Unearned Advantage

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

I was praying about the concept of “privilege” this morning. As a white, middle-class, male in America I live with a high level of privilege that is hard for me to notice. Let’s call “privilege” an “unearned advantage.” Some advantages I have in life I have worked hard to attain while others were given to me at birth through no doing of my own. And if I have been born with an “unearned advantage” through no doing of my own, it means others have been born with an “unearned disadvantage” through no doing of their own.

Being born into a middle-class family wasn’t something I chose. I was given that gift at birth because of my parents and grandparents. The advantages they gathered in their life (both earned and unearned) were passed down to me. So being born into a middle-class family means I started life with a certain amount of privilege. Maybe it was less privilege than being born into a wealthy family, but it was still an unearned advantage.

I believe there are multiple forms of privilege and they are all on a continuum. Privilege is not an on/off switch. We all fall on the spectrum of privilege somewhere. And all privilege (whether it was earned or unearned) comes with responsibility.

Men have had a certain level of “unearned advantage” over women in our culture historically. White people have had an “unearned advantage” over other races in our culture. People not born into poverty have had an “unearned advantage” over those who were born into poverty. Able-bodied people have had an “unearned advantage” over those who are not able-bodied. And the list of possible unearned advantages goes on and on.

The conversation gets confusing when you start comparing who has more privilege, so it’s probably best not to go there. Does a poor Asian man have more privilege than a middle-class Indian woman? Which variable of privilege wins out? This is why it doesn’t seem helpful to have that conversation.

It’s better just to focus on whatever unearned advantages we may have personally and whether we are responsibility using that advantage. Are we aware of it? Are we abusing it? Are we using it selfishly? Are we being responsible with it? Are we using it to help others?

Yet, as I was praying this morning about privilege, the Lord reminded me of my greatest privilege. He reminded me that my greatest “unearned advantage” is my relationship with Him. No matter what is happening in my life or in the world, I get to wake up and spend time with the Creator of the Universe every morning. I get to speak to God and listen as He speaks to me. I get to experience His love. I get to receive His peace. I get to read His word. I have the security of knowing He is my protector and provider. This privilege is not only available to me, but to people all over the world–men and women of every race and socio-economic status. This unearned advantage is available to all!

To be the son or daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is an enormous privilege. And, like many other privileges, it was unearned. Jesus is the one who paid the price for me. I have the unearned advantage of having the Holy Spirit dwell inside me. Resurrection power dwells within me! God’s Spirit is united to mine! Is there any greater unearned advantage?

And, like other unearned advantages, it means someone else had to deal with an unearned disadvantage. Jesus, though completely free from sin, paid the ultimate price for me. My unearned advantage of the Spirit was provided by His unearned disadvantage. Yet, it wasn’t something forced upon Him. It was something He willingly surrendered to.

The other glaring difference here is that this unearned advantage, this privilege of having an intimate relationship with the Lord, is available for everyone. No one can change their race or the family into which they were born, but we can choose to receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior. We can choose to surrender our lives to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians, though, aren’t taking advantage of their greatest advantage. We have this incredible privilege of having an interactive, intimate relationship with the God of all Creation. We have this incredible unearned advantage of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the resurrection power of God flowing through us. We get to be confident that He hears our voice, and we get to hear His. But what are we doing with this unearned advantage? Are we aware of it? Are we using it for the sake of His Kingdom and for the sake of others?

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11

Simple Faith

 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

2 Kings 5:9-14

When we read about the life of Elisha, almost everything he did was a foreshadowing of Jesus. This event was no different. Naaman, the commander of the armies of Aram, had leprosy and traveled south to Israel to seek healing from Elisha. When he arrived at Elisha’s house, we was told to simply go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he’d be healed. But the simplicity of this act was offensive to Naaman.

The Jordan River was not impressive back then nor is it today. Dipping in the Nile or the Euphrates may have seemed significant. Even the rivers of Aram (Abana and Pharpar) made more sense than the Jordan. Naaman was expecting a magical display of Elisha’s power. The healers and witch doctors of that day all had ceremonies and herbs and incantations for practicing their healing arts (as they still do today). They all had strict and complicated rituals for a person to follow in order to be healed. But God through Elisha didn’t need all of that. The power of the Spirit was enough to heal.

Notice that when a person has been taught their whole life that to get right with God, to get well, to get clean, one must work for it, simple grace is offensive. Earning one’s righteousness through works, though a heavy burden, comes with it the feeling of control. It comes with it the ability to retain one’s pride and self-sufficiency.

But receiving simple grace requires humility. It requires giving up on earning our righteousness, our healing, our cleansing. It demands simple obedience in receiving the grace of God. It means laying down my self-sufficiency and my control. This is why the simplicity of dipping in the Jordan was so offensive to Naaman. It was too easy. It displayed too much of God’s grace and not enough of his own works. Many people react the same way to the message of the gospel.

But if we want to be cleansed from the inside out, it requires something very simple. We only need to receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s what this weekend is all about. Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are the once and for all declaration that God paid the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. He sacrificed Himself so that we wouldn’t have to work for our righteousness. We could simply receive His righteousness, a righteousness that we don’t deserve in any way.

