Man’s Sin and God’s Honor…

Exodus 20: 12 ““Honor your father and your mother”

Romans 1:21 “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God”

“If the early Greek fathers represented the cross primarily as a ‘satisfaction’ of the devil…and the early Latin fathers saw it as a satisfaction of God’s law, a fresh approach was made by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century…of the cross as a satisfaction of God’s offended honor” [John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 118].

Why would Stott devote pages in his book to an author who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093?  In today’s world are we even concerned about a man who lived nine hundred and twenty-eight years ago?  Do we even care about a man who lived in an era where people were worried about the outdated idea of “honor”?  Today, do we know what it means to give honor to another person?  Do we ever regard others with such great respect?  Maybe Christians should show honor to everyone, even if they don’t deserve it.  “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” should be taken seriously; it is the “second commandment” behind “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” in Jesus’ top two commandments list.  Think about it. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself is all about honoring others.

Granted, Archbishop Anselm lived in another time period all together, a time period when honor was considered sacred. Honor was the willful sacrifice of man’s lower instincts to much higher sentiments.  Christianity in Anselm’s day preached that honor should be a personal habit, a way of life for all men. In his day, Christians “venerated” honorable men, men who sacrificed for the honor of others.  They believed the effort to honor others raised a small person up to be a great person and a great person to be a hero.

I have had a life-long fascination with the exemplars of honor in European history, medieval knights.  Those heroes placed great emphasis on being true to chivalrous ideals and the epitome of the most virtuous knight was the Christian knight, the “Knight Templar.” These knights were part of a large organization of the most devout Christians who carried out important missions in the Holy Land.  They protected European travelers visiting sites in the Holy Land and carried out military operations in the name of God.  Their whole existence depended on how much honor they paid to God.*

Into this medieval climate of honor and knighthood, Anslem wrote his book Cur Deus Homo?, a systematic study of the cross as a satisfaction for God’s offended honor.  Stott cites Robert Franks who describes Cur Deus Homo?: “[this book for] the first time in a thoroughgoing and consistent way applies…the subject and conceptions of satisfaction and merit.”  James Denney called Cur Deus Homo? “the truest and greatest book on atonement that has ever been written.”

In Anselm’s view, when man sins he is committing a dishonor to our Lord and Savior.  Man owes God the best behavior that he can produce.  When we sin, we take away from God what is His own, which means we steal from Him and dishonor Him by how we act.  Yet when man sins he wants forgiveness from a God who cannot accept our obedience and good works.  Human obedience and good works is not satisfactory enough for God.  “Good works cannot make satisfaction for our sins, since they [good works] are required of us anyway.  So we cannot save ourselves.  Nor can any other human being save us, since ‘one who is a sinner cannot justify another sinner’”  [from  Cur Deus Homo?].  Here’s the key: “No one…can make this satisfaction except God Himself….No-one can do it except one who is truly God, and no-one ought to do it except one who is truly man” [Stott, 210].  Here is where Anselm introduces Jesus Christ in his theological discussion.

We are talking about the necessity of the highest idealistic human behavior dedicated to Almighty God, one who deserves more honor than any human can imagine.  This extremely idealistic vision of human behavior is very reflective of the feudal culture of Anselm’s age.  Society was “rigidly stratified;” each person “stood on the dignity” which was due him, conduct of inferiors to superiors was codified, improper behavior of inferiors was severely punished and all debts had to be properly paid.  Anselm portrays God in terms of a feudal overlord who demands honor and punishes dishonor.

Stott declares that Christ died for our sins in our place, but God did not inflict punishment on Jesus because He was an “injured party;” He inflicted punishment on Christ as Ruler of everything [God Himself].  The only proper thing that God could do was mete out punishment.  The notion of honor dictated that.  Sin is more than an attack on His honor; it is an attack on the world order which is an expression of His will on this earth.  Stott cites theologian Emil Brunner who writes “All order in the world depends upon the inviolability of His [that is God’s] honor, upon the certitude that those who rebel against Him will be punished.”

This post began with the fifth commandment and Scripture from Romans 1: 21.  In Romans, Paul declares that God has made Himself perfectly clear to mankind that no one is excused for ignoring Him.  We may choose not to seek out God, but we cannot pretend that we don’t know what is expected of us.  We should honor God as our Creator, but instead, many of us believe we have developed ourselves on our own and we have acquired what we have on our own.  Paul is saying that if we do not understand God as the Creator and Provider we cannot understand how the universe works.  We have a faulty understanding of how the universe works and our part in it.  This condemnation from God is a rightful condemnation.  We truly get what we deserve.

Sin is the breaking of God’s law and law is the expression of the will of God.  If man breaks God’s law, the law does not heal all by itself.  Sin therefore is a “break in the world order” [Stott, 124].  Reparation or restitution is necessary.  God demands it and nothing man can do can satisfy it.  Anselm sees God as the Ruler who exacts punishment that is due.  In doing this, He upholds His honor; He maintains His dignity.  Christ bore the brunt of the punishment but God does not humble Himself through atonement.

Referring to Stott’s statement on satisfaction and substitution [on St. John Studies, June 9, 2021], “The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying Himself by substituting Himself for us.”

Why does He do this?

He is the Ultimate Ruler.

He demands the best behavior from man.

The best we have cannot atone for the sins we have committed.

He has to satisfy His need for dignity and honor somehow.

God-Man Jesus fills that bill.

According to Anselm, what we must say is…thank you Jesus!

*Honor, A Counter Revolutionary Virture, Hugh O’Reilly accessed on 6/17/2021

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God and Man’s Law…

“How…can we possibly believe that God needed some kind of ‘satisfaction’ before He was prepared to forgive [man], and that Jesus Christ provided it [satisfaction] by enduring  as our ‘substitute’ for the punishment we sinners deserved” [112, The Cross of Christ].

John Stott is outraged by the thought that almighty God could be beholden to anyone and anything  and in my previous post, [“Did the devil make God do it?”] he takes on the idea that God had to use His Son Jesus as a bargaining chip to defeat Satan.  He cannot understand why Christians think these thoughts.  God is all powerful and it is denigrating to have Him making deals with the devil.  Not only does God not need some sort of satisfaction in order to forgive man, but the devil certainly does not have the power to exact any demand on Holy God.

