When we are living in self-sovereignty…we see no need to repent…to ask God’s forgiveness for our shortcomings…because our self-evaluation is conveniently biased toward a lower, more tolerant standard.
The pride of self-righteousness gives us a false standard to go by. Because we are in charge…sitting atop the decision-making thrones of our lives…we give ourselves a pass on our shortcomings. Without giving it a second thought we look the other way…make excuses…sweep things under the rug. We optimistically say to ourselves: “We’re not so bad.” We subscribe to the idea that “no one is perfect.” In self-sovereignty we have no one “looking over our shoulder”…evaluating the quality of our lives.
And we genuinely accept this favorably biased self-appraisal as valid and “normal” according to conventional thinking.
When we are living in self-sovereign self-reliance…we unilaterally forgive ourselves…because God is nowhere in the picture. Absent a God in our lives having an alternative higher standard…we have nothing else to go by other than the standards of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.
If we step back a moment and take a mezzanine view of life…the blindly presumptive arrogance of human self-autonomy is nonsensical…it doesn’t stack up…it doesn’t hold water.
Self-autonomy is based on the erroneous idea that we are in complete control of our lives. What untrue and unsupported evidence lies behind this grand notion for our guidance in life?
Every innate human attribute…without exception…has no source or origin within ourselves. We do not choose the time-period or the location in which we enter this world. We do not choose our parents or our extended family. We do not choose…before birth…to be physically beautiful or handsome, or to be intelligent, to have gifted athletic ability, or a savvy business acumen, or the politically social ability to influence and lead other people. We certainly have no control over how long we live.
Some people show their specific God-given talents at a young age…long before mature cognitive reasoning or the independent ability to make rational choices begins.
The famous concert pianist Van Cliburn…when he was three years old…mimicked at the piano the simple piano piece that he had heard five minutes before…played by a departing student of his piano-teacher mother…Van climbing up to seat himself at the piano while she had gone into the kitchen to start preparing dinner. Hearing the piano piece being played again, she came out of the kitchen saying: “Johnny you must go home now…your mother will be expecting you” only to find her young son sitting alone at the piano instead…having repeated the musical melody nearly note-for-note played a few moments previously…entirely by ear without ever having touched the piano keys before.
We do not choose our individual abilities and talents…we discover them. They are innately built into us…and not a matter of our choice at all.
The universally accepted and basically unquestioned principle of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…that we have a right to the self-autonomous opportunity to prove our self-worth according to the dictum of the Frank Sinatra song “I Did It My Way”…reveals that there is something fundamentally wrong…something oddly amiss…something that does not add up…in this taken-for-granted equation for life that has us sitting atop the thrones of our lives as if we actually knew what we were doing…as if we possessed our individual play-book for our optimum life.
If people entered into life with an accompanying Instructions Manual…an Owner’s Operation & Maintenance Manual…that applied specifically to each of us…then self-autonomy might make sense. If we possessed foresight into our individual abilities and capacities upfront…early on…that was obvious to everyone and to ourselves…then going it on our own would simply be a matter of autonomously following through on the information…of connecting the dots…of “painting by the numbers.”
The idea that we can “run our own show” without God…is a fatally flawed concept that should be obvious by virtue of the fact that we do not come with an Owner’s Operation Manual. Some crucially important factor is missing on one or the other side of the “equals sign” in the equation of life. We act like we are independent, self-sovereign operators…yet we do not have the Instructions Manual as to how each of us works best.
And we are violently offended when anyone even begins to question our “right” according to worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…to live our lives according to the dictum “I did it my way.”
Self-sovereignty versus God-sovereignty should be the number one priority…at the very top of the list of life questions to resolve before anything else…yet curiously it is not.
Self-sovereignty is the unquestioned, presumptive, crowning jewel of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking. It is the central governing principle. It is the pride-filled guiding light of the human life lived apart from God. It is defended to the death by all those radically committed to its cause.
How does this relate to Jesus and politics?
2 Corinthians 10:18 reads: “For not he that commandeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commandeth.”
John 5:44 reads: “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?’
Matthew 23:11-12 reads: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
Matthew 23:13 goes on to say: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”
The obvious critical question is: “go in where?” The answer cannot be scholarship…the scribes and Pharisees were the most highly educated people in Israel (Jn. 5:39, 7:15, 9:34). The answer cannot be political power…as they were already the ruling elite in Jerusalem (Jn. 9:22).