By believing Jesus, entrusting our life to Him, we lay down our attempts at saving ourselves through good works. We lay down our self-sufficiency and pride. Humbly, we come before the Lord and repent for our sin. And in doing so, we are given the free gift of grace. We are forgiven for all past, present and future sin, and we are given a new heart. The very Spirit of the Living God comes to dwell in us and begins to transform us from the inside out.

Naaman dipping seven times in the Jordan was a foreshadowing of the simplicity of baptism. We are washed clean from our sin, not by complicated religious rituals and incantations, but by simple faith in Jesus Christ. What He did for us was enough. We need only to believe it. We need only to take Jesus at His word.

Have you been spending your life trying to be a good person on your own merit? Apart from the transforming work of Christ, that kind of life only leads to failure and disappointment. If you haven’t already, receive the free grace of God, purchased for you by the death of Jesus. And receive a new heart, a new life, a life won for you by the resurrection of Jesus.

Don’t be offended by the simplicity of it all like Naaman was. Let go of the pride and self-sufficiency that would keep you from surrendering your life to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within you. Pray something like this:

Father God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to take my place on the cross. Please forgive me for my sin and my selfishness. I receive your grace today. I know I don’t deserve it. I know I can’t earn it. I know Jesus did for me what I could never do for myself. I surrender my life to you, Jesus. I am yours. I ask You to come and transform my heart. Wash me clean. Make me new. Holy Spirit, I invite you to come and dwell in me and give me new life. I ask you to transform me from the inside out. I lay down my pride and my self-sufficiency. And in its place I receive your love and your peace. I ask all of this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

All In

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:32-39

Those who like to paint Jesus as light and fluffy tend to skip over scriptures like this one. Those who like to think the gospel is all about unity and peace at any expense–at the expense of truth and surrender–are offended by Jesus’s words here. Try as they might to wiggle their way around what Jesus says here, they cannot.

These are not the words of a universalist. Persecuted Christians, particularly in Muslim countries, find hope and life in these words of Jesus. If we find these words difficult it is mostly an indication of the pampered and bastardized Christianity that has been handed down to us in the U.S. The hundreds of thousands of Muslims that are surrendering their lives to Jesus in Pakistan right now understand that the decision to follow Jesus is one that will likely cost them their families and might cost them their lives.

Universalism is not a message of grace and good news in countries where people are literally giving up their lives to follow Jesus. Universalism says their sacrifice was pointless. Universalism declares to them that being ripped from their family, rejected by loved ones, beaten, bloodied, scarred and broken was all very unnecessary. It tells them they could have lived in comfort and ease, rejecting Jesus, and everything would have been just fine. Does that sound like Jesus to you? Or can you now see it for the lie that it is?

Universalism is far from good news to the millions of persecuted Christians around the world. It is a message of mockery to their tremendous sacrifice. It also makes a mockery of Jesus’s own words here in Matthew 10.

The good news of Jesus is that if we are willing to surrender our lives in their entirety, we will find true life on the other side. If we are willing to join Jesus on the cross and in the tomb we will also join Him in the resurrection. If we are willing to make Jesus THE priority in our lives above all else, we will discover a river of life flowing through our life.

Clearly, Jesus is not messing around. He’s not playing church. He’s not interested in establishing a religion. Jesus is interested in sold out, all in, lovers who are willing to surrender everything to Him and His Kingdom.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Are you all in?

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

Rejecting Jesus

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

John tells us that the reason he writes these sorts of things is because of “those who are trying to lead you astray”(1 John 2:26). And when we read the above passage, we are reminded that there are many theologians and leaders in the church who are still trying to lead people astray with false teaching.

Here’s the reality: it is impossible to read the above passage the leave any room for universalism. Universalism says that people with all different religions and belief systems will ultimately be accepted by God the Father. It says God accepts all belief systems equally and so everyone will make to heaven to spend eternity with God.

But the only way to hold a universalistic understanding is to completely ignore this passage of scripture (and many others like it). One cannot believe in the Bible and be a universalist. You can pick one or the other but not both because the two are incompatible.

John is clear about what the truth is. The truth is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. To deny Jesus is to reject God. To deny the Son is to deny the Father. There is no equivocation here. John makes no attempt to soften his language or side-step this foundational truth. If you acknowledge Jesus for who He really is, then you have connection and intimacy with the Father. But if you deny that Jesus is who He says He is, then you are simultaneously denying the Father.

John confirms this truth by referencing the anointing of the Holy One, the Holy Spirit. It is the internal witness of the Spirit that confirms the truth of these statements. About the Holy Spirit John goes on to say, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things…”(1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit is ultimately our teacher and our guide. He confirms the truth of God’s word in us. And the Holy Spirit never contradicts the word of God.

What is interesting to notice is that the same sections of the church that dabble in the falsehood of universalism have also created distance from themselves and the things of the Holy Spirit. When we stop listening to, engaging with, receiving gifts and power from the Holy Spirit, our teaching is sure to become more and more influenced by the corrupt thinking of the world.

By the time many seminarians finish seminary, they’ve been filled with false teachings and emptied of any intimacy with the Spirit. They start doubting the truth that they read in scripture and begin distancing themselves from the authority of the word of God. As someone who went to seminary, I saw this firsthand in my own life and I continue to watch it happen to others. No wonder the churches in American are shrinking and dying. We need to return to the boldness that John writes with, proclaiming the exclusivity of Jesus as the Christ and the only way to the Father!