NEITHER LEFT NOR RIGHT 6-10-17
Neither Right Nor Left
June 10, 2018
When you think of someone as being ‘right’ of ‘left’ politically, you view them as being either a Republican or Democrat. This also translates into ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’. In church circles you might think of traditional or contemporary, although that is not at all what I am referring to in today’s message. There are those who prefer a traditional service that are definitely ‘left’ in their Christian theology, and those who prefer contemporary services who lean to the right. So let me clarify…
In our first Scripture reading (Matthew 23:13-15, 23-28) Jesus addressed the Pharisees of his day, the Jewish religious leaders who required strict adherence to the Old Testament Law. They are examples of those who are far right in their Biblical interpretation. But what did Jesus say about their leadership? They shut the door of heaven in people’s faces and they themselves will not enter either. In fact he calls them children of hell! Where did they go wrong? They preached the letter of the law, but completely overlooked the heart of the law. They demanded that people tithe, but neglected justice, mercy, and faith. Matthew (12:9-13), Mark (3:1-6) and Luke (6:6-11) tell of how the Pharisees would try to catch Jesus in what they deemed ‘sin’ by healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus declared it was not a sin to do good, or heal, or save life on the Sabbath. The apostle Paul wrote the following, “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:5-7). If we have genuine faith, as Paul said, then the law of God is written in our hearts. We are not called to preach the law to those we deem as sinners, for we are all sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all need redemption through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It is the love of Christ within us that should inspire us to abstain from sin and to do good works. Not self-righteous pride or a desire to look good in front of others. Not so we can feel superior or (God forbid!) think we can actually earn our way into heaven. For we most certainly cannot. Paul told the Ephesians, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So the next time you are tempted to start leaning too far to the right, remember what Jesus told the Pharisees when they asked him whether or not they should stone the woman they caught in adultery as the law of Moses dictates. Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). And that includes casting stones at Christians in denominations that do follow a great deal of ‘house’ rules. Remember what Paul tells us in Romans chapter 14: “So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall” (vs. 10,12-13).
In our second Scripture reading (2 Timothy 4:1-5) Paul warned of a day when people would no longer follow sound Biblical teaching. That day is now here. There are many who want the church to tell them they are OK; that they will go to heaven without repenting of their sin, without giving their lives to Christ; by simply saying a quick prayer - and then going about the rest their life just as they would without having said that prayer. This is what is commonly called ‘cheap grace’. And if you go all the way over to the far left side of the spectrum there is the notion that not only will those who mumble a short impersonal prayer be saved, but that EVERYONE will ultimately go to heaven, no matter their belief or unbelief, or the condition of their heart. While it is true that God says in the Bible that he “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), he will not allow into heaven those who refuse the sacrificial love of His Son, who reject His grace, and who will not accept the truth. God will not force someone to live with Him for all eternity if they do not want to do so. He gave us free will. By rejecting God’s plan of salvation, we are telling Him that we want no part of his kingdom, here on earth - or in heaven. And so God will then give us exactly what we want – eternal separation from him. This is what we commonly call ‘hell’. Since God is both light and love, there will be neither in hell. Total darkness and complete hatred for everything and everyone, including ourselves. Sounds like a great way to spend eternity, doesn’t it? In a place that will be inhabited by both Pharisee and psychopath. By those who have been deceived into thinking they are true Christians when they are not, as well as those who have been deceived into following false religions, no matter what their leaders might have promised them, or how righteous they might have sounded. Yes, there is a hell. Billy Graham said that Jesus mentioned it more than any other person in the Bible (https://billygraham.org/answer/did-jesus-ever-say-anything-about-hell), but not in order to make us afraid to miss a Sunday in church, or to follow every law the church throws at us to the letter. But he mentions it out of love, because he doesn’t want to see us go there, knowing we will regret it for all eternity. Jesus came and died on the cross so we could go to heaven. All he asks is that we put our complete faith in his sacrifice as the atonement for our sins, sins that we truly regret and repent of. And that we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit so that we might be filled with love, and joy, and peace – and the desire to stop living selfishly, instead sharing that love, joy, and peace with others.
So walk the path of salvation through Christ alone, the path of love for God and for others. Walk the straight and narrow path, neither right nor left. You’ll be glad that you did. Amen.
There is a bridge that leads to heaven.
There is no other way.
Faith in Jesus is that bridge.
And you must not go astray.
If you walk too far to the left,
Or too far to the right,
You will never make it across,
So go straight into His light.