Archives For Pistis Christou

rev-charles-moore-327x388You may have missed it in the mainstream press.

Last week a retired United Methodist pastor in Texas set himself on fire in a shopping center parking lot.

Rev. Charles Moore intended his self-immolation as an act of social protest against the death penalty, homophobia and racism of both his denomination and his home-state.

Not only did Moore see his suicide as his destiny, he saw it as an unavoidable act of faithfulness- the place where his Gethsemane led.

Methodists, I think it’s fair to say, aren’t known being particularly exciting or taking up extraordinary means to make their point. Moore’s immolation, however, reminds Christians that the line between mysticism and mental anguish has always been a fine one.

While I certainly don’t want to make hay of another’s struggles of the soul, I do think it worthwhile pondering whether Moore’s self-immolation can be construed as faithful according to Christian grammar.

In letter he wrote in June, Rev. Moore drew an analogy between himself and the Protestant saint of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“This decision to sacrifice myself was not impulsive: I have struggled all my life (especially the last several years) with what it means to take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s insistence that Christ calls a person to come and die seriously. He was not advocating self-immolation, but others have found this to be the necessary deed, as I have myself for some time now: it has been a long Gethsemane, and excruciating to keep my plans from my wife and other members of our family.”

Of course, any student of history could point out the obvious distinction that renders such an analogy erroneous: Bonhoeffer didn’t commit suicide.

Bonhoeffer didn’t choose death or martyrdom.

Bonhoeffer chose a path of faithfulness he knew might well lead to his death.

The difference could not be greater nor could their appropriation of the cross be more divergent.

Self-immolation is (I hope is clear) an outlier but nonetheless it relies upon a certain logic of the cross that is quite mainstream: the belief that a greater good can come from suffering and death.

Such a belief consequently baptizes suffering and death as means towards greater aims for it reads the Cross as what God requires/desires in order for the transaction of redemption to be complete.

The myth of redemptive suffering/violence IS a myth.

To put it more clearly if more crudely only a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement can lead to someone like Rev. Moore construing his own self-inflicted suffering as a divinely sanctioned means to a social justice end.

It’s a broad generalization but this IS a blog after all:

Rev. Moore’s logic of the Cross is no different than the understandings preached from pulpits on most Sundays and sung in nearly every 19th century hymn and contemporary CCM song.

Rev. Moore’s self-immolation reveals how destructive such interpretations of the Cross can prove.

My recent theo-crush, the late Dominican philosopher Herbert McCabe once wrote: timothy-radcliffe

“Jesus teaches us two things.

First, he teaches that in order to be a human being we must love fully and without condition.

Second, he teaches us that if we do love this way, they’ll kill us.”

More ably put perhaps but this is the same point McCabe makes when he writes:

 “The mission of Jesus from the Father is not the mission to be crucified; what the Father wished is that Jesus should be human…And this is what Jesus sees as a command laid on him by his Father in heaven; the obedience of Jesus to his Father is to be totally, completely human.

Thus, Jesus was crucified because he was human not because the Father planned to have him killed for some greater cause.

We must always remember and never shy away from the fact that we crucified Jesus, not the Father. 

We have created a world that is characterized by suffering and death—by oppression, torture, and even crucifixion. We must not become confused on this point: God never causes suffering. God is always God for us, always for human flourishing, always for love.

Jesus was killed not because God wanted him to be killed but because we wanted him to be killed.” 

McCabe seeing Jesus as the truly human one is a point not altogether different from what Paul means in Romans 1 and 3 when he identifies Jesus as the Faithful One.

Because Jesus shows us what it means to be authentically, fully human, he also accordingly reveals to us what it means to be faithful. And what we see revealed by Jesus is not someone desiring death nor someone who sees violence as the means by which God chooses to redeem.

Rather in Jesus the Faithful One we see a lover of God who accepts- with no small amount of terror and regret- his death rather than resort to violence himself.

Without Easter, the Cross just is what Rome intended it to be: tragic.

And when we remember that the Cross is what we do to Jesus not what God does to Jesus we can see Rev. Moore’s act for what it so sadly is: suicide.

 

Untitled9-1024x682Here’s the sermon from Sunday. Continuing the summer series through Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the text was the critical pistis Christou passage in Romans 3.21-31.

