Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Not only for missionaries

I've been reading a very informative book called Honor and Shame*, written by Roland Muller, a missionary in Yemen and Jordan for about thirty years. It's about communicating the essence of the gospel in shame-based cultures. The cross of Christ has purchased more than just freedom from the guilt of our sin, but there Christ also bore our shame (Isa 53.3-4; Heb 13.12-13) and has lifted us up into God's honor as a child of his. We no longer need to cower away from him, as if our continuing sin makes us unfit as objects of his love and blessing.

Through this, I'm realizing how even we in the West need this gospel truth. Don't we so often want to run from God in fear and shame at our unworthiness to come into his presence? Yes, we are unworthy, but to still live that way is to make the cross null and void. We are elect in the Elect One, holy (already!) in the Holy One, adopted and joint-heirs in the Son, redeemed in the Redeemer, and loved in the Beloved (Eph 1.3-14). What reason have we to run from God and join in the songs of his people? None! Of course Satan will tempt us to despair and want us to hide from God and feel bad about ourselves--this keeps our eyes off of Jesus and his sufficiency.

"Almost all [Arabs] agree that someone can honor you but you cannot honor yourself. However, people with honor seldom honor others without cause.
"This is where we must be bold in proclaiming the gospel. The gospel that Jesus brought, is simply this: God wants to lift man from a position of shame to a position of honor. When Jesus said, 'I am the way,' this is what he was referring to. Jesus is the only one who can bring us into the presence of God the Father. This is why Jesus had to be God. No one else would do. Only God could reach down to mankind [and lift us from our shame into his honor]" (pp. 98-99). What a beautiful truth! (Muller does write further that what he means is that this is the essence of the gospel for the Eastern world, or a starting point perhaps, from which we can work toward the fuller picture of Christ's redemption from guilt, fear, and shame.)

Muller also writes: "It was not by mere chance that Jesus was born into a stable in Bethlehem, and that his death on the cross took place in the city of Jerusalem. The cross of Christ stands firmly at the crossroads of history. To the west are the guilt-based cultures of the world. To the south are the fear-based cultures, and to the east are the shame-based cultures.** And in the midst of all of them, the cross of Christ stands as a strong, bold message of peace on earth and good will to all mankind" (p. 110).

[And for Ryan: I do not deny in the least that our sanctification is accomplished by the imputed righteousness of Christ. In heaven it is a finished deal, signed, sealed, and delivered. But God in his grace works within us as well even now to lead us into following our Shepherd (Php 2.13; Heb 13.20-21). The good transformation is not from us, but all of God, and therefore inseparable from his graces and redemptive work through the Spirit purchased by the blood of the cross. What a blessing it is that God works to cleanse us even now and purify our faculties so that we can apprehend small glimpses of him even now while on earth!]

*Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (Xlibris Corporation, 2000).
** Keep in mind that many cultures don't operate strictly within one of these worldviews, but often have aspects of two or all three. The Semitic (Abrahamic) peoples of the Near and Middle East have largely been in shame-based cultures since OT times, including first-century Palestine.

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