We must be careful not to confuse the righteousness of faith with the righteousness of a Christian life. The former is a gift of grace through the imputed righteousness of Christ making us right before God, the latter is the fruit or results of one who has been born-again, justified and adopted as God’s child. Paul writes to Titus, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11-12). While we must avoid the error of legalism, a system of belief that says one is justified (made right with God) by faith plus the merit of our own works which is an obedience-based acceptance, it is equally important that we avoid the error of antinomianism, a system of belief that says one doesn’t need to give any proof of a life of repentance and virtue as evidence of being justified, an obedience-free acceptance. The grace of God does not exclude the Christian from obedience to God’s moral commands. Instead, in the gospel, our new motive is to eagerly desire to live righteously so that obedience becomes the natural expression of our grateful hearts, an acceptance-based obedience. Only in the gospel can we actually give complete loyalty and obedience to Christ and live a life of faith expressing itself through love.
I have recently discovered a theologian who beautifully communicates this careful balance in his classic work, True Christianity. He was often referred to as “the second Luther” by his contemporaries and yet another well-known theologian called him, “the prophet of interior protestantism.” Johann Arndt (1555-1621) was the first Luther scholar to see that “justification by faith alone” does not preclude doing good works but actually unleashes good works in the Christian. He has said,
“Many think that theology is a mere science, or rhetoric, whereas it is a living experience and practice. Everyone now endeavors to be eminent and distinguished in the world, but no one is willing to learn to be devoted. Everyone now seeks out men of great learning, from whom one may learn the arts, languages, and wisdom, but no one is willing to learn, from our only teacher, Jesus Christ, meekness and sincere humility, although his holy, living example is the proper rule and directive for our life…Everyone wishes very much to be a servant of Christ, but no one wishes to be his follower… He who loves Christ will also love the example of his holy life, his humility, meekness, patience, suffering, shame, and contempt, even if the flesh suffers pain…True Christianity consists, not in words or in external show, but in living faith, from which arise righteous fruits, and all manner of Christian virtues, as from Christ himself.”
Arndt is regularly careful to avoid the errors of legalism and antinomianism. Here is an example:
“You must take care that you do not connect your works and the virtues that you have begun, or the gifts of the new life, with your justification before God, for none of man’s works, merit, gifts, or virtue, however lovely these may be, count for anything. Our justification depends on the exalted, perfect merit of Jesus Christ, received by faith…Take great care, therefore, not to confound the righteousness of faith with the righteousness of a Christian life, but make a clear distinction (between them), for here is the whole foundation of our Christian religion.”
What is being a Christian all about? Sometimes even Christians imagine that being a Christian means to have a certain ideology which contains a political or social agenda that would solve the country’s problems. Others consider Christianity the best way to attain Your Best Life Now as if believing certain Christian-like truths will make them more successful, more popular and give them more control over their lives. Some think that being a Christian gives them an intellectual upper-hand that they can enjoy because it makes them feel smarter than everyone else. While others find Christianity as the pathway to financial independence and wealth so that they don’t have to ever rely on anyone else.
But the Scriptures teach a different substance and meaning of the Christian Life that does not consist in a political agenda, an economic solution, nor does it impart a pathway to success, popularity or financial independence. And it certainly is not the way to put you more in control of your life or to give you power over others. So then what does it mean to be a Christian? Being a Christian is about an ongoing intimate encounter with The Risen Savior who will progressively intertwine your heart with His so that you love what He Loves and grieve over what grieves Him. Jesus Christ is about making “little Christs” (Christians) whose hearts are so captured by the grace of the gospel that Christ becomes their who? what? where? when? and why? For Jesus the meaning of being a Christian is that He would become your identity, significance, destination, direction, and motivation. He becomes your Everything.
So if you’re looking for Peace with the Righteous Judge of the Universe, if you want to be washed of your guilt, and given a new identity to replace your shame, if you’re willing to live dependently passing the control of your life to another, and if you want to live forever in the full enjoyment of God for all eternity, then Christianity is for you!
Is there an afterlife? What happens when we die?
At death, the souls of Christian believers are made perfect by the power of God and immediately pass into heaven while their bodies rest in the grave awaiting the resurrection on the earth’s last day. When Christians die their soul immediately enters into the presence of God experiencing great comfort, rest, celebration and worship of God. During the resurrection at the last day, all Christian believers are raised up by the power of Christ and He will openly acknowledge that they belong to Him and that they are to be relieved from all charges of fault and sin because of His payment of their debts then they will be made perfectly happy in the total enjoyment of God throughout eternity.
