Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ministry of reconciliation / Have we lost the plot?

Three things:

1) Dogs bark.
2) Ducks quack.
3) Sinners sin.

When dogs bark, we don't say, "that's just not right, dogs just shouldn't do that," because we know it's in the nature of dogs to bark. When ducks quack, we don't think that anything is out of the ordinary, because that's what ducks do. So why do we become so incredulous when sinners, whose nature it is to sin, sin?

In our own culture, we think things are getting worse and worse. And you know what, perhaps it's true that more people are pushing more buttons and are blatantly committing more and more sins. And sometimes I think some of it is a result of Christians laying down the law, trying to get sinners to stop their doggone sinning! See, it really has the opposite effect of what's intended! Law doesn't stop sin. The Apostle Paul called the law "the ministry of death" and "the ministry of condemnation" (see 2 Cor 3:4-11) for good reasons!
Rom 7:8-11
But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.

When groups of Christians go around raising a fuss about the various sins of the world, it doesn't seem to have a such a redeeming effect upon sinners! Does it? I guess one of my questions that I keep asking is... is there not yet enough evidence out there that shows that our holier than thou stance against the virus of sin only serves to strengthen the virus, rather than kill it? Whether it comes in the form of politics, or from the pulpit, or in one-on-one relationships with unredeemed people, do our rules, laws and policies really help out when it comes to redeeming the culture?

And I don't mean conforming the people of our culture into moral behavior. I mean redeeming the people of our culture. I mean bringing people into a true, living relationship with God through Jesus. I mean, if we stick up our noses at the bad things people do, does that really help out in the matter of people coming to know God?

Have we (the church) lost the plot? When Jesus redeemed us individually, was it His plan for us to then get on out there and make a big fuss about all the sin that's in the world? Is it His purpose for us to be worried about the state of our culture, and to therefore go out and protest all the barking dogs and quacking ducks? (the sinning sinners). Is JESUS running around worried about all the sin that's going on in the world?

Or is our mission and ministry towards sinners of a different nature?

As I already noted (and have noted lots of times in the past and will continue to note in the future), the ministry of death and condemnation (the law) has never done one thing to redeem a human being. Never! It can't! "For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law" (Gal 3:21). The law condemns. The 'Letter' kills.

But the Spirit gives life, and it's solely because we're "in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption..." that we can even begin to walk in the fullness of the life and righteousness and sanctification and redemption that we've been given!

And it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Jesus, "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil 2:6-8).

Do we understand all that God did in order to redeem us? I've only touched on the tip of the iceberg here! And yet somehow we think our laws and protests and avoidance of sinners is going to be what saves our culture?

I think Rom 5:8 must have been rewritten in some people's Bibles to say, "while we were still sinners, Christ avoided us and wrote protest letters to us about our behavior and made a big stink of our sins."

Instead, Jesus came to meet us where we were at. His big stink was with the holier-than-thou's, as far as I can see it. But to the sinners, to those dogs who barked and to those ducks who quacked, he didn't place a muzzle on them to try to get them to conform. Rather, He touched them and came to live in them and gave them a brand new nature! He did all of this as a gift of grace.

What I really want to get at here is that His ministry toward us carries on through us towards others. Not that we're going to go through a physical death, burial and resurrection as Jesus did in order to meet others where they're at, but spiritually speaking, with His life and grace in us, we can look at sinners in the same way He does. We can bring to them this message of God's peace and goodwill toward mankind.

Instead of rehashing the ministry of death and condemnation, we have a different ministry. The ministry of reconciliation.
2 Cor 5:18-21
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
What do you think? Has the church lost the plot? If God's good and holy law has this effect on people: "sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire" and "when the commandment came, sin revived and I died," then do we really expect man-made laws and 'moral standards' to have any more desirous of an effect on unredeemed people?


  1. Hi Joel--

    I absolutely think the church has 'lost the plot' to a degree. But I also have to confess to having followed the wrong plot line myself for years.

    We have to remember that when we are dealing with unredeemed sinners, we are dealing with the dead. What is our goal? To make dead people look 'prettier'? Or to introduce them to One who can give them LIFE?

