Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jesus: A Means to an End or The End?

Paul wrote the following in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[a] to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that Jesus is The End of salvation. Sadly, too many pastors of evangelical churches are making Jesus the means and not The End.

How is this done? Well, simply go back and listen to your pastor's last Easter Sunday message. Is the message rooted in the historical fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? Or was it rooted in the power that raised Jesus from the dead and how it will benefit you by making you a better husband, father, wife, mother, child, employee, employer, etc. etc.

My old church, which was an inner-city Pentecostal church, has a pastor that reveled in the fact that he could not just give the people future hope, but that they needed something now. This is called pragmatism. So that's what he gave them in the form of an illustrated sermon. Off to the side was a paper mache cave with a papermache stone in front of it. During the course of the sermon, the pastor spoke about the dead dreams that people had, and the reasons why those dreams were dead. The sermon ends with the dramatic "resurrection" in which some poor member of the youth group emerges from behind the stone wrapped in toilet paper to the raucous applause of the audience as if something miraculous had just occurred.

Fortunately, that pastor is no longer giving that Easter message. Instead that church has Easter productions with a somewhat improved theology of the resurrection of Jesus, but with the same therapeutic moralism of Jesus' resurrection being an internal event rather than a historical event.

This sort of therapeutic moralistic deism, as coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, can be described as follows:
  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world, and who watches over human life on earth.
  2. This god wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible, and in most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one's self.
  4. This god does not need to be involved in one's life except when this god is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
This form of false Christianity is also seen in other churches. A couple of weeks  ago I saw a video of a preacher, who I knew from an earlier association, preaching about how Jesus came to save gang-bangers from their life of crime and death. The problem still exists, however, that Jesus is means and not an end. In other words, the reason Jesus died on a cross was to save gang-bangers from their lifestyle, not their sin! Again moralistic therapeutic deism raises its head.

As Christians, we must be careful to not simply make Jesus a means to an end. The end being our sobriety, our chastity, our any other moral activity. When Jesus becomes a means then all we have done is make belief in Jesus legalism.

Jesus is not a means to an end. He is The End. He is the one that makes all things possible, not because he is some moral example for us to follow. Do we really think that we that we can model Jesus' perfect life? No, instead we chose to follow Christ's example, knowing that we cannot ever achieve His life on this side of our death, because He lived a life we can't live, and by His death and resurrection every good thing He ever did was credited to our favor. 

Further, the fact that we can even follow anything Jesus did is only by His grace on our lives. Grace is the only thing that separates us, as Christians, from those that are not. Grace is the means by which we get to The End. Grace is everything that encompasses the life of the Christian. Until we, as Christians, understand that nothing we have done, will do now, or will ever do in the future as no impact on our salvation and ongoing sanctification, can we possibly preach the Gospel. Romans chapter eight makes it clear that we as sinners have anything to do with our salvation, past, present and future.

We must be careful to not preach Jesus as mere means to the end of a moral life. No, Jesus must be The End, and grace the means to Him as the end. The only way that we can understand grace is by understanding just how sinful we are. We have to identify our sin as sin, and that sin is the thing that separates us from God. It has to be sin. It can't be dysfunctional behaviors, damaged emotions, mistakes, errors or anything else that diminishes sin. Understanding that we are sinful wretches who are as capable of crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, as the Jewish religious leaders (Acts 4:8-12).

In conclusion, our problem is sin. This problem can not be addressed by therapeutic moralistic deism which makes Jesus a mere means to the end of a moral life, but only through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who is The End!

1 comment:

  1. My take on Paul is this - Adam sinned and with sin brought death into the world. Then Jesus died for our sins, so now we must have faith in Christ Jesus so that with the Second Coming we will be resurrected/transformed to live for eternity in a spiritual body with God. So Christ Jesus is no more than a means to an end - a plot device - in our self-interest journey.