Saturday, June 04, 2016

Justification by name recognition

When a celebrity dies, especially one steeped in nostalgia from our youth, it is now considered mandatory to lament their passing by pronouncing them "in a better place" and "resting in peace". This is generally true of Christians as well as religious or semi-religious unbelievers, regardless of anything resembling a Biblical understanding of what makes one right with God. At the risk of getting angry responses due to my insensitivity to a recently deceased cultural icon, I tweeted this morning:
That should be common sense for Christians. Whether the celebrity in question is Prince or Michael Jackson or this mornings passing of Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, social media has provided a vehicle for people to express their sense of loss grounded in nostalgia. This morning lots of people are posting "#RIPMuhammadAli" all over social media, including a lot of Christians. I understand that "Rest in peace" is an empty cultural expression like saying "God bless you" when people sneeze but it has the effect of confusing the eternal peace of Christ with a nostalgic farewell. It may seem insensitive but times like this are when it is most important for the church to be crystal clear when talking about what eternal peace and rest look like.

Jesus and the apostles had a lot to say about peace and none of it suggested that peace is the eternal destiny of all mankind. Paul taught that Christ made peace with God by the blood of His cross:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:19-23)

...and in other verses in the same book, some of my favorites in the entire Bible, Paul wrote:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:13-14)

Man is by nature at enmity with God, "children of wrath" but those Christ has redeemed are no longer at enmity with God but are reconciled to Him by His Son's cross and are the only ones who will "rest in peace". If one is not resting eternally in Jesus, there is no peace to be found in eternity. Quite the opposite is true, if one dies outside of reconciliation via Christ your eternity will be anything but peaceful. Cassius Clay died a believer in some sort of Islam/Sufism teaching, and while his precise beliefs are not really apparent what is apparent is that he had not been born-again. No one who is born-again can proclaim a belief system that is contrary to what the Bible teaches. You don't have to believe in Christianity but you can't avoid that reality of the exclusivity of the Christian Gospel. 

Mr. Clay has died and will come before before the Judgement seat with nothing but his own righteousness. His death and the death of other celebrities who are not Christians can be a time of nostalgic reflection but more critically it should be a reminder of how eternally vital the Gospel message is. That message of the cross of Christ is the only way someone, whether an unknown pauper or the most famous person alive, can be reconciled to God and be able to truly rest in peace.

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