In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger.”
That is one of my favorite quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. To me it captures a truth so contrary to our everyday lives that we have a hard time truly accepting it. What that quote says to us practically is that the ends do not justify the means. Most people hold to the pragmatic idea that the ends DO indeed justify the means. It makes sense, right? Yes it does, if you don’t consider God.
In our relationship with God I believe that God is not results oriented. He is not ends oriented. God is means oriented. God cares about why and how we do things. He takes care of results. Are we faithful in how we are to live? Do we justify doing wrong (evil) in order to have a good result?
What I am saying is no small idea. It is not something that goes against a basic philosophy. What I am saying goes against the promoted and enforced American (and probably worldwide) idea of a results oriented society. We define success by the end result of our actions. We do “whatever it takes” to achieve excellence.
Many times we focus on what we believe God wants. We assume he wants us to do this, or go there, or say that. We do things we think God wants, when really what He wants is us. He wants all of us. He wants to KNOW us. It is so evident and clear throughout the prophets that God wants us to know Him intimately. Over and over God stated that He simply just wanted the people of Israel to KNOW Him. God had never left or forsaken Israel. They had left Him. Hosea 13:5 speaks to this idea:
5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of burning heat.
6 When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.”
God was there for Israel the whole time, even in the wilderness. He had never left them. As soon as they had gotten from God what they wanted, they became proud and forgot about God. Sadly, that is often the story of many of our lives.
The church in America has added significantly to the global Christian culture, or even civilization, throughout the world. Yes it has added significantly in both positive and negative ways. But this is much of the history of Christianity. Indeed, some of the most supposed “Christian” time periods in world history are also some of the darkest and bloodiest. But also, Christianity was the “ark” which safely protected civilization from extinction.
I believe that many of the common issues of the church today have come from our pragmatic mindsets. We have forgotten that churches grow. It is not meant to be a business. It is supposed to be a living and breathing organism, a body. We are the bride of Christ. We are not Walmart. The American church needs to examine itself and see if we are letting the word or the world dictate our actions. Os Guinness visited TEDS this past semester and had a few things to say in this line of thought. He said,
The American church today is desperately weak because it is profoundly worldly. We have helped create the rise of the modern world, and we have become captive to the modern world that we have helped to create.”
In our churches and in our own individual lives we have let the results be the focus. We have let numbers and goals be our driving forces in our personal and congregational lives. But this mindset is too rationalistic and humanistic and it leaves no place for the power of God. Simply put, we lack faith. We lack true faith in the power of God, the power of the Gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit. God is interested in our faithfulness to Him. It was Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15).” But it is not simply about keeping commandments, either. It is going beyond the letter of the law and remaining faithful to Him — for “whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23).”
We are not completely careless about the means which lead to the result. We do care in some realms of life. Think about sports. We prohibit people taking enhancing drugs in order to be stronger and faster. Think about medicine. We want doctors and nurses to follow specific procedures and follow safety guideline to bring people to recovery or to a cure. That being said, we are still constantly bombarded with “the ends justify the means” mentality.
Think of shows like House. House is a doctor whose motto is “everybody lies.” Throughout the last seven seasons Dr. House has shown that he will do whatever it takes to save someone’s life. Yet, if there is seemingly no hope, he has no problem giving a shot of morphine to end someone’s suffering. And as we watch his brash attitude and medical malpractice we are somewhat forced to take his side. We are being persuaded that it is okay to brake a few rules so that the result is good. It is no coincidence that the show is staunchly anti-religion, and especially anti-Christian. That is because the mindset and philosophy of the ends justifying the means is anti-Christian at the core.
If we really believe that God is sovereign, if we really believe that God is good, and if we really believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6), then we will choose to always do what is right, no matter the consequences. To do right is always right because we serve a God who is righteous. To do wrong in order to achieve a good result shows a lack of faith in God, and says to God, “I don’t think that you are in control. I have to take this situation into my own hands.” It is idolatry. It shows that there is a lack of the fear of God in one’s actions. It is one thing to say that you fear God, and then another thing to actually live with that fear in your actions before Him and in your daily life.
Therefore, what I am saying to many sounds naive. To lie is always wrong and to kill is always wrong because sin is always sin and God is always good. God wants us to consistently love, know, and fear Him. We must do all things in faith (Heb 11:6) and heartily unto God (Col 3:23). It is the only way God is honored and glorified. To truly live as though you fear God will require child-like faith.
Sure, it seems often foolish. Sure, it seems often inefficient. But God is faithful, and He demands for us to be faithful as well.
