America’s changing moral, cultural and societal trajectory is disturbing to many Christians. These changes are particularly worrying when they impact our children. Among other things, we are forced to have conversations about sexuality, pornography, and identity in a manner and on a timetable that we would not have chosen. News headlines once reflecting realities “out there” are now openly discussed in elementary school classroms. In the midst of anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, its good to reflect on what is true. When we treasure the Gods’ Word, the definite proclamation about reality, we can be at peace in the storm and give our children the gift of an unshakable and certain hope.
To begin, here are five pieces of Good News:
- John 10:14-15 The Good Shepherd knows his sheep, and they recognize his voice. They will come when he calls. Lost family members, friends, even those who seem hostile to the kingdom of God may find themselves listening to the call of love; a strong, kind voice above the din of lies and deception that permeate our modern lives.
- Hebrews 7:23-24 Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who come to him. As John Wesley wrote, “all the guilt, power, root, and consequence of sin” are destroyed by the work of Jesus. He is in the business of transforming lives.
- John 3:8, John 16:8-11 Nothing can prevent the Spirit’s ongoing role in calling people to trust in the Wounded Son of God who rescues the lost sons and daughters of Adam & Eve.
- 2 Timothy 3:12-15 Jesus told us in advance how this world’s pattern plays out and what we are to do in the meantime as we wait for the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior.
- 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 Resting in the love of Christ, he always leads us in triumphant procession and the aroma of our lives is breathed in by those who will respond to God’s gift of life.
AVOIDING THE TRAP OF A BLURRY GOSPEL
Without being immersed in the renewing Gospel of Peace, we fall into fear and anxiety and end up sharing a blurry gospel, obscured with side issues.
In a recent conversation regarding morality in America, I found I had accidentally drifted into a political “fencing match”. Undoubtedly, there are important political, cultural, and social implications of the Gospel. Loving your neighbor as yourself in a multi-cultural, global economy must have public expression. But without the initial gift of grace, any external shift is a surface change.
SPIRITUAL TRAINING: GROWING IN GRACE
The best training we can commit to, for ourselves and our children, is to uncover the depths of the riches of the God’s love so that we who have been forgiven much can love much. Just as Paul, set aside the lofty speech and human wisdom of the Greek philosophers of his day (1 Corinthians 2:1-2), we should “resolve to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified”.
Training our minds with the knowledge of God informs our actions in the world. Remembering we are a people in possession of a certain, living and unshakable hope, we don’t lose heart or give in to despair. Acknowledging we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, we endure evil without bitterness and personal indignation. Recalling Christ came for sinners of whom we are the worst, we have great love and grace toward each other and the lost: the calling card of those who follow Jesus (John 13:35).
SHARING THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
My house is often disorderly and cluttered; “creative chaos” is how I like to think of it. The point is, the state of my house would like raise the eyebrows of the immaculately neat. If we are honest, sometimes we wish others in our society would simply conform to our personal moral standards instead of making our lives more challenging and our television-watching options more narrow. We might not particularly care if they were still dead in their sin as long as it didn’t splash on us. This is not the gospel. The gospel targets something much deeper than individual sins: righteousness.
When we think of the Good News about Jesus the King, repentance from sin is right out in front. A Kingdom mindset requires us to understand the morally perfect nature of God, a standard of righteousness required for all who would live with Him in His Kingdom. John the Baptist proclaimed that the reason for repentance from rebellion to God was because “the Kingdom of God is at hand”. John’s was a general call based on the general reality of the rebellious treason against God’s rule at the center of the human heart that had existed since the Fall in Genesis 3. But was this a call to “clean up your act” in order to merit a place in God’s Kingdom? That seems like a works righteousness. What about “through grace alone by faith alone”?
After describing the ineffectiveness of the Law to generate inner righteousness. Paul gives a shout of joy:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. … It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. — Romans 3:20-26
To stand in God’s righteous presence, in God’s righteous Kingdom, we are GIVEN God’s righteousness through trust in the saving work of Jesus who died on the cross to rescue us from sin and death and lives to give us life.
Here’s where repentance comes in. Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount that “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” who have their hunger completely satisfied. Those who hunger for the righteousness only God can give, cast away all rebellion and self-righteousness, eagerly anticipating the appearing of the “bread of heaven” that alone gives life and, when He appears, put their trust in Him alone, the only Way to Truly know the Life-giver.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
To bring this airplane in for a landing, here’s what we can “teach” ourselves and pass on to our children:
- We ourselves were once prevented, by our own inadequate self-righteousness, from enjoying the life-giving presence of God, the author and source of all that is good, beautiful and enjoyable. (Titus 3:3).
- Because of His great love, God temporarily overlooked our sins (Romans 3:26) until He provided us with His own righteousness through His beloved Son by means of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-6) and not because of any good thing we could do.
- As a result, we now have the righteousness of God, an equal inheritance of eternal life and are being renewed so that we now live and think like our Father in Heaven (Titus 3:7, Romans 12:2). Everyone who has put on the righteousness of God, is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- As a result of this new creation reality, we find ourselves increasingly in conflict with the righteous standards of imperfect, humanity (John 3:20). In fact, we are guaranteed two things: 1) if we want to live in this new, righteous life of our adoptive Father, we will face persecution, and 2) people who reject Jesus will continue down a slope of unrighteous living ( 2 Timothy 3:12-13). But we don’t let those things bother us or stop us from sharing this live-saving Good News, because Jesus, God in the Flesh, willingly suffered rejection so we could have his righteousness (Hebrews 12:1-3).
- Now, we are ambassadors of reconciliation—we can meet God’s demands of perfect righteousness offered in Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:20). Since our future is assured and we have fellowship with God that can’t be taken away (Romans 8:38-39), we aren’t silent in sharing that God’s Kingdom has drawn near and is open to all who turn from their own self-righteousness and receive the perfect righteousness of the Risen Son. No sin is too ugly, no sinner too distasteful for Jesus, who came to our rescue in full agreement with the Father’s love (1 Timothy 1:15) .
- Everyone who hears and trusts in the righteousness of Jesus is a full participant in the story (2 Peter 1:1) and receives the full, rich, quality of life and unshakable future hope that Jesus came to give (John 10:10).
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Imagine a conversation with someone who holds onto their own righteousness (e.g. “My lifestyle is OK.” “I can do what I want with my body/money/time” “I can define myself anyway I choose” “As long as I don’t hurt anyone else…”. “The government agrees with me”, “I’m basically a good person, I never killed anyone.” etc.)
- How would you share the good news about the Kingdom of God and the way through Christ to enter into friendship with God?
- What potential pitfalls would you need to be aware of to prevent slipping into a political or sociological discussion?
- Do news headlines cause anxiety and fear? Does it help to know that we are promised a degree of suffering? Does it help to remember what Christ endured to rescue you?
- Is it helpful to think about self-righteousness vs. God’s righteousness rather than the sins of others vs. Christian morality?
- How can you communicate this in a discussion with someone who has not turned from their self-righteousness to receive God’s righteousness?
- How will this understanding change your conversations with your children about the issues they face in the media, in school, and with their peers?
- How might you differentiate between good moral behavior and the righteousness of God?
- How do you differentiate between the good works that grow out of the new life in Christ and the morality that is common to most people from every nation and culture?