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The Great Purge was a political operation in the Soviet Union from 1936-1938 where over 700,000 people were killed. (Some say the number was much larger)
Stalin ordered the murder of any supposed enemies of the government…then anyone who others said were enemies; then those people were turned in by their enemies, and on and on it went.
Children turned in parents, spouses turned in spouses, neighbors their neighbors.
If you wanted someone’s position or possessions or just didn’t like them…turn them in, accuse them of government opposition.
Stalin’s buddies who had helped him into power 20 years earlier were murdered.
In Russia this time is known as the “Times of Yezhov” named after Nikolie Yezhov who was the head of the Soviet Secret Police who led this purge.
Ironically, he was killed in the purge named after him…it was a dog eat dog political culture
Scientists, musicians, artists, clergy, authors…were murdered because they supposedly were enemies of the state.
It was the largest act of terrorism in history.
And it worked…people lived in terror, and fear of each other and the government for the next 50 years.
On average there were 1000 executions a day.
This so called “People’s revolution” which had supposedly supplanted the former “oppressive” Tsarist government, killed more people in four days for political crimes than the Tsars had in 85 years.
Every major revolution in human history (Except for the American) has resulted in dictatorship and mass murder.
This fact demonstrates what happens when humans attempt to force culture change apart from heart change.
Paul understood the order of change.
Individual hearts first, from the inside out.
Then communities of people who have been transformed become transformative communities.
1-11: the facts of the gospel
-What the gospel means for individuals
12-15 the acts of the gospel
-What the gospel means for communities of transformed individuals
Rom. 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” 10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” 12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
15:7 sums up both the facts of the gospel and the acts of the gospel.
“Accept one another, then, just as (because) Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
- Christ has accepted you…therefore
- Accept one another…in order to
- Bring praise to God
This mirror what Jesus said…
John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- Christ has accepted you.
When did he accept you? While you were a sinner (Rom. 5:8)
How has he accepted you? Freely and completely (Rom. 8:1)
What did he do to accomplish your acceptance? Died for you (Rom. 5:8)
The substitutionary atonement of Jesus means that Christ died in order to pay for your sins.
His death substituted for yours (death is the penalty of sin) and he atoned for, or paid for your sins.
Is that a beautiful thing? Not everyone believes so.
“Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy eternal life.” Christopher Hitchens
He is describing the atonement…the central doctrine of Christianity…but he is describing it as a morally repugnant thing.
Richard Dawkins called the doctrine “vicious, sadomasochistic and repellent.”
Dawkins believes that the Christian focus is “…overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin sin. What a nasty little preoccupation to have dominating your life.”
This is a straw man argument…we do start with our sin, but we don’t end there, or focus there.
The Christian focus is overwhelming on grace.
We do not worship because of our sin, we worship because of the forgiveness of sin…its not amazing sin how sweet the sound…it is amazing grace.
The initial point of departure between the Christian faith and atheists like Dawkins is “who/what has always been here.”
He says “stuff” has always been…or everything came from nothing…we say “God” has always been and everything came from him.
From that difference of starting points comes a drastic difference in the root human problem.
He might say “ignorance”
We say “Sin”
From there we would diverge even farther…what is the solution?
He would say I guess “education, or more and better information.”
We say “redemption…grace.”
Sin is not our focus, but it is our reality…and his.
Sin is not some “nasty little preoccupation”
Sin is the root cause of wars, genocide, sex trafficking, financial crises, injustice, family breakdown, social breakdown, immense human unhappiness and suffering due to lying, cheating, slander, stealing, and on and on.
To fail to see sin as it is…is to fail to see reality as it is.
You cannot educate sin out of people, you cannot “teach” people into transformation.
The atheists don’t have a real solution…because they miss the real problem.
If you found out you had cancer it would become the overwhelming focus of your life (not your only focus, but rightfully your primary one)
Your doctors and family would focus on helping you back to health if possible.
All of this in order that you could get back to a focus on something other than cancer. (John Lennox)
Sin is like cancer…it eats up all the other possibilities of life as God intends it.
