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Posts Tagged ‘Gospelforall’

Someone asked me what will become of all the people zealous for their religion on that last Day? Think about the millions who try their best to live by the standards set by their religion irrespective of how enslaving that can be sometimes. The millions who try their best to observe the 5 pillars of Islam and are saving up for at least one pilgrimage to Mecca. Go back in history and reflect on the chains of indulgences under the Roman Catholic rule. What will God do with those who out of their blindness gave themselves fully to religion if Jesus is the only way to God? 

But closer home what do we do with those Christians who have done their best to earn God’s favor by their works, ascetism, giving up all their resources for the man of God, being monks and nuns? Are you saying without the hope of the Gospel they are doomed? That none of that will earn them heavenly credit?

In addition to this, add salt to the wound that undeserving reckless sinners like us who respond to the Gospel call gets to heaven by Christ’s merits. That any criminal who repents on the execution table and turns to Jesus will be with him and at peace in heaven. How unfair? What injustice? Religion costs some everything and yet they are locked out and we get in by faith? Surely God cannot be that unfair! What does the Bible have to say about that, my friend asks? I tremble a bit because I realize his question demands an answer and I’m not sure he’ll be happy with it. 

Now, most of us would be familiar with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. I guess a lot of us on this side of the divide would rightly identify with the younger reckless brother and are drawn by his Father’s overwhelming love and grace. It makes for a great Gospel talk. But the story is actually about two brothers and our evangelistic efforts wouldn’t be enough if we ignored the elder brother. Our religious brothers might actually be abhorred by this kind of God who seems to embrace sinners and ignore the “righteous”. 

The prodigal’s brother (the elder brother) has tried his best to serve his Father unlike his younger rebellious brother who takes off and squanders his father’s assets. The prodigal’s brother has been laboring hard in his Father’s field. He checks his reputation so it doesn’t reflect badly on the Father. His Father’s business has really become his business and his life goals and ambitions are aimed at pleasing him. He’s probably even suffered at the back of his commitment to his Father’s cause. But what does he get in return? Not only is he rarely appreciated but his Father regards and crowns the younger son when he comes back to his senses not him. What a betrayal? What an injustice the brother feels! So before we judge his teenage mood swing try walk in his footsteps a mile.

In our recent onsite Ministry Training Course at iServe Africa we looked at the book of Jonah with our second years and we met what Tim Keller calls the prodigal prophet. By the way if you haven’t studied Jonah as an adult I would recommend you do that. It’s not just about a moody prophet and the big fish. Like with the prodigal’s brother we realized we needed to walk a mile in Jonah’s muddy shoes before making a judgement call on his attitude towards Nineveh. Jonah is angry with God’s loving kindness and the second chance he gives to the evil undeserving city of Nineveh. But like the prodigal’s brother, a “good” religious person, he’s more angry with God’s character:

2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Jonah 4.

Most of us get angry with God when he seems not to care and act in our misfortunes but Jonah is angry when God acts on behalf of those he thinks are undeserving of his love and grace. But like with the prodigal’s brother the story is meant to make us ask is he right in being angry? And on one hand, we should sympathize with him especially when we realize what the Assyrians will do to his own people. But when we evaluate his own heart we find he falls short and we realize God’s love and grace is not something to be earned but lavished because no one can earn it. Nobody comes even closer to a 50-50 deal with God. Jonah is angry with a forgiving God and yet he desperately need and want that for himself. The prodigal’s brother hates the Father’s love and consideration of the younger one but wants it for himself despite his own flaws. In this incidence, he treats the Father as an investment portfolio and his service merely is transactional. Both of them judge by their standards and yet they fall short of those standards leave alone God’s high standards.

But the Gospel that saves the younger son is also what the elder brother needs. You see his commitment to his Father’s religion and business makes us blind of his own flaws. First of all he serves because of the reward and his affection is merely transactional (my extrapolation). To him service means reward instead of being in this relationship because he loves his Father. It’s about what he gets out of it instead of commitment to the one who calls him to his love. He’s so blinded by what he’ll get in the end that he doesn’t stop to ask how this relationship affects the Father, what does the Father get? So if we feel God’s character and judgement is an injustice to religious people then maybe we need to walk a mile in God’s shoes. An even greater injustice is committed against God by those who disregard his Gospel call for human religion and still demand a share of his heavenly home.

Moreover, the Bible teaches us God is a relational being which is one big fundamental difference between the God of the Bible and the God of Islam and the other religions. God is not just after people pleasing him by following a set of rules which he rewards with paradise. God is after relationship with his people like a good Father wants from his children. We see this right from creation, the story of Israel and it’s the aim of the eternal future that awaits those who trust and believe in God through Christ. God dwelling in perfect peace with his people in his holy city. Those who focus on the inheritance and evading his judgement miss on the driving force which is relationship. The Gospel is nothing if not an invitation to this relationship now and in eternity. 

While I sympathize with my friend, the prodigal brother and Jonah, one needs only look at their own flaws and see things from God’s perspective. There’s no heaven without a restored relationship with God and that cannot be attained by religion however zealous. Only the Gospel of Jesus guarantees it. Only the son who left heaven for our redemption can lead us back to God. He died that through him we might live and in John 3 we are told this was the Father extending his love and grace to our world, to the religious and irreligious, if only we would receive him. John summaries this amazing Chapter with these words:

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3

Whoever means anyone and everyone. The Gospel calls the prodigal’s brother as it appeals to the young reckless one. It begs the attention of the deeply traditional and religious man just as it does with the indifferent 21st century guy. And the judgement for those who reject and ignore this call is the same regardless of how zealous they are of their religion. God won’t be hoodwinked by vain observance of religion. He wants the whole of you not just your hand and feet for him, he wants your heart and mind. He wants a relationship and that is only attained by listening to his Word through his Son by the Gospel. 

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