So Good it Needs A Warning Label

Romans 5:15-6:2

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through Adam’s sin, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

And the free gift is not like the effect of Adam’s sin. For the judgment following ONE trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following MANY trespasses brings justification.

If, because of Adam’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one man, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

But law came in, with the result that sin multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

This is the Word of the Lord

Thanks Be To God

February 26: a video is uploaded to YouTUBE. That same day, a blog is written in response to the video.

On February 27, a well-known and respected pastor tweets 15 characters + a link to the blog that was a responding to the video.

And by the end of February 28th, the quickly penned blog had received over 250,000 unique page views. And yes … I was one of them

And so, the fight had begun. Countless blogs and tweets and facebook posts and sermons were written about the church’s soteriological doctrines … and because this is a seminary, I can use the word soteriological in a sermon and you all now know, if you hadn’t already figured it out, that the video that set this whole firestorm off was Rob Bell’s promo video for his new book: “Love Wins: a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived” … the blog called Bell a heretic, and the tweet bid him farewell … presumably from the church universal? Or from what is getting called “Orthodoxy”in America these days. Either way; he was out … of something … according to someone …

What is orthodoxy anyways? Is it a term that only applies to doctrine,or does it apply to behavior as well?

Is it always clearly defined in a way that any given statement of belief can be declared right or wrong, black or white, in or out?

Is it something that needs to be defended with a sword? With fences? Or both?

Does it need to be defended at all? And who get’s to stake out the plot and build the fence? Who gets to wield the sword?

In this example, when a new book questioned a popularly held doctrine of Hell, we got to hear from—or read—a number of people who unashamedly answered these questions from a firmly rooted position inside their fence, some of them indeed clutching their weapons of choice.

Now we’ve got a newly declared heretic, we’ve got all kinds of articles about “the importance of Hell” and we’ve got at least one REALLY CONFUSED SEMINARIAN …

Even if we do want to say that Rob Bell is a sinner for his thoughts, questions, and teaching … I thought that where sin increased grace abounded all the more.

I thought we were supposed to ask questions … I thought we were supposed to wrestle with God and explore the free gift of new life in Christ.

It seems instead like much of our church has responded to one man’s probing and questioning and wrestling … not with justification and life … but with anger … and with fear.

We don’t denounce someone’s teaching or throw someone out unless we think that they are a threat. And the church has been doing it sincebefore there was a church … and maybe we’ve been right to cast certain people out at certain times.

…When he was sleeping with his father’s wife, or when they believed that the Holy Spirit descended from the Father, but not from the Son, or when she served communion that one time before she was ordained, or blah blah blah … I really don’t know when we’ve been right.

Bad behavior, questionable doctrines, improper sacramental reverence, … is this really a list of the things that we should fear? And further … do we really believe that those things are at the core of our fear? Or is it something deeper.

Maybe our fear is that sin really does still have dominion. And so we need to always be prepared for battle with our tyrannical Lord.

Maybe our fear is that if we haven’t figured out how God brings about this good news that we might not get to participate it in. And so we logic our way to whatever doctrinal statements make the most sense; and we root ourselves in these doctrinal statements; and we declare even the slightest departure from them or questioning of them to be heretical … because what would happen if we were wrong about God?

Maybe our fear is that the body and blood of Christ might fall into the wrong hands. Wouldn’t that be horrible? And so we take this piece of bullet-proof plate-glass and distribute bread and juice through a hand-sized hole, exclaiming proudly that “everyone is welcome at my table …

you’ve just got to stay on that side of it.”

I get it … I really do. Those are really scary things and there are really scary people in the world whose presence really does merit fear and fences. I don’t want to be exploited or taken advantage of. I don’t want to get to the pearly gates and find out that I misunderstood God’s purposes and hurt God and God’s children. And I have literally made myself nauseous by deciding that someone else mishandled the Lord’s Supper.

… BUT …

It is in my fears that I really believe that I must join my voice with the father from Mark who says “I believe; help my unbelief”

How often do we hear in scripture the commandment “do not fear”or “do not fear, only believe?”

After all, it certainly sounds like Paul thinks that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is infinitely more Good than any bad news is Bad …and it is precisely because the Gospel allows itself to be exploited and taken advantage of. It is a FREE GIFT!

I don’t know if the ‘bad news’ is trespass, or if it is sin having dominion, or if it is that we are being dangled over a hell of eternal torment … but I do know that whatever the bad news was … it doesn’t matter … it’s obsolete! Because the Good News that Jesus is the Christ trumps the bad news.

Paul, even though he just got through eloquently proclaiming the freedom of the Gospel, also seems to share our fears … because he knows that nothing that we can do will trump God’s good work … that it is so good and so freeing that it needs to be packaged with a warning label … “What then, should we go on sinning that grace may abound?

[Because, make no mistake, Grace will abound … it’s really that good! And there is room in this gospel for even the worst sinners and heretics out there] …

So let’s go on sinning, right?

Of course not!” Exclaims Paul! “Your life as a slave to that tyrant is over … dead! Why would you keep living like you’re a slave. That is a ridiculous response!”

But it’s not ridiculous because the freedom of the gospel is only an illusion …

That freedom is real.

The bad news is no longer to be feared.

Sin is no longer our lord.

The Law is no longer our lord!

The fences have come down and everyone is invited in and has been given the free gift of grace and of new life. And it is a life where we can and should:

  • live and make mistakes
  • be creative in seeking to know and be known by God
  • smash our idols & replace them with new, still-incomplete ones
  • ask questions that we don’t have answers to
  • dislike and challenge the answers that we have been given, and finally …
  • get nailed to and hoisted up on a cross, maybe even by the ironic hand of leaders of our churches.

The pastors and leaders who are verbally excommunicating Rob Bell… aren’t really concerned with getting rid of Rob Bell … they are really concerned with trying, with every ounce of strength and spittle they can muster, to contain God.
But God will not be put in a box. God is Free. And we have been given the free gift of getting to share in that very freedom of God and trust that it is God who has given us that gift, and that it is God’s love … not
our rightness or our morality … that will finally usher us into eternity …whatever that may end up looking like.

So what the hell are we so afraid of?

The body of Jesus has already fallen into the wrong hands. The blood of Christ has already been shed on the shameful and foolish cross.The veil has been torn, the presence of God is on the loose, and the free gift has finally trumped the trespass.

In an earlier letter, Paul quotes a hymn that the early church had been singing in worship and it goes like this: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ … who gave himself over to be accused, betrayed, abused, mocked and finally to be killed … all so that we might walk with our creator in the newness of life.

This is the charge: Go preach a gospel that is so good it needs a warning label – that is so freeing and selfless that it can and will be taken advantage of. Go preach a Christ who is so good he needs a warning label – who is so freeing and selfless that he can be, and has been, and will be taken advantage of.

To say that the bad news it bad enough to keep us in line is no gospel at all!

But the free gift is greater than the bad news. Thanks be to God.


~ by Will Norman on March 24, 2011.

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