Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Articles of Religion Revisited-- Part 12: The Judgment and the Future State

It is normal to go almost a year between posts right? Not at all, so the three of you who read this I hope that you are blessed. I will be continuing the series that was suppose to take a few weeks that is now over a year, on revisiting the Articles of Religion from the United Methodist Book of Disciple.

So here we go, Article 12:
Article XII—The Judgment and the Future State

We believe all people stand under the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ, both now and in the last day. We believe in the resurrection of the dead; the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation.
Nothing like jumping back in on an easy statement! Today in the Western world there is a high value of equality for all people. Regardless of your heritage, background, lifestyle, sexuality, gender identity, or any other quality by which people find an understanding of who they are, there is a desire to have everyone be treated the same. This Article of Religion shares the idea that we are all treated the same by Jesus. Everyone of us sits under the righteous judgment of Jesus. It is great to see it highlighted that this is not something locked away in some future many have long given up on arriving. No, the judgment we are under is a present reality as well as a future appointment. In other words we are not living for some great future, we are accountable to the life we are living here and now.

Judgment is not a topic I particularly like to think about. The mere thought of sitting under the judgment of Jesus makes me more than a little uncomfortable. This discomfort comes from two places. First, I do not like anyone to hold a measuring stick up to my life. I am far from perfect, yet having an external measure of my righteousness seems unfair. Second, I know that I do not measure up to the fullness of life offered to me through Jesus Christ. I know that as judgment is rendered in the here and now, I fall short. With these two primary reasons in hand, it might be easier to simply skip over the topic and move right to the next Article on Public Worship.

However we cannot simply skip over this matter, because it matters. In the book of Judges, the very last words of the book shed light on why judgment and the future state matter. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 21:25)" For as long as there has been people, people have struggled with being judged, especially when our righteousness hangs in the balance. If we do not have judgment in the equation we constantly find ourselves at the point of Judges. 

My struggle is once we start down the road of judgment there becomes those who are in and those who are out. The words I just typed might be the most offensively true statements of our day. Article 12 is clear about this, there are those who move into life eternal, and those who move into endless condemnation. That just seems wrong by every value of the modern, western world. Clearly God must have had this one wrong, or at a minimum we are not understanding God correctly. The God of love and grace would never create such a differentiation. Right?

The reality is all of us are sinning and fall short of the glory of God. If you have a pulse and are taking respiration, sin is part of the equation of life. It is impossible to flee from all sin, we are too good at finding it. The issue of judgment is not about whether we are sinful, it is about how we respond to our sin. Do we seek forgiveness and ask for ongoing grace to change our ways, to be transformed, or do we simply conclude we can and should live however we see fit?

Judgment is an inescapable part of life. We must take care to remember that it is Jesus that holds us accountable. It is ultimately God who is the one who determines our righteousness. We are not to sit in the seat of the judge. Our role is with love and grace enter into accountability with our fellow travelers so that we may all experience the fullness of life offered to us both here, and now, and in the future. The way we respond to judgment today has a direct impact on how we will respond to judgment at the final resurrection. Our primary question is not whether there is judgment, rather it is whether we will respond to the present judgment with obedience and submission, or will we continue the resistance and rebellion? Will it be written of us, they did was they saw fit?