    Sorry if I am relating too much to my son's near-drowning experience in my comments of late, but it is just so fresh or 'raw' in my mind and heart right now. I am certain that if the adults in my neighborhood decided we wanted to prevent another such incident, and posted all sorts of signs and warnings for kids to stay out of the water by the creek, it would do more to intice and intrigue kids into the water, than it would to keep them out. But, when Jeremy tells kids how terrifying those moments were for him as he was sucked under, and Jacob relates how devastated he was believing he was watching his brother drown--- and then, miraculously--- God resued him!!-- I don't think it gives kids the impression they could 'get away' with the same thing. The focus is that Jeremy lived to tell about it!! He WAS dead (or so we thought), but now he is alive!!

    I want to spend less time telling dead people to look better, and more time just celebrating my own rebirth in every moment of every day. I want the truth of my own deadness, and God's dramatic rescue to fill my heart with such joy, and love and gratitude, that it at least stirs a few 'dead' folks around me to ask where I found Life.

    Kathy J

  2. A friend of mine (JPS) referred me to your post, due to our conversations on this topic and the recent (flurry of) activity on my blog that has resulted from opening up discussion on law, freedom, the Spirit, and the flesh.

    I agree with what you say here, and I appreciate your take.

    I would apply basically the same line of thinking not just to unbelievers but to believers as well. The idea that sin "springs up" when we lay down the law seems to be a feature of humanity. (Part of our spiritual DNA, if you will.) The law does not redeem us, nor does it have a role in sanctification, at least as far as I can see. My reference has been reading Galatians 5 (in light of Romans, of course.) What do you think? Do you think the church overemphasizes law within, not just to "the world"?

    My main response, however, is this: I don't think Christianity has lost the plot, I think it never had the plot to begin with. When I say "Christianity," I mean its various institutionalized forms. The plot for most American Christians is not, I would suggest, reconciliation. I think the main plot for most American Christianist has more to do with protecting a particular way of life and a comfortable lifestyle. Morality serves as a fence and a hedge of protection to guard us from evil so that we can be pure, holy, and comfortable on our way to heaven. If we can Christianize our culture, then there will be a fence of morality within which sinners might better know the good life they are called to. So, as you suggest, the goal is conformity, but not freedom.

    But Paul in Galatians 5 concerns himself with freedom, and in a radical way. So much so that we are "no longer under law" (5:18).

    So, there is the freedom of Christ and there is the conformity of Christians. We haven't lost the plot; we just didn't understand it from the very beginning.

  3. I think this is spot on! =D

    Perhaps those who are so adamant about making the sinners quit sinning do so because if they recognized that that was not the point, they might have to acknowledge that it is not the point inside the church, either. Then they would have to acknowledge that all their 'good works' had no more value than a pile of filthy rags.

    Hmm... it is a scary place for some to come to the place of realizing that it not so much about what people do as it is about who people are.

  4. When I read this, my first thought was that the reason sin is increasing in this nation is because now the church is participating in it too. Whatever sin we find out in the world is also in the church.

    Believers don't really understand grace because they've had so much law preached from the pulpit. The result is an increase in sin in the church. We're supposed to show forth the life of Christ by our lives. We're supposed to demonstrate Father's love and grace but how can we when we don't know it ourselves?

    It's true that we're called to a ministry of reconciliation be how can we declare that message when we don't believe it ourselves? Since we don't have grace in the sense that we're not experiencing it in the church, all we can give them is what we have which is the law.

    I've thought about your question before and have come to the conclusion that there was a lot of sin and injustice in the world but Jesus and the apostles never focused a lot of attention on it. They didn't seem to feel that their job was to change society. Instead, they believed their job was to reveal a Father who loved people and came to set them free.

    Well, I think I've wandered around the question, Joel, but I hope I didn't get too far off track.

  5. Kathy,

    I admit to having been a follower of the wrong plot as well! And indeed, I too was unknowingly trying to make dead people look better, when really I think the true "plot" is to bring people from death to life.

    I really do enjoy your sharing of your son's story. In fact, my friend Mike and I spent a little bit of time getting ahead on some of our Growing in Grace programs, and I mentioned the basics of the story in one of the programs that will air in a few weeks. What you've shared truly is a great example of a "dead" person becoming alive! --- and I think that's really one of the biggest parts of the ministry of the New Covenant.

  6. Jonathan,

    Thanks for coming by, and for your comments. I agree that the same line of thinking applies to Christians. The law will never help us to live right and it only serves to cause sin to rise up in the flesh.

