Revelation 19:7-8 and the Bride of the Lamb

0c4b598464e74cf48cf92730223e6c5aGood guys wear white.  This is true in old westerns where the good guy always had a white hat, and it is true in Revelation.  If someone is wearing white, they are a part of the covenant people of God, an angel, or Christ himself.  Look at these verses towards the end of the book:

Let us rejoice and celebrate, and give him the glory, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was given fine, pure white linen to wear, for the fine linen is the saints’ acts of justice.

The bride of the Lamb, the bride of Christ, is the Church.  She wears white because she has been redeemed.  Yet there is more to the white clothes than just being redeemed.  The wedding clothes she has were given to her.  By whom?  By God.  This is something called a divine passive voice in writing.  Jewish authors would write in passive voice (as opposed to active voice) if they were talking about something God does so they could communicate the idea without writing God.  This is one of those instances, since John was one of the original apostles, and thus Jewish.

So, the garments were given by God, yet they are white because of the saints’ righteous deeds.  There is a sense of cooperation here.  God gives grace to us, then it is up to us what we do with that grace.  Since grace is really a short-hand way to speak of God’s power and presence in our lives through the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the framework looks something like this:

God gives us his presence in the Holy Spirit, and it is up to us to allow the Spirit to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ.  When we do this, we become more and more holy and accomplish righteous deeds.  If we do not allow the Spirit to transform us, we reject God’s grace because we have turned our backs on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another wedding story in the Bible that helps illustrate this point.  In Matthew 22 Jesus tells a parable of a wedding feast.  The guests would not come, so the servants are sent out to invite anyone they can find to come.  When the king is walking through the party, he sees a man without a wedding garment and has him thrown out.

My initial thoughts on this parable were always confused.  People don’t usually walk around carrying their best clothes in case they might be invited to a wedding that very hour!  But knowing how weddings worked at that time and in that culture makes perfect sense of the parable.  It was the duty of the groom’s father to provide the clothes to all the guests of a wedding.  When the servants invited people and brought them to the party, they gave them the clothes from the king to wear.  This man refused to wear the clothes provided.  In essence he was saying to the king, “I’ll accept your invitation and I’ll feast at your banquet receiving from you all the wonderful aspects of being at the party, but I’ll do it on my own terms.  Don’t expect me to conform to your desires.  I’m just here for what I can get out of it.”

God gives the garments.  God gives his Spirit, his grace.  It is our responsibility to put the garments on, to allow the Spirit to transform us.  It is not enough to be invited to the wedding feast; we must fully accept all that God has for us, which includes working with him to change and renew us in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

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2 John 6 and Loving God

Love God. That is the greatest commandment. It is one of the two commandments from which the entire Covenant is formed (the other being to love others). Truly, though, the commandment is a bit abstract. How do we love someone who is completely different from us, even in ways we cannot comprehend, and we have never seen?

John gives us a very simple and basic statement of what it means to love God:

This is love: that we live according to his commands. This is the command that you heard from the beginning: live in love.

That is it. To live in love is to live according to God’s commands. In other words, those that truly love God will obey him. Those that seek to love him more fully and completely will seek to obey him more fully and completely in their lives.

One representation of the Sermon on the Mount

One representation of the Sermon on the Mount

Remember, God’s commandments are all-encompassing in our lives. He tells us how we ought to act and react. And he tells us how we ought to treat others around us. The best summation of the commandments given to the followers of Christ are found here: The Sermon on the Mount.

Do not forget as well, that Jesus also gave a commandment to evangelize. I know people who claim to be entirely sanctified and refuse to share the Good News with other people. They think they perfectly love God and others and yet will not even invite other people to church. If they are going to break this fundamental commandment of Christ, then their love is not perfect.