After dispensing with the idea that the devil has any power over God, Stott turns to the more complex relationship: God’s relationship with law.  What makes this more complex is the fact that His Son lived on earth where He was subject to man’s law.

Man’s law demands obedience.  When a law is broken, lawbreakers have to obey the justice system by paying for their disobedience.  Then there is moral law.  When sinners sin, don’t they also incur some sort of penalty for their sinning?  They cannot be simply let “off the hook.”  For law to work, “its dignity [must be] defended and its just penalties paid.  The law has to be ‘satisfied.’” 

Is God under the stricture of man’s law?  What about His Son Jesus Christ?

I found it interesting that Stott uses the familiar Bible story of Daniel and the lion’s den to illustrate the dilemma that can occur over obeying the law.  King Darius was certainly not God but he was a powerful man who expected devotion from his subjects.  Of course Daniel was a visitor to the king’s country and Daniel had serious problems with worshipping a king because he was devoted to worshipping God.  He enjoyed the king’s favor and that made him an object of envy by members of the king’s court.  They plotted to get Daniel in trouble and they did so by getting Darius to pass a law: any man who prayed to any God except King Darius for thirty days would be thrown into the lion’s den.  They knew that Daniel had a daily habit of praying to Yahweh three times a day.  When news of the new law reached him, Daniel not only continued to pray to God but he did so in an upstairs room which had windows facing Jerusalem.  He was in public view.  In short, he was caught and had to be thrown in the lion’s den.  Darius was greatly distressed and wanted to save him but he was trapped by his own law.  Daniel had to be thrown into the den.  The law had to be satisfied.  No substitutes could be made.  Daniel was the offender; Daniel had to be punished.

King Darius’ dilemma was a good illustration of how law ensnares even the most powerful.  The decree was in writing and that made it unalterable.

Any comparison between Darius and God stops right there.  Darius was powerful but God is God and God is all-powerful.

How much does God have to obey the law?

God does not have to obey the law at all; God is the creator of law.  His law supersedes man’s law.  His law is the foundation that man’s laws are often based on [I use the word “often” to allow for unjust laws that have been created by unjust men].

But what about His Son Jesus?  He lived on the earth.  Did He have to obey the law?

Jesus repeatedly points out in Scripture that the Pharisees and Sadducees were too rigid in their adherence to all the extensive rules related to Old Testament Law.  Jesus felt that these rules were so strict that no man could successfully follow them.  Jesus found Himself in certain situations that demanded that the rules needed to be broken or at least ignored.  He touched lepers. He healed people on the Sabbath.  On the Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples pulled grain from crops in the field as they were walking.  He talked to women.  He advocated the symbolic drinking of blood [the wine at the Last Supper].  He denounced the religious authorities of the day for advocating laws which were impossible to follow, yet He stated that He did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it.

Many point to the fact that Jesus had to pay the ultimate price for his “law-breaking;” He had to bear the penalty of death.  Why did Jesus have to do this?  Could God not have saved Him from this horrible punishment?  Is this an example of an “all-powerful” God allowing obedience to man’s laws?

Of course, God could have taken “this cup” from His Son but that was not the plan.  God created a perfect Son who submitted to earthly laws and obeyed them unto death.  What is the message that Jesus is sending to the world by breaking or ignoring extreme religious regulations?  Those regulations were not reflective of His Father’s law; they were more about maintaining power among the elite of contemporary Jewish society. Did Jesus obey the laws of the Roman Government?  Yes He did.  He fulfilled the messianic predictions within the laws of His day. He encouraged others to obey the laws of the day.  It is New Testament Scripture but Paul writing in Romans 13: 1-2 says it best: “Obey the government, for God is the One who has put it there. … So those who refuse to obey the law of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.”  Jesus was clearly teaching obedience to the Roman laws. He and His followers were obeying God’s commands, rather than religious rules and regulations, but they were not breaking civil laws. Jesus and the disciples were law-abiding citizens of the Roman Empire.  Jesus was tasked with doing two important things at once.  He had to display perfect obedience to the civil law and He had to communicate that religious law was not of God His Father.  For accomplishing His task, He had to suffer an unjust penalty.  When He could have defended Himself, He did not mount any defense.  He went to His death in an obedient fashion, just as God had planned. 

Stop and think about what that Scripture says.  God put the law in place.  God is above Human law.  Jesus could have been saved when He was on trial: His Father could have saved Him.   Jesus could have summoned angels to save Himself.  He chose not to do that; He recognized that in the context of His day He should not rise above the law that everyone else had to follow.  There are always those (even in our world today) who feel they are “above the law” but that attitude can breed hatred among those who don’t have power and are forced to live under the law.

Let’s return to the situation with King Darius and Daniel.  Due to Darius’ envious advisors, the king punished a righteous man for righteous practices.  Darius was caught in what Stott called a “technical legal muddle.”  God is never in this situation.  Stott describes God’s connection to law with the following powerful words from R.W. Dale’s book Atonement:  “God’s connection with the law is ‘not a relation of subjection but of identity….In God the law is alive; it reigns on His throne, sways His scepter, is crowned with His glory.”

Can man demand obedience of God?   Of course not.  Did man’s law apply to His Son Jesus when He was on earth? It did and Jesus followed man’s civil law.  Jesus was perfectly obedient to man’s law and at the same time He was perfectly obedient to God’s law.  He broke no commandments.  As followers of God and His Son Jesus Christ, it is important for us to understand these closing words by Stott regarding satisfaction of the law and the substitution of Jesus for the breaking of man’s law.

God’s moral laws bring condemnation for humankind because God created those laws.  Stott says it this way:

“The real reason why disobedience of God’s moral laws brings condemnation is not that God is their prisoner, but that He is their creator.”*

*emphatic punctuation is mine, from Stott, 118.

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Stott’s Statement on Satisfaction and Substitution

“We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its centre the principle of ‘satisfaction through substitution’, indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution. The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above Him from which He could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator. Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled Himself to become in and through His only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The theological words ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’ need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstances be given up. The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying Himself by substituting Himself for us.”

John R. W. Stott

In light of this issue in Chapter Five of The Cross of Christ I thought this statement would be very helpful. David Carter

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Did the devil make God do it?

