In “The Empty Christian”, I went through Soren Kierkengaard’s idea that in order to accept the grace of Christ, we had to come to an understanding of our own sin and need for forgiveness. I made a case that without this, redemption was not possible and God’s love became our own punishment. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here:https://masonkelso.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/the-empty-christian/
Now, if I were to envision myself as someone outside of the faith, I could easily fathom why this type of person wouldn’t pop into my mind when I heard the word “Christian”. We seem to have a genuine infatuation with your sin. I stroll through my Facebook and Twitter in awe of how many of my fellow believers have this quasi-pathological urge to point out how bad everyone and everything is.
Your sin, in their minds, is their problem. It’s something they are, in their minds, literally called to war against. And when I speak with them, they perpetually throw me Scripture taken extremely out of context and they claim that they’re doing it “out of love”. But I don’t think they are.
In 2 Timothy 1:15, Paul writes, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.”
That’s a heck of a thing to say. If I were to tell you “I’m the worst person on Earth and you should go tell everybody”, you’d think I was nuts. But that’s what he said. So when they use Scriptures, often written by the same author, to refute the philosophy or standards of others, they’re missing the point of the very philosophy of the person that they are citing. So I have a few modest questions I ask them. . . .
The first question is “Do you think Paul understood the Gospel?” They obviously answer yes.
The second question is “Was Paul, then, a ‘good’ Christian?” Again, they answer yes.
The third question is “Why, then, did he think that he thought of himself as the ‘worst of all sinners’”?
I then ask them that if St. Paul, the greatest missionary in human history, considered himself to be the “chief of sinners”, then, as far as piety goes, how ought we view ourselves?”
They usually respond with a red herring about how the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and we, as Christians, must somehow stop the natural order of humanity. I’m sorry, I can’t find that in my New Testament.
And let us not forget to take into account the fact that Jesus’ entire philosophy was preached to people who were under a tyrannical Roman rule. Seriously, imagine ISIS invading America, winning our soil and claiming it for themselves. Then, instead of avenging us, the son of God tells us to “love your enemy”. I don’t know about you, but that’s not my kind of messiah. It wasn’t theirs either, and it played a part in his death. If he just overthrew Roman rule, it would’ve been much easier to accept his authority as savior, right? I think I’m straying here, let me get back on message . . .
A few years ago, I had coffee with a leader of a significantly-sized church to talk about (what else?) the Bible. After we moved from topic to topic, I asked him what his favorite book was and I was enthralled when he answered Revelation. Expecting a fun bounce into some deep theology, I asked him why he chose that as his favorite book. His response was unforgettable. He replied, with a bright gleam in his eye, “Because that’s when Jesus gets vengeance.” It felt like I was suddenly speaking with that evil ringleader from “Children of the Corn.” Frankly, it scared the crap out of me. I don’t have a more eloquent way of putting it. I still feel goosebumps when I pass that coffee shop.
My apologies for an inability to see Jesus saying that with such a joyous spirit. When he’s on the cross, he’s begging God to have grace upon his own murderers!
In Romans 7, Paul is distraught with his own immorality and refers to himself as a “body of death”. Well, for being a “body of death”, he sure got a lot accomplished. There’s a reason for that. Paul understood his own sin, therefore, understood God’s love and forgiveness, ergo, the Gospel. The Gospel that Paul preached seemed to move forward when he understood as it a personal revelation, not a system.
Christ came to establish a new order in individuals. He came to inaugurate a better order towards the world that is love working from the inside out, not verdicts upon others that we have no authority to cast. There’s a reason why he told us not to judge others.
“But, Mason, in John 7:27, Jesus tells us to ‘judge correctly’”
Darn right he did. That’s what I’m trying to do here. So let us judge correctly and keep in mind that he said this to a crowd who resented him for healing a man on the Sabbath. You see, Jesus wasn’t behaving in the pious way he was supposed to be behaving. He didn’t call out the sin of the sick man and then offer his love to him. He knew that his love came first and the sinner’s morality came after. And this ought to be the case for us.
Then, there is the verse that I rarely hear Christians mention. In 1 Corinthians 5:12, Paul writes, “What business of mine is it of mine to judge those outside of the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”
Again, let us look at the context. The church in Corinth was in a bad state. They were dealing with incest within the congregation and some of its members were even proud of it! In this particular example, a professed Christian was sleeping with his mom (Paul, in verse 1, refers to her as the “father’s wife”).
Paul drew a solid black line between morality within the body of Christ and the morality of those outside of it. You’ve called this guy out on his amoral actions? Kick him out. He’s proud of his sin and will not repent. Case closed. It’s a harm to others within the body of Christ and to not cut him off would be an unloving act. Paul closes the above passage with a reference to Deuteronomy 13:5, and writes, “Expel the wicked among you”. In that case, Paul “judged correctly”.
That’s because when you decide to make a covenant with Christ, there is a moral conduct that you are willingly signing up for; not as a means of grace, but as a way of honoring God. But outside of the Church, Christians are not called to a particular mission against the sin of others. Our war is “not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12), and when we look at their sin before the sinner, we soon find the unbeliever to be a type of enemy. At that point, we are partaking in a sinister industry: we are taking over the literal role of Satan and labeling it “Christian”. We are then their accuser. We are their adversary.
It’s literally the most anti-Christian thing you can do.
Growing up, I always thought that I had to make myself clean before I could approach God. If that were true, I would never be able to be forgiven, now would I? While alienated from God in my sin, Christ reached out and made it possible to walk confidently to a loving God. Love comes first. Minus that, we have nothing unique to offer anyone, and its “out of” something else we’re offering others our worldview.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”- Romans 5:8.
“Love all men, even your enemies; love them, not because they are your brothers, but that they may become your brothers.” St. Augustine
“The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” –St. Augustine
 Augustine of Hippo. “On the Mystical Body of Christ.”. Ed. Fr Emile Mersch, 1968. Ret. 7/6/16. Web.
 Augustine of Hippo. “Tractates on the Gospel of John;” tractate XII on John 3:6-21. Ret. 7/6/16. Web.