    One point I would look at a bit differently is that I wouldn't say that sin is part of our spiritual DNA, but rather is something that is at work "in our members" (bodies) and in our flesh (not in our spirits). What I mean by that (and this is something that I've talked about a lot in the past, so this is just a brief explanation of what I mean) is that I believe we're made up of three parts, spirit, soul and body, and our spirits have been born again of incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23), made into new creations (2 Cor 5:17), have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), etc, and in our spirits we are one spirit with God (1 Cor 6:17). In other words, I believe there is no sin in our spiritual DNA - our new identity - but rather that the law of sin is at work "in our members" (Rom 7:23), which will eventually die.

    But all that aside, I do think that the church indeed does overemphasize law and sin within the church, not just in the world. This is truly one of my main points here. We (either Christians or the world) are never going to have any kind of true overcoming of sin through the law. It's got to be grace alone.

    As for the church never having had the plot, I would hope that at least the early church had the plot. :) And I would think that at various times in the past 2000 years that the plot has been followed, at least to an extent. Perhaps such would be true in the case of the Reformers (Luther, etc)? And I've read writings from various people in the 19th and early 20th centuries that really do seem to hit the spot when it comes to what we're talking about here.

    But getting more to what you were saying, it seems that as long as I've been a part of the modern institutionalized church, I've not seen much at all of the true message of reconciliation. It's mostly a mixture of law and grace, which missed the point completely! And I think you hit the nail on the head about it being more of a comfort thing. If they can just get everyone in the world straightened out morally, then they can go ahead and live in peace inside their safe Christian culture. But if the immorality of the world is messing with their lifestyle, they need to stand up against it and try to get everyone to conform.

    The thing is, if that's their goal, they're going at it in the wrong way anyway! If they really want to curb sin, they need to shower the world with grace, grace and more grace!

  7. Absolutely, we need to get back to transforming culture, and even creating culture. Due to our lack of "decency and respect" for the world, the Church has lost its influence with the world. I see us going almost back to the first couple of centuries where people were hostile to Christianity. That's how we should be living. Rather than with a picket line or a megaphone, we have to open our arms and take people the way they are because apart from the work of grace in our own lives, that's how we would be too.

    I talk a lot about this on my own blog. I would love your feedback as I blog about Christ, culture, creation, and the Church.

  8. Joel--

    OK, since you're being gracious, indulge me by letting me share one more part of Jeremy's story that I can't forget:

    After he managed to pull himself out of the water, and first responders arrived, along with his dad & I, an EMT asked him how he was feeling. Jeremy let out a big sigh and said, "Relieved!!!" The EMT replied, "We all are."

    My daughter Carolyn, who was the first to reach Jeremy after Jacob came for help, told me that when Jacob reached her and found that Jeremy had survived, Jacob collapsed on the ground and wept in relief.

    Wordnet defines relief as "the good feeling that accompanies having something burdensome removed." For sure, Jeremy, along with his family, thought he was dead, and nothing can match the joyful relief we felt to find him alive.

    For believers, the burden of the law has been removed!!! What a relief!! I remember that feeling of relief when I first came to Christ. I also remember consciously thinking, "they lied to me" when the first hints of law were put back on me. I was 're-burdened' and my joy diminished.

    God has been faithful to restore my sense of joy and relief as He's opened my eyes to the pure gospel.

    Kathy J

  9. Sorry it's taking me so long to get back to everyone. I've only been at my computer for short sporadic moments today, and then my internet was on the fritz this evening.

    Katherine G,

    Great point! Even if the church could get past trying to make unredeemed people look redeemed (or dead people appear alive, as Kathy put it earlier), they are still dealing with a focus on sin internally. Jonathan made a good point of that as well. The more I've noticed this in the church, the more I realize that the church's obsession with sin, both in the world and internally, is a hard one to overcome.


    Yes! Not that I'm excited that what you say is true, but excited that the truth is being exposed here. Or should I say the lie is being exposed. Yeah, that's it. :) With the church so focused on law and sin, how can they know the love of God, I mean really know the love of God, and therefore how can they bear forth its fruit in their lives. The only natural outcome of a focus on the law and sin is... sin.