“No two words in the theological vocabulary of the cross arouse more criticism than satisfaction and substitution.”  With these words John Stott begins Chapter Five of his book The Cross of Christ

Stott makes it clear that the next two chapters of his book will elaborate on the idea that God needed some sort of satisfaction before He could forgive man of his sin.  He also plans to discuss the fact that God’s satisfaction could only be gained by substituting Jesus Christ for man, Jesus taking the punishment man deserved.

It may seem that this subject has already been discussed in Chapter Four, but in Five and Six, Stott is going to take a “deeper bite” at this apple.  His problem centers around those first words already mentioned:  satisfaction and substitution.  He feels that the ordinary Christian’s understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice denigrates God because man’s conceptualization has God performing acts that are contradictory to His very nature.

“What demands are being made to stand in the way until they are satisfied?  And who is making them?  Is it the devil?  Or is it the law, or God’s honor or justice, or ‘the moral order’”? [Stott, 113]. 

Stott lays out the purpose of his discussion best in the words “I will argue, however, that the primary ‘obstacle’ is to be found within God Himself.  He must ‘satisfy Himself’ in the way of salvation He devises; He cannot save us by contradicting Himself.”  He cannot do something that compromises His perfect goodness in order to make our lives better.

Let’s take on the devil first. 

In the early church it was common to think that the devil “made” the cross necessary.  Jesus and his Apostles did comment in Scripture that the cross was a means to overthrow the devil but when one considers this approach, it assumes the devil has a lot of power, more power than he should have.  “Since the Fall, and on account of it, humankind has been in captivity not only of sin and guilt but to the devil.” 

Does the devil have so much power that God used His only Son to overthrow Him?

Stott thinks not…  

The devil is described in Scripture as “a rebel,” “a robber,” and “a usurper” but the devil did not have power over God.  God is all powerful and “all controlling,” not the devil.  What power the devil has is allowed by God, not power the devil has on his own.

Secondly, early Christians thought of the cross as a transaction between God and the devil.  Man needs to be “ransomed” from the devil and Jesus is the price that must be paid so the devil’s captives [mankind] can be released.  This was a popular belief in the early church but just because it was a popular way of understanding the reason for the death of Christ, does not make it a viable explanation.  Is it too simple?  Does it denigrate God?

Thirdly some discount the power of the devil in the death of Jesus altogether.  The devil may have power over sinners but does the devil have power over Jesus Christ, someone who had committed no sin?  See Hebrews 2: 14 “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” The devil has no real authority over Jesus and even if he did, he shed innocent blood.  Stott writes that this is “abuse of power” and if the devil abuses his power “he is deprived of it.”    Some early church theologians felt that maybe the devil was not aware of what was going on, that he did not realize that Jesus was God in human form.  Would God try to trick the devil into making a grievous error?  Saint Gregory of Nyssa (writing in the Fourth Century) makes this argument, that “God… in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him [that is, the devil] who required it…was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and this, life being introduced into the house of death,….(the devil) might vanish” [Nyssa in Stott, 114].  The idea is that God “baited” the devil with the blood of Christ. 

Stott thinks this is an interesting take on God’s use of the death of Jesus, but feels it is just another way of explaining Jesus’ death to the common man.  Maybe it was satisfying for early Christians to think that God outsmarted the devil like the devil outsmarted man in the Garden of Eden.  Since the snake deceived man into disobedience, God turned the tables and also took away the devil’s power through deception.

Here’s the “rub.”

God is so perfectly good that He would not stoop to fraudulent action.  To think so is to denigrate God, and attribute an act to God which is contradictory to His nature.

Are these “devil” theories of any value?  Stott says that they did communicate the seriousness of evil.  He cites Luke 11: 21 which describes the devil as a “strong man, fully armed.”  People in the early church did fear the devil..  Secondly when Jesus went to the cross, early Christians did understand that His death was the death of evil.  The power that Satan had over man was over when Jesus died on the cross.

The problem was the degree of power that believers attributed to Satan.  Does the devil have the power to tempt man, to steal man’s life from him and to ruin man’s life with God after death?  Yes, those powers are real. 

Does Satan have so much power that God has to satisfy him by performing some “power move” to overthrow him, some transaction to appease him or some trick to bait him.

The answer is no. 

God is all powerful.  God is perfectly good.  God does not engage in fraud or trickery.  He does not need to do something that is against His perfect nature. 

“Any notion of Christ’s death as a necessary transaction with, let alone deception of, the devil is ruled out” [Stott, 115]. 

Satisfaction and substitution…

If God needed some sort of satisfaction before He could forgive man of his sin, it does not stem from His relationship with Satan.  God did not sacrifice His only Son to appease the devil.  There was no substitution in God’s plan.

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Taking Stock: Where Am I in This Journey? Two Books, One Author: Not a Post, An “Interregnum*” so to Speak…

Blogging has been a real adventure for me.  When I started writing on January 6th, 2015 I began with a discussion of a book by Kyle Idleman  Aha: The God Moment that Changes Everything.  I remember the book and the discussion: Idleman tries to express the idea that we have moments of great spiritual awakening, moments of great honesty about our relationship with God which should lead us to action. The book was full of examples and testimonies which can communicate good messages to folks that do not want a “weighty discussion.”  My blog posts reflected that.

Since 201,5 I have discussed other books that reflected my interests and maybe even my growth as a Christian (see Ongoing List of Books Discussed).  Then in October 2020, I felt a need to return to an author who meant so much to me in my “baby days” as a new born-again Christian:  John Stott.  His book Basic Christianity was seminal in my early deepening faith, but instead of returning to BC, I chose his book The Cross of ChristThe Cross is the opposite of Aha.  Instead of a simple messages supported by example and testimonies, The Cross is a book that discusses the centrality of the cross in Christian faith.  It is packed with theology and at times “above my pay-grade” [to use a cliché in order to describe my intellectual inadequacy.] 

After starting the book, I decided that a return to Basic Christianity may be good too, so I decided to do two books at the same time: two books, same author, one book very dense and one book simpler and more “basic.”   I have never discussed two books at the same time. 

My intent is not to confuse followers of this blog as I switch from one book to the other.  I thought it would be interesting to compare Stott’s writings and offer my comments on a “heavier” subject and then turn to a lighter, more straightforward topic. 

