Sunday, July 29, 2012

Triumphing Over Evil

Yesterday's blog ended on the following note:

"To triumph over evil is NOT to whitewash it, whether in our own hearts or in society.  Triumph is NOT a victory of mere legislation, or social pressure, or convincing rhetoric.  Triumph is NOT "winning God's wars for Him" by using the weapons of evil.  Triumph is NOT stockpiling enough to hunker down while the world goes to Hell around us.  Triumphing is NOT out-snarling the snarlers, out-shouting the shouters, out-hating the haters.
How does the Church triumph over evil?"

What follows is my best answer to that question.

Mark this well...there is no corporate triumph of the Church without individual triumph of its members.  And there is no triumph over sin outside the church without triumph over sin within it.  And I don't mean a pseudo-triumphant, whitewashed, Pharisaical, siege-minded, self-righteous church.  May God forgive us for pursuing such ends.

I also don't define triumph as "getting those people to treat us right."  Nowhere in Scripture do the ancient martyrs receive censure for failing to change Nero's mind, or for failing to overthrow his government, or for failing to force society to its knees, or failing to stand up for their "Christian rights".  How did they triumph, and for what were they commended by God?

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
(Rev 12:11)  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release,
so that they might rise again to a better life.
Others suffered mocking and flogging,
and even chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two,
they were killed with the sword.
They went about in skins of sheep and goats,
destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 
of whom the world was not worthy— 
wandering about in deserts and mountains,
and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith,
did not receive what was promised...
Heb 11:35b-39

By every worldly measure, these people were abject failures.  And some "Prosperity Preachers" might even think of them as failures because they did not see all of God's promises fulfilled in their lifetimes, despite having given Him their all.

If you and I could see those martyrs now, oh the glory we would see in them...the reflected glory of The Crucified One whom they followed to the end!  The promises are theirs, most assuredly, for death was not even close to being the end for them.

Now, please don't take me for a melodramaticist.  I'm not saying that we'll be thrown to the lions any time soon...though anything is possible.  But that's not the point, is it?  The point is NOT what they do or don't do to us.  The point is, will we remain true to Christ, individually and corporately, whether we manage to see our culture redeemed in our lifetimes or not?

How do we know if we will or not?  How do we know if we have the strength to follow in the footsteps of those He commended in Scripture?

We can know by the orientation of our hearts, our loves, our commitments.  Love is the strongest driving force we have, is it not?  No matter what, we will live for what we love most.  And for whom does God bend all things so that they "work together for good"?  For those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

How can we know if we love God enough?

 For this is the love of God,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.
1 John 5:3

If we hate God's commandments, and chafe under them, and keep them only to the extent that we believe we must in order to "get by," and consider them a burden, then we do not love God, because those commandments that we hate are the revelation of His character.

If we love God's commandments, and try to keep them (albeit managing only imperfectly and inconsistently), then we love Him, because the commandments that we love are perfectly consistent with His character.

And these things are true in times of ease as well as in the hard times.  Indeed, if we don't seek to submit to Christ now, when it's still relatively easy, then we have no assurance that we'll do so when things get worse.

And what are these commandments that we are to love and strive to keep under the New Covenant He established with His blood?

 A lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And he said to him,
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it: 
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments
depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 
Matt 22:35-40 

If we love the Lord, and love our neighbors, and love our enemies, and are committed to growing in this love, then God's presence will be there for us to sustain us through whatever comes.  No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11).

But if ugly situations drive us to hate our neighbors, to spurn Christ's command to love them, to mar His reflection with our snarling visages, to adopt an arrogant or cowardly "look out for Number One" mentality, then even if we die as martyrs, we gain nothing (1 Cor 13:3).

Also, if ugly situations can cause us to abandon the Truth and accept the lie in order to avoid conflict, then we are failing to love God, who is Truth.  And we are failing to love our neighbor, who needs to hear the Truth spoken in love (Eph 4:15), whether he wants to hear it or not!

How are you responding, right now, today, to the hatred and evil around you?  That will depend entirely on how you are responding to the hatred and evil within you.  And the same goes for me, both now and in the future.

If we are truly Christians, then we are banking everything on Christ's mercy and grace in shedding His own blood for us in the mightiest act of love and forgiveness ever conceived.  We are depending on His righteousness credited to our accounts through no merit of our own, and we are enormously grateful that He has placed His Spirit within us to open our sin-blinded eyes and lead us in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Ps 23:3).  We are humbled that He would stoop to mold us into what He wants us to be.  We depend on Him to keep us, day-by-day, on the right path, because we know that we would stray if left to ourselves.

If we are counting on these things for our own sins, why would we dream of offering our neighbor anything less for his sins?  If we believe that our neighbor needs Christ, why would we be willing to act like the Devil toward him?

Since so many who hate us believe that they themselves occupy the moral high ground, why would we choose to confirm that belief by using their own sinful tactics against them?

I am quite certain that my words will not change the world.  They will not stem the tide of evil.  The time for rhetoric seems to be past.  Evil is on a rampage, not just in terms of any one side issue (such as "homosexual rights"), but in terms of THE issue (rebellion against God and rejection of Him as Lord).

By and large, the only way I expect to defeat evil is to be constantly repenting of it in my own life, and to be seeking to grow more in love toward God and my neighbor, speaking the truth in love so that his eyes might be opened towards Christ, and his heart might be changed.  And if, by God's grace, I do manage to grow in this way, I will count it as victory.  And if (Please, God!) the whole church grows in this way, I will rejoice with all my heart!

Nothing less will please the Lord.  And nothing less will offer any hope for my neighbor, my enemy, whom I am called to love.

Hating my enemy is a failure that will drag all of my other "successes" down with it.

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