You can listen to the sermon here below, in the widget on the sidebar or you can download it in iTunes by clicking here. For that matter, you can download the free Tamed Cynic mobile app here.

Like black coffee, I’m an acquired taste. I have a tendency to rub some people the wrong way- shocking I know.

In fact, almost 9 years ago to the day, one elderly curmudgeon- bless his heart- chewed me out and tore me a new one as he left worship.

That was my first Sunday at Aldersgate.

Since then his red-faced finger-pointing, clenched-teeth indictments and patronizing soliloquies went on to become an every sermon ritual.

Fortunately, I was able to dismiss his criticism, seeing as how this sweet saint of the Lord typically fell asleep after the opening prayer and was in no position to evaluate my effectiveness as a preacher.

And because I didn’t take his criticisms too much to heart, I was able to make light of them in my sermons.

About 7 years ago, I started using his gripes with me as a foil in some of my sermons. Since I couldn’t out him outright, reveal his name and his character, I instead adopted an anonymous, affectionate handle for him:

He Who Must Not Be Named.

     Sure, I admit it was my passive aggressive way of exacting revenge, to rebut from the pulpit all the gripes I’d had to grin and bear at the sanctuary doors. But it was also good for a laugh or two.

What goes around comes around.

But then it came around again to bite me in the ass.

Because about 2 years ago, someone set up an email address (HeMustNotBeNamed@gmail.com) and a Twitter handle: HeMustNotBeNamed and started sending me mocking emails and tweets from someone taking the name HeMustNotBeNamed.

His (yours?) tagline on Twitter reads: I taught @jasonmicheli everything I wanted him to know. I am here to expose the truth one blog post at a time.

     For example, last winter I tweeted out a preview of my sermon:

‘This weekend we will conclude our marriage sermon series by discussing the current marriage debate in the larger Church around homosexuality.’

And HeMustNotBeNamed tweeted:

‘@JasonMicheli I can’t wait for the children’s sermon.’

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In response to a promo for pub theology, HeMustNotBeNamed sent me this tweet:

‘@JasonMicheli if I come to #pubtheology will you buy me a butter beer?’

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And I know this has to be someone in the congregation, is because in January I received this tweet:  ‘@JasonMicheli nice red sweater this weekend. The Mr. Rogers look is good for you.’

 

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So… it has to be one of you.

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Just over a week ago, I published my 1000th post on my blog, and I pushed it out to social media with this line:

 

‘Thanks to Tony Jones for encouraging me to start the blog and trust that if I wrote stuff of substance, readers would come.’

And HeMustNotBeNamed replied: ‘@JasonMicheli this stuff makes me want to drink something of substance.’

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Then HeMustNotBeNamed continued: ‘@JasonMicheli I think you’re brilliant, but I also think you think so yourself.’

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Ignoring the put down, I tweeted to @HeMustNotBeNamed: ‘Thanks.’

 

But HeMustNotBeNamed continued: ‘@JasonMicheli But, at times, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Of course, that makes it no different than listening to you preach.’

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Wounded, I responded by tweeting: ‘@HeMustNotBeNamed So sorry you’re not able to understand me!’

Sounding like my mother-in-law, HeMustNotBeNamed replied: ‘@JasonMicheli I don’t think your deadpan humor really helps.’

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Which just begged for me to up the ante: ‘@HeMustNotBeNamed Deadpan humor?!’

HeMustNotBeNamed wondered: ‘@JasonMicheli Does @DennisPerry ever weary of your constant jokes at his expense?’

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Of course, a comment like that is ripe for another joke at Dennis’ expense so I tweeted back: ‘@HeMustNotBeNamed @DennisPerry is 65. Everything wearies him at this point.’  He didn’t find it funny, I guess, because HeMustNotBeNamed tweeted: ‘@JasonMicheli Your intellect IS your problem.

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‘@HeMustNotBeNamed What do you mean?’ I asked.

 

 

And HeMustNotBeNamed queried: Untitled15‘@JasonMicheli Why is the intellectual stuff necessary? Why can’t God just come out of the closet and reveal himself so there’d be no doubting?’

 

 

Like a good pastor I asked a clarifying question: Untitled13‘@HeMustNotBeNamed You want God to come out of the closet?’ He didn’t find it funny: ‘@JasonMicheli Haha. If our salvation depends on faith, why can’t God do a better job of convincing us?’