The answer to the question of where we should enter in order to go in…can only be God-sovereignty. The answer is to enter into God-composed journeys of faith as patterned for us in the biblical narrative stories of faith…at the time of this statement of Jesus these would be the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Old Testament…Noah through Malachi…the New Testament Book of Acts having not occurred yet.
The one offending thing that gets the perfect Person Jesus Christ all the way to the indignity of the cross is the very thing that worldly conventional normalcy and thinking celebrates…which is self-sufficient self-sovereignty.
What will violently offend a person that is committed to self-reliance quicker than anything is to suggest our need to repent of the direction of our lives…to question our life management skills sitting atop the thrones of our lives as a junior god…to instead submit ourselves to the will and ways of God…thus wounding our pride.
Anyone who has ever been on the tipping-point of repentance…at the point of accepting Jesus Christ into our lives…or rejecting Him…knows that control is the bottom-line issue at stake. The choice is to reject Christ and continue to maintain sole control over our lives…or to accept Christ and surrender our lives to Him as the new Lord and Master in our lives.
This is fundamental to Christianity…but it is an integral component of every positive adventure of faith recorded in the Bible.
How could this singularly perceptive insight…recorded in the Bible…about entering in at the worldly unconventional point of God-sovereignty…possibly be the product of humanistic literary invention?
When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist at the river Jordan…to check out what all the fuss was about this prophet preaching in the wilderness of Judaea…John said to them as recorded in Matthew chapter three:
7 But when he say many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits befitting for repentance.
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the granary; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
In speaking with such courageous boldness and candor to the Pharisees and Sadducees…John the Baptist goes straight to the point.
John the Baptist does not tell the ruling elites in Israel to improve their political, cultural, and social approach…or their personal piety…while remaining within self-sovereign self-rulership. John the Baptist does not suggest an outside-to-inside approach that will produce godliness in these religious and political leaders.
John the Baptist takes the approach of inside-to-outside…of repentance that leads to God-sovereignty…which will produce fruits befitting repentance actualizing into better leadership, decision-making, and government of the people throughout the nation of Israel in the first century.
This brings us to one of the most important and influential verses in the Bible in terms of human politics and culture:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
This is the biblical concept: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; Hab. 2:4) and the verse written by Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 that Martin Luther re-discovered that led to the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther brilliantly realized that works performed within self-sovereignty such as indulgences, pilgrimages, and the veneration of relics…fabrications out of the minds of men having no power to save…have no functional place within God-sovereignty having salvation by grace through faith.
“That not of yourselves” for Luther obviously did not include indulgences, pilgrimages, and relics designed primarily to raise money for the building of St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome…and we are indebted to him for this insight that very nearly cost him his life…when again in human history self-sovereignty violently clashes with God-sovereignty.
The fundamental take-away in this struggle between self-sovereignty and God-sovereignty…is that if we repent and cross-over from self-rulership to surrendering and yielding our lives to Jesus Christ…that from that time forward God is going to do it His way (Isa. 53:6, 55:8-9).
The ruling religious and political elite in Jerusalem at the time of the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ…put themselves forward through the pride of self-righteousness.
This is the direct opposite of the biblical-quality journey of faith in which people submit themselves to following God’s leading for their lives.
What led to the cross at Calvary was not entirely that Jesus claimed to be divine (Jn. 5:39, 6:40, 6:48, 8:12, 8:36, 10:30, 19:7) or that He inferred or admitted to being a king (Jn. 18:31-37, 19:12-15, 19:19-22)…but primarily the perceived threat to the political leadership of the religious elite in Jerusalem that was based upon the worldview of maintaining and protecting their self-sovereign self-rulership.
Politics and the cross come together with deadly impact at the point in time when the ruling religious elite in Jerusalem realize that Jesus has become a real threat to their self-sovereignty…the control over their own lives…after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead:
“Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (Jn. 11:47-48).
If we love God with all of our heart and mind…and our neighbor as ourselves (Mk. 12:30-31)…we will not be self-serving…but this can only be actualized living in a God-composed journey of faith…within God-sovereignty.
Jesus and politics are connected at the very root…the essence…of good leadership principles that are universal and eternal in their application and outcomes…in the earthly life of Jesus and in our lives as well.
A perfect life as demonstrated by the perfect Person Jesus Christ…the Son of God…will be in absolute God-sovereignty…perfectly following a God-composed journey of faith life-script…without any shortcomings or missteps.
Living within God-sovereignty is also accessible and attainable by non-perfect, non-divine human beings…saved by graced through faith and not of works.
