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by Ted Schroder
November 15, 2009

It is impossible to appreciate, let alone understand, the teaching of St. Paul if you do not believe that you are accountable to God for your life. Many of our contemporaries feel that they are accountable only to themselves. They are the center of their world, and their goal is to fulfill themselves. They have no obligation to God (if he exists), or to others. They relate to others only to further their own self-realization. In our therapeutic culture suffering is never my fault, for I am the victim. Power comes from blaming others for my problems. "Whoever can claim the status of victim with greater authority wins, because that status projects an image of innocence over against which all others are somehow guilty." (L.G. Jones, Embodying Forgiveness, 46)

Crime is explained, not in terms of individual responsibility, but genetic or environmental causes. So sin is not my fault. Nobody can ever be said to be guilty, because nobody has a free choice to do anything. Ultimately I am the victim of my own genetic make-up. "It would seem that we move ever closer to a society free from personal guilt, free from the traditional language of sin...We seek not salvation - as defined in a religious manner - but liberation, as defined psychologically, 'the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security.'" (Alan Mann, Atonement for a 'Sinless' Society, 29)

But personal liberation is hard to come by, because every human being carries within himself, a conviction that he is less than he should or could be - a sense of shame - of failure to live up to what he conceives to be his ideal self. This sickness of the soul condemns him to a sense of deficiency, even if he attempts to ignore God. If you are not accountable to God, you end up being accountable to yourself, naked to circumstances, vulnerable to the accusations of the devil, and your last state is worse than your first. How can you escape such shame, such condemnation, unless you consider the diagnosis of St. Paul and his prescription of the Gospel.

"Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:33,34)

Michael Horton relates a scene from NBC's ER as illustrative of the present culture. "Lying in his hospital bed while he is dying from cancer, a retired police officer confesses to a chaplain his long-held guilt over allowing an innocent man to be framed and executed. He asks, 'How can I ever hope for forgiveness?' and the chaplain replies, 'I think sometimes it's easier to feel guilty than forgiven.' 'Which means what?' 'That maybe your guilt over his death has become your reason for living. Maybe you need a new reason to go on.' 'I don't want to "go on,"' says the dying man. 'Can't you see that I'm dying? The only thing that is holding me back is that I'm afraid - I'm afraid of what comes next.' 'What do you think that is?' the chaplain gently inquires. Growing impatient, the man answers, 'You tell me. Is atonement possible? What does God want from me?' After the chaplain replies, 'I think it's up to each one of us to interpret for ourselves what God wants,' the man stares at her in bewilderment. 'So people can do anything? They can rape, they can murder, they can steal - all in the name of God and it's OK?' Growing intense, the dialogue draws to its climax. That's not what I'm saying,' the chaplain responds. 'Then what are you saying? Because all I'm hearing is some New Age, God-is-Love, have-it-your-way crap.... No, I don't have time for this now.' 'You don't understand,' the chaplain counters. 'No, you don't understand.... I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real hell.' Missing the point of this man's struggle, the chaplain collects herself and says in the familiar tone of condescension disguised as understanding, 'I hear that you're frustrated, but you need to ask yourself –' 'No,' the man interrupts, 'I don't need to ask myself anything, I need answers and all your questions and all your uncertainty are only making things worse.' With no more to evaluate than his tone, she encourages calm. 'I know you're upset,' she begins, provoking his final outburst of frustration: 'God, I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness, because I am running out of time.'" (Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, p.37)

Modern culture has redefined sin as sickness, and salvation as self-help. Until we have accepted the fact that we have an obligation to God and to others, we cannot understand the Gospel or our own search for fulfillment. Jesus came, not to abolish the Law of God but to fulfill it. He said, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:19) He went on in the Sermon on the Mount to spell out what it meant to keep the commandments, by applying it to the attitude of the heart, as well as one's actions.

"I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment... anyone who says, 'You fool.' will be in danger of the fire of hell....go and be reconciled to your brother." (Matt.5:22-24)

"I tell you anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart....Do not resist an evil person. If some one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also...Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.... Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.... Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect...

...When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret...Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. You cannot serve God and Money..... Do not worry about your life....But seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow....Do not judge, or you too will be judged, For, in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 5-7)

If we read what God means us to be like in these characteristics of the kingdom of heaven, and compare these words of Jesus with our lives, we see how much we fall short. If we were to be indicted for our failures, our selfishness, our indifference, in the court of God's law, or in the court of our own conscience, we would easily be convicted. There is no one who can say that they are good, innocent, and deserve to be acquitted. So much of the suffering of this world, so much violence and cruelty, is due to the evil in human hearts. As St. Paul put it, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now, a righteousness from God, apart from law has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Romans 3:19-22) As a result, we can be acquitted of our guilt and be restored to wholeness. God is a kinder Judge than our hearts.

"Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:33,34)

This is the witness of the Prophets as well as the Apostles. "He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other. Who is my accuser? Let him confront me. It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me?" (Isaiah 50:8,9)

Jesus died and rose again, and ascended on high to the place of honor, where he intercedes for us in the court of heaven. This is what Job prophesied. "Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend." (Job 16:19-21)

As Hebrews 9:25 assures us, "Therefore Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

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