Thursday, May 17, 2012

His Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts Because He Thought Up the Gospel

In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read these familiar words: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." These are amazing verses that offer us comfort. We can go to them in times of hardship, in times of disillusionment and remind ourselves that when we don't know what God is doing, He does; that when we can't see how it will work out, He can.  Those are precious truths, anchors that help secure our souls.  Those truths are also not the point of these verses.
One of the most important parts of interpreting the Bible is context, i.e., what do the verses above and and the verses below say? If we read these verses by themselves then the above interpretation might seem to be the proper interpretation. However, a careful reading of these verses in context shows us that's not exactly what these verses are referring to. Again, I'm not saying that's not true and I'm not saying we shouldn't apply that truth to our hearts. But I am saying there's more here than just "God knows what He's doing even when I don't."  What do the verses immediately before this text say? "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord that He may may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."  Nothing in those verses about God having some greater plan for our lives (though He does). And nothing in those verses about God knowing what He's doing even when I don't (but He does). Rather, these verses present a call to seek God and His mercy.
So the point of verses 8-9 isn't that 'God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform' (though He does). The point is the greatness of the gospel.  In the first two verses of the chapter God says, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." God here calls us to Himself, to come and buy though we have no money. How is this possible? By grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves. God is calling us to experience the free gift of salvation is available through repentance and faith in the finished work of Jesus. And it's in that context that God says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts." Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the gospel-who else but God would create such a plan of salvation? Every other religion in the world is based on our works; but God bases His salvation solely on His grace, His mercy, and merits of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.
So must we abandon our hope that God knows what He's doing even when we don't? By no means. Rather, we embrace it even more fully. We look at the sufficiency of the gospel, at the guarantee of its success and of the fruit it produces in the lives of those who are saved and we glory in the greatness of our God. We glory in His brilliance and His preeminence. We look at the gospel and shake our heads in holy amazement at the plan and the God who created it accomplishes it. And we rest in that gospel, worshiping the One whose thoughts are above ours and whose ways are higher than ours.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Losing My Religion

I spent some time on the road today and as I was coming home I was listening to NPR. This may not be a good thing to admit but I like to listen to "All Things Considered." Not sure why, but there you are.  Anyways, they were interviewing a couple of former pastors. Former because they had left the faith and embraced atheism. From time to time I hear about folks who have left the faith and I'm always intrigued by their stories.

The people being interviewed today came from different backgrounds; I believe one was a former Pentecostal, the other a former Methodist. But though their traditions were different they both shared a common complaint about Christianity.Their main point of contention was that they didn't like the idea of people having to live in fear of God's anger. They were opposed to the idea of being having to live perfect lives to appease God. They thought it unrealistic to expect people to do enough good works to outweigh the bad and escape God's wrath. And it's fascinating to me that these things drove them away from the faith because I agree with them. I don't like the idea of people having to live in fear of God's anger. I too am opposed to the idea of having to live a perfect life to appease God. As one who frequently sins and misses the mark I find it unrealistic to expect people (and myself) to do enough good works to outweigh the bad.

But here's the thing--that's the whole point of the gospel. We can't appease God so Jesus has appeased Him on our behalf. He is our substitute, the Lamb who has taken away our sins; He is the propitiation for our sins; God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  See, because of Jesus I don't have to live in fear of God's anger--His anger was poured out on Jesus on the cross. I don't have to live a perfect life to appease God because Jesus, my substitute, has lived a perfect life in my place--and by repentance and faith, His perfect life, His righteousness is imputed to me; I'm robed in His righteousness and have a perfect standing with the Holy Judge of the Universe. I don't have to do enough good works to outweigh my bad because my righteousness is hidden in Christ; I don't have to worry about escaping the wrath of God because His wrath was poured out on Jesus--God's wrath was satisfied when Jesus drank the cup of sacrifice on my behalf.

It was heartbreaking to me to hear these former ministers who had obviously missed the point of Christianity.  Our faith is not about doing good to please God, it's about resting in the good that Jesus has done on our behalf. And these guys missed it; they never really got the gospel. Years were spent in prayer and study and preaching and ministering to others--but they never got it.

And so the point of this post is twofold; first, it's a caution for me to continually guard my heart and always rest in the finished work of Jesus. We are naturally inclined to pharisaism. We are natural born legalists. We want to keep lists and check sheets and all these things that chip away at the gospel. We get so good at keeping our lists that we forget about the cross. We forget that Christ has done away with our lists and our works and our righteousness. None of those things earn us any favor from God--Christ has earned us favor with God. And we rest in Him and His finished work. The second thing to consider is this--have you gotten the gospel? I don't mean do you know the story, can you recite it to me, can you quote the scriptures, etc. I mean, is your hope built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness? Are you resting in what Jesus has done, or do you attempt to add to it with your own good works? May we continually guard our hearts against missing the point of the gospel and may we continually rest in the finished work of Jesus and glory in His righteousness rather than our own.