Jesus lived a life of humility, born of a woman, and born under the law (Gal 4:4). He lived His life in obedience to Scripture. He trusted the Old Testament Scriptures to be the Word of God, and therefore authoritative in all manners of life. He obviously knew the Scriptures very well, and could call vast portions to memory at a moment’s notice. He believed the prophecies of the Old Testament, that they were going to be fulfilled, and then went on to fulfill every prophecy concerning Himself. Before the first words even left the lips of Jesus Christ, He had fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. In every single act accomplished and in every single word spoken, Jesus Christ was constantly concerned about fulfilling, not destroying, the law and the prophets. He did not hide this fact either. He made it aware to His followers (Matt 5:17), to the religious Jews (Luke 4:21), and to His disciples (John 15:25).
Jesus never disputed the Old Testament. His teachings were completely based from Scripture. His teachings were already found in the Old Testament, but many times He clarified the applications to focus on the heart, rather than on the outward appearance. Jesus expected the religious leaders to know the Scriptures very well and to be applying them to their hearts. When the Jewish leaders and various other Jews would challenge Him with questions, Jesus would rebuke them for their lack of Scriptural knowledge. In seven separate occurrences in the Gospels, Jesus replied to such questions by saying, “Have you not read?” and then went on to allow Scripture to speak for itself. This shows that Jesus believed in the authority and the truthfulness of the Old Testament and that it can and should be applied to one’s own daily life.
Jesus believed in the purity of the Scriptures, and that they needed no addition, nor subtraction. He warned against those who added to and subtracted from the Scriptures, and rebuked those who did. Jesus exposed the Pharisees and other teachers of religious law of holding their own customs and laws above God’s law found in the Old Testament. The Pharisees and other teachers accused Jesus’ disciples of breaking tradition by not washing their hands before eating. However, Jesus replied very sternly to them by quoting Isaiah and saying, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mark 7:6-7). Jesus showed the dangers of upholding that which was not commanded by God, and gave Scripture the authority above any manmade tradition.
Jesus also believed in the power of the Scriptures. He put a high standard in believing and knowing the Scriptures. When Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the rich man in hell begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them of the torments of hell. Abraham replies and says that they can listen to Moses and the Prophets, speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures. The rich man is not satisfied with this, and tries to explain that if only his brothers will witness someone from the dead, that they will believe. Abraham, disagrees, and tells the rich man that if his brothers will not believe Moses and the Prophets then they will not be changed by even someone who has been raised from the dead. Jesus, in telling this story, shows just how important the Old Testament Scriptures really are. They are more important than any sign, miracle, or wonder Jesus ever performed. This is exemplified in Jesus’ own life on earth. Before His ministry began He entered into the wilderness to fast and to be tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1). Even though He was impoverished physically, He had internalized the Scriptures and had allowed them to be his nourishment (Matt 4:4). When Satan tempted Him in a number of ways, His reaction was to always use Scripture. He knew them well, and how to apply them. He rebuked Satan with the Scriptures even when Satan himself had used them against Him. Jesus allowed the power of the Word of God to sustain Him in His physical weakness.
Jesus quoted from twenty-four different Old Testament books. He took the Scriptures to mean what they said. He believed the Old Testament to be historically accurate and factual. He affirmed the creation, the flood, Abraham, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his wife, Isaac and Jacob, God’s provision of Manna, the brass serpent lifted by Moses, Jonah and the great fish, Isaiah, and Daniel. He trusted the Scriptures as fact.
Jesus showed the authority and validity of both the Scriptures and His resurrection by explaining how He fulfilled everything that the Scriptures had said about Him (Luke 24:25). In fact, Jesus had expected anyone who had read to Old Testament to have expected for Him to have had to suffer and die and rise again from the dead three days later. Jesus had been in the Scriptures from the very beginning, and He explained it to the two people walking to Emmaus and then later to His disciples. He had been in the Word of God since the beginning because He was the Word of God which became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1,14). Jesus was the Word and the giver of the Word, and for Jesus not to believe in the authority of Scripture would be for Him not to believe in His own authority as God and LORD.
Jesus desired for all to know the Scriptures and to view them as authoritative because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). The people who challenged Jesus were those who did not have a sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures and therefore insufficient faith; and He properly rebuked them for it. It was His understanding of the authority of Scripture that made Him stand out among teachers “as one having authority” (Matt 7:29). It was the fulfillment of these authoritative Scriptures that proved He was God.