don’t treat these things as gods that could fail you, you finally approach them with the peace, freedom, grace, and joy needed to finally enable you to relate to and operate in your jobs, relationships, and pleasures better. The pressure is off. You can give grace, because you don’t expect others or things to supremely fulfill you. Only God can take that role.

When you don’t treat things as gods that can fail you, and finally treat God like he doesn’t fail you, you will finally approach everything else with the freedom to fail and not be devastated, and the freedom to succeed and simply be overjoyed and thankful. Besides, when you treat others and things as a means to supremely fulfill you, you are fundamentally and inevitably using them for a selfish ends. You aren’t really loving them. You are just loving the idea of how they can fulfill you. However, when God is your ultimate anchor of security and supreme dose of satisfaction and centerpiece of significance, then you can love others as others and treat things as things. You can enjoy them in and of themselves. You aren’t using them to fulfill a need that needs to be met. God has met that need supremely. So… now what? Just love people authentically for who they are. Just enjoy things intrinsically for what they are.

Why? Because in Christ, everything you long for in life—undisputed significance, permanent security, maximal self-worth, etc.—you already have and it can never be taken away from you by what you do or don’t do.

We so often determine our worth by what we accomplish for ourselves, for others, and for God. This is a dead end. What do I mean? If your self-worth is determined by what you do or don’t do, then your efforts will turn your heart proud if you succeed and will turn your heart sorrowful if you fail. And in the process, making your deeds the ‘currency’ to determine your significance is what will make even the best things in life merely a cold-hearted, selfish transaction—your relationship with God, others, family, and your work will amount to nothing more than a transaction. You hoped to transact for so much, but you reduced it all to so little.

Yet, the gospel of Christ says the exact opposite. It says that your value, self-worth, significance, and security can be known because God—whose opinion only really matters—lovingly lived and died for you in the person of Jesus Christ. His deeds determine your worth. His deeds secure your salvation. His deeds prove that you are valuable. And if you are valuable to God, then what job you have, what relationship you do or don’t have, how much money you make, etc. doesn’t matter a dime towards your significance or security! YOU ARE FREE.

Your value is independent from what you do because GOD LOVES YOU.

When you hear, ‘God loves you’ what do you think of? What goes through your head? What resounds in your heart?

I hope you start realizing that the phrase ‘God loves you’ is entirely synonymous with ‘God likes you a lot’ and ‘God rejoices over you’ and ‘you are supremely valuable in God’s eyes’ and ‘your value is not determined by what you do but about what He has done’.

‘God loves you’ is a familiar phrase. This is not a bad thing. This is an amazing truth to hear over and over again. Let’s just reaffirm this truth in our hearts, soak in its rich meaning, and rejoice in it until we can confidently say back to God, with the psalmist, “You are my strength and my shield; in you my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to you” (Ps. 28:7 ESV, adapted).

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