An Offensive God

I think it was C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, who wrote that every generation has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Often, the current generation feels superior to previous generations, not realizing that while they may be stronger in some characteristics, a previous generation was stronger in others. So one generation might understand the love of God better, but other generations understood God’s holiness better, or had more courage in suffering, or had a deeper humility, or better grasp of obedience. Lewis suggested that people read books from all generations, and not just modern books, because if we read only books from the current generation, we gain only its strengths and all of it’s weaknesses. In reading books from every generation, we learn from the strengths of every generation and minimize weaknesses. I think that is wise advice.
I believe in what I call Opposite Truths, which is that two seemingly opposite truths can both be true at the same time. I see it all through the Bible. For example, Jesus was God AND man. The Bible was written by men AND inspired by God. God is sovereign AND we also have freewill. God chooses us AND we also choose Him. We are to love sinners AND hate the sin. We must live in freedom AND not let our freedom become a “license to sin.” I believe that we must hold onto both Opposite Truths at the same time. If we go too far to one extreme or the other, we fall into error.
Many Christians in the USA are leaving the traditional, established church, teaching that Christianity is about relationship with Christ, and not rules. They focus on the unconditional love, of Christ, teaching that Christ will forgive us no matter what we do. This is true, and I agree. The Bible teaches that God so loved the world, that He sent his only Son, that whoever believes on Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus died for the whole world so we can have a relationship with Him. The Bible teaches that if we confess our sin, He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.We can experience His infinitelove, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and compassion. I agree that the church is teaching much error. I am a Christian who has left the established church, and many things I’ve written about the church on this blog are things that are taught by others who have also left the church.I believe current teaching is in reaction to the legalistic condemnation of previous generations. Legalism is, also, a weakness in our current generation. I’m sure most of us has, at one time or another, in one way or another, been wounded by legalistic, condemning churches or Christians. These legalistic churches/people went too far in focusing on rules and external behaviors, and they forgot about the infinite love and forgiveness of God. They hated the sin, but did not love the sinner. Jesus is NOT this God.

However, I think there is a danger of those who teach the love of Christ going too far the other way, and focusing on the love of Christ to the exclusion of the Opposite Truth. I’ve heard some criticize people as “Bible-worshippers” who back up everything they can say with Scripture and those who teach obedience. (I believe that if we don’t have Scriptural authority for our beliefs then they are merely opinions.) Unlike either extremes, I believe we have to hold on to BOTH opposites, and that we need the relationship AND the “rules.” I compare relationship AND rules this way: A society with too many rules and no freedom is a dictatorship. A society with too much freedom and too little rules is anarchy. BOTH extremes are harmful. A peaceful society has a mixture of BOTH freedom AND rules. 1 John 5:2-4 says:
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.Many people believe that the God of the Old Testament is holy, condemning, and brutal. They see the New Testament God (Jesus) as being loving, forgiving, merciful, gracious, and compassionate. But in John 14:6-9,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 
If we’ve seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. The God of the NT is as Holy and Just as the God of the OT. The God of the OT is as loving and forgiving as the God of the New. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb 13:8)Often people read in the Bible only what they want to hear, and they ignore the Opposite Truth. Those who want to be legalistic read the “legalistic” verses and ignore the opposite verses. Those who want Jesus to be loving and forgiving, read the loving and forgiving verses and ignore the “legalistic” verses. I think we need to read ALL the verses to get a true picture, and not ignore the ones that we don’t like.

I got into trouble on Facebook the other day because I wrote that it matters what we believe and do, that there is a difference between those who are God’s people and those who aren’t. Some people will experience God’s love and forgiveness, but others will experience His wrath and judgement. The only difference between experiencing God’s love and forgiveness and His wrath and judgement is our repentance. I quoted several verses, including Romans 2:5-14. (If you are interested in investigating this for yourself, which I encourage you to do, look up “repent” or “repentance” in an on-line Bible). I’m not sure if the FB friend misunderstood what I was saying or if he was offended at the idea that there is a difference between those are God’s people who aren’t, or that repentance is required for a person to experience God’s love and forgiveness. But I know that people LIKE the idea that Jesus is a loving, forgiving, merciful, gracious, and compassionate God, and many seem to abhor the thought that we have to repent and forsake sin. I think many want to be forgiven by God AND do what they want.

I think most of us see Jesus as only loving, forgiving, merciful, gracious, and compassionate, and we think that the people who met Him when he was on earth were all drawn to Him, and that He never said anything unkind. We forget that Jesus often said things that we’d find very offensive and judgmental today. He said things like:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (John 8:43-45)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matt. 23:13)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matt. 23:15)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (Matt. 23:27)

Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Very few people accepted Christ while He was on earth. Most were very offended by Him. The residents of His home town were offended by Him (Mark 6:3), the Zealots who wanted a leader to crush the Romans were offended, the politicians were offended, as were the religious leaders of His day. (Interestingly, believers throughout history have most often been persecuted by the established religious order. Lest those who have left the established church today get smug, I’d say that most of the denominations of today were originally a radical group of believers who thought the established church was corrupted and who longed to follow Christ, and were persecuted for their beliefs. The Protestant Movement was a result of a radical group of believers who thought the established church was corrupted and who longed to follow Christ, and were persecuted for their beliefs. Christianity was once a radical group of believers who were persecuted for their beliefs. It seems to me that most of these radical movements then established their creeds and rules, became corrupt, and persecuted the next radical group of believers who believed the established church was corrupted and yearned to follow Christ. I imagine the radical movements of today filled with people who long to follow Christ will one day be the established church that persecutes the next movement.)

At one point, in John 6:60-71, on hearing His teachings, His disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Michael Card wrote a song called Scandalon a few years ago:

The seers and the prophets had foretold it long ago
That the long awaited one would make men stumble
But they were looking for a king to conquer and to kill
Who’d have ever thought He’d be so meek and humble

He will be the truth that will offend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble
And a rock that makes them fall
Many will be broken so that He can make them whole
And many will be crushed and lose their own soul
Along the path of life there lies a stubborn Scandalon
And all who come this way must be offended
To some He is a barrier, To others He’s the way
For all should know the scandal of believing
He will be the truth that will offend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble
And a rock that makes them fall
It seems today the Scandalon offends no one at all
The image we present can be stepped over
Could it be that we are like the others long ago

Will we ever learn that all who come must stumble

He will be the truth that will offend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble
And a rock that makes them fall

A SCANDALON is something you trip over and fall head first onto the rocks below.• A scandalon is that sharpened stick in an animal trap that, when the trap is sprung, stabs the trapped animal and kills it.

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
He will be a holy place;
for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.” (Isaiah 8:13-15)What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30-33)

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Jesus was offensive because He spoke the truth, and truth is offensive to those who don’t want to hear it. We need to be careful that we don’t make Jesus so inoffensive, water down the truth so thoroughly, that we make Him into a god of our own imagination, who fulfills expectations and wishes. I see many Christians who are terribly afraid of causing offense and being labeled “judgmental.” I have seen people say something that is clearly in the Bible, and then back down from it when there is an uproar. “Tolerance” is becoming more important than truth. If our God isn’t offensive, maybe we don’t know Him as well as we thought. Being religious, whether in the church or out of it, isn’t a safeguard: Jesus said in Matthew 7:22-23:

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)

It seems today the Scandalon offends no one at all
The image we present can be stepped over
Could it be that we are like the others long ago
Will we ever learn that all who come must stumble
He will be the truth that will offend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble
And a rock that makes them fall
(If you don’t think what I said is true, please research it yourself)
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