The Dangers of Divine Negotiation

The human psyche loves negotiation. Children swap hugs for a piece of candy. The husband who repeatedly misses dinner finds his release from marital purgatory with a bouquet of flowers. And the junior executive trades long weekends for a promotion. Most men and women turn their relationships into a type of transaction that resembles trades in a stock exchange. They then overlay this paradigm on their relationship with God, attempting to gain God’s favor in exchange for some religious moralism.

Many people believe their biannual church visits, their occasional prayer before bed, and their ability to avoid murderer’s row will persuade God to hand over a loving spouse, good health, or happiness. Other souls go further, abandoning alcohol, cigarettes, and porn subscriptions in exchange for divine blessing. Lastly, a small group of devote souls offer the greatest possible sacrifice, donating their massive fortunes and their life’s work to the poor hoping to garner some divine recognition. Though these transactional relationships with God may seem a touch impersonal, they often align implicitly and at times explicitly with the commands of Scripture. Those who set out upon a religious life of heroism expect God to notice their efforts.

Does God Respond to Negotiation?

But God is not a man or woman. He does not negotiate with humanity. The fallen and broken creature has nothing of value to offer the holy and perfect creator. The Prophet Micah details God’s perspective of human negotiation with these words:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:7-9

God does not save men and women because they have smoked their last cigarette, looked at their last image of porn, or written a large check to a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of clean energy. Great sacrifices do not impress God. Rather, he demands holiness: justice, kindness and humility, character qualities only accessible to those who have been saved by God.

God does the saving apart from human negotiation (Mic. 6:1-6). God frees men and women from the slavery of sin, provides them with godly leaders, protects them from attacks, and guides them into the eternal promise land. Nothing remains to be negotiated. There is no divine itch humanity can scratch. God has done it all and offers happiness, eternity and heaven itself as free gift. We do not have to safe or sanctify ourselves. We simply repent and believe.

Those who attempt to appease, pacify, or manipulate God by dumping their vodka down the sink or by hopping on an airplane destined for the deserts of south Africa insult God. The last Adam has come and fulfilled all the requirements of the law. As Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” Galatians 3:13-14 proclaims:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

No other sacrifice is needed. Those who continue to sit at the negotiating table tossing out good works schemes in exchange for divine favor will find only divine judgement. Everyone who relies on the works of the law remains cursed by them.

Jesus does not negotiate; he saves.

Does God Fail Us?

Many people in the pew find God to be a grand disappointment because they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of salvation. They attempt to follow the law in their own power, praying, giving, and serving in the praise team, hoping God will bless their efforts. But their struggles with homosexuality, greed, or depression do not improve. After several months or years of trying to please God, they reach a breaking point. Like the nation of Israel, they find themselves surrounded by an army of problems instead of a choir of angels. They conclude that their negotiation with God has failed. Jesus did not uphold his end of the bargain. But Jesus did. The Law condemns. The free gift of salvation remains.

Will you embrace it?

Bad Karma Makes the Gospel Glorious

karmaThe gospel is beautiful because God is glorious us and we are not.

When Jesus assumes his heavenly state in Matthew 17, Peter, James and John fall on their face in holy terror.

The apostles knew they were not holy. Jesus had already rebuked Peter for identifying with the teachings of Satan. Indeed the words of Psalm 14:2-3 well described the apostles and by extension all of humanity. The text declares:

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

Jesus agrees proclaiming, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Paul concludes that every soul lacks the glorious purity of God. They are “hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” The holy terror that gripped the apostles should grip our souls as we contemplate being in the presence of God.

Despite this reality, Jude 24 declares that God will present believers blameless before the glory of God with great joy. Those who should fall down in terror because of their sin will walk boldly into the throne room with smiles beaming from their faces. How does this happen?

It’s not Karma. Despite the popular notion that humanity can overcome its bad Karma with good Karma, the Scriptures paint a much bleaker picture of human ability. Isaiah 64:6 state that

All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

We cannot earn our way to heaven. Why?

Men and women exist to glorify God. Even those times when we gave to charity, played ball with our kid, and volunteered at the shelter fail to add positive value to our good Karma tank if we did them to get rid of some nagging guilt or to impress our spouse. Any action that that does not make directly glorify God is worthless. Our good karma will never outweigh our bad karma, because we never do anything good.

The gospel becomes amazing at this point. Jesus came to do what we could not do. He lived the perfect life that we could not live. He did good and did it abundantly. The moment we repent and believe, Jesus will transfer his righteous life to us and takes all our bad karma onto himself. Jesus does what our karma cannot do. He makes us holy.

Jesus does what our karma cannot do. He makes us holy.

And we know he can make this trade. He has wiped out our debts on the cross and then risen again to validate his claims of deliverance. Paul beautifully sums up the gospel when he writes,

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Those who have repented of their sins and who have trusted in Jesus for salvation have ever reason to rejoice. The impossible has become possible. The terror has been replaced with joy. When we arrive at heaven, we will not experience judgement but joy.

Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, no pain anymore.

