Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Two Central Facts

“If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

Back in 1993, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope gave astronomers their first glimpse of what appeared to be a distant galaxy with a double nucleus. That just doesn’t happen, so a number of possible theories were immediately floated. To the best of my knowledge, no definitive explanation for this anomaly has ever been found.

The death and resurrection of Christ are the two central facts of our faith, the double nucleus around which everything else revolves. Take either one away and we are lost in every conceivable sense of the word. A Christianity that denies either, whether implicitly or explicitly, is no Christianity at all. It distinguishes itself from the empty formalism of other religions in no way that matters. It is worse than useless.

One is Not Enough

In Galatians, Paul teaches that any works-based religious tradition is utter futility. If any merely human life could ever have satisfied God, his Son need not have been sent, need not have suffered, need not have died. But the fact that he did is our evidence that living well has never been enough for God and never will be. Those who will not have Christ and who rely on their works are eternally lost, and will never be reconciled to God.

But in Corinthians, Paul teaches that the cross, in all of its importance, was not enough. It is the resurrection of Christ that demonstrates God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice. A sealed tomb would testify to the inadequacy of his work on our behalf. But — praise the Lord — the tomb is not sealed, and Christ has become a priest forever on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. Not only are we not still in our sins, but we who have believed have been raised with him to walk in newness of life.

So then, we have these two central facts to which we cling. Our claim to be Christian in any sense that matters demands we never let them go.

All Children of God

A couple of years ago the head of the largest so-called Christian denomination in the world told a group of high school students “We are all the same, all children of God” — Muslims, Jews ... whoever. He continued, “If someone says they are a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, they are not a disciple of Jesus.” He was contrasting verbal testimony with a life lived well, which he says is sufficient to commend his faith and yours to others.

But we do not need to appeal to the Great Commission to know this is false teaching of the worst sort. We only need to look at the death and resurrection of Christ. If Muslims and Jews are already God’s children, then Christ died to no purpose. Like Cain, they come to their version of God with their hands full of their own works, and we know these can never satisfy. Moreover, if people from other religious traditions are acceptable to God just the way they are, and are already members of his family, then Christ was raised to no purpose as well. One crucial aspect of the resurrection doctrine as taught by Paul is that it is the resurrection power of Christ that transforms our lives. But if our lives are not in need of transformation, and if we are accepted by God just the way we are, then the resurrection of Christ has no implications for us at all. It changes nothing of significance.

Darkness and Light

Peter calls believers “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. Let’s leave aside the presence of the word “proclaim” as some might argue it is not intended to be taken verbally, but every one of these descriptors of Christians — chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, people for his own possession — implies a larger group out of which a smaller group of believers is taken. This group is in “his marvelous light”; the rest of the world remains in darkness. He goes on to call believers “sojourners and exiles” “among the Gentiles”. He divides the population of our world into two very distinct groups based on the fact that we have come to Christ, the “living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious”.

Again we have the cross and the open tomb: the ultimate symbol of man’s rejection and the ultimate symbol of God’s approval, the two nuclear facts of the Christian faith, at least one of which is explicitly or implicitly denied by every other religion on the planet.

Taking Them at Their Word

The fact is that the Bible nowhere teaches that people of all religions are equally children of God, and it nowhere teaches that our testimony to Christ is to be primarily non-verbal. If the head of the world’s biggest denomination cannot come out and say these things frankly, it is not because he is unaware of what Christ and his apostles plainly taught, but because he simply does not take them at their word.

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