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Serious for once, I asked him: ‘@HeMustNotBeNamed What kind of convincing would you want?’  He answered: ‘@JasonMicheli Why can’t God write across the sky ‘Here’s your proof. Believe in me. Sincerely God.’ Everyone would be on their knees.’

Then he tweeted a sort of PS: ‘@JasonMicheli After all, no one doubts my existence and they don’t even speak my name.’

 

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If everything depends on faith- on our faith, on our faith in Jesus, then why doesn’t God make it easier to believe?

 

Whether HeMustNotBeNamed’s tweets and emails are meant to mock me or not, it’s a good question.

Maybe, even, it’s the best question.

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I received those tweets a little over a week ago.  And since then, a number of times I’ve sat down at my laptop and tried to sort through a good answer.

 

Parts of each those answers were good, but I wasn’t content with any of them.

 

Because I’m no good at the 140 characters or less stricture, I opted for email.

 

Untitled11     Those responses still are saved in the drafts folder of my mailbox. The first draft was from the following Saturday, June 28.

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@HeMustNotBeNamed,

 

Thanks for your question. Though, your comment about me seeming full of myself makes me wonder if your message was meant for @DennisPerry.

 

Despite what you might assume given my line of work, faith has never come easy for me. John Wesley told his pastors: ‘Preach faith until you have it.’

 

Sometimes I think I need to be a pastor in order to be a Christian. I need people- even satirical Tweeters like you- holding me accountable. I need the Sunday sermon deadline hanging over me to force me to work through what I believe.

 

That’s why I think the notion that you can be a Christian without participating in a church is BS.

 

I suppose this shows I’m sympathetic with your question but doesn’t really answer it.

 

Let me say this:

One of the abiding memories I carry around with me like a scar that’s smoothed over is being at the hospital a few years back with my arm around a mom as she held her son- my confirmation student- and prayed… to God…pleaded…for her son.

 

Who was already gone.

 

Hers was a desperate prayer, a kind of yearning. The sort of prayer from someone who’s wounded and has no where else to turn.

On the one hand, you could say a grieving mother praying for her little boy makes the whole question of belief even muddier: If there’s a God why should she be in such a position? I get that. Trust me, I get that.

 

Leave those questions aside for a moment because I think there’s a way of seeing that mother’s prayer as the absolute embodiment of faith.

All the good examples of faith in the Gospels are from people just like her.

They’re all people who don’t wait for proof. They just bare their wounds and desperation to Christ.

 

Most of the time we do the opposite. We wait to be convinced before we’re willing to lay ourselves bare to God. We’ve got it backwards from the way faith works in the Bible.

 

That mother in the hospital didn’t have the luxury of waiting for proof, but I wonder if any of us ever do.

 

I wonder if it’s not God that’s the problem.

I wonder if we make it hard on ourselves to have faith by our refusal to let go of control and admit we’re every bit as desperate as those people in scripture who come to Christ with their kids’ lives on the line.

Blessings,

Jason

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I never clicked send. It was a good response, a solid answer, but I didn’t face the question head-on.

 

According to my drafts folder, my second attempt came a couple of days later, on Tuesday, July 1.

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@HeMustNotBeNamed

 

I appreciate your willingness to push back on my thinking. Of course, thinking about God is challenging; however, your suggestion that I suffer from a lack of clarity makes me wonder if you’d meant to send these tweets to @DennisPerry.

 

I’ve always admired folks with unquestioning faith, but I’m not one of them.

 

I sometimes worry the unspoken assumption at church is that everyone’s faith is rock-solid firm when I know the faith of the person sitting next to you is just as likely to be hanging on by the thinnest of threads.

 

Remember all that Harold Camping hoopla a few years ago about the world ending on May 21?

 

A few days before that I was in Old Town walking down the sidewalk and on the corner near Banana Republic were four or five evangelists holding poster-board signs and passing out tracts.

 

I guess it sounds bad for a pastor to say but I hate evangelists. At least the ones who think fear is an appropriate medium to share the love of Christ.

 

According to them the world is going to end on May 21. I guess we’ll see if they’re right. I suppose if they are then you’ll finally have the proof you want.

