What is the standard for Righteousness?

Note: Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on postmodernism and evangelism.  To keep the articles readable and short, they are spread out over a few days.  Grab the RSS feed to get new articles automatically.

A dear friend who has no visible evidence of a relationship with Christ received news that they have terminal cancer.  Their days are numbered, though there is no certainty of how long — 3 months to 3 years, maybe longer.

I am concerned about their eternity with Christ.

I long for this one to experience the outrageous grace that has been given to me.

I desire for them to experience the gospel as I have, and in their remaining days, to experience a fullness of life even as cancer ravages their body.

Instead of being angry at God, I want them to know God’s loving presence in the midst of this affliction, that they too may worship him

I also find an urgency to help my friend find faith in Christ, because Christ is the standard of righteousness and judgment before God.  I know what the Bible teaches about hell, about the consequences of rejecting God’s offer of grace.

one way street sign

Postmodern temptations

Yet in my postmodern mindset, I find myself looking for some escape clause, that my friend will slip into an eternity with God instead of apart from God.  I want God to bend the rules for my friend.  I want that their goodness counts for something.  I am tempted to argue for my own standard of what is fair

My feelings about my friend long to believe a better future is in store other than what the Bible describes.

I can also imagine that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I think my friend wants to get to eternity without having to deal with Jesus, to take a chance that their good works and good nature count for something.  My friend wants to decide what the rules are to get to heaven.

Postmoderism has influenced me.  I’m tempted to reject the authority of Scripture in this matter because I don’t want it to apply to my friend.

It doesn’t feel right that their eternity is currently destined for hell.  Since it doesn’t feel right, I’m tempted with rejecting it.

Two weeks ago, I sat next to a recovering Christian on an airplane.  Before taking off the runway, he started to share with me how he was returning to church after leaving it during his college days.  He is a veteran on the war on terror, and has travelled the world and made friends with people of other faiths.  With a new child, he wants his child to grow up in the influnce of Christianity, and as such, his family has returned to church.

But he is bothered by the exlcusive claims of Christ.

How can Jesus be the only way?  It doesn’t seem fair for those that haven’t heard, for my friends who are just as devout in their religion as we are.

Postmodernism has influenced him.  He wants to find something else.

He is tempted to reject the authority of Scriptures he doesn’t like because of what it means about his friends.

Postmodern fairness

Postmodernism tries to determine what is fair based on the perspective of the individual.

I want to know what is fair, to set the standard for my friend to get into heaven.

My seatmate on the airplane wanted to seek what is fair for his friends in other religions to get into heaven.

My dying friend wants to know what is fair before the cancer kills

The inherent problem in postmodernism is that the standard of fairness is determined by the individual.  The standard of righteousness is determined by the individual.

Thus, what is fair for one, may not be fair to another.  What is right for one, may not be right for another.  Because 8 billion people determine what is fair individually, there can be no collective standard.

Thus people, my friend included, will put their eternal hope and eternal destiny in what they have determined is fair.

I live and work in a culture where cronyism, favoritism, and nepotism gives the rich an unfair advantage to manipulate the system to get what they want and increase their power.    Current newspaper articles reveal how the rich have their own standard and with their money can often buy their way into favors.

This injustice in real life longs for a fairness that applies to everybody.  The rich don’t think they are being unfair, the poor continue to cry foul.

When it comes to an eternal standard of fairness that applies equally to everyone, what do we use?

God’s Standard of Righteousness

I recognize that I believe in the authority of Scripture, it is now a tested assumption in my worldview.  Thus, I take at face value what it shares.

In my conversations with non-Christians, if the matter comes up, we spend some time conversing about how I came to trust the authority of Scripture.  I recognize that I’m appealing to an authority outside myself that I believe describes reality the best.

If the Bible is not your source of authority, then my conclusions may not be agreeable to you, and my logic may not seem satisfactory.  (Part of the challenge in postmodern evangelism is where is one’s source of authority — self or an external source).

Paul develops an argument in the opening chapter of Romans — where people based their righteousness in their heritage, moral superiority, and even an external source of the Law.

