Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Gospel Confronts the Cynic

(this is a chapter in a book called The Gospel Confrontation) 

In the last chapter, we saw the gospel confront the addict. The addict needs to feel that he is forgiven. He has to be Holy Spirit invaded with the promise of God's unconditional love. The addict approaches the throne of grace already broken by his powerlessness over addiction.

The cynic is a different story. He has varying degrees of pride covering the access to his heart. His heart is protected within a fortress of complex self protective mechanisms.
The cynic has to be broken by God's wrath before he can be healed with God's love.

An addict that is healed is a true miracle. The cynic is even more miraculous- it's just that we never see it. Why? I think it is because we do a wonderful job selling God's love- but we never feel the pressure of His holiness and wrath. The 'good Lord' is an easy sell- the angry God is intolerable.

Go throughout the body of Christ today and your heart will be warmed with teary-eyed former addicts who are washed in the blood. But be careful, there are a number of unrepentant cynics walking the halls of a lot of churches who might rip you to shreds if you get out of line.

Who is the cynic? Where do we find him? And how does the gospel confront this pervasive heart type in our culture today?

Luke 15:17 “When he (The lost/prodigal son) finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
 20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
 22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
 28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
 31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!

For years and years I have pondered this parable and the one immediately after it (The dishonest manager) and find some immediate observations. The beginning of the parable (There was a man who had 2 sons)- the all important middle (But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him), and the abrupt ending (unhappy elder brother).

I also noticed what is written after the stories are done- "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him."

Do you see an ebb and flow of God's heart..? Compassion for the humble.. the downtrodden (Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.) and harshness for the arrogant (I Peter 5:5 God resists the proud).

When I speak of the cynic- it is a rather large category that I will deal with in later chapters. It is a person who spolis and hardens by degrees. Anger to bitterness to hatred to callous skepticism. The cynic can be a moralist, a religious zealot, a proud Pharisee, a jaded venomous sarcastic critic, a bitter old fool, or a mocking young bully.

Remember Psalm 1? Blessed is the man who:
Walks not... in the council of the wicked
nor stands... in the way of sinners
nor sits.. in the seat of scoffers.

Walking-standing-sitting indicates a pattern that gets well worn over time until a person is thoroughly tracked for destruction.

Even our sinful human hearts show compassion for the humble addict and contempt for the arrogant oppressor. Do our hearts hint at God's heart as well?

Everything I have written in this chapter seems so harsh. But I can tell you from personal experience- a cold heart is only made alive by grieving. My story leans more to the cynic and less to the addict. Early in life I did all I could to avoid shame. It drove me to be the best. I had to be the strongest, the toughest, the best. I craved adult adulation and attention and I achieved acceptance by 'winning'. An unintended consequence of this quest was to shut my heart down. I avoided any pain of loss by vowing to never feel hurt or loneliness. I would hurt others on the way to 'victory' but felt no pity. On the outside I was the high achieving all-american boy.. on the inside I was a cold, calculating, manipulative machine.

The gospel was important to me and I did find a conversion experience going into my junior year of high school. But it was a head decision, a logical choice made to win the ultimate end game. It wasn't until I got married that I realized how cold my love was for others. All my effort to be excellent doesn't work to keep a relationship healthy. Any problems in my marriage was that my wife was broken and needed fixing so she could operate according to my plan.

Thanks be to God that I began to see her hurt and it helped me find a brokenness in spirit- she wasn't the problem. In fact, I was lucky that she was persevering in spite of my cold demeanor and quiet insecurity. I was helped when she let me have it from time to time- to this day, I am so thankful that I did not marry a mouse- God knew I needed someone to look me in the eye and say, ' This isn't easy to say- but you are selfish- and worst of all- you never seem to care."

Going through trials, enduring in prayer, and finding healing in the pain has helped me come a long way. I still have a tendency to withdraw into a shell- but my faithful friend of 23 years knows how to creatively draw me out. And that understanding of gospel forgiveness keeps us renewed inside!

But there are some tragic stories out there. Sadly, the addict sometimes evolves into a cynic. After years of addictive behavior- the years take their toll. The young party boy is now hurting. The dancing is now straight shots at a lonely bar. No more wine, women, and song. But there is no humility, there is only a bitterness. There is an anger at God while seeds of disappointment turn the addict's heart to stone. He sees himself as a victim and is mad at the world. This is Satan's most fiendish trap of all. 

But to that man all alone, it is OK to grieve. Romans 6 asks "What benefit therefore are the things which you are now ashamed? The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ." It is never too late- when you feel that God has finally broken you- reach out to Him and watch Him rescue you in deeper love and acceptance than you ever imagined!

Remember that we prayed for the addict to 'come to his senses'. The prayer for the cynic is almost sadistic..."Lord, you are going to have to break him." Now, we have to be SO CAREFUL here. It is up to God to sovereignly introduce the pain. A cynical heart has almost no feeling at all. So God orchestrates pain to produce mourning. (Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn.)

Pain is a tool in the hand of The Surgeon.

When you talk of good news to a cynic- the seeds are bouncing off of a hard rock. It is a hard cold winter and the heart has no use for that seed of God's Word.

