Continued from Part One
It was an unpopular message that God’s chosen people weren’t any better off than anyone else, and with such candor it’s no surprise that John’s ministry came to an end by beheading. The entitlement problem extended beyond the religious sector into the very government. If John the Baptist challenged the God Club mentality, then Jesus burned it to the ground. He had even stronger words than calling them a brood of vipers.
In John 8, Jesus was teaching a crowd of followers when some Pharisees interrupted Him in protest.
“Why do we need to listen to you, Jesus? We’re already in the Club,” they said.
Jesus retorts by saying that someone cannot be intimate with God when they’re separate from Him, but promised to permanently fix the separation between sinner and Creator. Since the Pharisees would prefer to have their cake and eat it, too, Jesus knows that they want to kill Him for upsetting their apple cart.
The Pharisees throw up their dogmatic defenses—“How dare you? We’re in the God Club!”
Jesus pointed out that there is a huge discrepancy in their logic: Abraham was the friend of God, yet as Abraham’s alleged children they want to kill God’s messenger as their fathers did before them. He has laid their delusion bare in front of a crowd of bystanders.
Jesus already distinguished between the works of Abraham and the works of the Pharisees, so they came back and made a jab against Jesus’ virgin birth. “You say Abraham is not our father, Jesus? Well, your mother is a whore!”
They made it sound pious by claiming God as the ultimate originator of their Club and therefore grants them authority to say such things. How can you argue with an insult that comes from God’s favorite people?
Jesus ignored the sleight because He was secure in His Sonship. If God was truly their father, then they would be on the same page as Him, yet they couldn’t have been further from God’s playbook. They were so self-deluded that the truth itself made them angry. The reason for this, as Jesus so bluntly stated, is that if they had a spiritual father, it was neither Abraham nor God, but the devil. The only club that these Pharisees could lay legitimate claim to was Satan’s.
Now, does all of this mean that Protestant Christianity is really part of Satan’s Club? No, of course not. Many liberating truths came out of the Reformation. What this does mean is that the only requirement for a sinner to find grace is that they be a sinner— because Christ died for the ungodly. Sinners don’t need a church program, an education, or a shower. They only need Jesus, and the Holy Spirit does the rest. If we tack anything extra onto that, then we deem the work of Christ to be insufficient and we have branched off from the Way into our own private God Club. Fellowship and discipleship alike are biblically mandated for healthy spiritual living, but they do not determine salvation or favor with God.
Each person is judged individually, either by their own works or by Jesus’ work which atoned for them. Any notion that we’re part of God’s Club by virtue of our family, our traditions, our national heritage and origin, our church membership or attendance, our religious affiliations, our political values, the schedule we keep, our catechisms and doctrinal confessions, or anything other than our connection to the person of Jesus Christ is completely and dangerously erroneous. There is absolutely nothing in all of Creation that brings us one iota closer to right standing and intimate relationship with God except for the blood of Jesus—and, fortunately for us, it’s pretty effective.
When we truly understand that—when we humbly stand before God with full recognition of our utter failure and inability to reach Him by our own power—then there can be absolutely no room for add-ons or personal preferences. The differences in liturgy and doctrine between believers become utterly petty. The superiority complex that would prompt us to sneer at somebody who worships and sins differently than we do cannot exist in the Church—not if the Church is to remain healthy.
If we congratulate ourselves for being in right standing with God or elevate ourselves over others, we are dishonoring the very grace by which we stand. When we fail to rejoice for the prodigal son’s return and instead hold him in quiet censure like the older son in the parable, God is neither pleased nor glorified; He is grieved.
Who says that we can’t pat ourselves on the back or look down on other people? Well, that’s just not how faith works: you can’t sincerely believe in the grace of God if you secretly think you get access to it and that someone else doesn’t. When Paul says we are justified “apart from the works of the law,” he’s using covenant language which candidly means, “apart from any club.”
Jesus proclaimed at the Last Supper that there is a new covenant in His blood. That means there’s only one God Club in town and it has only three members: the Father, Son, and Spirit. The agreement and covenant was made between the Father and Son and carried out in the Spirit.
There is no elitism. There is no superiority. There is no addendum. There is only grace.
What does this mean for the Church?
In His final moments alone with the disciples before His sham arrest and mock trial, Jesus taught them, empowered them, and even washed their feet as a symbol of their redemption through His obedience. No longer were they just following orders: they were friends. Jesus took care of the fine print; the disciples were free to love Him and act on that without hindrance.
That same promise is available for all present disciples of Jesus—the freedom to walk in the power of His love outside the confines of clubhouse rules. It is by this virtue that the disciples recognized no other basis for unity than the glory of God revealed in His grace. They weren’t united by ecclesiastic tradition, musical taste, or dogmatism. They were united in Jesus as a family. This does not mean that all church traditions and governance are fraudulent or somehow wicked; what it means is that none of them are sacrosanct. They are a temporary operation in the eternal equation.
In Galatians 2, Paul shares about the time he withstood some Jewish believers who thought themselves better than new Gentile (non-Jew) converts. These people were so persuasive that they even made Peter stumble and set himself apart from the Gentile believers. Such hypocrisy (the act of playing two parts) destroys the integrity of any family, and Paul would not tolerate it.
If there is anything which stands between two believers, it needs to be cast aside. If there is anything which hinders our love for the lost, it is in error. The only exceptionalism we ought to embrace is the simple pride and joy that a child has in their daddy, and it ought to compel us to bring the good news of Jesus to everybody – especially if they have missed out on the family of God because they weren’t a good fit for the clubhouse. There is no room for clubs in a family.