At this point we are returning to The Cross of Christ.  I have commented on Chapters One through Three in Basic.  I have commented on Chapter One through Four in The Cross

Stott has discussed in great detail the central importance of the cross for Christians.  He has also discussed the purpose of the cross in His plan to save man [with a heavy emphasis on the need to sacrifice His only Son Jesus Christ].  Indeed Chapter Four of The Cross is all about the need for Jesus to die so man can be forgiven.

We are now ready for Chapter Five, entitled “Satisfaction for Sin.”

*Interregnum technically means a period or pause between successive periods of governmental affairs;  in this case a pause between books to reflect…

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The Jesus We Meet in the Gospels

If you have been a believer in God and His Son Jesus Christ for any reasonable length of time, you have been encouraged to read The Bible. 

My history of Bible reading has been circuitous at best; maybe a better word is haphazard.

That is not unique. 

Many Christians have a strange relationship with God’s Word.  We claim it as “our Book” and in many homes there is a Bible, but it winds up being a token, an ornament, a revered object that is never touched.

I have always enjoyed reading and as a young person I felt that The Bible was a “foundation” book, something you build your life around but I never really made much effort to read it, much less study it.  That foundation stuff was all talk.

I had the usual excuses: “It is too long,”  “It does not have much relevance for today’s world,” “I just can’t understand it”…

Then something happened.

I had a turning point in my life and I found that I needed answers.  My old ways were not working anymore.  I knew I needed something new, a better way.  For the first time in my life, I knew I needed to make choices that were more God centered, more spouse-centered, more family-centered, more church-centered. I knew I needed to find a way to be a better man.

I found that my initial answers were in the Gospels. 

I remember it like it was yesterday but it was twenty-three years ago. I had just returned from an Emmaus Walk.*   I had a deep spiritual experience on that walk.   I learned a lot, and when I came home, I had an overwhelming desire to learn more.  I tore into the Gospels. 

I went from someone with minimal exposure and minimal interest in The Bible to someone who literally hungered for The Word.  I read The Book like it was a very engaging novel, turning page after page, feeling like it was written for me, speaking to me.  As I read, I remember saying to myself: “Why has it taken so long for me to read God’s book!”

Reading The Bible like that was a unique event and I don’t know that I will even have that experience again, but I have continued reading God’s Word over the years and each time I have encounter The it I have learned more.

John Stott’s book Basic Christianity was a book I read to supplement my hunger for Christ and his book touched my heart as well.  As a born-again believer, of course I knew about Jesus but did I really know Him?   Some would say the Bible is all you need,  but I needed additional information to fill in some of my blanks.  In Chapter Three of Basic , Stott introduces the character of Christ to the new believer.  He thinks that in order to know Him you need to look at what He thought about Himself, what His friends thought of Him, what His enemies thought about Him and finally what we can see as we look in the Gospels.  Stott writes “we do not need to rely only on the testimony of others; we can make our own estimate” [42-43].  In fact he states that the writings of the evangelists are so good that “the picture of Jesus…is a comprehensive one.”

If we read these writers, what kind of man do we see?

For the most part, the writings cover the three years of Jesus’ adult ministry;  there are only small glimpses of his boyhood years.  Luke describes the child Jesus as “developing naturally in body, mind and spirt, growing in favor with God and man.”

The adult Jesus must be described as a fully developed “God-Man.”    John Stott’s words about Jesus as revealed in the Gospels are like poetry and my summary will not “do them justice”, but Stott says of Jesus that this special Man is indeed “beyond our reach.”  He believed His own teachings but He was not a fanatic.  His doctrine was not popular but He was not an eccentric.  Make no mistake, He was a man: He got tired, He slept, He ate and drank like other men.  He felt love and anger, sorrow and joy.  He was fully human, yet He is not “mere Man.”

He was confronted with numerous trials and tribulations.  Some worshipped Him like a hero and wanted to make Him King.  Some feared Him and wanted to take Him by force and shut Him up.  He upset the power structure of His society; the Pharisees and Sadducees were constantly trying to trick Him into committing blasphemy.  Despite the temptations to be self-centered and self-serving, He never was “pompous.”  “There was no touch of self-importance about Jesus.  He was humble.”

He preached self-sacrifice and He lived it.  He knew He was Lord of all, yet He showed the world how to be a servant.  He knew He was going to judge the world, but He stooped to wash the feet of His disciples. 

He had almost no possessions, none of the comforts of His time.  He had no home.  Although He could have spent His time with the wealthy and powerful, He spent his time with fishermen and tax collectors.  He touched the outcasts of His society like lepers and harlots.  He gave more than He received; healing, helping, teaching and preaching.  He preached love for others and showed that love meant putting yourself last.  Why was this His message?  He knew that He represented God; He was God in the flesh.  As a role model He epitomized selflessness and love because God is love.

Again Jesus knew He was Lord of all, yet He allowed Himself to be despised and rejected by His own people.  He was misunderstood and misrepresented and became a victim of man’s tendency to be prejudiced.  He played into the vested interests of the power structures of the day.  He did not have to suffer the death that He did but that was His Father’s  plan and He knew it.  He had to give Himself up for man so our sins could be forgiven through His sacrifice.  “He gave His back to be flogged, His face to be spat upon, His head to be crowned with thorns, His hands and feet to be nailed to a common Roman gallows.  And as the cruel spikes were driven home, He kept praying for His tormentors, ‘Father forgive them; for they know not what they do’” [Stott, 44].

He could have retaliated against His detractors and taken total control of His destiny.  He was God in human flesh.  He had complete mastery which allowed Him not to grow resentful or irritated.  He had self-control beyond a mere human mortal.  He was on a mission to fulfill the will of God.  He did not seek His own will or His own glory.  He was not living on this earth for His own pleasure.  

When I turned to the Gospels for answers to my questions about life, I was hoping to get solutions to my problems, inspiration for my life and guidance for how to behave.  What I got was a glimpse into the life of a special Man, a God-Man, the Son of the Living God, Jesus Christ.  As Stott writes, the Gospels give us an ample opportunity to form our own judgement about Jesus, indeed “we can make our own estimate.”

Over the years as I have continued to read and study the Bible I have marveled at the Man–Jesus Christ.  Where I have failed, He succeeded without blemish.

Truly “such a man is altogether beyond our reach.”

* The Walk to Emmaus (also known as the Emmaus Walk) is a three-day retreat  where pilgrims are given a basic course in Christianity.  It includes singing, learning, praying, and small-group discussion focused on fifteen themes shared by Emmaus leaders.