So what does God do? He crushes it. It is the same tough love He portrays in Christ. Isaiah 53- "It pleased the Lord to CRUSH him." 

Now here is where we do the cynics such a dis-service. It would be better for us to deliver the warning and pray that sinners would repent from such terrible news. We need to read the passages of warning and judgement- especially the wrath that is coming on the oppressive ones in the world.

Instead, we bounce little cotton balls of "The good Lord" off of the cold, dead hearted cynics- we sit back and wring our hands, we hide behind a shrug and say "Oh Well God's will"- we watch the skeptics eat our children for dinner because a word about 'Hell" might offend them.

Then God crushes them to dust and they have a right to say, "Why didn't you tell me?".

For every sermon about God's love... for every kind word about free grace- there ought to be an equal treatment about God's wrath on sin. In Romans, the greek word is "Orge' and it literally means God has revealed His ANGER toward unrighteousness. His judgement stands firm and unassuaged by EVERYTHING except the blood of His Son.

Does God hate sin? Look at the cross! Does God love sinners? Look at the cross! But to only share one side of the story actually waters down the significance of the story.

Why is the gospel so uncompelling to our young people today? We have taught that God is a big Santa Claus, this life is fun on the beach, they are born sick, but a Jesus shot will cure their ills. "Just be a good boy and the good Lord will make your dreams come true!"

The Biblical view is that God is the Holy Creator of the Universe. He is Holy and will destroy all that is aligned against Him. Life is a war against deadly enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And man is born dead meat- aligned as an enemy- but the crushing death of Jesus Christ stands as a covering for sin and rebellion. Nothing insignificant about that story!

Peter Ditzel uses this story as illustration:

Suppose all of the citizens of a certain city in a certain kingdom wickedly rebel against their king. The king then brings his forces to reestablish his kingdom in the city, lays siege to the city, and conquers it. The conquering king sends his herald to announce his terms of peace to the citizens of the city. The herald tells them that, without exception, every one of the citizens of the city deserve death for rebelling against the king. But he also has good news. Any citizen who repents of his rebellion, submits to the king, and pledges his allegiance to him will receive the king's free and undeserved pardon.
Be clear on this point. Any citizen who repents, submits to the king, and pledges his allegiance to him still deserves death for rebellion. The law does not take repentance into account. Only a free and undeserved pardon from the king will save. Several citizens grasp the grace that the king has offered, and they repent, submit to the king, and pledge their allegiance to him. Their repentance, submission, and pledge of allegiance do not buy them the king's pardon as it cannot be bought. The punishment for rebellion is death, and the law does not take into account repentance, submission, and a pledge of allegiance. Turning from wrong and doing what is right, and submitting and showing allegiance to the king are merely what is expected of all citizens. It is what they should have been doing all along. By doing these things, they do not obligate the king. By doing these things, they have not paid for their pardon. By doing these things, they have not fulfilled a condition that legally results in their pardon. They could very well do these things and still be executed. The king would legally be in the right if he still executed them. The king's pardon is completely free and undeserved.
This is very similar to the situation between God and humanity. Humanity is in wicked rebellion against God. Everyone deserves eternal death. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God has conquered the world (the Greek word translated "overcome" in John 16:33 means "subdued" or "conquered"). God has sent His heralds into the world to announce His terms of peace. These terms are: Everyone deserves eternal death for rebellion. But those who turn from their wickedness, believe on Jesus as their Savior, and submit to Him as their Lord, He will freely pardon. Nothing they do can make them deserve this pardon. They should have been doing these things all along. The law makes no provision for repentance, belief, and submission to reverse a sentence of death. These things are not conditions of the law that, if met, will earn pardon. Nevertheless, those who repent, believe, and submit will receive the free and unmerited pardon of God.
But, you may ask, if God will only pardon those who repent, believe, and submit, isn't that really a works salvation? No, it is not because the law makes no provision for these works to merit anything. They count for nothing. Besides, God gives repentance, belief, and submission as a gift to us. I say "a gift" because repentance, belief, and submission are really just aspects of the same thing. When we believe or trust in Jesus as our Savior, we are turning from our rebellious ways and submitting to Him. The Bible usually calls it faith, belief, or trust (all the same Greek word), but sometimes breaks it down finer into repentance, belief, and submission to Jesus as Lord. So, God gives us this gift which merits nothing with Him but through which we receive His pardon or salvation and which, by the way, also identifies to us who we are—His elect.
I hope this makes clearer that there is really no contradiction between being saved totally by grace through faith and needing to repent and submit to Jesus as our Lord.

I appeal to anyone out there who is weary of this glorious gospel. Don't be too cool to care or too casual to respond. Cry out to God to help you humble yourself under His mighty hand. At that point drink in His good grace. If you continue to oppose Him, it may not be pretty. Stop judging others in your self righteous indignation... ask God to help you find a heart to receive all things and people with thanksgiving! Don't be a pessimist- find an attitude of gratitude! This is the fruit of the gospel.

I will elaborate on this type later as we deal with skeptics and Pharisees... but the time for repentance is now.

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