 

I could tell they weren’t going to let me pass by without an encounter so when one of them tried to hand me a tract, I held up hands and said: ‘I’m a Buddhist.’

 

He gave me his spiel anyway about the end of the world and how ‘only the saved will survive.’

 

Since I was a Buddhist, I thought I should feign ignorance: ‘Saved? How do I get saved?’

 

‘By faith.’

 

‘How do I have faith?’

 

And he told me I needed to accept that I’m a sinner etc, etc.

 

Faith for him was really more like agreement.

 

I’ve spent 19 years learning how to have faith. It’s crazy to me that this evangelist thought that could all be sped up just by getting me to nod my head to a list of propositions.

 

Faith is something you live into, not agree to.

 

Maybe because I’ve had those evangelists on my mind, but I guess I’d say that, just like the scribes and the Pharisees in the Gospels, I think sometimes its religious people themselves who make faith hard for others.

They make it sound painless, quick and rational.

 

It isn’t any of those things.

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Blessings, I wrote. But I didn’t click send that time either. It was a passable way to answer the question. I’d said what faith isn’t, but I hadn’t said what it is.

I tried again on June 7.

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@HeMustNotBeNamed

 

Thanks for sharing your struggles with me. I assume you were only kidding about @DennisPerry getting wearied by me, but- to be honest- @DennisPerry is getting to that age where it’s not really funny anymore to make age jokes.

He’s now so old he deserves sympathy not sarcasm.

 

Actually, knowing @DennisPerry’s workload, it’s difficult for me to imagine how Dennis could be weary from anything.

 

@HeMustNotBeNamed, whomever you are, I’ve been putting off my reply.

 

I couldn’t come up with a good definition for faith, and without that there’s not a really good way to answer you.

 

I think I finally figured out how I want to put it.

 

On Monday morning I spoke to a woman in the community. Her neighbor gave her my number. She and her husband moved here from the West Coast a little less than a year ago.

 

Right after they moved in to their new house, they miscarried their first child.

Two days after the miscarriage they found out that her husband had a rare and advanced form of leukemia.

 

He’s dying and there’s nothing anyone can do.

As she put it to me: ‘He has his bad days and he has God-awful days.’

 

And then she asked if I’d come over and pray with them some time.

Before the End.

 

That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear from her- to pray. To God.

 

I probably looked like I was gawking at her, but to be honest I was marveling. How could she pray? Or have faith at all?

Because if faith was just ‘belief’ there’s no way it could survive what she and her husband were going through.

 

Here’s what I realized again on Monday. Faith is more like trust.

The sort of trust capable of saying to God: I don’t understand you; it seems you’re breaking your word to me; still I trust you; I trust you because it’s you, because it’s you and me, even though my heart is breaking. I trust you.

 

Faith. Is. Trust.

 

This is what it means to have a personal relationship with God, a term I normally don’t like because it sounds exclusionary and sentimental.

 

A personal relationship with God means you and God are together through thick and thin…

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I never finished that reply. Even though I’d figured out how to say what faith is, I still hadn’t gotten behind the ‘why’ of the question. I hadn’t gotten at the problem behind so many of our problems with faith.

 

So I tried again, on Friday the 4th.

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@HeMustNotBeNamed

 

Snark aside, thank you for your question. I’m embarrassed its taken so long to respond. Even @DennisPerry can type faster than this. Well, not really.

 

I could’ve replied much quicker had I dispensed the standard pastor answers: faith is hard because we’re fallen, sinful creatures.

 

God doesn’t make faith easy or obvious for us because God needs to know if we trust him.

 

Faith is hard because it’s a gift from God, some have it.

 

And some don’t.

 

The problem with the standard pastor answers on faith is the same problem as the standard questions we ask about faith.

 

In both cases we assume that when it comes to God and how God regards us it’s our faith in Jesus that’s important, that’s operative.

 

The standard pastor answers and the conventional questions both assume that it’s our faith in Jesus Christ that justifies us, that makes us right with God.

 

The problem though is that that’s NOT how St. Paul speaks of faith.

 

In Romans 3, probably the most important passage in the New Testament about faith, Paul uses two words: Pistis and Christou.

 

The word ‘pistis’ is the Greek word that gets translated as ‘faith.’