    And I don't think you wandered around the question or the point at all. It's been a long couple of days for me, but I think that in this post and another one, my point was exactly what you've said, that Jesus wasn't focused on changing the behavior of the people and the culture He was in, especially not through Law! He had come to reveal the love of the Father and to set people free from the bondage of the law!

    I'll be back to reply to more comments tomorrow.

  10. Creitz,

    "Rather than with a picket line or a megaphone, we have to open our arms and take people the way they are because apart from the work of grace in our own lives, that's how we would be too.

    That's a big part of what I'm getting at. As Jonathan hit on in his comment, I think many Christians are trying to change the culture so that they can live more comfortably in their own 'purified' world, rather than doing what Jesus did - heading smack dab into the culture and putting His arms around people and opening them up to the love of the Father right where they're at.

    Indeed, apart from the grace of God, we would have nothing to boast about - which really leaves us boasting in nothing else but the grace of God, and most certainly not our own holiness.


    I wish I would have heard this part of your story before we recorded our program. :) I would have loved to share this extra part. The whole incident seems to me to be a picture of the celebration of life, and how the reaction to a 'dead' person becoming alive is relief and joy rather than condemnation and heavy burdens!

  11. You see, I love this! Did you get all this from church?? I don't think so. It amazes me, how I was once so sold on the "fact" that to not attend church = backsliding into the abyss. I love reading people like you, who only prove the opposite of that misnomer. Misnomer? OK, how about flat out lie?

    I'm so refreshed to hear others, in their voluntary, study of the Word, and their own thinking about Father's intentions and person. You didn't need a pastor to point you to the Way, you seem to just want to go there, and to listen to what's in your heart.

    So fascinatingly different from sitting thru boring sermons, waiting for someone else to "enlighten" me (which, actually, usually only discourages me, not enlightens).

  12. Free Spirit,

    You're right, I can't say that I got most of this in church. :) I did go to a church for three years that preached pure grace, but have never experienced anything else like that in all of my interactions within the church before that or after that.

    In the blogging world, and elsewhere online, I'm finding it very refreshing to find others who are walking in the freedom for which Christ set us free! Indeed, there are no boring sermons in this venue! Just a bunch of brothers and sisters encouraging one another in freedom and in truth!

  13. I'm like you, Joel. I get the vast majority of my teaching and encouragement through the internet.

    At church, Sunday morning, a man who works for a mission organization was saying that God is working all over the world. Of course, he was talking about missionaries but I couldn't have agreed with him more as I see what Father is doing through the internet. New blogs sharing the love of God are popping up daily. Websites like the Free Believers Network and Grace Walk are teaching and encouraging believers throughout the world.

    I'm so excited to be part of what he's doing. It's mind boggling!!

  14. Yep indeed, Aida, God is working all over the world! As you say, it really is mind boggling to be a part of it. He's good to His kids.

  15. Hey!

    Great blog!

    Yes, it is always a lot easier to just focus on the wrong things that non-believers are doing instead of focusing on our own lack of life as believers. Some friends of mine asked me how they could attract more people to their church and to God, and all I could answer them was: you need to get to know God better yourself! You need to ask God to reveal who he is and who you are in him, so the love and life of God flows freely through the broken cup that you are.

    Unless people can see that the love and life of Christ make radical and practical differences in our lives, they won't be attracted to Christ themselves. Us telling them what's wrong with them definitely won't draw them closer to the God of love.

    Much more about Christ living his life through us on

    Blessings, Torben

  16. Thanks, Torben. I'll take a look at your blog. What you've said here is so true... Telling people what's wrong with them won't attract them to the love of God. Indeed, in order to love them and help them to know God, we ourselves need to know God - who He is and who we are in Him - and as we grow in this, the same love flows freely through us.

  17. Man, I loved all this. Especially,
    "I think Rom 5:8 must have been rewritten in some people's Bibles to say, "while we were still sinners, Christ avoided us and wrote protest letters to us about our behavior and made a big stink of our sins."
    I love it!
    Well done, Brueseke.

  18. Thanks, Ralphie! And thanks for reminding me of that... I think I'm going to use it in an FB status in one way or another. :)

    It's been great to re-read all the great comments here. To clue everyone in, I reposted this blog post on Facebook yesterday as a note and linked to this original posting of it. This 'topic' remains as something that I can't get enough of, when it comes to talking about it. Our ministry is the ministry of reconciliation, not the ministry of conforming people to a moral standard.