Total Pageviews

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Road Rage & Balloons

Do you ever feel that life as a Christian believer is a bit like a roller-coaster? Like the time, quite recently, a friend and I spent the day at Thorpe Park near the English town of Chertsey. Not unlike Disneyland or any other theme parks across the world, this fun attraction features rides where we climbed into a roofless car, then hear it go clunk-clunk-clunk up a slope, until there was quite a panorama of the entire park, along with surrounding countryside below us, as we watch the bend approach, looking almost exactly like a dead end - a rail track leading up to the sky and suddenly ending nowhere. Then as the car reaches the apex, the clunking ends and the car suddenly gathers speed as it shoots down the first slope.
Or in blowing up a toy balloon. With eyes shut, I push short breaths into the expanding skin, when suddenly - POP! The large spheroid vanishes instantly as a rupture breaches the thin rubber, leaving a small split residue which now makes a funny noise when I blow into it. That's why to this day I get nervous whenever I see someone blowing up a balloon, say for celebrating Christmas or someone's birthday.

 My experience in the Christian faith seems to resemble these two illustrations: A time of spiritual ecstasy, when I feel close to God and in union with him, followed by times of feeling low and all alone. As one who grew up in the Catholic faith before conversion towards the end of 1972, I must admit, to this day, I'm not totally free. Neither am I unique. Abraham, for one, had his struggles. Failing to believe God's promise that he would have a son out of his wife Sarah, he thought of helping a dilatory Jehovah by giving in to his wife's demands by fathering a child from Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian maidservant. But even before this, he twice lied to foreign kings that Sarah was just his sister, to preserve his own life, forgetting the promise God gave that he would father a nation which will bring a blessing to every family on earth. And who can forget the suffering Job went through, when he thought that God was playing some cruel game with him?

Although I admit, those two are hoary with age, I have no doubt that many of us believers have very similar problems with believing, right up to this day. For example, I wonder if you too ponder whether God really loves you, and has accepted you as without sin us Jesus Christ himself. This is a very difficult concept to swallow, for I am aware how holy and pure God is, and how I fall short of this standard everyday of my life. Then there are a number of warnings found in the New Testament indicating what looks like being in spiritual danger in my standing with God if don't measure up efficiently. And so, over the centuries, as believers find it more difficult to reconcile justification by faith with their sinful natures still lurking within, new doctrines were suggested, absorbed into the faith, then developing into new laws which must be believed and acted upon in order to receive salvation. In short, where Heaven was originally opened by the atonement Jesus made on the cross, it eventually became accessible only through a lifetime of ritual, customs and good works.

For an example, the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages used the presence of our sinful natures to suggest the idea of Purgatory, a temporary Hell where the soul of the believer goes after death to be purged of any venial sins remaining. This idea became church law, and must be believed by all, and acted upon in order to be saved. Thus, by playing on the terrors of the ordinary people, the Church became rich from payments made for the clergy to pray them out of Purgatory. Not forgetting too, that if both believer and unbeliever dies in mortal sin, then its eternal Hell, with no hope of release.

So as the centuries transpired, the efficiency of the Atonement Jesus made on the cross became less and less effective, until it came to the point where the Catholic believer, even helped with God's grace, had to work his own way to Heaven. The result of when Church and State merge, as was the case with Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth Century, had resulted in a society riddled with corruption. Only this weekend, while reading an article in the newspaper analysing the coming World Cup in Brazil, I came across these words:

Last year alone, 6,000 people "disappeared" in Rio, and many are believed to have been murdered by police or their gangland enemies. Meanwhile, violent crime remains a terrifying daily occurrence, and Brazil's murder rate is one of the highest in the world.*

And isn't it over the city of Rio that the giant statue of Jesus Christ has his arms raised in blessing and protecting the city? Then again, if the Jesus Christ of Roman Catholicism has a heart of stone, well portrayed by the statue, then little wonder that the hearts of the people in Rio, and Brazil in general, are just as stony towards each other, most likely the love of money in connection with the high murder rate.

Then the Reformation came along. Martin Luther and his associates tried to reform his own Catholic church with the truth of Justification by Faith, gotten by browsing the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans and coming across verse 17 - The just shall live by faith. Then John Calvin came along with the idea of eternal security of the believer, gotten from John chapter ten and Romans chapter eight, and other verses elsewhere. Some years later, Dutch theologian James Arminius challenged John Calvin over the issue of eternal security of the believer, and his ideas became hugely popular among many Protestant churches, most likely remaining unaware that Arminius' ideas were a reversal towards Roman Catholicism, even though the majority of these churches denounced Romanism as the Whore of Babylon of Revelation 17. So the years go by with many churches and individual Christians believing that unless one holds faithful, and constantly sticks close to Jesus, there is that danger of a lost eternity in Hell, along with allowing unconfessed sins to pile up until salvation is lost, even though nobody knows just where this line is crossed, neither Catholics or Arminians.