Yet Paul demonstrates that self-righteousness ultimately falls short no matter what your standard of righteousness is.  People are sinners, who break the law (whatever theirs is), and consistently fall short of their own standards they hold dear.

Thus what is a fair standard of judgment that gives no one an advantage?

But now, a righteousness from God, apart from the Law, has been made known to which the law and the prophets testify.  This righteousness form God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. [Romans 3:21-24]

Thus no one can boast on their own self-righteousness.  Paul argues that there is a universal standard of righteousness — it’s apart from anything we may have in our own heritage, upbringing, or perspective.

We get this righteousness through faith in Christ.

This is the standard that God is determined is what is fair, what is acceptable, and what works.

That is the standard of fairness.  I may not like it’s consequences for my unbelieving friends, but it is a standard that is fair in God’s sight no matter what culture one is a part of.

I take comfort in the fact that this is the standard.

Someone else won’t have an advantage over me.

I won’t have an advantage over anyone else.

I don’t have moral superiority, a volume of good works, the legacy of a good name.  I don’t have to compete to be the best in God’s sight.  I can’t appeal to anything I have or own to show my righteousness is superior to anyone else.

The fairest righteousness has been given: through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

I want my friend to find that standard of righteousness.  All they have to do is believe in Jesus.  They have to come to the place of seeing that their wealth, good nature, good works, and self-importance is not what matters, but a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus to the one who believes.

Postmodern evangelism training

Two issues rise to the surface for postmodern evangelism training.

1.  The Source of Authority.

What is a person’s source of authority?  Themselves?  So often I run into people who say “The Bible says. . .so what?”   One can no longer assume that people still hold that the Bible is authoritative.

The question then becomes how to communicate the gospel in a way that builds bridges to one who doesn’t yet believe in the authority of Scriptures.

In your conversations, what are you doing to help people discover the authority of the scriptures?

Think through these questions:

  • How did you discover the authority of Scripture in your life?
  • Was it always an operating assumption?
  • How did you decide to continue to let it be your source of authority, particularly when you are tested?

Answering these questions for yourself will give you insights to share in your conversations with people struggling to accept the Bible’s authority.  You can share your own experience (testimony) that gives credibility to your clams.

2.  Taking the time to Discover.

If we acknowledge the postmodern tendency to determine truth by experience, we have to take the time to help people discover faith.  This means relational work, conversations, and helping people examine their assumptions, worldviews, and consequences of their belief.

For the most part, gone are the days of a 5 minute gospel presentation for acceptance to a set of propositions.  People need time to discover the value of those statements, the implications, the meanings, and the reality which these statements describe.

Think through these questions:

  • Did your journey to Christ have a long preamble?
  • Was there a significant event that caused you to start searching for God?
  • What did you do on your search between that event and finally inviting Christ into your life?
  • How are you continuing to discover the ongoing work of God in your life?

Answering these questions for yourself will give you insights into your journey to faith, and help you articulate the personal experience that has shaped who you are.  You needed time to discover your own faith, whether you had a moment of conversion, or a gradual awakening.

Keep Reading

To keep posts readable and digestable in a blog format, I don’t want to give a full explanation in one, but over the course of a few days, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on it’s impact in personal evangelism.  Grab the RSS feed to get new articles automatically.

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Comments

  1. says

    I see postmodern thinking all the time. In fact I had a simple conversation with someone on a forum who claims belief in Jesus. He asked why I was concerned with gathering souls for Christ. I asked him if he would offer a hand if he saw someone drowning and he said that if they were happily swimming he would leave them alone. I thought that was sad. Often we refuse to share the gospel because of our own discomfort.

  2. says

    @jeanine:

    I too see postmodern thinking all the time. It’s become such a part of our western culture that we can

    A. Fight against it and call it evil
    B. Give into it and its pessimism about certainty
    C. Think about how to present the gospel in a way that connects.

    I see many well meaning evangelists going with either a or b without doing the deep thinking required to do c.

    I am concerned for people who don’t know Christ and the love that has captured me. I want to effectively communicate in a way that helps them see that outrageous love.

    Thanks for chiming in.

    Chris

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