Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Are You Crooked and Content?

This week I had the experience of tearfully sending off my daughter and her husband to live in a city far away from home. Within the first five minutes after they left, I wanted to be near them again. And, with each passing day, I know I will want to be near them even more. This separation between family members reminds me of a sad dysfunction that is growing in the Church today. There is a twisted reaction to God’s rich grace in the Church that lead some Christians towards contentment with the very behavior that separated us from God to begin with. Imagine if I grew content with the separation from my daughter - how dangerous would that be? When we settle for contentment with behavior that dishonors God an even worse relational danger results.

There are several verses in the Bible where God uses the analogy of a “plumb line.” Unless you have a working knowledge of primitive construction methods, you might not understand the significance of such an analogy. A plumb line is a string that has a metal weight tied to the bottom. The line is then hung from the top edge of a wall or similar structure. Gravity will force the line to hang perfectly vertical and perfectly perpendicular to the ground from all angles. However, if a wall or structure is crooked, there will be a gap between the plumb line and the structure.

One such reference to this analogy is Isaiah 28:16-17 which says, “therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.’” Jesus, the Cornerstone, is the plumb line that this prophecy refers to. As we examine Jesus, hold him up against the structure of self, and observe a gap between self and Him, it should be our passion, our lifetime pursuit, to move towards Him and His holiness instead of being content with the gap in between.

It is not acceptable for any Christian to remain content with that gap and be resolved to do nothing about it. Hebrews 6:6 says, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” It is contempt to abuse God's forgiveness, mercy and grace by living in such a way that the gap is excused. Christian, we have no excuse. We have forgiveness but we lack excuse. We were not granted forgiveness to inspire crookedness. God’s kindness inspires repentance, not stubborn crookedness. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Too many Christians are far too content being crooked. And, too few Christians actively pursue holiness.

God has a perfect and wise standard. Yes, God’s righteousness covers us and becomes our righteous and an effective covering over that which was crooked. But, God is not something for us to take for granted. We are not called to abuse God’s forgiveness as if to take advantage of Him in a pejorative sense. It is distortion to call such a wicked response, love for God. Rather, God is supposed to take full advantage of us. The crooked wall must be continually corrected towards the plumb line. Otherwise, the plumb line is treated as meaningless, or ignored. As we are continually measured against the plumb line that is Jesus, we must continually correct ourselves towards the plumb line. Are you ignoring the plumb line? Are you ignoring Jesus? Is there any worse example of ignorance?

When God forgives our sin, He removes it and forgets it. But, that does not mean we did not sin. Nor does it mean that our covered sin will not have consequences or result in His discipline. God can declare a crooked wall straight, which makes it so. But, God’s standard is not for us to remain crooked. God would prefer that we move towards the plumb line while He covers our crookedness. God does not prefer that we remain crooked as if God has our careless, sinful backs.

In fact, it is stubborn crookedness that leads to the quenching of God’s Spirit within us. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” This is often misunderstood by many Christians, because the first definition of “quench” that we understand and use most often in common language is the positive experience of satisfying a thirst. However, the Greek word used in this verse is “sbennymi” which means to extinguish or snuff out as you would when you pour water on a fire. In this context, snuffing out the fire of the Holy Spirit is a very bad thing and something that Christians should not be content in doing. The Holy Spirit is a fire within us that seeks to completely burn away the influence of our fading identity (our crooked flesh) in order to establish our eternal identity through His perfect Spirit.

For this reason, Hebrews 12:28-29 implores us, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” In these verses “worship” is not meant to refer to the activity we participate in once a week during a church service. Rather, worship is a constant lifestyle, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Therefore, the fire of God’s Holy Spirit residing within us desires to consume us as a mighty and perfect fire. When we live lives that abuse His mercy, we quench God’s Spirit in favor of yielding to our flesh.

Here are some examples of statements Christians too often make that are likely aligned with contentment with crookedness:
  • “Well, I don’t see a problem with it.”
  • “Well, grace covers my sin.”
  • “Well, Jesus partied with sinners.”
  • “It’s all good.”
  • “Well, I’m not God.”
  • “Well, I’m not Jesus.”
  • “Don’t judge me.”
  • “Well, the Bible says ‘don’t judge.’”
  • “I’m fine the way I am.”
  • "God made me this way."
  • "That's legalism."
These statements lack the remorse that should accompany the realization that such behavior required blood sacrifice and played a central role in brutally nailing God to a cross. On the last bullet above, Christian, the pursuit of Holiness is not legalism. Legalism is attempting to purchase grace. Pursuing Holiness is a response that is inspired by having already received grace. And, regarding defending the Gospel, our attempt to defend something that we are content in not living out is likely to be a fool’s errand.

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