Continuing my exploration of America, I have discovered that there are some very questionable TV shows. I cannot claim that I have spent time watching them (is anything more boring than pornography?). But I have read attacks on them and defenses of them and in the process find myself in familiar territory.

In my homeland, Australia, as in America, it is contended that in times like these this kind of show is permissible, indeed laudable, for this is the way life is. The show is said to be holding up a mirror to life, as the arts should do. Perhaps some old-fashioned people do not like this sort of thing. But they are not typical of this generation.

As a generation we are shocked by nothing. We seem rather proud of this and regard it as a virtue. But is it? It implies a profoundly pessimistic view of mankind. People who can’t be shocked confess by that fact that they expect nothing better. They have a very low view of their fellow human beings. To be immune from being shocked is to be a thoroughgoing pessimist.

In a way, the Christian goes along with this estimate of human nature. He accepts the doctrine of original sin and sees evil people as the necessary consequence. He is no starry-eyed innocent, anticipating that if only we follow the advice of our latest prophet all our ills will be overcome. It is the most natural thing in the world that sin will come from sinful human beings. So when war succeeds to war, when mankind will not learn to live at peace, when greed leads to inflation and unemployment, when people make fortunes out of pornography, the Christian is not surprised. He is grieved and he may even be shocked, but he is not astonished. Since the race is a sinful one, this is the kind of thing that must be expected.

But the Christian cannot leave it there as the worldly minded can. The Christian rebels against all this, for he has a fundamentally optimistic view of life and knows what changes God can bring about in human beings.

In the Bible we learn that man was made in the image of God. The creation story means that man is made for something better than sin. It is not easy to see what being “made in God’s image” means. Whole books have been written about it. I do not wish to oversimplify a complex idea, but at the least it means that in some way man is like God, that he is more like God than anything else in all this mighty universe is like God. It is not fitting that man, made with such an excellent dignity, should fritter away his potential on violence, oppression, and other forms of wrong.

And it is not only the creation story that is relevant. The really great story in the Bible tells us how the Son of God himself became man, lived among men in obscurity and rejection, and finally laid down his perfect life on Calvary’s cross. This means that man not only is made in the image of God, but also is the object of God’s love, God’s redemption. The cross is not simply a gesture, a way of saying something with great emphasis. It is the way in which God redeems sinful men.

For God is not content to let sin have the last word. That is the pessimistic way of our generation. But it is not God’s way in which God redeems sinful men. For him, forgiveness is a wonderful reality, and so are reconciliation and justification and propitiation and cleansing in the blood of Jesus and the making of a new covenant between God and men. The Bible has a wonderful multiplicity of terms to bring out the meaning of Christ’s cross.

And every one of them points to the wonderful truth that God will not let sin be the last word. Although forgiveness is a costly affair and required the death of his only Son, God provided it. Could we say that for God anything is better than the triumph of evil? At great cost he overcame it.

“Grace” is one of the great Christian words. It tells us that putting away sin is not something we are expected to accomplish out of our own resources. The Bible talks of the importance of resisting temptation and the like. But it never rests man’s ability to do good on his own strong right arm. It speaks over and over of the grace of God.

That grace is seen first and most of all in the cross. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). There was no compulsion on God to provide salvation. He did not have to redeem mankind. But because he is a God of grace he did. He sent his Son to be our Saviour, even at the cost of the cross.

But it does not stop there. Grace is given for daily life. The wonderful thing that our generation so often misses is that God is concerned about the way his people live out their lives and that he helps them along the way. The great saints in the history of the Church have been great not because of some special ingredient in their makeup but because they availed themselves of the power of God in their lives.

And the wonderful thing is that this grace is given not just to the great but to every humble Christian. If I can say it reverently, it would not be greatly to the credit of God if he were to do something wonderful through some outstandingly gifted people. But when he takes the most ordinary of people and makes of them the very saints of God, that’s something.

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And that is what God has been doing for centuries. It is what he is still doing today. Our pessimistic generation misses this. It sees no possibility beyond man’s unaided effort and is cynical when that effort falls short.

The Church gives lip service to the power of the grace of God, but sometimes that is as far as it goes. What needs stress in our day is that grace is real. God does remake people. Conversion, being born again, dying to an old way and rising to a new one, putting off the old man and putting on the new—these and other biblical figures point to a great and glorious reality. It is possible for people to be remade by the power of God. It is possible for people to have a genuine concern for others. It is possible for a genuine community to replace the evil and competitiveness that are so much a part of modern life.

Love, Christian style, is not an achievement of the natural man. But it it is a warm and vital reality wherever the Gospel is taken with full seriousness.


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