Before Whom Will We Bow?
What do the following individuals have in common?
They are all mentioned by the author of Hebrews as people of faith (see Hebrews 11). They were all also all individuals who at some point in their life committed egregious sins. Noah got so drunk that his behavior embarrassed his sons. Abraham abandoned his wife to the lustful desires of Pharaoh. Jacob was a liar and deceiver. Moses committed murder, as did David. Rahab was a well-known prostitute.
To that list we could add the names Peter and Paul. After all Peter abandoned his Lord in a moment of great crisis and Paul was guilty of persecuting and executing the early followers of Christ. In fact Paul was so cognizant of his guilt that he once declared himself the “chiefest of all sinners.” Yet God used both of these men in a mighty way to advance the Gospel, the “good news” that through Christ men could be reconciled to a Holy God and restored to the true purpose for which they had been created.
Clearly Flawed but Following God
All of those mentioned above plus thousands of others throughout human history were clearly
flawed but at the same time were people who, more often than not, made a conscious choice
to follow God’s leading by faith even when the entire culture around them stood in opposition.
What fascinates me most about this reality is the fact that the Scriptures, and more importantly the God who inspired the authors of Scripture, never shies away from the flawed actions of those individuals.
Why do you think that is the case? And equally important what can we learn from that reality in the midst of all the angst and anger of our current moment? First of all I think we should fall to our knees in gratitude that God has made a way for even the worst of us through the redemptive work of Christ. No one is beyond His grace. All who come to Him in repentance are embraced and included in His family where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. None are turned away. All are declared just. All are given the means to a transformed life through the Word and the Spirit. There are no exceptions.
The Object of Our Faith Makes the Difference
By the way, it isn’t our faith that makes the difference. Rather it is the object of our faith, in our case Jesus the Christ, that leads to our salvation. Lots of people have faith in something. For example at this present moment many seek salvation and justice in government. That is a fool’s errand as any study of history will confirm.
Just look at what is happening in our country at this present time. People who feel disenfranchised by historical actions are now seeking “justice” but doing so at the expense of others who they view as oppressors. In reality those others, the ones currently facing the rage of the mob, are for the most part simply people seeking nothing more than to provide for their families and to make some kind of positive contribution to their community and country. The mob, however, seldom bothers to understand reality but only to distort reality in service to a pre-determined end.
The Appetite for Revenge
The appetite for revenge is, however, insatiable. Fueled by legitimate grievances and unhealthy rage the end result is always chaos, and chaos always leads to destructive, never constructive behavior. In the end once a people chose to abandon the way of Grace they will end up falling and flailing into a Pit of darkness, death and destruction.
What puzzles me most about our present moment, however, is the tacit approval of many in the Church are giving to the current cultural insanity that would burn a giant R onto the brow of every living American. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that “black lives matter.” What we are told is that every life is precious, that every life is precarious, and that every life has access to God’s grace, through Christ. To believe otherwise denies the very nature of Truth found in God’s Word.
And where does it all end? Should contemporary Hebrews seek reparations from the people of Egypt for the four hundred years of slavery they endured. Should they riot on behalf of the tens of thousands who felt the lash the Pharaoh’s task-masters? Or perhaps they should take legal action against the current government of Germany for the horrors inflicted upon millions of Jews during the Holocaust?
What then of the multitudes enslaved throughout human history every time one country or empire invaded and subdued another country or empire? The list of grievances is endless. There would be no end to our anger, no satisfactory answer to our anguished cries for justice, and no matter how well intentioned there is no government program that could ensure “never again.”
Scriptures Clear Instruction
That the world doesn’t see all of that clearly I understand. That the church is so blind to this reality is truly heart breaking. The Scriptures provide clear instruction about how to reconcile with a brother. The idea of mass cultural reconciliation is, however, as foreign to Scripture as is the idea of mass spiritual reconciliation. If my brother is offended by my behavior I can, and must, go to him and work out that conflict. What I can’t do is resolve something on behalf of another who may or may not have done something ill to another person in another time and place.
Sin entered the world as a result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God does not, however, hold me accountable for their sin or them accountable for my sin. The idea of corporate guilt cannot be found in Scripture. Each of us is held responsible for our decisions and actions. None of us will be able to stand before Christ and declare, “It was because of what my parents did that I rejected you” or “I just didn’t have the greatest of opportunities in life” or “So and so sabotaged my efforts for advancement”.
None of us will ever stand before Christ on our own merits, or as a result of what happens in our life, or as a consequence of our ethnic heritage or parentage. Rather, we will stand before him as individuals who are either “in Christ” or outside of his freely offered grace. No exceptions. No excuses.
I cannot atone for the sins of my fathers. Neither can you. Only Christ can do that. I can, however, learn from the sins of my fathers and determine that by the grace I find in Christ, and by the Truth I can find in His Word that I will not follow a path that will only lead to sorrow, pain, and destruction.
Nor must I seek the forgiveness of people against whom I have committed no purposefully harmful action. Neither should they expect me to do so. To do either misconstrues the meaning of both grace and forgiveness.
The Bible: Our Sole Rule of Faith and Practice
I grieve when I consider the historic evil treatment of people of color in our country. My heart also grieves when I consider the evil treatment endured by the people of China and Korea at the hands of the invading armies of Japan. Racism isn’t a white people’s problem it is a sin problem that knows no ethnic boundaries.
More painful to me, however, is the tragic ongoing holocaust that has, over the last half century in this country, resulted in the deaths of millions of the most helpless among us – our unborn. What happened to George Floyd was horrific. In reality, however, it was nothing close to what happens to a baby during an abortion. Yet the very same people marching for justice on behalf of George Floyd choose to not only ignore this assault on human dignity but actually march to ensure that the slaughter continues. That is hard for me to reconcile.
If there is any hope for the church moving ahead we need to return to a basic principal: The Bible properly understood should be our sole rule of faith and practice not the wisdom of the world. Of course that principle can’t apply where we don’t even know what the Bible teaches. His Word is Truth. Without that Truth will remain imprisoned in darkness and despair. It’s time to make a choice. Before whom will we bow? Christ or the mob? Christ or Caesar?