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BASIC TRAINING-GOD'S BOTTOM LINE MESSAGE TO THE WORLD
Dear Christian friends,
If you were asked what the core message of the Bible is, what would you say? I saw a website for atheists. They were asked that question. Some of the things they wrote can’t be repeated from a pulpit in God’s house. A couple that can are as follows: “Many of us who have actually read the Bible may well agree that the core message is one of abject cruelty and totalitarianism. When it isn't the ignorant rantings of pre-scientific goat herders and their tribal spats with neighboring peoples, it's a system of laws demanding obedience, but which can never be fully obeyed. That's if a cobbled-together collection of recycled myth, internal contradictions, and ahistorical nonsense can be said to even have a core message.” I sure don’t want to be in his shoes. Another said, “The Bible is an anthology contributed to by many different people over many centuries. It says many different things, some of which contradict other things it says. It doesn't have a 'core message', any more than four hours of the Shopping Channel has a 'core advertisement'.”
There is a core message in the Bible. In fact, it is loud and clear. It is and ought to be part of the basic training that we are doing this summer. Part Five of Basic Spiritual Training – “God’s Bottom-Line Message For the World.”
A Lutheran blogger asked people to summarize the message of the Bible in one sentence? I thought one of the best answers was this: “God the Father has reconciled His created but fallen world through the death of His Son, and renews it into a Kingdom of God by His Spirit.” Others were good too. If I had answered this question, I would have answered “the message of Law and Gospel.”
When Martin Luther understood the teachings of Law and Gospel, which was long after he had become a monk in the Roman church ironically, he knew the Roman church needed a reformation. When he learned what Law and Gospel really meant, he went from complete fear of God to being overwhelmed by God’s love. That’s why we need to understand the meaning and difference between Law and Gospel too.
First of all, the Law has several different meanings in the Bible. It can mean the first five books of the Bible, the Law of Moses. A Jew would use the word “Torah.” The Law could also mean the entire set of laws that God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai. There were three parts. There was the Ceremonial law (the laws of worship like sacrifices, the cleansings, what constituted clean animals, holy days and much more). The second part consisted of the civil laws which pertained to the punishment exacted if your ox gored your neighbor or if you cheated someone by not measuring a bushel of corn correctly. The third part of the law was the Moral Law, the Ten Commandments. Of those three the Ten Commandments still apply to us today. They were reapplied by Jesus for the New Testament. That is what we mean by the law in today’s message
The Gospel doesn’t need a long definition. The Gospel means the good news of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Let’s start with the first difference. The Law tells me what I must be and what I must do for God; the Gospel tells me what God has done for me by sending Jesus. Our perfect and holy God who gave us life and provides everything we need in life tells us what we need to be perfectly happy. “Be holy even as the Lord our God is holy.” Jesus repeated something similar, “Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
That should surprise absolutely no one. Holiness is sinlessness. That’s how God is. He is satisfied only with perfection. His standards are absolute. If they aren’t then he isn’t God.
“That’s not fair” people say. We have standards for people. We make expectations for parents. Did you see that news story about parents who had six kids and left them alone on a regular basis? The parents said they made an agreement before they got married that their kids were never going to get in the way of having fun together? Do they meet the standards of being parents? We have standards for people who represent us in government. They should probably be stricter. The Bible sets standards for pastors. Look it up in I Timothy. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t set standards for God, but is anyone surprised that God’s standards are perfection? Could God be anything less than perfect?
Those standards can be met if we do one thing - love! “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; love your neighbor as yourself.” You start by putting God above everyone and everything else. Stop thinking how all affects you first as if you are the center of the universe. Put the Lord first in all you think and say and do. If you do that, you will love your neighbor, because that’s what God wants us to do. Do you see how the Law, if kept, would make all happy?
For us to do, we have to be. To do we must be - loving 24/7; honest 24/7; thoughtful 24/7; compassionate 24/7 and all the other virtues. There is a roadblock, however. Unfortunately, the Law makes us squirm, doesn’t it? Because we can’t be perfect and we can’t do perfection.
Thank God for the Gospel – the Good News. The Gospel tells us Jesus came to be what we couldn’t be; he came to do what we couldn’t do.
