October 7, 2015
Guest blog by Chris Cruz.
On a random and uneventful evening, Heaven was eager. The Holy Spirit rushed into my life and took me straight into His heart. Death and resurrection were my portion that night. I was a new person: the Holy Spirit buried an unsatisfied, hurt life, and raised me into something out of this world. I began walking on a new road that night – a road paved by a passion to know God.
I was a college student at the time. I thought grades, success, money, or anything good was determined by whether God was upset with me. Plainly put, my shortcomings led me to fear His vengeance. He was forgiving, but also punishing. I loved God, but was afraid of Him. Have you ever been there?
I craved clarity – my heart needed a resolve. I felt in over my head. I needed my vision of God to undergo a radical revision. My theology was perpetuated by altar calls from frantic pastors hoping to appease God’s vengeance. I didn’t know anything else!
My unsettled heart manifested in my worship: it became a confession booth. It’s how I kept God at bay. I anticipated His vengeance before His mercy. I imagined blessings as delayed or postponed until further notice. Trusting Him made me weary, because my sin turned Him to Zeus throwing bolts of lightning from the heavens in the form of bad grades and unfortunate events. In my heart of hearts, I knew this needed to change. I couldn’t survive the mood swings of heaven.
My soul was asking what the great theologian A.W. Tozer says is the “gravest question before [man]…what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” I didn’t expect what God would uncover for me. I had no clue how God wanted to reveal Himself.
This radical revision of God began with Bill Johnson saying, “Jesus is perfect theology.” This tore through my traditional thoughts on God and the cross. I felt shoved by the Holy Spirit to explore the Scriptures and my theology. I felt urged to go past perceptions, and I found what felt like an entirely different God. God wanted to rescue me, but in a different way. He wanted to rescue me from Himself–well, the false idol I made of Him.
I learned a radical truth, offensive to all religions of the world: Jesus is God’s self-revelation. God is best known in Jesus. God, revealed in His heart of hearts, is exactly like Jesus. This truth changes everything. It tells me Jesus isn’t the nice side of God, but the clearest definition God wanted made of Himself. I started devouring the Gospels, the New Testament’s weighty descriptions of grace, and Jesus Himself as the image of the invisible God.
I found out Jesus isn’t the sideshow of heaven trying to make people feel safe. He’s the EXACT imprint of God’s divine nature! Jesus’ life and ministry leading up to the final act of crucifixion was an UNRAVELING of the flawed and deceptive interpretations of His character. Jesus simultaneously enlightens us to the true revelation of God. I would dare say the self-sacrificing love shown in the crucifixion is what God had in mind as our theological cornerstone.
Christ frames the entire conversation on the nature of God. The Father intended us be confident in His nature by what we see in Christ. The reality of the incarnation of the Word of God rearranged every thought I’ve ever had about Him. I finally met the Father revealed in light of the Son, and scales fell from my eyes as my deception faded away.
Jesus enlightens us to the Father’s true nature.
We can see with new eyes. He’s loving – full of mercy and grace. God desires to be known not by his anger, but by His self-sacrificing love. Known for taking our sin upon Himself rather than punishing us for it.
Two events in the gospel narrative really helped fuel the overcoming of my deception of a vengeful God. The first is in the gospel of John chapter 8 – the woman caught in the act of adultery.
Simply put, the woman is caught in sin and the religious leaders think God’s plan for her is death. They want to inflict vengeance for God via throwing stones at her. It was how they saw God, and it sounds a lot like the God I had in college. These Pharisees who claimed to know God’s character brought her before Jesus.
Jesus, the self-revelation of the Father, gives the entire audience permission to kill the woman under one criteria, the man without sin can throw the first stone. Jesus says they can follow through with their judgment and execute her, but only by the one who can stand under that criteria. That person alone has the right to judge her.
I don’t know if you caught it, but Jesus was talking about Himself. He was the only one without sin. He had the right to punish her – and if He did, then He confirms God’s vengeance toward us. But Jesus doesn’t stone her, and those ready to condemn her left one by one. He picks her up and points out that her condemners left. The only one left, who CAN kill her, forgives her.