 

But the word ‘pistis’ doesn’t mean ‘rational assent’ or ‘belief’’ and certainly not ‘a feeling in your heart.’

 

It means ‘trusting obedience,’ and so the better way to translate the word ‘pistis’ isn’t with the word ‘faith’ but with the word ‘faithfulness.’ 

 

And the word ‘Christou.’

Obviously that’s the word for Christ or Messiah.

Christou is in the Genitive Case.

 

And the best way to translate it is not ‘in Christ’

The best way to translate it ‘of Christ.’

 

When you read Romans 3, you realize Paul speaks of faith in a way that’s very different from how we think of it in our questions and answers.

 

Paul’s not saying we are justified by our faith in Christ. 

     He’s saying it is the faithfulness of Christ that justifies you. 

For Paul, it’s the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah that justifies us.

It’s Christ’s faithfulness that makes us right with God.

It’s Jesus’ trusting obedience, not just on the cross but all the way up to it, from Galilee to Golgotha, that zeroes out the sin in our ledgers.

 

For Paul, Christ’s faithfulness isn’t just an example of something. It’s effective for something. It changes something between God and us, perfectly and permanently. Just like Jesus said it did when he said: ‘It is accomplished.’

 

That’s why, for Paul, any of our attempts to justify ourselves are absurd. Of course they are- because he’s already justified us.

 

What motivates so many of our questions and struggles about faith is the assumption that our justification before God is like a conditional if/then statement: If you have faith in Christ then you will be justified, then your sins will be forgiven.

 

That’s not good news; in fact, it suggests that Christ’s Cross doesn’t actually change anything until we first invite Jesus to change our hearts.

 

But Jesus didn’t hang on the cross and with his dying breath say ‘It is accomplished

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if and when you have faith in me…’

 

No, Jesus says ‘It is accomplished.’

Through his faithfulness- not ours.

 

Think about what Paul’s saying:

your believing, your saying the sinner’s prayer, your inviting Jesus in to your heart, your making a decision for Christ- all of it is good.

But none of it is necessary.

None of it is the precondition for having your sins erased.

None of it is necessary for you being justified.

Because you already are justified- because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

 

That’s it. That’s the good news.

And it’s such good news it reveals how our questions about and struggles with our faith aren’t so urgent after all.

 

You can have a mountain’s worth of doubts and you can have faith as small as a fraction of a mustard seed- no worries.

 

Because your justification, your being made right with God- it does not depend on you or your faith or lack thereof.

 

It depends on Jesus Christ and his faithfulness.

It’s the faith of Jesus that saves us and we simply get caught up in the story of his faithfulness. We participate in it. We don’t agree to it, nod our head to it or even, dare I say it, invite it into our hearts.

 

And this is what Paul freaking means when he calls faith a ‘gift’ from God. He doesn’t mean that some people who have faith have been given a gift while those who don’t have it have been screwed by the Almighty.

No, faith is a gift because it’s Jesus’ faith he’s talking about.

And Jesus, as we learn at Christmas, is a gift given to the whole world.

Even you.

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I clicked send. And, so far, I haven’t heard back.

Vitamix Jesus

Jason Micheli —  May 20, 2013 — 6 Comments

Justified_2010_Intertitle_8064Here is this weekend’s sermon from Romans 3.21-31 for our series, Justified. As a visual, I had boulders form a wall with a chasm between ‘us’ and God to demo how the ‘plan of salvation’ is often illustrated. 

You can listen to the sermon here

      1. Vitamix Jesus
 

Or you can download it in iTunes under ‘Tamed Cynic.’ 

 

A couple of years ago my wife and I made the decision to get rid of our cable; so that, now we get zero channels on our television. You can imagine how popular that decision was with our children (not).

Even though our boys still claim to hate us and curse the day I sealed our cable receiver in its box and shipped it back to Verizon, Ali and I think it was a good and even necessary decision.

     For one, we thought it was ridiculous to keep paying the mortgage payment that is the Verizon cable bill.

 

For another, we didn’t want out kids exposed to a constant stream of advertisements that train them to want and want and want and want and want.

More.

 

Of course, if you asked my wife why we got rid of our cable, she wouldn’t mention any of those reasons. No, she’d tell you it was because her husband- me- is a complete sucker for informercials.