It was the Breaking News that turned the world upside down. As the news headline spread, everyone in the region and eventually in the world would have heard the claims of hundreds of eye witnesses. A following would develop that would become the preeminent movement in the world based only on this news. This historical event would be the most discussed and most transcribed event of its era yet many would deny its authenticity. Skeptics would challenge the historicity of the event years later claiming that it couldn’t be proven scientifically. This headline would have all of the same limitations for scientific proof of other historical events because categorically, it’s very difficult to scientifically prove historical events. Sir Karl Popper, perhaps the greatest philosopher who ever lived would later say, “You cannot prove history scientifically.” Taken to its logical conclusion, if one refuses to accept the historicity of a past event based on its lack of scientific evidence then all of history comes into serious doubt. Necessarily we’re led to doubt everything that happened before the invention of YouTube.
The truthfulness of History is most often proven by the eyewitness accounts of people who have observed and documented it. The Gospel Writers: Matthew (aka Levi), John Mark, Luke the Scientist and John the Apostle either witnessed or interviewed witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a secret event with limited publicity. Instead news would have spread to everyone in the region even during the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Saul of Tarsus, Simon Peter son of John and James the Just would also write about their first hand encounters with the Risen Christ. Very few doubt the main events in the lives of historical men like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, yet many doubt the most important event in the life of Jesus Christ. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ has greater textual attestation than any event in antiquity.
It is interesting that first century Christians were consumed with two things: (1) A man, Jesus Christ who claimed to be God and (2) An event when this same man was resurrected from the dead. But did Jesus exist? It is a fact that Jesus Christ is the most documented historical character before the age of printing. “No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.” (Otto Betz – What Do We Know about Jesus? SCM Press, 1968.) Historically we know that He did exist. The bigger question is the historicity of the resurrection.
When people today think about Christianity, they speak of it as an ideological entity with a political agenda. Others might hold that Christianity is a body of teachings from the greatest Teacher ever, Jesus who taught us an original moral code. But this was not how Christianity was defined in the first century A.D.. Early Christians were known more for their testimony to the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“At no point within the New Testament is there any evidence that the Christians stood for any original philosophy of life or an original ethic. Their sole function is to bear witness to what they claim as an event– the raising of Jesus from among the dead… the one really distinctive thing which the Christians stood was their declaration that Jesus had been raised from the dead…” (J.N.D. Anderson, citing Cambridge professor C.F.D. Moule)
To Recap the Historical Narrative of that first Easter Weekend, it was on Good Friday evening that a wealthy Jewish Disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin wrapped Jesus’ lifeless body in clean linen and laid him in his own new tomb which he had cut in the rock and rolled a giant stone down a slope to cover the tomb’s entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat and watched with great emotion. Later several Roman soldiers would be posted to lock down and seal the tomb to prevent body theft and resurrection fraud.
As the sun rises on that first Easter Morning, the women emerge from the darkest 30 hours they have ever experienced, an empty void, a Black Sabbath. The gospel writers give us few details about the day between Good Friday Sunset and Easter Sunday Sunrise it is just empty space and dead air. After a Good Friday of despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness and before an Easter Sunday of joy, light, victory and hope, the women and the disciples endured the longest day of their lives. A day of stark emptiness. A day of dead intermission between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. A parenthesis when they reflect on reflect on their cowardice, their denials, and their desperate flights in fear.
For the disciples it would be a dark season of emptiness, wondering what would become of them as they hid from the authorities. The women, not feeling the same guilt as the apostles, would still feel empty, lonely, grieved and without hope. They would spend the better part of these two nights laying on their beds soaking their pillows with tears. And so the story continues in Matthew’s Gospel, “Now after the (Black) Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” And what they would find was completely unexpected…
What were the disciples looking for on the first Easter Sunday Morning?
On that first Easter morning, there was a band of women and a group of disciples who were hunting. But they weren’t hunting for Easter Eggs, they were hunting for their best friend, Jesus the Christ, the Promised One…
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
The gospel accounts testify to the physical, literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the Resurrection of Christ is so crucial to the Christian faith, gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John are very careful to record the details of what they saw with their own eyes. Luke, another gospel writer, includes eyewitness testimony from as many as 500 people who saw the Risen Christ in order to assure us that Christ is risen from the dead. He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Jesus riding in Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on a borrowed ass is a visually irreconcilable scene where he displays an “admirable conjunctive or diverse excellencies,” a praiseworthy joining of almost paradoxically supreme qualities. This scene encapsulates the picture of His entire ministry. He has walked a long way, but now on the outskirts on Jerusalem, He must RIDE into the city of David. Why? Because this is a show! A solemn performance of the Nature of His Kingdom. Until now, he would not accept the title of King, but now He at length openly declares himself to be a King, even the King of Kings. Only Kings and dignitaries ride into Jerusalem with such pomp and circumstance. This is a Victory Parade culminating with the humiliation and death of the King. Jesus is the Picture of the Ideal King triumphantly riding into Jerusalem with transcendent majesty, but on the back of a borrowed donkey like a poor man or a child reminding us that he takes the path of weakness and service. He embodies otherwise irreconcilable qualities: transcendence & immanence; royalty & modesty; Boldness & Humility; Toughness & Tenderness. He is the Sovereign Creator King who came not to be served but to serve. He sits at the highest place in the heavenly places but the Son of Man has come to lay down his life. He exudes Royal Humility, a supremely confident weakness because He has come to bring peace not war, He has come to save not destroy. During His first advent, the Great King will not ride a war horse but a young donkey, a beast appropriate for a child.