Sin is rightly the focus before redemption…because it is the cause of all human misery…because it separates us from God.
After redemption (maybe before as well?)…the focus is on Christ not sin.
Sin is the cause of all human misery but it is not our focus because it has no “weight” compared to Christ…and to grace.
There is a theological idea called “The Privation Theory.”
Privation means “a state in which things are lacking”
Cold is the privation of heat.
Hunger the privation of food.
This idea has been used to explain how it is that sin entered the world.
If God created all things, and evil is a thing, then God must have created evil…but he didn’t.
The “privation theory” says no, because evil is the absence of a “thing” not a real thing.
Like cold is the “absence of heat”
So “evil is the absence of good, or righteousness”
Its not a perfect theory…the reality it tries to explain is bigger than anything our minds can fully reason out.
But it is a good and helpful way of thinking about sin…a lack of something.
C.S. Lewis in the “Great Divorce…a book about a bus ride to heaven and hell.
Describes condemned people as having “become their sin.”
One woman who rejects the offer to experience God’s grace and glory in order to keep on complaining ceases to be a grumbler and becomes a “grumble.”
There is no person left…just an eternal “grumble” a sort of echo of a former person.
As the bus comes up from Hell into the foregrounds of heaven…a passenger is looking for where they just came from…it was immense.
“All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at that butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste”
Your root problem and mine…is sin…it is the root problem of all of humanity.
It should be our preoccupation if we have not been redeemed.
Because the consequences of our sin and the sins of others…are certainly going to demand our attention in life.
But once we have been accepted by Christ he, not sin is to be our preoccupation.
It is really important that you understand this.
Eph. 1:5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (KJV)
That is to be your focus…you are accepted in the beloved because of the sacrifice of Christ.
The starting point for social transformation (horizontal revolution) is personal transformation (vertical revolution).
It is “God changing me”
Then it is “God changing us.”
This is why Paul gave 11 chapters of the foundation for personal transformation…the gospel.
Then he moves to 4 chapters of the application of personal transformation to community transformation.
When you are struggling to love others…when others annoy you…make sure you start at the right place in thinking about them and yourself.
Don’t start with how you are annoyed, or with how annoying they are.
Start with how Christ accepted you…then from there consider how you are to accept others God has placed in your life.
Don’t begin with your own sins, or your own insecurity…start with your acceptance into the beloved…then look to accept others into your own heart and life.
- Accept one another (as Christ accepted you)
To “Accept” here is not merely “tolerance”…it is to actively welcome others into your life.
Just as Christ accepted you.
“Just as” could be “like he has” or “because he has”
I accept you in the same way Christ accepted me…fully, freely.
I accept you because Christ has accepted me
It may be both, but in either case the outcome is the same.
We are to accept one another fully and freely…and with Christlike “relational initiative.”
Christ did not wait for to us to take initiative…he came to us.
Perhaps your personality makes this more difficult…then it is all the more likely you will experience the evidence of God’s power in your life if you do take this initiative…because it will be outside your natural abilities or comfort zone.
Perhaps you are busy, or have been hurt, or are insecure or any number of reasons why taking relational initiative might be hard for you.
Again…start at the right place…not your personality, or the barriers to this kind of initiative…start with Christ and how he took relational initiative with you.
If you have tried in the past and have been hurt and you have realistic fears of rejection or getting hurt again…you do not have to abandon wisdom or forget past experiences to “accept one another”
Remember Paul is not naive:
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
It takes two to have relationship.
But you are to be concerned with your own heart, mind…the choices you have…and not be stopped by the choices outside your own control.
But what if how they are living is unacceptable how are you to accept them?
To accept others does not mean we find all they do acceptable.
Certainly Christ accepted me before I was acting acceptably…and that fact is true to this day…he continues to accept me though I do not always act acceptably.
We are to hold fast to what is true but we must bend and flex on things that are largely our own preference, convenience, and opinion.
