For Us but Not Of Us
A paragraph from the new translation of Bavinck’s The Sacrifice of Praise has been stuck in my head. It comes right after Bavinck quotes from Matthew 10:37-38, 16:25, 18:18, and Mark 10:29-30. If you look at these passages they are all about the cost of discipleship. The cost of following Christ. To follow Christ, we must take up our cross, deny father and mother, tear out our eyes or cut off our hands if they are causing us to sin. He continues with this paragraph:
Nothing can be removed from these rigorous demands of the gospel of the cross. The gospel may be for man, it is not in any respect according to man. Whoever desires to fashion it according to the spirit of the age, according to the opinions of the day, robs it of its power, and experiences nothing but disappointment, if he believes, he will provide an entry point this way. For Christ has been neither a political leader nor a civil reformer; his gospel is not suitable to serve as a social program; the Scriptures are neither a legal code nor a handbook for art or science; the handling of the Word is not a preaching of human wisdom; the government of the church is not dominion nor an exercising of authority; the diaconate is not an organization to solve the problem of poverty. Christ neither came nor gave us his word for any of this. Christ is Savior, that is his name and his work, nothing else, nothing more but also nothing less than that. His sacrifice is a propitiation for sins. His gospel is a glad tiding of salvation. Christianity is a religion, not a philosophy.
It can be easy to read this passage and shake our heads in agreement. Of course, Jesus didn’t come to give us the best life now. Of course the Bible isn’t a legal code for how we should be running the country. However, in saying these things we can then turn around and treat the Gospel exactly that way. How easy is it to think that if people just started living according to biblical standards the world would be a better place? In some ways that may be true. However, it misses the point of the Gospel.
The problem isn’t that we need a better guide for living, but we need our sins dealt with, we need Christ’s righteousness to be credited to us, we need to be conformed to the image of Christ. The Gospel isn’t about changing behavior, but changing people. This is a radical transformation. This transformation changes our social structure.
As I think about this time of year, the Christmas season, these words from Bavinck ring in my ear. The baby born in Bethlehem, is the one that would one day declare that this is the reason that he came.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. - Matthew 10:34-39
Jesus came into this world and in his person and work, everything was turned upside down. He did not come to give us the best life now. He did not come to solve all of our financial problems or even all of our relational problems. These things may get better as a result of the Gospel. However, they may also get worse. However, what Jesus tells us is that he came to solve the biggest problem that we have, and it is a problem that we don’t even know we have until the Gospel confronts us with it. Christ came to save us from our sins, removing our guilt and giving us his righteousness. This changes everything.
But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Matthew 20:25-28