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Jesus in the Eyes of His Friends and Enemies

In Chapter Three* of his book Basic Christianity, John Stott is trying to introduce Jesus Christ to people who really don’t know Him well.  In the previous post entitled “The Character of Christ,” I commented on Stott’s argument that Jesus’ character was revealed by what He did.  What do we do when we meet someone?  We watch how they behave.  Some people listen to what someone says about their own behavior, but the most believable indicator of a person’s character is what they do.

In essence, we have a man who behaved like He was sinless.  He met the temptations that we all face in life and He did not give in to them.  In short, He truly lived a righteous life.

Now it is time to turn to two more sources of revelation of Jesus’ character: what His friends thought about Him and what His enemies thought about Him.  Think about how we judge people in your life.  In making a judgement about someone, would we not consult friends and enemies of the person in question?

What did His friends think about Jesus?  One would expect that they would be biased in favor of Him.  What did His enemies think about Him?  Likewise one would expect that they would be biased against Him.

The bottom line is that we need to come to some conclusion about someone we don’t know; we need to make an attribution.  What if someone is a “new” Christian, maybe someone is seeking answers to life questions, trying to deal with life’s problems.  Who is this person that everyone calls Jesus?  Can they really help me?

Stott writes “it may be thought that the Disciples of Christ were poor witnesses…they deliberately painted Him in more beautiful colours than He deserved.  But in this the Apostles have been greatly maligned.  Their statements cannot be so lightly dismissed” [Basic Christianity, 39].

Why is that?  How can he support their positive evaluations?

One reason is the closeness of the Apostles with Jesus.  Think about it; for three years they ate together and slept together.  They often found themselves in the same cramped quarters.  They operated Jesus’ ministry from the same common treasury.  Did they ever have moments when they did not like each other?  Of course they did, but they never wrote down any account of Jesus having the sins that they did.  When we spend countless hours with other people their quirks can lead to a “falling out” but the Apostles never found themselves at odds with Jesus.  Even Jesus’ “inner circle” of Peter, James and John don’t reveal His shortcomings.

Secondly, all of the Apostles were Jewish, a people steeped in Old Testament doctrine.  As Old Testament believers, they knew that man was a sinner [Stott calls this concept the “universality of human sin”].  To call someone like Jesus sinless is a giant leap for the Apostles: they are going against Scripture like “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” [Psalm 14: 3].  “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isiah 53: 6].  They had strong Old Testament teaching and they were turning against it.

Thirdly, the testimony from the Apostles was more powerful because it was indirect; Stott calls their remarks “asides.”  They don’t come right out and claim sinlessness for Jesus; they call Him the “lamb without blemish or spot.”  John declares that all men are sinners, but if we say we have no sin, we are liars but “No guile was on Jesus’s lips.”  The Apostles did not set out to prove that Jesus was without sin.  They discuss other subjects and toss in the sinless comments.

But if we consult the Apostles and find support for a sinless Jesus, surely we can find some strong negative comments that would discount this idea if we look at the words of His enemies.  We know His enemies watched Him and they tried to trick Him when He spoke.  It almost seems to be a universal rule that if you can’t establish facts to attack someone or employ  some type of logical argument, then “slinging mud” will be good enough for some.  One can turn to the Gospel of Mark and find four such criticisms hurled at Jesus.

Blasphemy was one of those charges because Jesus said He could forgive man’s sins.  This was “Divine” territory, so the religious leaders felt that forgiveness was God’s work alone.  In doing this, Jesus was supremely arrogant.

Secondly, Jesus spent time with sinners.  He ate with tax collectors and allowed harlots to approach Him.  Pharisees would never dream of this: Stott writes “[A Pharisee] would gather his skirts around him and recoil from contact with such scum.  He would have thought himself righteous for doing so, too” [41].  The Pharisees could not appreciate the grace and tenderness of Jesus.

Thirdly, Jesus’ religion was “frivolous.”  He did not fast; He liked to eat and drink. They even went so far as to call Him Christian life [surely a glutton and a drunkard.  Jesus was full of joy and they could not understand that joy is a sign of righteous one of the fruits of the Spirit].

Jesus was a Sabbath-breaker.  He healed people on the Sabbath. This put Him in opposition to the Pharisees who had extensive rules about what could or could not be done on this special day.  Did Jesus intentionally flaunt the rules of the Sabbath?  Stott does not think so for He was submissive to the law of The Lord, but Jesus felt that the Sabbath was made for man and He thought of Himself as Lord of the Sabbath.  He claimed the right to set aside the many false traditions if need be.  In Luke 14: 5 we see Him ask a question which highlights this attitude. “Then He asked them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?’”  Remember He was surrounded by hateful, powerful religious leaders who saw walking through the cornfield plucking an occasional kernel as reaping and threshing.

Who are we going to believe about the character of Jesus?  When Jesus was on trial for His life, His enemies stepped forward to hurl false accusations against Him.  They tried to impugn His character but anyone in the crowd could see that His enemies were trying to maintain their own power.  Pilate could find no fault with Him.  Herod could find no fault with Him.  Judas the traitor returned his thirty pieces of silver to the Pharisees because he knew Jesus was innocent.

I agree with Stott, that mudslinging was the best that His enemies could muster. 

In the end however, even His detractors gave in to declare His innocence.

Pilate went so far as washing his hands so he could be seen as “innocent of this man’s blood.”

The penitent thief on the cross told the other thief “this man has done nothing wrong.”

The centurion at the foot of the cross declared “Certainly this man was innocent.”

The people who knew Him best…

The Apostles who lived with Him and His enemies who watched every move He made, looking for a mistake…

And they found none…

*Chapter Three “The Character of Christ” is in “Part One: Christ’s Person.”

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The Character of Christ…

As I turn from Stott’s analysis of how man and God handle sin and forgiveness in The Cross of Christ [Chapter Four] I refocus our attention on Stott’s book Basic Christianity [Chapter Three].  I don’t want to spend much time comparing the two books, but The Cross [published in 1986] is considered by many as Stott’s magnum opus, “a work of a lifetime” and Basic Christianity is a “classic” first published in 1959 that introduces people seeking a Christian faith to the introductory ideas of Christianity.  I believe that there is great value looking at both books at the same time for John Stott helped me greatly when I pulled his book off my shelf when I was a seeking, young believer.  Now as I have believed for many years, his words still inspire me even though they are more complex [he admits to “torturous theologizing” in The Cross].

