Monday, June 30, 2008

Frontline Savior

by Shawn Brace

I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to figure out if I should read the Preface to a book or not. I figure if the author had something extremely important to say, he would just state it in the chapters. Why place it in the Preface?

But recently, while reading C. S. Lewis’s classic, Mere Christianity, I decided to give the Preface a try. And as I sifted through the first couple pages, about ready to give up on the rest of it, I came across a delightful idea that struck a chord with me. Using simple imagery, Lewis writes, “Ever since I served as an infantryman in the First World War I have had a great dislike of people who, themselves in ease and safety, issue exhortations to men in the front line. As a result I have a reluctance to say much about temptations to which I myself am not exposed.”[i]

I’m sure this simple idea resonates with you. As pastors, we don’t really enjoy advice from individuals who have not walked in our shoes before—or even those who haven’t been in them for a few decades. We also see this in our members, who take more comfort from us when they know that we can identify with their struggles. Just this past Sabbath, in fact, one of my church members shared with me, as she walked out after my sermon, that she really appreciated my openness about some of the struggles I face. Somehow, when our church members know that we, too, are human, they are a lot more willing to listen to our words of encouragement.

But beyond that, Lewis’s words, though unintentional, speak to our relation to God as well. The Bible is replete with words of encouragement, advice, and commands that originated in the heart of God. It seems one cannot turn a page in the Bible without being overwhelmed with the fact that the Christian has a high calling: we are to follow the Lamb wherever He goes and overcome sin by His grace.

But the beauty of the gospel tells us that we do not have a God who has given us such admonitions from the “ease and safety” of heaven. Indeed, we have a Savior who offers advice and encouragement, not as an outsider, but as One who has battled on the “front lines” of humanity as well. As Hebrews 4:16 reminds us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[ii] Thus, when the clarion call comes down—be it from Sinai or heaven—that we are to “resist” temptation, we can take comfort in knowing that Christ has been on the front lines, fighting the battle Himself.

Incidentally, this wonderful understanding of Christ’s identification with humankind separates us from the rest of Christendom. In some ways, it doesn’t matter if a person has a prelapsarian or postlapsarian view of Christ’s human nature, we, as Seventh-day Adventists, have a much closer Savior than do the rest of our Christian brothers and sisters. I was intrigued when I read, in response to Adventism’s debate on the nature of Christ, that Evangelical “theologians have usually insisted that we must not say that Christ could have sinned” at all.[iii]

What a narrowed view of a Savior who really did battle on the front lines; a Savior that really did face the same temptations that you and I face; a Savior that really could have sinned. If such an idea is stripped from Christ’s humanity, then we are left with a God who merely play-acted for 33 years and cannot truly identify with our struggles. We are left with a God who can only offer good advice, but is far removed from the realities of His creation.

Thankfully, that is not what the Bible attests to. We have a Savior who spent 33 years engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the struggles of humanity. We have a Savior who thus encourages us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:17). We have a Savior who pleads with us to overcome just as He “also overcame” (Revelation 3:21).

Indeed, we have a frontline Savior.

[i] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), xii.

[ii] All scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.

[iii] Anthony J. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults: Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1963), 114.

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