Christianity 201

March 26, 2014

The People Christ Died For

Recently a young man in our community asked if I could help him prepare a talk for high school students on the theme, “The love of God.”

In a situation like this, my tendency is to offer too much help, thus denying the person the opportunity to make their own discovery in scripture. So my first email back to him was rather short:

Try these on for size; mull them over, and get back to me after 24 hours.

Just play them over in your mind and see where it takes you.
Seriously!!

Romans 5:7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.…

Titus 3:4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy.

But then, just to make it interesting, I wrote:

Focus on the set-up verses in these pairs that don’t mention God’s love; in the first one verse 7, in the second one verse 5.

Because we’ve dealt with the Titus verse in various places here, like this one, I’ll focus to day on Romans.

I think verse 7 of Romans 5 is key to understanding verse 8. Jesus did not die for good people, he died for sinners, and this goes against every human instinct. Yesterday he asked for some clarification and I wrote this (edited for readers here):

Okay, I really believe Paul is having some fun with this verse in that he’s toying with his readers wanting them to see the idea for themselves rather than him just telling them.

He’s saying you might die for a good person, or more generally, a human might be willing to lay down their life for another person, if that other person were intrinsically good or moral or virtuous or capable of offering some gift that might help the planet in some significant way.

A good question to open with might be: “Do any of you have a friend or family member that you honestly would be willing to die for?” I wrestled with this my third year working at Christian summer camp, as I had never known true agape from outside my family; but I got to be good friends with two brothers, one of whom I still email occasionally to this day. I don’t know how or where the topic came up, but I was asking the older brother why the younger brother was willing to do something for me back in the city all summer, and the older brother suddenly said, “Because he loves you, man; and I love you, too.”

That was just too much for me, and I had to really work through the meaning of friendship, especially within the context of Christian community. Later, in further discussions the topic came up about being willing to die for a friend.

So the obvious answer is that if you thought the person worth dying for, if you thought their life was worth something, you might do it. BUT you wouldn’t do it if you thought the person was trash. Scripture tells us that to God, our righteousness is “as filthy rags.” Apparently the various shades of meaning in the original here are really gross; you might not want to go there with a youth group, or they won’t hear anything you say after that point! But in that state, Christ loved us, hence verse 8.

That’s where Titus 3:5 fits in too; the idea that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s favor.

Here’s another possible opening question. “Let’s pretend that you just died, and that St. Peter is waiting for you at the entrance to heaven — even though the Bible actually doesn’t say anything about Peter at the Pearly Gates — and he turns to you and says, ‘Why should I let you in?‘”

People will usually give performance-based answers.

This question,  is at the heart of a program called Evangelism Explosion, and adults usually get it wrong, too. They’ll give all kinds of reasons why they were kind, volunteered, gave money, helped old ladies across the street, etc.

If you can help high-school kids to get past performance-based faith, you’ll be doing them a world of good.

This of course leads in to the broader topic of grace. Grace is something we learn about in church, but we never really know it until we’ve really wrapped our heads around the idea of our wretchedness versus God’s total ‘other-ness’ which we discussed a few days ago.

People don’t grasp this fully in one sitting. (I don’t fully grasp it right now.) So you want to leave them with an appetite (thirst) for more.

…I haven’t decided whether to send this as well — it’s important not to give someone too much help — but I thought of it as I was preparing this. This story exists in different forms, Andy Almendarez shares this one at Sermon Central:

I want to tell you the story of a young man. It is the story of a West Point graduate who is sent to Iraq. He takes his men into combat. He did a very good job in keeping his men alive. Until one night they were surprised by insurgents. All of the young Lt’s men were able to get to cover except one. The one soldier lay wounded. The Lt. and his men could hear his agonized cries. They all wanted to go out and get him and bring him to safety. However, there was one problem, leaving cover meant enemy fire was sure to follow.

Finally the young Lt. could stand it no longer and he himself went out into the deadly area. He got to the wounded soldier and managed to drag him back to safety. Just as the Lt. was pushing the young man behind cover he was fired upon and hit. He was killed instantly.

Time passed and the wounded soldier recuperated and went back to the states. The parents of the Lt. learned of this and wanted to meet the young man their son gave his life for. They invited him over for dinner one evening.

Finally the big night arrived. Their guest arrived, drunk. He was loud and obnoxious. He told bad jokes, was rude and showed no concern for his hosts. The parents of the brave Lt. did their best to salvage the evening and make it worthwhile. Finally the night ended and their obscene guest left.

As her husband closed the door the mother collapsed into a heap of tears and cried, “To think our son had to die for somebody like that.”

Before we jump on the bandwagon and begin to criticize that young man for his behavior, shouldn’t we consider just how much we have in common with him…

[…continue reading at this link…]

My hope today is that you and I will not only continue to know the breadth and width and depth of the love of God, but that we will be able to share it in such a way that people hunger and thirst for more.

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves complete acceptance: To this world Messiah came, sinful people to reclaim. I am the worst of them.
  (I Tim. 1:15 ISV)