I hear a great deal about the Christ of Contention today. Christ contends with me for sinning. He contends with me for having the wrong political viewpoint. He contends with the leaders of our nation and our churches for leading his people astray. He contends with our nation and our churches for not falling on our faces before him in worshipful repentance and submission. He contends with me for being sick, when I don’t have the faith to be healed. He contends with me, because I drink, dance or smoke, and curses me with cancer or AIDS, because I have not stopped these evil habits. Most of all he contends with me because I am gay. Today, homosexuality is more contentious than any other matter with the possible exception of slaying a child in the womb. Christ of Contention has become the Messiah of much of media-Christianity! Salvation is something that happens to those of us who hate all these things, have the correct political viewpoint and receive Christ as our personal Savior. It sounds moral, but it really is legalistic. It is called the good news but it is definitely not the Gospel.
What does the Bible say? The Scriptures reveal that when I had no strength at all, spiritually, and when I was doing and saying the most ungodly things, Christ died for me (Romans 5:6, 8). Far from contending with me, this Scripture says,
“God demonstrates his own love for…” (me). [NIV– parenthesis mine]
The word translated “demonstrates” is sunistao (G4921), and means “to set together, introduce (favorably) or stand near.” That is, God has bound himself to me. He has identified himself with me by standing near me, while I was yet sinning without a care! The Scriptures go on to say, that while I was still God’s enemy, he reconciled himself to me at the cross (Romans 5:10). The mental picture I receive here is of this crazy man beating the face and chest of this Kind Person who lovingly wraps his arms around the other who is bent on destroying everything. This is my Good News, and I am overcome not by threats of the Christ of Contention but by the goodness and kindness of my Savior God (Romans 2:4).
One of the saddest things I see today in some of Christianity is its preoccupation with sin. The good news seems to be all about sin: “Root it up, stomp it out, sever it from our lives or the Lord will finally burn us up!” Indeed, sin is evil, subtle and destructive. It captures me and brings me under its power (Romans 3:9; 7:14; Galatians 3:22), but how am I able to root up, stomp out or sever anything from my life, when the evil thing is stronger than I am? Remember, according to the Scriptures, I am helpless (Romans 5:6). I am afraid of this Christ of Contention preached by some today. How can I draw near to him? He wants to burn me, because I am unable to obey his commands.
I am unable to see Jesus in the Christ of Contention. Jesus and the Law cannot be preached together and still honestly call the message the Good News! We may think Christ of Contention is needed today, and call what we believe good news, but the world knows better. If the Law is able to save me or make me one iota more righteous, then Jesus died in vain. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Law. The problem is with me. I will never keep it! Name one person besides Christ who has. I do not intend to skirt this issue by claiming that Jesus’ death empowers me in the Spirit to keep it either. His death did no such thing (Acts 15:10). That is emphatically not what the cross is all about. The Law was given to man for two reasons. First, the Law was given to keep sin in check (Galatians 3:19; cp. Mark 10:4-6). Secondly, God gave the Law to reveal or show us how weak we really are. He gave the Law to show me my sin and reveal what my heart is too blind to see. I am an ungodly sinner, desperately in need of a Savior (Romans 7:11-14; Galatians 3:19, 23-25). God never meant for me, an unrighteous sinner, to keep the Law. How could he? It cannot be kept by a man lusting to have his own way (Romans 8:7).
The Law reveals sin, and it has done its job. Even the world is not confused about the Law! If they have any knowledge at all about the Law, generally speaking, they know right from wrong. If they were confused, they wouldn’t hide their sin. Men and women holding high offices would not have secret lives. Nevertheless, as Christianity is being rejected more and more in our nation and in the world today, blindness and confusion is becoming the natural fruit of rejecting the cross.
If the Law has indeed done its job, where do we go from here? The where is the cross! The Good News is Jesus dying for our sins so we could be saved. The where is Calvary! Jesus makes me righteous. This righteousness is not accomplished by me. It is a gift to me. The fact is: Jesus is my righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6; 1Corinthians 1:30). I once lived Adam’s life, and the Law condemned me, because it was unable to make me righteous (Romans 7:9-19; 8:7). In Adam, I am in rebellion against God. I cannot please him. Now, however, I live Christ’s life. In the same way that the law of gravity has no authority over the law of aerodynamics, the Law has no authority over Christ’s life (1Timothy 1:9). Does this mean it is okay to sin? Of course not, as long as Christ (and him crucified) is my focus I will not sin. This is so, because he didn’t sin. Following Christ or living his life will never lead to sinful behavior. Certainly, if I live the life of Adam (by not abiding in Christ, cp. John 15:4-8), I need the Law to keep me in check (1Timothy 1:9-10). If I live the life of Christ, I don’t need anyone or anything else to make me righteous. He is enough!
The rebellion of Eden is simply that Adam tried to do what only God could do. Adam was created to rule over all the works of the hands of God (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:6; Hebrews 2:7), yet he was to be ruled by God, not by force, but willingly. This doesn’t mean that God had to tell Adam everything he must do all day long. No, that would have taken away Adam’s authority over creation. What this means is God was to be Adam’s focus. If Adam continuously worked from the standpoint of God being the defining principle of all he thought and did (1Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:23), he never would have gotten off track. He rebelled by changing his focus from God to self! It is understood that the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-28) would show or reflect what God would do in any given circumstance, but Adam wanted to live out what was right in his own eyes. He saw the tree of knowledge of good and evil (the Law, cp. Romans 3:20; 7:7) as something to make him like God on his own. Adam desired something he could readily understand, and it really looked like this tree would make him like God (cp. Genesis 3:5).
This is the gospel according to Adam, namely that I need something other than Christ to make me righteous or acceptable to God. Nevertheless, all I really need is Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross to justify me, and his resurrected life in me to make me righteous. Yet, I hear so much of Adam’s gospel, that says Christ died so that I would be able to keep the Law. There is nothing new or good about this news, and it certainly does not come from the cross. This is a Gospel of self dependence about keeping the Law, namely, eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:5; Romans 3:20). Let Jesus be lifted up before the world. Let the cross be seen. I want to glory in nothing but the cross; my only boast is Jesus (Galatians 6:14)! He did it all! Praise his name forever. I trust him to lead me. I trust his life to be my righteousness. I trust him to bring me to no harm.