Let’s return to the simpler ideas of Basic as Stott tries to introduce us to Jesus Christ, the person.  He has discussed the claims of Christ [Chapter Two] and now we are introduced to the character of Christ [Chapter Three].

I had several outstanding Christian mentors when I came to believe in Jesus many years ago.  One man inspired me with his words but also with his deeds.  He felt that it was important to not only witness with words but also to “walk out” those words by acting on faith.  Do the work of the Christian.  I remember one day when he loaned me some of his writings about his faith.  I remember seeing one page of handwritten advice in particular.  Keep in mind that at this time in my life, I was looking for answers and I had gone through forty some-odd years of floundering in life, deciding what to do by calculating how my choices would benefit me.  In other words, I was an extremely selfish individual.  The world revolved around me and I did not spend much time considering the needs of others.

That one page offered simple statements but they spoke to me, they nudged me, they guided me.  “Life is about choices.”  My mentor went on to explain. We are all faced with choices and when we decide what to do in life, do we do what Jesus would want us to do or do we do what we want to do?  Some choices are big and some are small, but they all count in life.

I know that I am entering the world of “platitudes” but here we go.  Many are concerned with reputation and that is important but what is reputation?  It is what other people think about you.  Reputation is earned by the acts that you do where other people “see” those acts and they come to some conclusion about you as a person based on what they see.  Character is what you do when no one is watching, those acts that truly reveal who you are because no one is judging your behavior.  Character is the core of who you are, your moral fiber.  When under pressure, a person makes serious choices and those types of choices reveal character; the greater the pressure, the more character is revealed.

Stott is trying to introduce the seeker to the person of Jesus Christ in Basic Christianity and he spends a chapter looking at the character of Christ.

He uses the Pharisee who gives an arrogant thanksgiving prayer in the midst of the Temple.  He stands in the most public place and declares “God I thank Thee that I am not like the rest of men.”  He was really saying that he was better than the ordinary folk who were present.  He lived a better life, he prayed better prayers, he knows the Tanach [Old Testament] better than everyone else.  His prayer was a public display designed to enhance his reputation.

Jesus knew his prayers were just words, the Pharisee was not actually “walking out” his faith.

So we are faced with the basic question: what clues do we have about the character of Jesus Christ?  He claims to be the Son of God but does He do anything to bolster that claim?  How did Jesus confirm His character without falling into the same trap as the boastful Pharisee?

Stott points to two things that Jesus does that reveal character.  One instance was with the woman who had committed adultery.  She was dragged before a mob that was ready to stone her to death and Jesus met the crowd with a challenge: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  They considered His words and gradually the crowd dispersed for no man could cast a stone.  Jesus stayed with the woman because He did His Father’s will.  He was not there to kill the woman; He was there to forgive her. 

Jesus did not attempt to place Himself in a “moral category” above everyone else.  He did not draw attention to His sinlessness.  He did not have to, because it was so obvious to those around Him.  It could be summed up in these words from Stott: “He lived a life of perfect obedience to His Father’s will. ‘I always do’ He said, ‘what is pleasing to Him.’”  He did not need to draw attention to Himself and He did not need to draw attention to the sinful nature of man.  He came as the Shepherd, to seek and save man.  We are sick with sin and He is the Doctor who has come to heal us.  As we live in the darkness of our shortcomings, He is the light of the world.  He knows His mission, that He will end up shedding His blood that we can be forgiven.  Stott writes that Jesus knows He is unique but He does not have to shout it out to the world.  It will be revealed by how He “walks out” His faith.

He is a man and He is tempted, but He does not sin.  He never confesses His sins and never asks for forgiveness.  He tells His disciples to confess but He does not need to do that.  He does not exhibit signs of moral failure.  He never feels guilt or “estrangement” from God.  When He is baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus does this to fulfill His righteous obligation, not because He needs to be cleansed from His sins. 

Stott writes of a young pioneer missionary named David Brainerd who served among the Indians of Delaware at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  He died at the young age of twenty-nine, but he left many diary writings where he poured out his heart about his love for Jesus. He loved his work and it was difficult.  Stott describes his life: “He gave himself without reserve to his work.  He travelled on horseback through thick forests, preached and taught without rest, slept in the open, and was content with no settled home or family life.  His diary is full of expressions of love to ‘my dear Indians’ and of prayers and praises to his Savior.”  But his diary also had passages where he confessed his moral corruption, his lack of prayer and love for Christ.  He called himself a “poor worm” a “dead dog” and an “unspeakably worthless wretch.”  Why was he so hard on himself?  Why did he have moments of spiritual weakness? 

Stott says it best: “He simply lived near Christ and was painfully aware of his sinfulness.”

Jesus lived near God and showed no sign of moral discontent.

Was Jesus perceptive?  Stott writes “He knew what was in man.  Often it is recorded of Him in the Gospel narratives that He read the inner questionings and perplexities of the crowd… Ostentation and pretense were an abomination to Him.”  That’s why He could not bear the public display of religiosity that came from the Pharisee in the temple.  How could Jesus be so perceptive about others and yet not be self-aware.  The short answer: He was self-aware and He saw no sin in Himself.

Why do we have such a sense of “falling short” when we try to make the best choices in life, not only those public choices where we may enhance our reputation but also those private choices that reveal character.  Stott likens this to the sense of awe that a scientist must feel when she appreciates the mysteries that await her discovery.  They more she learns, the more she realizes what she does not know.  The more the Christian grows in Christlikeness, the more he knows there is still a “vastness of distance” which still separates him from Christ.

This may sound discouraging, for many of us have this inborn need for perfection but we must let that go, for we don’t have the power to reach the level of perfect living that Christ revealed.  All we can do is try to do the best we can, follow the example of Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit and try to “walk out” our faith, remembering that the most revealing test of our faith is when no one is watching us and we still do what is right.

Stott closes his comments on what Jesus thought about His own character with the words “Jesus Christ, who lived more closely to God than anybody else has done, was free from all sense of sin” [39].  As we compare ourselves to Christ, we need to constantly remember that He was living life on a completely different plane than we are.  To put it plainly, (using a sports metaphor) “He was on a different playing field.”