In this train of thought, I wonder whether I love God for who he is, a God of love, grace and mercy, who sent his Son to atone for my sins by physically suffering, and then dying nailed to a wooden cross, and rising from the dead three days later - or living a life of fear of a god (small g) who is constantly monitoring my performance as a believer to see whether I am worthy enough to enter Heaven after death. I know at least two people at Ascot Life Church who holds to this point of view, and I how found them to be always serious, hardly ever smiling, prone to be judgemental, and to put it bluntly, quite uncomfortable to have around! They are the sort of  people whom in their presence, I have to mind my Ps & Qs and wish, at least with one of them, that my prayer life matches his.

Yet that's the case with million across the Western world, where Christianity is either a State religion, as the case of European nations, as well as Latin and South America, or holds sway as in the case of the USA. It looks to me that the majority don't believe in eternal security of the believer, and in mainland Europe as a whole, this idea is virtually unknown. Yet it seems such a paradox in a way, that among such nations where Catholicism holds such power, it is extremely difficult to find anyone who is devoted to Jesus Christ with the understanding that faith in him alone brings eternal life through means of a re-birth of the spirit. Instead both Catholics and Arminians (along with Jehovah's Witness, Mormons, Unitarian, Church of Christ, and other splinter groups) insist that from the moment of conversion, only the past sins were forgiven, leaving a blank slate where the believer must hold out faithful and prevent any unconfessed sins piling up in order to be saved.

Yet only last week I was pondering on a verse of Scripture which I quoted in my last blog:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
James 2:10.

This is a serious case to ponder on! Paul also endorses this by quoting Deuteronomy 27:26, which reads:
Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.
Galatians 3:10.

The reality of these two verses are an indication of the utter impossibility for a believer to "stay saved" if only his past sins were forgiven. If God through Christ has forgiven only the believer's past sins, then there will not be a single believer in Heaven! In fact, absolutely everyone will end up in eternal Hell, including Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, all the prophets, along with Peter and the other apostles, Paul himself, and all the churches - languishing in Hell for all eternity - if God forgives only the believer's past sins at the moment of conversion, as so many teach. And here is where the real danger of diabolical heresy lies: The teaching of only past sins forgiven with the believer's conversion has made the cleansing power of the Crucifixion totally ineffective. To put it another way, Jesus Christ's mission on earth two thousand years ago was a total failure!

Rather, I thank and praise the Lord for forgiving all my sins at conversion - past, present and future, and on top of this, having received God's own righteousness into my account. After all, if only my past sins were forgiven, then imagine my frustration when someone blocks my path while cycling - and the offender, instead of looking where he's going, he buries his scowling face towards a tablet, as he is busy texting. My resulting ire and impatience would make me a lawbreaker - and bound for Hell. And talking of motoring, according to my observations, the steering wheel is the hotbed for foul tempers and anger towards other drivers not flowing with the traffic smoothly, to the extent that the words Road Rage are now accepted in the English dictionary. A believer with just his past sins forgiven wouldn't stand a chance! Christ's atonement would be entirely powerless to save.

Hence, when reading of warnings for believers found in the New Testament, little wonder that my spiritual life is like a roller-coaster ride or a balloon bursting during inflating. This is due to my immaturity, and not any contradictions in the Bible. As believers, we have received full acquittal from all our sins, and received a righteousness from God which, because of its divine origin, cannot be undone. But the covenant between the believer's heart and God cannot be seen by other men. Hence warnings to the believer to be worthy of his calling in the sight of all men, to make his calling sure in their sight. After all, it was Jesus himself who instructed to let my light shine so other people can glorify my Father, and they too, can be saved. (Matthew 5:14-16.)

Seeing someone turning to Christ and being saved? Now that is a good reason to release balloons into the air.


* Dominic Sanbrook, The Daily Mail, Saturday June 7th, 2014. Page 17.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Frank,
    Excellent and thought-provoking post as always. My favorite example is Elijah.He went from the amazing spiritual victory of asking God to bring down fire from heaven and seeing it happen to defeat the prophets of Baal, then practically overnight He caved in fear and despair to death threats from Jezebel. The Bible shows over and over that even the most devoted men and women of God are only human. Praise God that He is faithful and unchanging, our refuge and strength, even when we are on the roller coaster.
    God bless,