Stunning truth

Joseph Tkach provides in his July 2010 letter a clear and concise summary of the stunning truth of the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ. With his permission, I've reproduced below the main body of his letter, and added hyperlinks to the Scripture passages that he references. Enjoy!
In the movie, “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson plays the role of Colonel Nathan Jessup. Tom Cruise plays Lieutenant Lionel Kaffee, who intensely cross-examines the Colonel in a military trial. Exasperated, the Colonel finally shouts, “You want answers?”
Kaffee rejoins, “I want the truth!” And the Colonel famously responds, “You can’t handle the truth!” 
The phrase jars us even as it resonates with John’s Gospel where Jesus declared, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
And that is precisely the challenge: Truth can set us free—but we can’t always handle the truth! The truth is that in Jesus Christ we are already forgiven, reconciled and beloved of God (Colossians 1:20). But in our world of sin-scarred perceptions, we either do not know the truth, and all too often, even if we have heard the truth, we can’t handle it.
The truth is that God loves the whole world (John 3:16), that he sent his Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:17), and that in Christ, God was reconciling all things to himself (Colossians 1:20). The truth is that Jesus draws all people to himself (John 12:32), that everything is under his authority (Ephesians 1:10), and that he wants everyone to come to faith (2 Peter 3:9). 
The truth is that Jesus Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The truth is that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The truth is that God’s patience toward sinners is unlimited (1 Timothy 1:15-16). The truth is that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:4).
All this is how God reveals in the Scriptures his heart toward humanity. God made humans in his own image; they became sinners, alienated from him, and he, loving them intensely even in their sins (Romans 5:6-8), has forgiven and redeemed them through his Son. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” Jesus said [see John 14:9].
When we know God the way he reveals himself, we can say with all assurance of joy, “Therefore, there is [now] no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). “For God,” Paul wrote, “was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
That includes everybody, even you and me.
In the doctrine of the Trinity, God has shown himself to be the God who loves the world and who beckons every person to come to Christ and take part in the joy of life in the household of God. There is no person whom God does not want, whom God does not include, whom God does not love.
In Christ, we are all freed from the chains of sin to come to the Father whose arms are open wide to receive us, if only we will. Christ has drawn all humans into himself, and in him they can share in his relationship with the Father as the Father’s beloved Son. In Christ, we can know and experience the Father for who he really is as our Creator, Deliverer, Redeemer, Father and Friend.
But to most of us, all that doesn’t make sense. It can’t make sense. It’s not fair. It lets evildoers off the hook. It makes a mockery of justice. It’s “soft on sin.”
We understand—we can handle—condemnation, punishment and retribution, but not carte blanche grace, mercy and forgiveness. We understand—we can handle—the kind of “truth” that condemns and punishes sinners, but we have a hard time with the kind of truth that forgives them and sets them free.
Until, that is, it affects someone we love. When it comes to someone we love, we can understand it; we can handle it. We long to see our loved ones forgiven and set free, if only they would also have a change of heart.
Well, God loves everybody, and he not only provides the forgiveness and freedom, he provides the new heart. He provides not only grace and mercy; he provides the righteousness of Christ.
That’s why the gospel is good news. It is the best and only hope for humanity. It is the best and only hope for you and me and everyone we care about. Human beings can never become righteous on their own. But God can, in Jesus Christ, forgive us, heal our minds, and make us righteous.
That is why we preach the gospel, calling on all people everywhere, as far as the Spirit gives us opportunity, to turn to Christ in faith so they can know him for who he really is and know themselves for who they really are in him. 


Anonymous said…
Hi there!

Thank you so much for sharing this letter with us. This letter is so encouraging and uplifting. And it has been my experience that the type of message contained in the letter is a positive one when it is first presented to people.

However, I have also seen a curious thing happen over and over again. It is that other voices come into play that tell these same people, "Well, that is all fine and good. But remember the Bible tells us that we must do stuff, like keep the Sabbath and forgive our brother from the heart, if we want to have God's favor." With this, the positive message of God's overwhelming love for us often collapses in people's minds, and they then get thrown back onto themselves trying to do stuff to earn God's favor. In other words, salvation becomes that old, sad message of an iffy standing with God at best for people.

Do you have any thoughts on this? And should we not be able to respond to these counter voices that easily arise to turn people away from the truth? I am reminded of Peter's admonition:

1 Peter 3:15--But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (KJV)

Just some thoughts based on what I have seen.

All the best!

J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for your comment Richard.

You asked if I have any thought on the issue of Christian behavior.

As you note, it is not uncommon for Christians to be exhorted to obedience to God as though it is our obedience that either secures or maintains our relationship with God.