God does not demand perfection from us. He expects growth. When we sin and fall short, we confess those sins and seek his help in truly repenting from them so we do not sin in that manner again. As we grow in our faith, we obey Christ more fully. We systematically overcome sins in our lives and obey him. The Holy Spirit, who lives in us, helps us to do this. The Church, the covenant community Christ set up on earth, is founded to help us do this. As we grow, we begin to love more deeply and fully. This leads to more obedience to Christ’s commandments. It is a beautiful image of a spiraling effect working its way from us to Christ.

Love God by obeying what he set before you. It is really quite simple, and he will help us to do just that.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and New Creation

end-is-nearMany different people are talking about the End of Days and New Creation right now. Some of these conversations are coming from some of the most unlikely sources (just watch this video of a secular Jewish boy who had a vision during a near-death experience). It seems that there is a general feeling among many that the time is right for the end to come.

This may be true, but it is also true that the New Creation began quite some time ago. Look at what Paul writes here:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There will come a time when Christ will return, the Messiah will reign completely, but the New Creation already began when Christ showed up originally. As long as there are Christians in the world, the New Creation will be here. It is already present, if not fully realized.

Christians, members of this New Creation, are given a role in it as well. We are to be ambassadors to the Old Creation for the New Creation. We are to offer people the opportunity to be reconciled with God so they can become part of the New Creation as well. Notice explicitly that this ministry of reconciliation is not about judging people’s sins. Dealing with sin is the Holy Spirit’s job in this world. Our job is to offer reconciliation to people. This is a very important point. Sometimes I think the Church has grown weak in the West precisely because we have tried to take the Holy Spirit’s job of condemning non-Christians’ sins and wanting the Holy Spirit to do our job of offering reconciliation to those people after we have condemned them.

The days may be getting shorter. The time may be drawing near for the End of Days. But until Christ returns, as Christians we have a job to do–a ministry of reconciliation–so that the most people can be a part of the New Creation as is possible when Christ returns.

One other thing about this passage that sometimes gets overlooked is the last verse. Part of being in the New Creation is that we are given the ability by the Holy Spirit to become the righteousness of God. Salvation is not forgiveness for our sins and the ability to continue living life exactly as we did before we were saved, only now knowing that we are always forgiven because we prayed a prayer. That is invocational magic, saying the right incantation and forcing a being on the other side to act as you desire. Christianity is about being forgiven, yes, but so we can become a part of the New Creation and be transformed by God’s grace into the very righteousness of God. Christianity is about becoming holy. Forgiveness of sins is one step along the way of becoming holy. Seek Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your lives to become the righteousness of God. In this way, we will be more faithful ambassadors offering a ministry of reconciliation to the world.

This is how the New Creation begins.

Romans 10:9-13 and How to be Saved

Spas_vsederzhitel_sinayI’m not sure when it started in certain streams of Christianity, but there are whole swaths of people who believe that if you pray a “sinner’s prayer” you are saved. Praying is good, but there is an inherent problem with this idea. There are lots of people who pray the prayer, feel that they have received forgiveness of their sins, rise up justified, and have absolutely no transformation of their lives. They act exactly how they did before praying the sinner’s prayer, only now thinking they are forgiven and saved.

If you look at this passage in Romans, it can offer an antidote to this problem:

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

On the surface, this looks like it affirms the idea that if one prays a sinner’s prayer one will be saved, except for one crucial fact. Here the confession is that Jesus is Lord. Sinner’s prayers focus on Jesus as Savior. As a result, we have a lot of Christians who happily have Jesus as Savior and have a hard time following Jesus as Lord. Paul is explicit here–Accept Jesus as Lord and you will get him as Savior as well.

If Jesus is Lord in our lives, it means we obey him. Lord is a political term. It means “the one in charge.” If Jesus is Lord in our lives, we will obey his commandments, follow his leading in our lives, and truly seek to do his will on earth as it is in heaven. By confessing this reality in our lives, we can live in an appropriate relationship with Christ, one in which he has saved us to live for him.

