At church this morning, we celebrated Jesus’ ascension to heaven after his resurrection. The pastor said that Jesus’ ascension teaches us three points: that Christ’s work on earth is finished, that Christ is in heaven interceding for believers before God the Father, and that Christ will return to earth. In this post, I want to comment on the first two points.
Christ’s work is finished. The pastor was saying that we don’t need to read the Bible cover-to-cover to earn peace with God or inner peace. Rather, we should relax and rejoice, for Christ has done it all: Christ paid for our sins and reconciled us with God.
It was interesting that the pastor said that, for earlier this morning I was thinking of a paper that I presented to my church several years ago. This was actually a different church than the one that I am currently attending, for I was living at another place at the time. Essentially, I had to teach Sabbath school, and so what I did was write a paper and present it to the class. The paper was about my struggles with grace, faith, and works. I don’t think that what I wrote was particularly profound. If I were to post it on my blog, many would probably respond, “Who cares?” But the paper was important to me because it allowed me to work through on paper an issue that was perplexing to me: How can I know that I am saved? Can I simply relax in God’s free grace? Do I need to see the fruit of good works in my life before I can find assurance? If so, how good do I have to be before I can finally feel peace? The task also reinforced in my mind how diverse Christianity really is. Some Christians emphasize grace in almost an antinomian sense, while others have a backdoor sort of legalism that says that true Christians do good works—-that those who do not live a certain kind of life are not genuinely saved.
Where I eventually landed was that I desired the peace of trusting in God’s free grace, and yet my reading of the New Testament seemed to suggest that a Christian is not saved if he or she is doing particular sins, or is not performing good works. So what did I do? I decided to believe in a God who did not reject me. You may say that I was wrong to go against the Bible. The problem is, legalism can be pretty back-breaking, after a while. I could only take so much of beating up on myself for falling short.
I’m still for doing good works. This morning at church, a woman was speaking to us on behalf of an organization, which reaches out to people who lack a social network. She was telling us about a blind man whom she takes to the grocery store. There are people who need help out there. I hope that, not a desire to appease a God who can’t be satisfied, will motivate me to do good works.
Christ intercedes for us before God the Father. The pastor was presenting us with a picture that I heard growing up: that Christ is showing God the Father his wounds to persuade God the Father to have mercy on us. A while back, when I was telling an atheist friend of mind about this picture, in an attempt to witness to him, he replied that it made God look like God had a split personality: God wants to punish us, but God is telling God not to punish us. I have to admit: this picture of God does not make much sense to me. Why does God have to be persuaded to have mercy on us? Doesn’t God the Father already desire to show us mercy, since he was the one who sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins? I don’t deny that there is a teaching in the New Testament about Christ’s intercession for people—-I think of Hebrews 7:25. The doctrine just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.