Revelation 21:4

Though viruses may spread, though false teachers may abound, and though persecutions may come, the believer has nothing to fear because Jesus has died for her sins. God will one day present her “blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.” The early church martyr Ignatius said, “Bring on all the hideous tortures from the Devil! Just let me get to Jesus.”

Let’s get to Jesus! Are you ready?

Hope Begins With Hopelessness

hopelessOxymoron is not usually the first that comes to mind when we mention things like te gospel, evangelism, and salvation. Yet at its core, the gospel is an oxymoron. The hope filled gospel begins by saying there is no hope. To get to hope, we have to become hopeless. Oxymoron.

In Mark 10:17-22, we watch in disappointment as the Rich Younger Ruler approaches Jesus for salvation only to walk away “sorrowful.” But to fully grasp the magnitude what the story means, we need to put ourselves in the apostles’ shoes. The apostles thought that the Rich Young Ruler was the most ideal candidate for salvation. When they thought about rich people, their minds did not drift to the abuses of the poor that we see on our T.V. screens from the all four corners of our nation. They did not envision morally destitute celebrities or crooked business men pocketing other people’s money. Their minds would have been filled with images of Abraham, David and Solomon, godly men who gained wealth because of their obedience. In other words, they thought that wealth equaled godliness. They fully expected Jesus to welcome the young man with open arms. They could not imagine a moral ideal candidate for salvation. If you had one rose left on the bacheloret, you would give it to this guy every time. The disciples are expected this guy to be the one.

But he is not. The rose is withheld. And now like a bunch of high school girls, the disciples are dumfounded. There whole world is falling apart.  They do not know what to say.

Thankful Jesus does. He turns to his disciples and tells them:

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Though the disciples saw wealth as an advantage. Jesus saw it as a hindrance. Often those who are wealthy can insulate themselves from the problems and cares that destroy the poor. The rich can afford good housing, medical care, and food. They tend to think of themselves as being self-sufficient. They can mistake the physical wealth for spiritual blessing. Money can blind people to their own sin.

Even more striking than the condemnation of money is Jesus’ condemnation of those who have money. The people we think are most primed for heaven are actually separated from heaven by an impassable gulf. And to make sure the disciples and all of us know that there is no way for the good people of this world to make it to heaven, Christ gives us the analogy of a camel going through the eye of a needle. He says that it is easier for an animal that weighs between 661-882 lbs to walk through a gap millimeters wide than for a rich man to work his way to heaven. Salvation by works alone is impossible.

Now in recent years, some pastors have tried to equate the needle with the needle gate. They claim that a camel stripped of his baggage could walk through the tiny needle gate if it were willing to humbly crawl through the small door. But this is not Christ’s point. The disciples respond in horror, saying “Then who can be saved.” The context of this passage reveals, that Jesus is communicating that no one can work through way into heaven.  He is not saying that salvation is barely possible. He is not saying that salvation will be possible for those who pray a magical prayer or for those who walk down front. He is saying that it is impossible for anyone to save himself. No one can come to Jesus in their own strength. No amount of church attendance, of gifts to our wives, or donations to our church can get us to heaven.

We cannot save any person. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot come up with any method of praying or prayers that get us and others to Jesus. We cannot reach Jesus in our own strength and power. As the Pastor Matt Chandler said,

You cannot scare anyone in heaven….it’s a place for those who love God. You can scare people into coming to your church, you can scare people into trying to be good, you can scare people into giving money, you can even scare them into walking down an aisle and praying a certain prayer, but you cannot scare people into loving God. You just can’t do it.

We cannot do anything to save ourselves or others. Even our church services and revivals have no power to save people from their sins.

So then why do it? Why have church services? Why preach? Why witness? If the wordily people closest to God cannot reach God, then surely there is not hope for the rest of us.

As the disciples have the exact some question, saying, “Then who can be saved?”

A whole bunch of people. Notice verse 27. “With man it is impossible, but not with God for all things are possible with God.” Ah what glorious news. We do not save. We cannot save nor come up with the perfect program, sermon series, or social media platform that will bring the next revival. We cannot do any of those things. But hope is not lost because God saves.

When can tell our lost sister about Jesus for the 100th time, we can encourage the drug addict to repent and believe, we can tell the serial adulterer to repent and expect change to happen because God works. God does not save the self-righteous. He does not save those who think, they have no need of a savior. But, he does save. He saves the most unlikely men and women. He saves the lost cause. He saves the person that society writes off as a failure.

When the rest of our families loses hope, we can and should keep praying because nothing is impossible with God. God can touch the heart and bring life in the twinkling of the eye. In a second, years of death can be transformed into life. Things can and do move past our control and influence. But no person can run away from God. If God can turn murdering Paul into an apostle, he can surely redeem us and our sons daughter, neighbors, and coworkers. Do not lose hope. Nothing is impossible with God.

The great oxymoron of the gospel is that the hopeless have true hope because God saves. God saves those who trust in him for salvation. He saves those who have realized that they cannot save themselves. Hopelessness begets hope.