Blemishes and shepherds and love feasts, Oh my!
Here’s a truth of our here and now that’s unfortunately nothing new “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). There is a lot of unrooted, unfounded talk about the message of Jesus Christ, and there are many among us that are buying it hook, line and sinker. It’s not rooted in Scripture, but it sounds really good and people are eager to believe it.
The New Testament is full of warnings about false teachers. Peter warned about them, Paul spent whole chapters talking about them and Jesus had a lot of very strong things to say about them. These cults of personality take the truths of scripture and distort them (many times beyond recognition to a discerning heart, but oh so tempting and sweet sounding to a vulnerable and immature one). They don’t create truth, they take the message of the gospel and twist and stretch and distort it … all for their own personal gain. They are despicable wolves dressed in the finest merino wool cardigans … and they are nothing new under the sun.
The book of Jude has this to say about them…
These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
Jude 1:12-13 (NIV)
There is literally a special place in hell for these blemished shepherds. And what kind of twisted truth are they “selling?” The kind espoused during a recent episode of a popular competitive reality show. A performer was being interviewed and was asked what they would want to say to everyone listening. The emotional, tear-filled competitor spoke these words: “I just want everybody to know that they are wonderful and beautiful just the way they are.”
Okay, so what is so wrong with what this extremely talented person had to say? This sounds good, right?! This is an encouraging, inspirational message, right?! See, this is the problem with “truths” that are not rooted in scripture. They can sound really good, they can make people feel really good, and they have the power to inspire … but they’re just not true. As an illustration of this, let’s consider the hypothetical that Ray Rice was watching the show that night. He was watching the show the very same night he assaulted his then girlfriend in the casino elevator. How many of you would agree that Ray was wonderful and beautiful just the way he was?
You are not wonderful just the way you are
Here’s the truth of scripture … ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 — CAPS are my emphasis) There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). We are not wonderful and beautiful just the way we are (in our fallen selves apart from Him). But before we fall victim to the ways of the false teacher and sell only one side of the truth/grace balance, let’s look at the grace side of the gospel ledger … For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) ;but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23b)
The power of the gospel is the balance of truth and grace. Truth says that we are not wonderful and beautiful just the way we are, but grace says God loves us unconditionally and gave His only Son for us. God’s truth and grace work together. They are not independent, they do not work against each other, they are inextricable. Chapter two in I John provides a great illustration of these two fundamental concepts working together.
You shouldn’t sin … but when you do
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,”but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command;its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
1 John 2:1-11 (NIV)
In this life, we should never shoot for “just okay.” Our aim should not be for “good enough.” Good enough isn’t good enough for God. There are many verses that will proclaim and prove that truth. In the light of that truth, however, the grace of God’s atonement in the sacrifice of His Son slides in from stage right and stands right next to “not good enough.” He’s made a way when our’s falls short.
Man’s (or Yoda’s) truth says “there is no try,” but I believe God loves it when we try. I believe He loves watching us try, and fail, and then get back up and try again (even harder this time) and then fail again. It gives Him the beautiful invitation to step into our everyday and say, “let Me be what you need. Let Me do this with you. Depend on Me. Rest in Me. I Am. I Am able.”
The words of Jesus speak into this try and fail and try again. Let them be the final word as we seek to be Rooted in Grace…
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!