HE LETS HER GO! OFF THE HOOK! It’s crazy – before, if I even looked at a woman wrong, I anticipated a week of chaos. This shook me up. My image of God before Christ was ready to throw stones. Heck, I even thought He already threw a few. Jesus enlightened the Father, and pressed the delete button on my vengeful image of God.
The next event that changed my perception was the crucifixion narrative, and the last words of Jesus before death.
Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
A murdered God’s famous last words.
Those are the words labored by Jesus at His crucifixion; His death at the hands of bloodthirsty, violent Romans. An innocent man, dying on the cross. Vengeance feels like a proportionate response to me – but it didn’t with Jesus.
He was handed “every right” by the standard of “fair justice” to give an equal retribution. If there was a moment to start an insurrection and burn the city out of vengeance towards sin, this was it. It was man’s worst crime, the killing of God. The sinful had their way with Christ, murdering Him undeservedly.
Jesus’ response brings the true God into focus with such a convicting blow that it eradicated any remaining fear of His vengeance. Jesus last words hit the ears of His oppressors, telling them there’s a way back – whether the murderers decided to hear it or not. It wasn’t “I will come back for you and your families for your sin.” His justice wasn’t an eye for an eye. He left them with no concern of His revenge.
He left them with a way out, telling them “I don’t count this against you.” This kind of violence and murder creates tyrants out of men, but for God it became the ultimate showcase of His true nature. God decided He wanted reconciling love as the mark of His nature. I love how Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian and Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity, depicts the cross. He says it is “the giving up of God’s self in order not to give up on humanity…the arms of the crucified are open—a sign of a space in God’s self and an invitation for the enemy to come in.” The New Testament is clear: we considered God to be our enemy. And His arms were opened up to us.
My vision of God was pleasantly torn down and rebuilt, but this time on the foundation of the incarnate Son of God. The clarity of Christ shakes me with unmatched grace. Worship now transcends any previous height, as I taste His kindness. I no longer keep one eye open around Him to feel safe – His forgiveness eclipses any concern of harm.
This might challenge you, and I imagine your passion for holiness might be reaching for the “but He…” aspects of your theology. Trust me, this isn’t a careless Father. He invites us to attempt to exhaust His inexhaustible kindness, and this leads us to repentance. His trust in the transformational power of His grace shames our attempts to force holiness through punishment. He’s not indifferent or irresponsible with sin – He’s a Father who instead guides us with correction and correction isn’t punishment.
When the MO of heaven is reconciliation, through the means of not counting our trespasses against us, we feel the scandal of His grace. We can obsess over those who abuse grace, while God chooses instead to keep running out to meet them as they return home. I don’t claim to have it all worked out; I understand there’s mystery regarding certain passages of Scripture. I simply want to take seriously the authority Scripture gives to know God through Christ and see Him as the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus overcame my deception of His vengeful alter ego. I come to Him to be clothed and picked up, not embarrassed and punished. He dusts me with off with a holy disregard for my mess and leaves me with no threats. I expect His mercy every morning. My worst moments are opportunities to know His grace. I don’t fear the retribution of a vengeful deity: I wake up basking in His pleasure over me. His kindness has kept me from sin with far greater success then any threats of punishment ever did.
Here are some verses to spend time meditating on:
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
2 Corinthians 4:4-6
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
2 Timothy 1:9-10
1 John 5:20
Chris Cruz is a husband, pastor, speaker and blogger. He serves on the leadership teams at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry and Tribe Young Adults at Bethel Redding. His role includes preaching, mentoring interns and pastoring students. Chris loves to see the church be a cultural influence for positive change in the world, and he lives to see heaven and earth become one. In his free time, Chris and his wife, Lana, love exploring and experiencing different cultures and cities. Chris is an avid creative, pursuing outlets that vary from graphic design to handmade leather goods. He also has a love for craft coffee and a slight fascination with raw denim.
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