A pushover, she’d say. An easy mark.

And it’s true.

     If I was surfing the channels and I heard the words ‘set it and forget it’ fuggedaboutit, I was hooked, convinced I absolutely needed to be able to rotisserie 6 chickens and a side of ribs at one time.

 

If I was flipping channels and came across the informercial for the Forearm Max, I’d spend the next 2 hours shamefully amazed that I’ve made it this far in my life with forearms as pathetic and emasculating as mine.

 

If I saw the commercial for the Shake Weight, my first thought was never ‘that seems to simulate something that violates the Book of Leviticus, something my grandmother said would make me go blind.’

No, my first thought was always ‘that looks like something I need.’

 

So we got rid of our cable, but that hardly solves my condition.

There are advertisements everywhere.

A few months ago, near Valentine’s Day, Gabriel and I went to Whole Foods to get some fish.

At that point, I’d been on the infomercial wagon for 18 months, 2 weeks and 3 days. But guess what I discovered they were doing back by the seafood section?

Uh huh, a product demonstration.

The person doing the demonstration was a woman in her 20’s or 30’s.

For some inexplicable, yet very effective, reason she was wearing a black evening dress that reminded me of the one worn by Angelina Jolie in Mr and Mrs Smith, which then reminded me of the dress worn by Angelina Jolie in Mr and Mrs Smith. 

Whether the woman doing the demo did in fact look like Angelina Jolie or just had the same effect on me- my memory cannot be trusted.

 

‘Hey, let’s stick around and watch this’ I said to Gabriel, who smacked his forehead with here-we-go-again embarrassment.

 

In addition to the slinky dress, the demonstrator was wearing a Madonna mic which pumped her bedroom voice through speakers, which beckoned all the men in the store to obey her siren call. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The product she was demonstrating that day was the Vitamix.

Have you seen one? Do you own one?

If you haven’t or don’t: the Vitamix is like the Bentley of blenders.

Angelina pulled the Vitamix out of its box like a jeweler at Tiffany’s. And then in her sleepy, kitten voice she went into her schtick:

‘The Vitamix is a high-powered blending machine for your home or your office. It’s redefining what a blender can do. The Vitamix will solve all your blending problems.

With this 1 product, you won’t need any of those other tools and appliances taking up so much space in your kitchen.’

And as she spoke, I wasn’t thinking: ‘Who needs a high-powered blender for their office? Why does a blender need redefining? It’s just a blender.’

No, I was thinking…

‘This could solve all my blending problems. If I have this, I won’t need anything else.’

I looked down at my side, Gabriel was transfixed too.

The first part of her demo she showed off the Vitamix’s many juicing and blending capabilities. But then to display the diversity of the product’s features, she asked the crowd: ‘Who enjoys pesto?’

And like a brown-nosing boy, desperate to impress the teacher, the teacher he has a crush on, I raised my hand and spoke up: ‘I do. I am Italian after all.’

And she smiled at me- only at at me- and said: ‘I’ve always had a thing for Italians.’

Aheh.

‘Can you cook?’ she asked me. And I nodded my head. Like Fonzi, too cool for words.

‘Even better’ she purred.

 

And then she pretended to be speaking to the entire crowd even though I knew she only cared about me.

 

‘Have you ever noticed how the pesto you buy in the store never looks fresh? It’s dark and its oily.’

 

And we all of us, we nodded like Stepford Husbands.

‘But when you try to make pesto at home (and she held up her hands like this was a problem on par with AIDS or world hunger) food processors and traditional blenders just won’t do will they they?’

 

And then she looked my way, like I was a plant in the audience.

 

Hypnotized, I said: ‘No, they won’t do’ even though I’ve been making pesto since I was 10 years old and I can’t say I’ve ever had a problem.

 

She licked some of the pesto off her spoon as though it were a lollypop or a popsicle or… and and then she said in her come-hither voice:

 

‘I’m not married (sigh) but if I was…this is what I’d want…for Valentine’s Day.’

 

I drove my new Vitamix home that afternoon.

 

I showed it to my wife, presenting it to her like a hunter/gatherer laying his bounty at the foot of his woman’s cave.

 

And then I got back in my car and drove it back to the store in order to return it because as my wife pointed out I already had a blender and a food processor and who could convince me to buy this ridiculous thing and what am I, an idiot?