The more I give thought to this, the more I am awed by Jesus. I will speak for myself but I have a feeling I am not that it is so easy to chafe at someone when he rubs me the wrong way. You know the times - when someone who pulls in front of you on the highway, when someone says they will do but don’t. Yet, Jesus had so many more challenges of this kind. People, prodded by the Devil himself, tried to get under his skin all the time. Sometimes he spoke up in anger, but it was a righteous anger. Sin deserves righteous anger. Yet he took time to address them. He called on them to repent. He even called his betrayer “friend” to seek him to repent and turn to him. He has always has a concern for the eternal good of every soul. He gives us his Word to instruct anyone and everyone. He died for all, even those who hated him enough to nail him to the cross to forgive what we couldn’t do or be. The Law tells me what I must be and what I must do for God; the Gospel tells me what God has done for me by sending Jesus.
The second difference between Law and Gospel is how it was revealed. The Law is revealed in the heart and the Bible; the Gospel is revealed in the Bible. The apostle Paul spoke about this in the book of Romans. God gave the Law to the Israel at Mount Sinai in that very special way. But you didn’t have to be an Israelite to know the difference between right and wrong. He writes “The (Gentiles) show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)”
Did you hear that? The Law is written in the heart. People are born with a sense of right and wrong. God gives a conscience to everyone to bug us when we do wrong and pat us on the back when we do right. It isn’t perfect – it hasn’t been since Adam and Eve and the garden, but that knowledge of the law is still there. Even outside the church many speak of natural law.
But God clarified the Law after sin, because it had become so hazy and obscure. It came to humanity in the form of the Ten Commandments. They are found for us in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 in the Bible and scattered elsewhere. So the Law was revealed in our hearts and then in the Scripture.
The Gospel doesn’t come naturally. No one is born with a natural knowledge of Jesus. Paul spoke about this too. “However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.’” The Spirit reveals the news of life and forgiveness in Bible.
We can use that to our advantage. We can expect people to know about sin naturally. They are often looking for the cure. We have the perfect and only cure in Christ. The Law is revealed in the heart and the Bible; the Gospel is revealed in the Bible.
The Law tells us God hates sin and those who do sin; the Gospel tells us he loves us. The Law tells us God hates sin and those who do sin. That sounds harsh doesn’t it? But listen to Psalm 5:5, “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong.” God doesn’t look the other way at sin or sweep it under the rug.
We don’t either. How do you feel about parents who let their children do anything? Parents who never discipline them? There are many amazing things I have learned about people in the ministry. One that sort of shocks me involves children who were not disciplined in their early life. I have heard it far more times than I ever imagined. Older in life kids who had permissive parents said they didn’t think their parents loved them because they didn’t set standards for them. God draws lines in the sand. He hates sin and those who do sin.
Now comes what seems to be the biggest contradiction in the Bible! While God hates sin and those who do sin, God also loves. He loves perfectly. He provided the righteousness that we need in giving us the righteousness of Christ to be able to face a righteous Father. He punished Jesus who bore all of our sins instead of us. The Law tells us God hates sin and those who do sin; the Gospel shows us he loves us in Christ.
The Law terrifies us and discourages; the Gospel comforts and encourages. If parents heap all kinds of responsibilities on them they can never keep, be prepared for depression and despair. Be prepared for them to say, I give up.
I have made big mistakes as a parent in my life (thank God for his mercy), but one that I feel particularly bad about is when our son wrote book in the first grade. It was entitled “What I Want to Do When I Grow Up!” Guess what Ben wrote about! He wanted to be a pastor like Dad!” He said some very nice things. It was displayed at a local mall because teachers thought it was so well thought out and written. Do you know what I did the first time he showed me? I also pointed out misspelled words. Don’t boo the pastor even though I deserved it. I could see how his spirit was taken right out of him. I know God forgave me but I did have to spend a few days in the family doghouse.
That is what happens when the law comes at us with one command after another. We get discouraged. We become hopeless. We are ready to give up.
Thank God for the Gospel. We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Our sins are remembered no more. That is life changing. When a demon-possessed man was healed by Jesus, the Bible says, “The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” The experience was a life changer. He couldn’t tell others enough about the Lord. When Zacchaeus the tax-collector was forgiven for his corrupt and fraudulent ways but knew that Jesus loved and forgave him, he promised, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Life changing! Look what the Gospel did for them. What does it do for you? While the Law discourages; the Gospel encourages, motivates and inspires.
In short remember SOS when it comes to Law and Gospel. The Law shows our sin; the Gospel shows our salvation. Basic Training week 5 - God’s Bottom-Line Message to the World – the Law and the Gospel.