Truthfully as we live more closely to God and His Son Jesus Christ, we know we are not free from sin, but we should not despair.  We should also not fake perfection and we should also not make arrogant public pronouncements of how proud we are of our growth toward sainthood.

“Life is about choices.” 

Some choices are bigger and some are small, but they all count in life.

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“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

I am going to write a statement that is extremely elementary.

Man struggles with the problem of sinning.

Yet in Chapter Four of John Stott’s book, the title is “The Problem of Forgiveness,” which explores man’s sinning from God’s perspective. 

Can we say God struggles with the problem of man’s sinning?

As humans we try to deny that there is a “God problem” with sin.  We act like sin is a word that has lost its meaning in our world today.  So if we are not worried about sin, why should God be concerned?  We blame anyone or anything for our sinning. Sinning is not our fault so why should we worry about what God thinks?   Eventually we may grow to accept responsibility for our sinning and when we do, we do the opposite of ignoring it or denying responsibility for it, we wallow in our guilt, going straight to absolute conviction [Stott writes that we become “sin-sick”].  Sounds like man is bi-polar.

By this point I begin to think that Stott has written all around the idea of “The Problem of Forgiveness;” he has indulged in what he calls “torturous theologizing” and his chapter has turned more toward man and less toward God.

Remember, Chapter Four was intended to discuss the problem that God has in forgiving man, not the problem man has in accepting responsibility for sin.  From God’s point of view, He is perfection.  For God, forgiveness can seem impossible because He is righteous and when He chooses to forgive human sin, He chooses to accept unrighteous human behavior. Why would a righteous God do that?

As we wrap our discussion of Chapter Four, let’s return to addressing this problem from a Divine perspective [if any human being can begin to understand a Divine perspective].

I recall a sermon I read many years ago as part of an American literature course in college, a sermon so powerful that it was included in our anthology of early American literary works: it was entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and it was written by Jonathan Edwards.  In this sermon Edwards delivers a “fire and brimstone” message, that man is wicked, sinful, and deserving of judgment and that judgement will indeed come if man does not repent.  God’s wrath is like black clouds hanging over the heads of Edward’s congregation. The clouds are full of storms, “big with thunder,” and ready to burst forth upon his congregation at any moment.  The year was 1741.

I ask myself how would a congregation handle this type of message today?

The answer is not well!

Here is how I justify my comment “not well.”  It is all focused on one word—wrath.

As believers, Christians today have a hard time accepting the fact that we worship a God who can feel wrath toward us.  Wrath can be a synonym for anger and for us, it can be described as “arbitrary, and uninhibited…a spasmodic outburst, aroused by pique and seeking revenge” [Stott, 107].  I would add words like irrational, uncontrolled, and furious. 

Here is where we have a problem with wrath: it comes from our efforts at anthropomorphism.  As human beings we have this tendency to attribute human characteristics to God when we should not.  God is God.  God is not human.  Genesis 1:27 says “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”  I interpret this to mean that we may have some qualities which allow God to work through us.  It does not mean that God has our human qualities e.g. human wrath.

We should not take Genesis 1: 27 and “create” a human God.

Stott points to the folly of this activity using what he calls “vivid metaphors.” 

The first metaphor is “height.” We can look at our expressions toward God like “the Most High God.”  He has sovereignty over all nations, the whole earth and all gods.  He has a throne of grace, which makes Him “high and exalted”.  Earth is His footstool.  All these expressions are not literal, but are designed to give God a sense of what Stott calls “transcendence.”  He is above the concerns of this earth.  “When thinking of the great and living God, it is better to look up than down, and outside than inside ourselves” [Stott, 108].

The second metaphor is “distance”.  God is away from us.  We dare not approach too closely.  Moses was told to keep his distance from the burning bush.  Israel’s worship arrangements with God separated Him from worshippers with the inner part of the Tent of Meeting off limits to all but the High Priest.   No one was allowed in the inner sanctuary on pain of death (except that priest).  Israelites were told to keep a thousand yards away from the ark in Joshua 3:4.  Stott writes that it is clear that “sinners cannot approach an all-holy God with impunity” [109].  They must keep their distance.

The third and fourth metaphors are “light and fire”.  God is light and God is a consuming fire.  Bright light can be blinding.  Our eyes cannot endure its brilliance.  The heat of fire can destroy anything.  In First John, Hebrews, Deuteronomy and other places in the Bible, God is referred to as a God of Judgement who uses fire to consume His enemies.

The most dramatic metaphor is “vomiting”.  That truly is a violent image.  The Canaanites had disgusting practices, so God had the land of Canaan “vomit out its inhabitants” and He warned the Israelites that if they did those practices, they would suffer the same fate.   In the New Testament, Jesus threatens to “spit” the lukewarm Laodicean church people out of his mouth, but the Greek word literally means to vomit.  The picture may be disgusting but the idea that God cannot tolerate sin is clear.  He has to rid Himself of people who cannot follow His laws.

I can understand man’s efforts to bring God down to a human level, to make Him more accessible, more approachable, but the fact of the matter is this.  He is not on our level.  This cannot be seen more clearly than when we consider God’s wrath.  When we commit sin, we should “tremble before God” and admit that we deserve hell.  Indeed we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” 

Today we have grown accustomed to the kind of God who is what Stott calls “easygoing…tolerant of our offenses, gentle, kind, accommodating.”  Our God has no violent reactions to our sinning.  Maybe the church has lost the vision of how majestic God is.  “In public worship our habit is to slouch and squat; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before god.  It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands in joy than to blush with shame or tears.  We saunter up to God to claim His patronage and friendship; it does not occur to us that He might send us away” [Stott, 110].

What we need to have as we conclude our discussion of Chapter Four is something akin to a balance regarding God.    There is such a thing as “gravity of sin” in man and “majesty” for our Lord and Savior.  Just because God forgives our sins does not imply that His majesty is diminished.  Our failings do not reflect poorly on Him.  We cannot bring God down to our level or raise ourselves to His level.  This is a mistake we make when we attribute human characteristics to an Almighty God.  “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” should not be misinterpreted to allow us to feel we can sin and feel ok about it. 

We can’t.

Anthropomorphism is something that we should not do to God.  Just because we don’t get too angry about the sins of man does not mean that the sins of man don’t provoke the wrath of God.