What is crucial here is to understand that all aspects of our relationship with God are secure in the person and work of Jesus, not our performance. Our obedience is our *response* to this gift, not its cause.

We are well advised to approach this issue of Christian ethics (ethical behavior), as does Paul in his epistles (which often are written to address ethical problems). He always begins his letters by establishing the stunning truth of our identity in Christ, an identity established and secure in Jesus. This is the gospel. Then Paul's exhortation to the believers is (in essence) this: "Be who you are."

It is on this basis that I like to conceptualize the "pathway" (journey) of Christian discipleship as *Belong - Believe - Become." The gospel declares that because of Jesus, we belong. It invites us to receive that through believing, and as we believe, we will (through the transforming power and grace of the Spirit) become (which includes transforming our behaving).

I hope this brief sketch is of help to you.
Anonymous said…
Can you help me understand Romanas 8:9? It says, "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." How does this fit it with the idea that we are already included? There are other verses that I keep reading in my search for truth that push back on the idea of union. Just when I think I believe/understand union first, then communion, or the belong, then believe ideas, I just see all kinds of verses like this through my old lenses. Can you shed light? Thanks!
Ted Johnston said…
How can all be included when Paul here refers to some as not "belonging" to Christ?

The sentence “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” is not meant to be lifted out of context and turned into a proof that some people do not belong to God. In the context of this passage, Paul is addressing believers; he is not making a statement here about non-believers. He is warning disobedient believers who are refusing to submit to the Holy Spirit in their lives.

In effect, he is saying, “You say that the Spirit of God is in you, and you are right. However, your life should be reflecting the presence of the Spirit of Christ.” As Paul says in verse 12, “We have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature…” (see verses 10-17).

Does Jesus not love the person who "does not belong to Christ"? Of course, Jesus loves this person - he died for all people. But because this person is not controlled by the Spirit (is not a believer), they do not subjectively "belong" to Jesus. However, in an objective sense, the person certainly does belong to Jesus, who created them and died to reconcile them to the Father.

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:11: "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." Ephesians 4:6 adds: "One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." All are included—all belong to Christ; but not yet all know it and believe it and therefore do not experience and live out their new life in him.
Michael Assured said…
Hi Ted,

I like your illustration of the discipleship process as a "pathway" that goes from Belonging to Believing to Becoming.

I like it because it does not use the phrase "being saved" in it. I think that is good because while there is a lot of disagreement about who is "saved" and who is not, there is very little disagreement about who is a "believer" and who is not.

Having said that, I have a question about the difference between a person who is a Christian believer and a person who is not.

Assuming that the critical difference between the two is the FAITH that the believer has (NOT as a "work" that is worked up by the believer, BUT as an ENABLING "gift" from God)...
... what does FAITH accomplish in the life of an unbeliever, who already belongs?

Also, when Paul says we are "saved ... through faith" in Ephesians 2:8, what does he mean? Obviously, the faith (that makes one a believer) must be expressed during the life of the unbeliever, since it could not have been expressed at the time that Jesus Christ died. So, what does Paul mean by "saved" in the context of verse 8? And what is the link between "being saved" and "expressing faith" (according to Incarnational Theology)?
Ted Johnston said…
A person who believes participates personally and actively in the salvation that is theirs in Christ. That participation is enabled by Christ through the Spirit and thus, again, it is all of grace, not our works or personal merit. But "all of Christ" includes "all of us."

The faith that saves is not our own, but the faith of Christ (Christ's own faith). When we believe, we participate in Christ's perfect believing (faith) on our behalf. As Paul notes in Gal. 2:20b, "The life I live in the body, I live by the faith of the Son of God" (see the KJV translation which more accuarately translates the Greek as "by the faith of the Son of God" rather than "by faith in the Son of God").

Jesus believes on behalf of all humanity - both believers and non-believers - but only believers share personally in that faith of Jesus, and that faith transforms them.

The salvation of which Paul speaks in Eph 2:8 is the salvation secured for all by Jesus. The word "saved" is in the perfect tense, referring to a past action with a result that continues in the present. Thus what was done by Jesus to save us was an act of pure grace - one accomplished for us when we were "dead in transgressions" (v5). It is a finished work, but one we participate in, and thus live into in the present, stretching into the future when, ultimately it will be ours through our glorification in Christ.

The key point here is that every aspect of our salvation, including the work of faith is that of Jesus on our behalf.

For additional information, see the article at
Diana I said…
The aim is to try to love God as much as He loves you! Rest in His loving arms and ask His Holy Spirit to work in your heart "to love and to do of His good pleasure". I find Christian Meditation helpful. Repeat a few words from the Word that really speak to you with your eyes closed and spend 10 - 15 minutes letting God tranform you. God does the work!