Most of what divides people is not about foundational truths…it is about minor not major issues.
Even where there is disagreement over major issues…we are to respond in ways that keeps the door open in their lives (when possible) to ongoing relationship…in hopes that they may change in regards to important truth someday.
2Tim. 2:25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
So there is a starting point…how Christ accepted you.
And an ending point…a goal…the glory of God.
The race is run in the middle…but its important to start at the right place, and run towards the right finish.
The starting point…Christ has accepted you.
The race…accept others
The finish line, or goal…the glory of God.
- In so doing you will bring praise to God
In October a runner became the first Italian to win the Venice Marathon in 22 years…it was only his second marathon.
He was helped by the fact that all the favorites took a wrong turn.
A lead motorcycle pealed off to give room for the runners at the crowded finish…the favorites followed the motorcycle.
The winner didn’t.
He was quoted as saying “Today’s race shows that my work is paying off.”
It also shows that running towards the actual finish line pays off as well.
Paul said he didn’t run like a man running aimlessly. (Or with uncertainty) in 1 Cor.
When you struggle with taking and maintaining relational initiative it is important to start with the fact that Christ took it with you.
Then as you continue to move towards others in this way it is important to keep the goal in mind…to run the right direction…you goal is the glory of God.
It is not to run towards personal comfort, preference, or convenience.
This is important because for all people…it will at times be a sacrifice to “accept others in this way”
If you stop because it is difficult it is likely you will stop a lot.
The goal is not personal comfort or convenience…it is God’s glory.
This doesn’t mean you won’t experience joy and satisfaction…you will.
However at times the joy and satisfaction won’t be experienced as you go towards others but rather after you have gone.
It like exercising…most people enjoy “having exercised” more than “exercising.”
It’s why people keep going even when they don’t always enjoy the “doing” because they enjoy the “having done”
And the having done satisfaction lasts longer than the doing discomfort does.
Apply this to moving towards others for their good and God’s glory.
Look to the good of others and the glory of God through your life…that is also where you personally will find your own joy and satisfaction.
Dawkins accused Christians of focusing on “sin”
He’s wrong…or at least he should be.
But I can see how he has gotten that perspective.
Perhaps it is true that the church has talked louder and longer about all the things they are against than what they are for.
Groucho Marx sang a song (1932) called “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
“I don’t know what they have to say it makes no difference anyway whatever it is, I’m against it. No matter what it is or who commenced it I’m against it!
Your proposition may be good but let’s have one thing understood whatever it is, I’m against it.”
It came from a comedy, but unfortunately this is often the perception of how Christ followers approach life.
This cannot be true of us…gratitude should outnumber any other form of speech that comes from our mouths.
Focus on what you are for not what you are against.
Of course we are against things…but its because of what we are for.
Live and speak in a compelling way…who has Christ called you to be?
Speak and think of the liberty he has given you not just the bondage he has rescued you from.
Do the same for others…cast a compelling vision for them as well.
What has Christ done for you and in you?
What has he promised to continue to do?
What has he promised you in the end?
Focus on what you are “for”
-in your own life
-in the lives of others
We must be people who are habitualizing gratitude towards God and grace towards others.
Rom. 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
The starting point: Think and speak often of how Christ has accepted you.
The race itself: Accept others because he has accepted you.
The goal: Do this so that your life will bring praise to God.
In the Psalms the Lord offers us a taste-test.
Psa. 34:8 Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
This means “Try his ways and see what they taste like…they really do taste good.”
The context for that Psalm is not a restaurant but a life threatening challenge.
David wrote this to describe his experience when he had to pretend to be insane to keep from being killed by a foreign king while running from another murderous king.
For the most part “tasting and seeing that God is good” is going to come in difficult contexts.
Moving towards others with “relational initiative” is often going to be a challenge.
Don’t be surprised by this.
It should not be a surprise that the best life possible is difficult…Jesus told that it would.
But moving towards and not away from these kinds of challenges is where we experientially taste the goodness of God.