Trust the Truth from 5.8.16
Scepticism about religion is viral. Whilst 92% of Australians trust nurses only 35% trust ministers of religion, largely because news about sexual abuse in the church seems endless. “Brand church” appears toxic. Yet culture at large is hardly blameless, one brother quoted us Romans 1:32, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”, and went on to mention the number of babies aborted daily in Perth. We are all immersed in a world of great moral darkness. This is hardly new, but at the centre of the contemporary spiritual crisis is that most of us have “outsourced” to others our sense of right and wrong. Very few Australians have a conscience mature enough to resist the powers that manipulate morality; whether it is the force of social opinion, peers, the Koran, the Pope or our own pastor! If the Christian message is to be experienced as trustworthy one again we must understand how our hearts were hardened and our consciences corrupted after the beginning of creation. Attitudes to marriage are paradigmatic in this regard.
The Shifting Line
Jesus teaches, ““he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate….Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt 19:4-8). Conscience always gives deliverances of guilt or innocence in response to some tribunal of judgement; God, self, family, peer group, society. When I was a child the Australian public judged divorce as a scandal. Over the years the line between right and wrong in relation to the sanctity of marriage has moved constantly in one direction, and we are on the verge of totally redefining matrimony. This corruption of conscience can be traced back to Eden.
The only tribunal Adam and Eve were given was the Word of God which passed a judgement in advance, ““you shall not eat…for in the day that you eat you will surely die”” (Gen 2:17). In asserting a higher judgement, ““You will not surely die…”” (Gen 3:4), Satan accused God of not practicing truth, of being a liar (1 John 1:6). If God is indeed a liar he surely knows this and speaks words of judgement from a conscience that isn’t clear. In sinning, Adam imputed good-and-evil to their own Creator; such a “Creator” would be an internally divided self-contradictory being who could not make a marriage of “one flesh….with a portion of the Spirit in their union” (Gen 2:24; Mal 2:15). Dualism is a necessary part of such a God’s world. The fruit of breaking the Image of God is a broken conscience. Therefore when the first couple are condemned as guilty in violating God’s commandment they begin to blame others for causing their sin. It was “the woman you gave me” and “the serpent made me do it” (Gen 3:12-13). The fracture between husband and wife, ““you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.””, is lived out daily in marriages across the world witnessing to a fundamental division in the created order (Gen 3:16 NLT). With the primary moral authorities of mum and dad accusing each other of being wrong what child in a normal family can develop a whole conscience. Every human conscience is self-contradictory and every heart hardened and polarised (Rom 2:15; 7:19). Only Jesus has never felt self-condemned by the tribunal of his own conscience or submitted to the blame of others.
Since Jesus knew in advance that he was the one in whom God’s judgement on sin would be taken away his attitude to guilt was entirely different to ours (John 1:29; Rev 13:8). As the sinless one free from self-condemnation and the judgements of others Jesus felt no need to self-justify or to condemn. We ceaselessly blame one another, but “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17). Faced with the woman caught in adultery Christ said; ““Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her….Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”” (John 8:7, 11). The religious leaders of Christ’s day were moral bullies, for having rejected the ultimate Judge the world is full of bullies. From the school yard to the government rights tribunal the powerful feeling of passing judgement against someone with the conviction, “I am better than you.”, is irresistible to all but Christ (cf. James 2:4). Only Jesus appeals to the ultimate Judge as Father, not to condemn but to forgive; ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” Confronted by Christ’s blamelessness the hardest of hearts accept guilt and forgiveness; “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”” (Luke 23:34, 40-42). Christ still speaks to the consciences of men and women today.
Paul declares; “by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor 4:2). He commends himself as a forgiven sinner because “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (4:5). By preaching and living in the likeness of a crucified Saviour Paul becomes a trustworthy source for condemnation-free faith; “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5). Contrary to the personal “success stories” of many prominent Christian leaders of today Paul knows that full forgiveness is the final moral truth to which the human conscience can testify. This is incomparably liberating.
The Western conscience has been revolutionised in my lifetime. A morally triumphant Christianity full of “do gooders” making others feel like “bad people” is now experienced as ethically reprehensible. The institutional Church has brought this upon itself for it lies under the disciplines of God. The time is ripening for a revival of Christ’s presence in the midst of the Church as he created it to be. A community which holds its member’s consciences accountable for sin but does this in a way which is condemnation free (Matt 18:15-20). When the Word of Christ is enfleshed in Christians who refuse to blame the sinful, especially their tormentors, many will turn in repentance to Christ as Lord (Luke 6:27-28; 1 Tim 1:13). Then the lie that the devil has propagated from the beginning that outsourcing moral authority to social or religious powers other than the Father will be exposed as the terrible burden of guilt/shame it has always been. In this way trust in truth will be restored amongst us. Paul testifies of himself and his companions, “by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor 4:2). May Christ in his kindness bring us to a place where with clear conscience we can say the same.