Friday, August 7, 2015

Get Me Off This Plane!

It’s August, which means it’s almost back-to-school time. If your house is anything like mine, it’s only a matter of days until you’re sitting at the dining room table, helping your little blessings with highly relevant homework questions like:  If Plane A leaves San Francisco at 8:40 a.m. traveling east at 525 miles per hour, and Plane B leaves Boston at 9:15 a.m. traveling west at 450 miles per hour, which plane will cross the Mississippi River first?

I felt like I got a foretaste of these afternoons last week when I read Jeremy Lallier’s “Sabbath Thoughts” blog. Mr. Lallier is a writer and editor for COGWA’s Life, Hope and Truth endeavor; the Sabbath Thoughts blog is his personal project and has more than 1,500 readers.  

In his July 31, 2015 post, Lallier demonstrates the dangers of grading personal righteousness “on the curve” by contrasting two planes speeding toward to the ground. The passengers of the first plane are oblivious to their fate, while the passengers of the second plane, who have maintained a slightly higher altitude, occasionally glance out the window to mutter at the fools in the first plane, who have no idea where they’re headed. Does it really matter which plane you’re on, he asks, poignantly.

I agree with Lallier’s sentiment (and want to state that I have nothing against him, personally). He's correct that Christians should be striving for more than just being better than their neighbor, better than their co-workers, or better than the guy sitting next to them at church. We are commanded to imitate Christ, to grow into His stature. I don’t disagree with this charge, although I disagree with the COG’s explanation of how and why.  

So what should we do?

Aim higher, Lallier says. Pull up, to put it in aviation terms. Because there is no crown for being “not as bad” as the people around you, he says.

“The crown is for those who push themselves to rise to the high standards of the word of God – for the people who do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8),” Lallier writes.

Wait a minute.

Try even harder? That’s your big plan? You just got done telling us that it’s not good enough just to be better. Now you’re telling us the answer is to be a LOT better? So where is the cutoff point between better-but-not-trying-hard-enough and better-and-trying-hard-enough?  Unless there is no cutoff point, and you’re telling us we have to be perfect. 

So which one is it?

This example demonstrates the flaw in all religions that teach human behavior is a component of salvation. No one can ever tell you how good is good enough. Because there is no such thing as “good enough” when it comes to salvation. Would the Father have accepted Jesus Christ’s sacrifice if He had only pushed Himself to rise to the high standards of the Word of God?

The theological reasoning Lallier uses in his “Sabbath Thoughts” post is more coherent and less blunt than predecessors like Herbert W Armstrong, who founded the Worldwide Church of God, the group from which COGWA, UCG, LCG and other COG groups descended. Armstrong was known for describing his followers as spiritual fetuses and telling them God would abort them if they did not demonstrate enough spiritual growth (see page 45 of the linked booklet if you don't believe me). One positive outcome of Armstrong’s 200-plus failed prophecies is that later COG generations have gone to college instead of hunkering down and waiting for the end. That fruit manifests itself in writing like Lallier’s - material that's less dogmatic and more intelligent. But the underlying Armstrongist implication is the same: if you aren’t good enough, you die in a fireball of jet fuel.

The COGs got part of it right. Humanity is on a doomed plane, spiraling downward because of our sin. But there’s a critical detail they fail to understand: trying harder doesn’t get you off the plane.

Pulling up might keep you off the ground a little longer or help you make more forward progress. You might delay impact for hundreds of miles, figuratively speaking. But as long as your performance is a part of the equation for salvation, you are responsible for keeping the plane aloft.

No, we don’t believe we are saved by our works, you argue. Christ’s sacrifice was necessary to wipe out our past sins. We’re only responsible for preserving that blameless status before God! Listen to yourself! It’s only cognitive dissonance from decades of COG sermons that blinds you from the realization that working not to lose your salvation is just the flip side of the same coin. 
(Ephesians 2:8-9) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Lallier seems to believe that he and other “men and women of action” can be “diligent to present themselves approved to God.” I don’t know. Maybe you guys are just better people than me. I can better relate to Paul in Romans 7:21-25:
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This is Paul talking! Not Sapphira or a newcomer like Simon Magus or Bob the Gentile. This is a man who is the definition of radical life change; who was beaten, shipwrecked and stoned for the cause of Christ. And yet, near the end of his life, he is still warring with his sin. He is despondent. He sees that his track record will get him nowhere. If Paul can’t make it on his spiritual batting average, what chance do I have?

(Romans 4:1-6) What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

There is only one way to get off the plane. Repent, stop relying on your own goodness and place your full faith in the work Jesus finished on the cross. No matter how hard you try, how high you aim, how high your righteousness batting average rises, it is all filthy rags. The only way to stand approved before God is wrapped in the garments of righteousness, the imputed righteousness that only come through faith in Christ. It will get you a heck of a lot further than that life vest underneath your seat.  

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

1 comment:

Jam Full said...

Martha, I stumbled upon your blog this evening. I thought I'd mention, since you asked the question,

"So where is the cutoff point between better-but-not-trying-hard-enough and better-and-trying-hard-enough? Unless there is no cutoff point, and you’re telling us we have to be perfect"

I have to say, more than a few verses come to mind.

Gen 17:1 Lev 11:44; 19:2; 20:26 Deut 18:13 Job 1:1-2, 3 Psa 37:37 Luke 6:36, 40 2Co 7:1; 13:9, 11 Phil 3:12-15 Col 1:28; 4:12 James 1:4 1Pe 1:15-16

And, I believe you are confusing grace, justification, salvation, Faith and works.

Every man stands guilty before God because of sin, and no one may enter into His presence without the covering of Christ's sacrifice. That justifies us before God so we may enter into His holy presence to be heard in our prayers. We are justified by His blood, through the grace, or Favor of God. We are saved by His life, lived in us.

(Ephesians 2:8-9) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

However, we know that Faith without works is a dead Faith... and He is a God of the living and not the dead.