Christianity 201

March 12, 2013

What Christ’s Blood Did and Didn’t Accomplish

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18 NIV)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Readers here at C201 are likely to encounter writing from the widest variety of sources.  I was intrigued by this post for a variety of reasons. First, its relevance to the season of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday we are approaching. Second,  Horace E. Smith is a bishop in the Apostolic Faith Church, a denomination we’ve never included here. Third, the article is about the blood of Christ and the author is, by trade a hematologist.  Here is the link for you to read this at source.  Note: This is part of a continuing series; if you wish to do a complete study on the blood of Christ, start with the link at the bottom.

Two Mistakes

People often make one of two mistakes when they think about the gospel message of Christ’s sacrifice of blood to redeem us. They are either romantic existentialists or religious moralists.

Existentialists live by their feelings, and they believe they deserve for God to give them a happy, prosperous life. The expectation of immediate gratification has crept into a few corners of the church. Some preachers proclaim a “prosperity gospel,” claiming that God’s chief purpose is to make his children happy and wealthy. People who buy what these preachers are selling have incredibly high expectations, and in fact, unrealistic expectations of God, and they become deeply disillusioned when God doesn’t dance to their tune.

The blood of Jesus promises us many things, but not health and wealth. It guarantees us entrance into the kingdom, and it provides peace during times of heartache and confusion. Jesus promises his presence in the midst of struggles, but he never promises the elimination of those struggles. Quite the opposite. When a man announced his loyalty to him, Jesus quickly saw that the man was an existentialist, and he needed a dose of reality. The man promised naively, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:57-58). Jesus always asks us to count the cost.

The second error, the mistake of religious moralism, is a very different problem. Some of us begin our Christian lives by trusting Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, but poor teaching, bad models, or indwelling sin causes us to think we can now earn God’s approval by doing enough right things. We live by the law, feeling powerful and righteous because we’ve done this or that good deed, and we’ve avoided this or that sin, so we can puff out our chests and prove that we’re acceptable.

To illustrate the damage done by moralistic rule keeping, Jesus told a story of a hated tax collector and a rule keeping Pharisee going to the temple to pray. He said, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’ ” (Luke 18:10-12).

Tax collectors weren’t like our IRS agents. They were traitors. They were Jews who collaborated with the Romans to extort extra taxes from their own people. They were the most hated people in the land. It was easy for a Pharisee, who kept hundreds of extra laws every week in addition to the laws of the Bible, to feel superior to a despised tax collector. But the parable doesn’t end here.

Jesus said that a few feet away, the tax collector looked down in shame and beat his chest. He pleaded, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). To the astonishment of the people listening to Jesus that day, he concluded, “I tell you that this man [the repentant tax collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Question:

What are some negative evidences of romantic existentialism in spiritual life?
What are some evidences of rule keeping moralism?
Is either of these a struggle for you?
If so, explain you answer

Read another article by Bishop Smith.  (Ten to choose from in this series, click each month to open the menu of weekly articles.)