Stott ends Chapter Four with words from Bishop B.F. Westcott: “Nothing superficially seems simpler than forgiveness,” whereas “nothing is more mysterious and more difficult.”  God demands respect from us as humans, but God also respects Himself.  

When we continue discussing The Cross of Christ in Chapter Five, we will consider what God requires of us for us to be forgiven. 

Some kind of satisfaction is necessary, “Satisfaction for Sin” is the chapter’s title.

More “tortuous theologizing?

We shall see.

* Addendum:  My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to John Stott’s book Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.  In my next post we return to commenting on Basic Christianity  Chapter Three “The Character of Christ.”

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Does the Church Make Us Feel “Sin Sick”?

It was 1971 and I was enrolled at college.  I was an impressionable, inquisitive young guy from a rural upbringing, seeking an education and enjoying exploring ideas that were new to me.  My college had a movie theater where they screened films that were a bit out of the “mainstream.”  My girlfriend and I would often go see some of those films; I recall one that made a distinct impression on me because of its portrayal of lawlessness: A Clockwork Orange.  In this post, I won’t synopsize the film to any great degree, but one can view it and see that it was a controversial depiction of a group of ruthless, young, British men who wreaked havoc on their world.  In the context of 1971, many complained about the film’s violence, language and sexuality.  By today’s jaded standards, many may judge it less harshly.  Like many at that time, I remember reacting to the film with dismay but I looked beyond the obvious shock factors of violence, language and sexuality.  I was disturbed by the main character Alex because he and his cronies committed crimes with impunity, absolutely enjoying their attacks on defenseless people.  No one seemed to have any conception of remorse.  Eventually Alex is forced to change his behavior, but it is not by his own choice. 

Today I recall the experience of viewing A Clockwork Orange in the context of John Stott’s discussion of “True and False Guilt”, a section of Chapter 4 in his book The Cross of Christ.  Stott’s whole chapter considers how man handles sin.  He has already written that man makes the effort to ignore sin [we just refuse to think about it, much less take responsibility for it].  He has already discussed that man tries to blame sin on factors outside of his control [eg. genes, social environment, parents etc].  Now Stott is ready to discuss what Alex and his cronies don’t feel: they don’t feel they are sinning and they don’t feel guilt for what they have done.  “If human beings have sinned (which they have), and they are responsible for their sins (which they are), then they are guilty before God” [Stott, 98].

As I approach this discussion, it seems to me that Stott is trying to make a case that Christians are bi-polar.  We either deny the existence of sin or rationalize it away or we go the opposite direction: we become obsessed with sin and guilt.

“Christians have often been criticized (not least evangelical Christians) for continuously harping on sin, for becoming obsessed with it in our own lives, particularly in our evangelism, for trying to induce in others a sense of their guilt” [Stott, 99].  I know this may be hard for some to swallow, but is the role of the church to induce guilt?  Does the church exist to convince us we are “sick,” and after conviction, we need the church to get over the sickness of our sinning?  This makes Christianity the medicine for the “sin-sick.”

For many, this approach is anathema: how could anyone look at the cross of Christ and see anything other than forgiveness of sin?  How could anyone look at Christ’s sacrifice and think of our shame?  We caused Him to go to Golgotha?  Aren’t we supposed to focus on the glory of what He did for us?

Stott writes there is such a thing as a “morbid, overscrupulous conscience.”  In these cases it may be unhealthy to insist on the gravity of sin.  Some are already holding themselves too responsible for their actions, maybe even feeling bad about evil they have not done.

They are suffering from an extreme responsibility toward sin and they are living miserable lives.

Let’s try to find a middle ground.

All of mankind suffers from what I call the “bent toward” sinning.  We can’t help it.  God has given us all the freedom to choose our behaviors. In some cases, it all boils down to this:  we either sin or don’t sin and we get weak from time to time and are tempted to sin.  We just do it.

We all know that Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden.  He gave them freedom to choose their acts with one limitation.  They must not touch the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  We could analyze what triggered their weakness all day: was it curiosity, was it the quest for power, was it pride, was it simple disobedience?  The fact of the matter is that they could not follow God’s rules.  They ate the forbidden fruit.  In Chapter Four, Stott writes that Adam and Even could have denied that the sin existed [that snake just told us what to do and we were simply following his direction-that is not sin].  Maybe God has made us with fatal flaws; it is not our fault that we have defects due to poor manufacture. 

No, it was their fault and we have been able to choose sin over righteous behavior since their grievous error. 

What must we do when we commit our own grievous errors? 

Wallow in guilt?

That is unhealthy.  Wallowing does not lead to God’s forgiveness.   Wallowing does not allow us to enter the joy of His salvation.  Wallowing does not allow us to grow into more complete human beings, healthy human beings.  “A full acknowledgement of human responsibility and therefore guilt, far from diminishing the dignity of human beings, actually enhances it.   It presupposes that men and women, unlike the animals, are morally responsible beings who know what they are, could be and should be, and do not make excuses for their poor performance” [Stott, 102].

The church does not exist to make us “sin-sick.”  The church exists to provide a means to escape the sickness we feel from guilt.  The law that condemns us becomes God’s good gift because it sends us to Jesus Christ to be justified.  Jesus says in Mark 2: 17 that He comes to this world to help “tax collectors and sinners”: it is not the “healthy who need a doctor but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.  With this in mind, do we begin to see the church taking on the role of helping people with their sickness, alerting them to their maladies so they can turn to the Great Physician? 

As part of his discussion Stott references C.S. Lewis who agonizes over “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.”  In his discussion Lewis “bemoans” the modern tendency to concentrate on criminal reform and deterrence instead of grappling with the link between punishment and justice.  “When we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case.’” 

Spoiler Alert for A Clockwork Orange

That is exactly what happens at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s film.  At the end, Alex is caught and is forced to undergo some form of aversion therapy.  The government made him into a person who hated violence so much that he could not be violent even if there was a need [e.g. to defend himself from evil assailants].  He was “cured” against his will, what Stott calls put on “a level with those who have not reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles and domestic animals.”

No we don’t need to wallow in guilt.  We don’t need to take on responsibility for acts that we do not commit.  We don’t need to think of the Christian church as an institution that makes us feel “sin sick.” 

We need to take our punishment, however severe.  We need to take it because we deserve it.  We need to take it because we “should have known better.”

Stott says we need to be treated “as a human person made in God’s image.”

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