If Christians would focus more on Jesus as Lord, they would live a saved life. When Christians focus on Jesus as Savior, we end up getting a lot of people who gladly receive forgiveness of their sins and reluctantly (if at all) follow Christ’s commandments. There is a word for people like that: hypocrites.

Romans 2:6-11 and The False Separation of Faith and Works

saint_paulI have heard, even recently, well meaning Christians claim that the Old Testament was all about Law and the New Testament was all about Grace. In line with this, I also have heard it claimed that Paul was all about salvation by faith as opposed to “the Jews” who were all about salvation by works. If that were true, Paul could not have written this passage in Romans:

For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

The reality is that when we try to falsely separate faith and works, we end up with a system that is not completely Christian. No one can earn their way into heaven. This is true. But no one can simply believe their way into heaven, either. Our faith and beliefs have to be strong enough to change the way we live, the way we act and interact in the world.

When people separate faith and works, it gives them an excuse to continue sinning and to avoid the struggle against sin. “After all,” they say, “I am not saved by what I do, only by what I believe.” This leads to an attitude that thinks as long as we have confessed Christ as Lord and Savior, we can act in ways that are explicitly opposed to his lordship and contrary to the salvation he offers, and we will still be fine.

For me, this goes back to my starting point for all theology: God is not dumb. If Christ came to destroy sin and give us new life in him by being born of the Spirit, how can we think we can willingly continue living in the old way and as if we had not experienced that new birth? God does not expect someone to be completely perfect all at once, but God does expect struggle against sin, dependence upon him, and growth in grace. In this way, we live out the reality of being in Christ and having the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us.

Zechariah 12:9-10 and An Odd Victory

christus-victor1Christianity is a very odd religion in the grand scheme of things. We live with major contradictions in life–the immortal God dies, to save your life you have to lose it, love your enemies, it is more blessed to give than receive, and the victory of God was in the death of Christ. From a purely human, logical point of view, none of this makes sense. But perhaps that just shows how wrong the world is on most things.

This passage from Zechariah holds this contradiction as well, while making a prophecy concerning the victory of God:

On that day I intend to destroy all the nations who come against Jerusalem,
10     but I will pour out a spirit of grace and mercy on David’s house
        and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
They will look to me concerning the one whom they pierced;
        they will mourn over him like the mourning for an only child.
        They will mourn bitterly over him like the bitter mourning over the death of an oldest child.

Here is God proclaiming victory over the nations through mourning over one who was pierced. From the very earliest days of the Church we have understood this to be the crucifixion of Christ. The nations can be taken literally, as there is no nation left that was around when Jesus was crucified that had anything to do with the crucifixion, or it can be taken spiritually since there really are only two nations in the world–the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world. In Revelation, these two kingdoms are represented by the names New Jerusalem and Fallen Babylon. The Covenant People of God are the New Jerusalem and the rest of the world is a part of the rebellious order labeled Fallen Babylon.

Through the crucifixion of Jesus, the victory of God is secured and the nations are judged. Those who seek the Lord and desire to be with him will become a part of David’s house and receive the grace and mercy that is promised to it.

This is the Good News, even if it does sound a little contradictory.

Zechariah 2:10-11 and The International Scope of the Church

Bible Series ZechariahI love when I see clear references to the Church in the Old Testament. There are so many different prophecies that may or may not be interpreted to be the Church, and then there are some that are obvious upon first reading. Take this section from Zechariah:

10 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Zion,
        because I am about to come and dwell among you, says the Lord.
11 Many nations will be joined to the Lord on that day.
        They will become my people,
            and I will dwell among you
            so you will know that the Lord of heavenly forces sent me to you.”

Jesus, God the Son, dwelt among us. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, continues to dwell among us. The Church opened up the Covenant People of God to all nations, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is a view of the restoration of Jerusalem and the Covenant People beyond the scope of what most Jewish people would have thought, and it is given around 500 years before Jesus was born.

I love how God prepares and foreshadows what he is going to do well in advance!