A minister on the radio said this week that we humans are all "condemned criminals" in need of "radical surgery." Holy mixed metaphors, Batman! Not only was that metaphor a language crime, it was theologically criminal, as well!
Fortunately for us, he is wrong. In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite. Jesus, just like the Hebrew prophets before him, consistently taught that we are all free to choose either to do right or do evil, and that we would be responsible for those choices when we stand before God.
Let us quickly dispense with the idea that we are all condemned criminals. The only ones who say this have no idea of the vast mercy of our Heavenly Father, or are deliberately hiding this wonderful fact.
Of course, what the pastor is really trying to imply is that we were born under an imaginary curse, making us unable to do any good, and that we are therefore born already condemned in the sight of God.
This is scripturally and logically nonsense.
That God made us free to choose and liable for our choices is one of the best attested facts of scripture - both the Hebrew scriptures and the words of our Master, Jesus, whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things.
To claim that we are so damaged that we can do no good; that we cannot follow Jesus and do as he calls us to do, is to make excuses for our failure to obey. Not to mention, it makes Jesus into an unreasonable master, for commanding what cannot be done by us, and that would mean that God knows we cannot do it, but had Jesus tell us to do these impossible tasks anyway.
If God did this, He would be the author of our sins, and an unfair judge. He would be responsible for our actions and not us if we were unable by are very nature to obey what He and his chosen son have laid out before us. It would also mean that Jesus was a liar, and his teachings a mockery, too.
Without freedom of Will and freedom to act there can be no judgement by God. But the good news is that we were created with the ability to choose which makes our choices have meaning and good really can mean good and not just a forced choice made by a domineering God.
The Hebrew Bible is filled with examples of God giving us a free will and the freedom to choose. The story of Adam and Eve is all about our Free Will and ability to choose, and the Jewish people have always understood it that way.
Adam's poor choice didn't damage his children nor his descendants ability to choose right from wrong. God is portrayed as even portrayed as showing Adam"s own son, Cain, that he had the free choice to do right or to do wrong and to take the consequences of either choice.
King David is shown in scripture as sinning and doing evil deeds, but he repented, and God forgave him. He says in the Psalms that he stood after his repentance before God with clean hands and with righteous actions.
Isaiah teaches that we are to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. If we are totally unable to do good, then what could this possibly mean?
Therefore it abundantly clear that the Hebrew scriptures teach nothing else except that we have the ability to act and to do good and fact are called by God to do exactly that.
Jesus, also, teaches us that God wishes us to have willing hearts and to follow the path of righteousness willingly. We are, like King David, able to repent of our past mistakes, and to stop doing them, as in the story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates. Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." No radical surgery was required, simply a determination to repent to do good, instead.
The kingdom of God is built through our deliberate righteous actions are good works done in accordance with the teachings of our Master, Jesus.
The minister's statement about "radical surgery" is another theological falsehood. While our wills may have been damaged by our past actions, that can no way mean that we have no ability to turn our lives around by reaching out to God and repenting. Jesus teaches that all may repent, and indeed must repent, of past mistakes that are a falling short of the high standards God wishes for all of us.
The Gospel that Jesus preached is a challenge to reach our full potential - how God wishes us to live our lives. The Gospel itself is a challenge. The fact that many do not know that it is a challenge, and are unaware that Jesus' Gospel is fully contained in his words, doesn't make them criminals sentenced to death eternally, it makes them imperfect, because they are not following God's perfect path of righteousness, have not taught them this.
Those who are living imperfect lives don't need radical surgery as much as they need a radical reassessment of their lives. And they should be informed at that there is a better way: to live their lives in accordance with God's will.
And those who are living an easy faith without challenge, who believe that good works are impossible (or something that we need not even concern ourselves with) miss the point of Jesus' teachings. And actually tend to warp them beyond all recognition.
These ministers, and their flocks, perhaps need a radical new faith, based on the challenging, joyful teachings of our Master, Jesus, who says emphatically that we are capable of doing all that he asks us to do and that we may do all that he has done. THAT is the True Gospel message.
Knowing that Jesus pleased God in every way, and said we may do the same, shows that God and the one He chose as our example have far higher confidence in us human beings then the ministers do.