The Wandering Desert Monk

The Wandering Desert Monk

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What is your message?

Paul found himself standing in front of the Governor Felix defending his behavior and message. Felix was very interested in what Paul had to say because he had studied the Christian faith as well as the Jewish faith. The writer of the Apostles of the Holy Spirit summarized Paul’s conversations with Felix in the following words:

"As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you'" (Acts 24:25).

When is the last time you hard a sermon on any of these topics, righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come? Would our Christian culture be different if the preachers would address these three topics?

We can get an idea of what Paul would have said on these three topics from the letters he wrote to the churches he founded.

On righteousness. Paul discussed the perfection of God and the path toward perfection through faith (Romans 1:17). How do imperfect people stand before a perfect God? It is not by any faith at all according to Paul. It is by faith in the grace of God found in Jesus Christ. “It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10 The Message)

On self-control. It is often believed that Paul’s teaching on self-control was a response to the popular Epicurean philosophy that could be summarized, "Pleasure is the beginning and the end of the happy life." When Paul catalogues the essential qualities of Christian character he places self-control in the middle of the list. Self-control is focused on self-restraint of one’s impulses, emotions and behaviors. How contrary is this message on self-control over the current cultural view that anything goes. Here is one critique of modern music: “Hence the emergence of a new, more disturbing popular music, one that adds violence to sex and is dually obscene for its celebration of both unrestrained physical gratification and the joys of uncontrolled spirited self-assertion” (Carson Holloway). Our culture is like a raging river that keeps overflowing its banks. Self-control does not deny passion or drive; it only reminds us that a river kept in its banks is much more useful and productive.

On judgment to come. Our culture appears to be very confused about judgment or justice. If a injustice is perceived, then judgment cannot come quick enough. One only needs to read the comments on a story such the death of Walter Scott, a black man, who was shot be a white police officer. On one hand we want speedy judgment, on the other hand, we have an attitude that says “live and let live.” On one hand we are increasingly become a culture that believes that we should accept and tolerate any and every human behavior. On the other hand, there is no room for personal values or behaviors that step outside of the prescribed norm. The CEO of Mozilla, Brendon Eich, ran into this cultural confusion when his employees demanded his resignation when they learned that Eich had donated $1,000 to the pro-marriage Proposition 8 in California.

For Paul, there was not confusion; there will be a payday some day for our behaviors: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The goal of any follower of Jesus is not to figure out the grays of Christian ethics, it is to live as Paul said, “ Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).

Ron Friesen © 2015

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