Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Jesus: Advisor, Auditor or King?

In reading through Paul's letter to the church in the ancient city of Colossae - that would be the Epistle to the Colossians - it is striking just how similar their situation was to ours today. First, they were enamoured with things "spiritual." Historians tells us that several of the threads of mystical religious thinking which would later come together to form the rope of Gnosticism were already making headlines in Colossae in Paul's day. Sounds like our time! The Gnostic Gospels - the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, etc. - continue to garner attention and provide water cooler conversations throughout the country.

Secondly, all of this attention to spirituality was casting a dense fog over the truth of Jesus Christ. It is clear from even a cursory reading of Colossians that the main problem Paul saw there was confusion regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. Today we face the same challenge. Unfortunately, at a time when everyone is willing to talk about Jesus (which is a pleasant change from the way society was just a few years ago!), they primarily want to talk about the myths and chaff being thrown up by the media and enterprising writers like Dan Brown. So, given that the folks in Colossae and Corona (the center of the universe - my home town!) have so much in common, it seems quite natural to take a real look at what Paul offered them by way of correction.

In this post I just want to look at the simple question of how you think of Jesus. For quite of few folks in my world, Jesus is a personal advisor. He has the answers and they have problems, so its a great match. They look at the Bible as though it were a rather random assortment of devotional gems, and wise pieces of advice which they can turn to when life's path becomes cluttered with challenges and obstacles. They whistle, Jesus comes running (usually in response to an email to the pastor saying "where in the Bible does it say . . . ?") and presto, bango, they feel better. What's more, they can keep Jesus the personal advisor on retainer by merely going to church from time to time, and listening to the occasional praise CD while carpooling the kids. But, if they ever find their way to Colossae they'll run into Paul's words in 1:21,22:

"And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach."

Did you notice what Paul said to those in Colossae who were under the impression that Jesus existed for them? He turned the tables on them! Turns out they existed for Jesus. God, who had rescued them from the authority of darkness, had not left them to be free rescued agents! No, he had actually transferred them to the authority of Jesus Christ. That's exactly what Paul said in 1:13. And then, Paul reminds them that as a result, they have been reconciled to God - that is, he has taken the first steps to remedy the alienation that happened in Eden - in order to be holy and blameless and beyond reproach before him. Far from Jesus existing as their personal advisor, they are the "holy decorations" that are to adorn the very presence of God. Turns out they exist to show off his glory!

So how do you think of Jesus? Maybe you see the error of thinking that he works for you, but maybe you have another skewed view. Maybe for you Jesus is the great auditor.

I used to work in banking, and I can remember the fear that would run through the local branch staff when the manager announced that the audit team would be coming in to audit the branch. Since everyone's raises would somehow be connected to that audit score, the announcement always got their attention. They knew that they had to clean up all the files, check all the signature cards, and be ready to show that they had lived up to both the spirit and the letter of the policy manual. And, while they only verbalized it in hushed tones, and only then when no one was around, they really despised the auditors!

I think loads of religious folks today think of Jesus as the Great and Divine Auditor. This probably stems from the fact that they see the Bible as merely God's Rule Book. They have grown up knowing that God makes the rules, and we have to know them and keep them. They believe that the Bible has a rule or command that governs every possible situation they could possibly face. In fact, they measure their spiritual health, and the spiritual "in-ness or out-ness" of everyone around them according to these rules. But here's the problem: the Bible actually is not a rule book. Yes, there are rules, but some of them don't even apply to us today (have you offered your oil and grain offering today?). And what about the fact that much of the Bible is narrative story? Now, while this might seem to be a problem for the "Jesus as Auditor" folks, they actually overcome it by making up their own rules, and declaring that they are the rules the Bible really teaches if only you understand it correctly. One wonders if they have a special decoder ring. How else can you make Leviticus say women shouldn't wear pants? And yes, that was widely taught when I was growing up. Now, of course, they have more up-to-date rules, but the fact remains that they see Jesus as peering over their shoulder, perhaps with a giant magnifying glass and holding his audit list, just waiting to see if they will be able to keep all the rules. And, when no one is around, they admit to themselves that Jesus isn't very fun to be around. They hear folks sing about how sweet it is to trust in Jesus, but just about the time they feel like letting their guard down, the pangs of guilt remind them that the auditor isn't very far away.

Paul's letter to the Colossians also has some words for these legalistic beaglistics. He says this in 2:16-23:

"2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence."

Did you catch that, you "Jesus is the Divine Auditor" guys? First, Paul says you're letting your prize of freedom get away, and second, keeping rules doesn't work in the first place! Keeping rules doesn't help one fig to keep temptation from overwhelming the soul! So, if legalism is self-defeating, why do it?

So, how should we see Jesus? Paul is pretty clear that he is the King, and that we exist for him, and that his grace - not his rules - are our resting place. Ever since God put the "no vacancy" sign up in Eden (see Genesis 3) he has been mounting the greatest rescue and reformation effort history will ever know. He determined that sin would not win, that Satan would not have the last laugh, and that creation would not have to pay the eternal price for Adam's rebellion. So, he set about to show that creation would be recaptured, mankind rescued, and a people reformed and re-united with God as family. The promise of Messiah - the "He" of Genesis 3:15" - kept Israel hoping, even if not holy. And that promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, through whom God has rescued us from the domain of darkness. And, having been forgiven, we now find ourselves in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, desiring that the ethic of heaven would become the dominant ethic on earth. And just what is that ethic? It is the humble recognition that we exist for Christ, and not the other way around. It is an intense desire to see him honored for his grace, his mercy and his love. And so we come to him as the wise, loving King who saves. And we acknowledge that we want his kingdom to come and grow in our hearts, and in our neighborhoods. We want his love to fill us and flow from us. We want his sense of justice to be our sense of duty, We want his offer of forgiveness to be shared with everyone around us. Simply put, we want to "seek the things that are above, where Christ is" recognizing that when he returns our way of loving and living will be vindicated, but not until then (see: Colossians 3:1-4. And until then as Tom Wright has so brilliantly said "It is our privilege to bow humbly before the council of God so that we may stand boldly before the councils of man."

Hope this helps,

David W. Hegg


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