 

Sure, I’m an easy mark, but how could I not be?

Take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about: Commercials and product pitches- they’re more powerful and persuasive than any preacher.

Just think, you’re exposed to 3 thousand advertisements a day. A day. And every last single one of them operates on the same, simple, seductive formula:

 

They identify a problem– maybe a problem you didn’t even know you had until they told you that you had the problem- a pesto problem say.

 

And then they make you a promise: this product can solve your problem (and maybe all your problems).

 

And best of all, it’s easy. All you have to do is make a decision, say ‘yes’ to this product.

 

     There’s nothing else you have to do. 

 

3 thousand times a day we’re told we have a problem and we’re offered a solution and we’re promised there’s nothing more we need to do.

 

3 thousand times a day.

And so it shouldn’t surprise us that many Christians pitch Jesus according to this same marketing formula.

‘Faith in Jesus’ gets treated like a product in a sales pitch. In some churches, this sales pitch is called ‘the plan of salvation.’

The ‘plan of salvation’ makes for great advertising.

It’s simple.

It’s cheap. It hardly costs the customers anything.

And like any good infomercial, it’s lends itself to a visual demonstration.

     First, it identifies a problem: You’re separated from God. 

The emptiness in your life, the sense of something missing, the guilt and shame you feel underneath- it’s because you’re separated from God.

It’s called sin and because of sin there’s a great chasm between you and God.

You’re here and God’s over there.

And there’s nothing you can do, no good deed, no matter how hard you try, there’s nothing you can do to get from where you are to where God is.

    Second- 

     The plan of salvation sales pitch offers you a solution to the problem: Jesus Christ died on the cross so that you might no longer be separated from God. 

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, then your problem? Gone. Shazam.

Your sin? Dealt with. You will be right with God.

You will be “justified” by your faith in Jesus Christ.

     And Third- 

     The plan of salvation- like all sales pitches- ends with a promise too good to be true. 

It’s free. It doesn’t cost anything. There aren’t 3 Easy Payments of $19.95.

     None of the cost is passed on to you.

Better yet, if you choose this product while there’s still time, if you have faith in Jesus Christ, there’s nothing else you have to do, there’s no further obligation required.

 

It says it right here on the packaging: “You are justified not by your works but by your faith in Christ

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For most of you, even if it wasn’t hawked to you in an infomercial kind of way, this is the product you were sold.

The problem is your sin, your separation from God.

If you have faith, if you have faith in Jesus Christ, if you have faith…

Then you’re justified, you’re made right with God.

And there’s nothing else you need to do because you’re justified by your faith not by your works.

For most of you, even it didn’t come packaged in a slick sales pitch, this is the product you were sold.

And maybe you’ve never given it a second thought.

 

     But some of you have. I know.

Some of you were sold this ‘faith in Christ product’ and then one day you took out the instructions.

You took out the instructions, and what did you read there?

Something more than the salesman promised you.

You read Jesus saying that you should be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, and you read Jesus laying down a whole lot of ‘woes’ if you’re not working to be perfect.

 

You read Jesus saying I am the vine and you are the branches and if you do not bear fruit with your faith, then you will be pruned away.

 

You read Jesus warning that ‘when I come back, I will separate the sheep from the goats according to whether or not you gave water to the thirsty or clothing to the naked or food to the hungry.’

Because if you didn’t, Jesus Christ will treat it like you didn’t do it for him.

We’ve all been sold this ‘faith in Christ no more work necessary’ product.

But when you actually open up the instructions to this product, you read Jesus’ brother warning that ‘faith without works is… no good.’

Or you read Paul- Paul!- saying that one day we will be judged by our character, by our work, by our deeds, by the fruit the Holy Spirit has harvested from our faith.

     The promise that was sold to us doesn’t match how the instructions say this product is meant to work in our lives. 

But to discover that, you’ve got to dig into the fine print.

The truth is always in the fine print.

The fine print is always where you realize what the actual cost is going to be.

     And when it comes to fine print, there is no better example than today’s passage from Romans 3.

If you open your pew bibles, you’ll see that today’s text actually comes with fine print- footnotes that imply something far scarier than the fine print in your credit card bill.