This is how Jesus is able to say in John 8:36…”If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” If we cross-over from self-sovereignty to God-sovereignty…and find our footing within our adventure of faith following Jesus Christ as Lord and King in our lives…then we are forever safe from the temptation to become rebels again in the kingdom of God.
If the reader will indulge me further in this already too long opening chapter…I would like to make a few final points to tie together the commonsense apologetic arguments put forward so far…for the divine origin of the Bible and its gospel message.
When Abraham is asked by God to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnet offering…after the long adventure of faith Abraham had experienced up to this point…the human side of him must have thought: “What do I have to do to bring to closure this called-out journey of faith? Will I ever reach the end-point victory in what God has scripted for my life?”
As Joseph languishes in the prison of Pharaoh in Egypt…having failed in his attempt to gain release through the butler and baker…prior to the dream given to Pharaoh by God…Joseph must have entertained the thought that the two prophetic dreams he had as a young man back in Canaan will never be realized. With each day Joseph performs his duties as a prisoner/caretaker in Pharaoh’s prison…with no foreseeable scenario for escape…Joseph is looking failure square in the face.
As Moses travels back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelites…certainly Moses is entertaining the possibility of utter failure and the sheer magnitude of his called-out assignment to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land of Canaan.
As David is being chased for his life by King Saul…surely David must think to himself at various times that this unanticipated development…and especially at the time of the disaster at Ziklag…that this was not part of the information given to David upfront at the time he was anointed to become king by the prophet Samuel.
On Saturday after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as he lay dead inside the rock tomb of Joseph of Arimathea…Peter is wondering where and how everything seems to have gone wrong…and how he has fallen short of his potential and calling to be a leader of the presumed future Christian church…with the living Jesus as its head in Jerusalem.
The day after Jesus Christ reveals Himself to Saul/Paul in a brilliant light on the road to Damascus…as Paul sits inside the house of Judas on the street named Straight…temporarily blind…Paul must have contemplated the absurdity of God choosing him to take the message of Jesus Christ as Messiah to the greater Greco-Roman world at-large.
2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. 1 Corinthians 1:27 tells us that God has chosen the weak to confound the mighty.
The final compelling commonsense argument that ties together the key points in this first chapter…is that Jesus Christ as the Son of God…cannot be weak…but He can be a failure in terms of the appraisal of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.
Looking back in time upon the first advent of Jesus Christ…He is all of Isaiah 9:6, Psalm 22, and Isaiah 53 combined into an unimaginably complex life-script.
Jesus Christ can exhibit divine humility in order to connect with us where we are…can askew participation in contemporary politics and cultural wars…can preach world-changing new doctrines and work miracles befitting the Son of God…but to make it all the way to the cross of Calvary to shed His blood as the Passover Lamb of God…Jesus must be a failure in life in terms of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.
This is how you get a perfect Person Jesus Christ to the cross at Calvary.
What is truly remarkable from an apologetic standpoint and an inspirational viewpoint…is that God is capable of composing a life-script for Himself that challenges the divine character of the divine Son of God Jesus in the two major areas in our discipleship that challenge us the most.
In Luke 22:42 it famously reads: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”
Jesus cannot be outside of God-sovereignty…He is God…the second Person of the Trinity.
Yet the fact that Jesus has difficulty…in the Garden of Gethsemane…with His upcoming ordeal in taking upon Himself the sins of the world the next day…tells us that in making the difficult transition from self-sovereignty to God-sovereignty…that amazingly God has been there Himself and can help us in this regard.
Likewise for those called-out Christians today enlisted to be medical missionaries in the Amazon rainforest, or pastors of small town churches, or Bible college professors on a teacher’s salary, or street evangelists in the poor sections of major cities, or foreign missionaries called to plant new churches around the world…along with a host of other tasks misunderstood, unappreciated, and disdained by worldly conventional expectations…the fact that the perfect Person Jesus Christ was also a failure according to conventional normalcy and thinking…tells us that God has purposely been there Himself and can help us in this regard.
How to get a perfect Person Jesus Christ all the way to the cross…yet maintain perfection in order to quality as the blemish-free Passover Lamb sacrifice for sin…while setting up the context of a life-script that would enable God to experience in a human body humility, self-discipline, and the unimaginable element of failure…all for our benefit…is simply beyond human imaginative creation.
Chapter Two starts with a discussion of another commonsense apologetic argument for the divine origin of the Bible…and the existence of God…which is the delicate balance between belief and unbelief.