Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Necessary Hope of the Gospel

I spent much of the morning reviewing a curriculum written for students focused on the Ten Commandments. It was a fairly well-written curriculum. Well-illustrated. Practical. Full of ideas and concepts supported in Scripture. It was clearly written primarily to students with an evangelical Christian background. It was assumed that any student going through the curriculum was well-versed on the character and purposes of God in the world, as well as God's purpose in giving the Law. I imagined the difficulty of tackling an Old Testament text, particularly one such as the Ten Commandments. How do you make the "thou shalt not" instructions relevant to a post-modern generation (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; Rom 4:15)? How do you help students make sense of the purpose of the Law in the 21st century (Rom 7:5-6)? But something was missing. The curriculum fell flat. And then it became obvious what was missing from the curriculum. It wasn't Christ-centered. It failed to answer the question: How are we to relate to the Law on this side of the cross (Rom 5:20-21; Gal 2:16)? How does Jesus make sense of the Law (Matthew 5:17; John 1:17)?

Any focus on the Law given by God through Moses (John 1:17) apart from Jesus only magnifies our spiritual despair and hopelessness. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:5-6, our sinful passions, the very nature of who humanity is as objects of wrath (Eph 2:3), are only aroused, not suppressed by our knowledge of God's Law. This is a devastating blow to our inflated, naive view of humanity's capacity for goodness. We are incapable of a righteousness that is pleasing to God, and according to Scripture, we do not even desire the kind of righteousness that is pleasing to the Holy Creator of this ball of dirt that we call earth (Rom 3:10b-18).

This is why I say that people are in need of the necessary hope of the Gospel. As I read this curriculum this morning, I was left with the impression that if I did not know that Jesus Christ was the only One who could mediate between me and the Father (1Tim 2:5), of whom I would be His enemy apart from the work of Jesus on the cross and my confidence/trust in that work in faith, I could somehow please and know God simply by keeping His Law. Tragically, this is a false hope that has enslaved untold millions of people in darkness. Multitudes of Muslims, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Catholics, and yes, even Protestants who do not rightly understand the Gospel of Jesus, cannot be justified by works of the Law and neither can you (Gal 2:16) or I. And for this reason, if anyone believes that their goodness or works will be satisfactory to God when they stand before Him and give an account for their lives, they will be judged severely and cast out of God's presence.

To be fair, let me point out that I don't think the author's intent was to leave Jesus out of a teaching on the Ten Commandments. It is a challenging mission, importing a vision of Jesus' and the work of the cross into Old Testament history and law. However, this is the work of those who have been called to shepherd and teach the people of God.

The only hope we have to know and be reconciled to God, the only hope we have for life and salvation, is faith in the Gospel, the reality that Christ died for sinners (1Tim 1:9). Jesus died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6-11).He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). That's right. Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but in doing so, He gave us the right to claim for ourselves an alien righteousness, a righteousness not our own, but Jesus' own righteousness (Phil 3:9; Gal 3:6; Rom 5:18), so that when the Father looks upon us, He sees the merit and purity of His Son.

This is our hope. All I know is that this truth, the beauty of the Gospel, is the only confidence I have that I am right with God by faith in Jesus. I am grateful that my standing before God is not contingent upon my faulty, weak, inconsistent, faithless performance and adherence to the Law. Thank you, God, for the mercy and grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, my Righteousness, Hope, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend.


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