The fine print in the case of today’s text- it comes down to just two words: Pistis and Christou.

The word ‘pistis’ is the Greek word that gets translated as ‘faith.’

But the word ‘pistis’ doesn’t mean ‘rational assent’ or ‘belief’’ and certainly not ‘a feeling in your heart.’

It means something closer to ‘trusting obedience,’ and so the better way to translate the word ‘pistis’ isn’t with the word ‘faith’ but with the word ‘faithfulness.’ 

And the word ‘Christou.’

Obviously that’s the word for Christ or Messiah. Christou is in the Genitive Case.

And the best way to translate it is not ‘in Christ’

The best way to translate it ‘of Christ.’

When you read the fine print in Romans 3, you realize Paul is saying something different than what you were sold.

He’s not saying we are justified by our faith in Christ. 

     He’s saying it is the faithfulness of Christ that justifies you. 

Now, I know you’re probably thinking ‘Jason just likes to be a smarty pants and this doesn’t make any difference.’

To the smarty-pants charge: guilty, I say.

But to the other charge: I say it makes all the difference because Paul wants you to see something that is both better news and far more demanding than the ‘faith in Christ’ product that was hawked to you.

For Paul, it’s the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah that justifies us.

It’s Christ’s faithfulness that makes us right with God.

It’s Jesus’ trusting obedience, not just on the cross but all the way up to it, from Galilee to Golgotha, that zeroes out the sin in our ledgers.

For Paul, Christ’s faithfulness isn’t just an example of something. It’s effective for something. It changes something between God and us, perfectly and permanently. Just like Jesus said it did when he said: ‘It is accomplished.’

That’s why, for Paul, any of our attempts to justify ourselves are absurd. Of course they are- because he’s already justified us.

     Dig in to the fine print and you see that, for Paul, the good news of our justification is not a conditional if/then statement: If you have faith in Christ then you will be justified, then your sins will be forgiven.

     That’s not good news; it’s a marketing lure. willjesus

It suggests that Christ’s Cross doesn’t actually change anything until we first invite Jesus to change our hearts.

    But Jesus didn’t hang on the cross and with his dying breath say ‘It is accomplished

     dot, dot, dot

     if and when you have faith in me…’

This is why the fine print’s such a big deal!

Because it’s such better news than the sales pitch.

     Think about what Paul’s saying:

     your believing, your saying the sinner’s prayer, your inviting Jesus in to your heart, your making a decision for Christ- all of it is good.

     But none of it is necessary.

None of it is the precondition for having your sins erased.

None of it is necessary for you being justified.

Because you already are justified- because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

That’s it. That’s the good news.

     You can have a mountain’s worth of doubts and you can have faith as small as a fraction of a mustard seed- no worries.

      Because your justification does not depend on you or your faith or lack thereof.

     But on Jesus Christ and his faithfulness.

 

When you think about it, there’s a reason Paul’s message gets pushed to the fine print. It makes for terrible marketing.

There’s no problem to get your attention.

There’s no bad news to spark your worrying.

There’s no scary threat to provoke your fear.

     Paul’s fine print message could never be an informercial because there’s no visual to demonstrate. The chasm that once separated you from God- it’s gone.

It’s already been repaired. By Christ.

Your justification. Already taken care of.

Paul’s message doesn’t follow the sales pitch formula.

     There’s no problem; there’s just good news.

     There’s no way that’ll sell.

But there’s another reason why Paul’s message gets pushed to the fine print.

Because when you realize that it’s the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that has set you right with God, his faithful life of sacrifice and selfless love, his faithful life of compassion and forgiveness and generosity and boundary-breaking, enemy-embracing love- then you realize…

You can’t just respond to that with “faith,” with “belief,” with “a feeling inside you.”

You can only respond by attempting a life like his- a life that once led to a cross.

You see it’s not there is anything you are required to do. Rather there is now  so much you are summoned to do.

     When you realize and trust it’s the faithfulness of Christ that justifies you, his faithful life all the way to the cross, you realize…

     That what’s been given to you for free- it could end up costing you EVERYTHING.

     And that’s terrible advertising. That’s an awful sales pitch.

     No one would ever buy into that.

     No wonder it’s easier to count ‘decisions for Christ’ than to count people carrying bearing crosses for him.