Don’t we all need a second chance and even a third chance; do I hear seven? How about seventy times seven? When the Savior disrupts our failure, misery and self-pity with mercy, forgiveness and a second chance it is not a decision He makes on the fly nor a reaction in real time but instead our failure was anticipated, even expected. In fact, ALL of our failures, those before and after we met Christ were absorbed in the sacrifice of the cross. Our failure is the backdrop of the God’s sweet plan of Love, Grace, Redemption and Restoration. And while we might be surprised that we’ve blown it again, He’s not. He is a Savior who has planned to absorb our failings before they occur in real time.
When Jesus uses the repetitive phrase, “Truly, Truly” He is declaring something to be a certainty: “It’s going to happen, bet the farm!” This is the exact phrase Jesus uttered when He anticipated and predicted Peter’s terrible failure, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” Peter couldn’t imagine that he would ever deny his association with Jesus though the Savior predicted His fall with absolute certainty down to the minute details. It is easy to understand what Peter did. He and Jesus were going places together. They were defeating the bad guys and now the bad guys were winning. His Hope of Salvation was betrayed by an insider, who afterward seemed even more powerful than the Savior Himself. And when the Savior was whisked away by wicked men, Peter bailed. Our journeys are not much different than Peter’s. We too invest an inordinate amount of our hopes and dreams in specific, imagined future scenarios for how our lives will play out and when our dreams don’t come true, we get disoriented, become vulnerable to temptation, find ourselves compromising our faith and then realize a deep emptiness inside of us. We’re like Peter in the sense that we imagine that the gospel is the way to happiness, success, popularity, status, control and blessing. We wrongly believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ will provide us with what we really want in addition to placing us in right, loving relationship with our Heavenly Father. And so when God doesn’t come through on fulfilling our dream, we think He’s abandoned us and we’re ready to abandon Him. Though God is jealous of our heart attitude which says, “I love you but I must have this other thing too,” He extends his hand of mercy and consolation to draw us back to be satisfied in His love.
There are not many second chances in the Church or in the World, as the rules apply it’s most often ‘one and done’ and then you get ‘tossed under the bus.’ Many Christians even live out of a theological framework which believes that God offers mercy and forgiveness for even the most heinous sins committed before the point of personal conversion but there are new rules that apply after conversion. The New Rules are that you are expected to get it right after that and there is no mercy for sins committed after conversion. This false system leads churches to even celebrate the most dramatic conversions of the most rebellious lifestyles before salvation but extends no forgiveness or second chance to a believer who messes up. Another problem with the aforementioned erroneous system is that it typically views sin as merely outward and tolerates the sins God despises most like pride, arrogance, harshness, selfishness, ignoring the needs of the poor while living in excess. Could it be that God offers only forgiveness to those coming out of unbelief? Is there mercy for non-Christians but not for Christians?
Thankfully Jesus is the Savior of Second Chances and the framework represented above is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ who holds out mercy and forgiveness to us continuously while calling us back to a lifestyle of repentance, holiness and love. Second Chances are only possible if the mistake made during the first chance was paid for and absorbed by another. This is what Jesus does, he pays for the sin and does not make us pay. The Second Chance then becomes a new lease on life, a new freedom, a new opportunity to experience a richer sense of His grace and to live as if we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. When living within the Second Chance, we know that at some point we will need a third chance which He will graciously extend. This is what Jesus does: He restores the fallen! This is what He did for Simon Peter, a full-fledged Christian and Church leader who denied any connection with Jesus on three occasions. He gave him a Second Chance. Remember the Prodigal Son was a “Son” when he rebelled against his Father who extended a second chance and the Wandering Sheep belonged to the Shepherd and His flock before he became disoriented and was carried back to the fold for his second chance. This is the gospel program: Jesus extends mercy to His own whom He expects will need second and even third chances.