A type of graphic design that is somewhat popular today is called “minimalism.” I decided to try it out with a few of Jesus’ I AM statements. Can you guess which ones they are?
In the book of Luke, Luke uses the Greek word δεῖ fourteen times. The word generally means “it is necessary” or that something “must” happen. Here I have a visual sample of three uses of the word δεῖ. As you can see it can be a positive thing (preaching the kingdom), a negative (suffering and death), and still refer to a future event (wars and the end of the world).
When Luke speaks of the will of God, he uses the word δεῖ. It is found 101 times in the New Testament. Luke uses it 41 times in Luke-Acts, with 14 of those occurrences being found in Luke. This word is typically understood as being translated “it is necessary” or that something “must” happen. Luke’s use of the word is by far the most comprehensive in the New Testament. It is through his use of the word that one can conclude that it intends to imply the will of God.
This is significant as one looks at the 14 uses of δεῖ in Luke. God’s will is seemingly His will as found in the law, or in the Old Testament in general. Throughout Jesus’s ministry on earth, He tells his disciples that He “must” suffer, be delivered and crucified as a fulfillment of the Scriptures (9:22; 17:25; 24:7, 26; 24:44). It is interesting to note that Jesus did have an understanding of the necessity of following God’s will from an early age. Luke is the only one to give us a peek at this time in Jesus’ life, so it is significant to note. When Jesus was twelve years old, he stayed back in the temple in Jerusalem without the knowledge of Mary and Joseph. When Mary and Joseph came back looking for Him, Mary asked, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:48-49, emphasis added). Jesus was well aware of the will that God the Father had for his life even from a young age.
This is not the only time that Jesus’ actions were dictated by His understanding of God’s will and the role it played in His understanding of what His own purpose was on earth. After spending time in Galilee and at Simon’s house, Jesus had done many miracles. He left to go to a solitary place, but people came and found Him, begging Him to stay. But Jesus replied, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (4:43, emphasis added).
Jesus, lamenting the history of Jerusalem, tells some Pharisee’s who warn him that Herod wants to kill him that He will continue to heal people and to cast out demons, but he “must” press on to Jerusalem. (13:32-33). Later, Jesus also tells Zacchaeus that he “must” stay at his house (19:5).
Perhaps the greatest link to Luke’s understanding of δεῖ is God’s will for Jesus’ suffering. Soon after Peter’s confession that Jesus is “God’s Messiah” (9:20), Jesus tells them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” He tells his disciples a similar thing in 17:25, that “He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
After Jesus resurrected from the grave, He appeared to His disciples and reminded them of what He had told them about it being necessary for Him to “be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again” (24:7). On the road to Emmaus Jesus rebukes and explains to the saddened men something they should have known: that “the Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory.” (24:26).
After Jesus had explained that there was coming a time when the temple was to be destroyed, the disciples asked about how they could know when these events were about to take place. Jesus responded that there would be claims by false Messiahs, wars, and uprisings. He told them when these things happen to “not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away” (21:9, emphasis added).
Luke portrays Jesus intentionally living in the necessity of God’s will. He was constantly mindful about God’s will – that He was to preach the Good News, obey the law of the Old Testament, die a sinless man, and be resurrected in power for mankind on the third day.
It is Holy Week. The week in which we remember the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ dying not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Here are some pictures from a Tenebrae service I went to. To me, one of the most powerful services throughout the whole year is the Tenebrae service.
This week is Holy Week for the Christian faith. This is the week in which we mourn and celebrate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a week that stands out amongst all other weeks. The week begins with Palm Sunday. It is here that the Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People were all in the streets praising Him as the Son of David. They waived palm branches and shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
They celebrated the entrance of what they assumed would be the King of Israel, a good man. A prophet. And he was that, but he was also much more. He was the Messiah. He was the Savior. It would be hard to predict that later that week people would be shouting “Crucify Him!”
This week means a lot to me. It hopefully means a lot to all Christians. It’s hard. I feel like so much of the world’s understanding of Jesus’ death is the physical. Oftentimes I feel the church has probably overemphasized this aspect of his death. Of course it was horrible. Of course it was brutal, and yes he die for us. But the details leading up to his death I feel are so key in explaining what happened those last few days and hours before his death. None of this caught Jesus off guard. He knew that this was to happen. He predicted his death to his disciples on three separate occasions, much to their disliking. Yes, Jesus was betrayed, but he knew what was coming. He knew he was going to be betrayed. He knew that his disciples would scatter taken into custody. He even predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed, although Peter said he’d be willing to die for Jesus. He had the power to take on a whole mob of just by saying “I am he” (John 18:5-6).
This wasn’t something that he was looking forward to by any means. He did go to the garden and pray that “if it be possible, take this cup from me.” But he quickly added, “Not my will, but yours be done.” The prayers he prayed were passionate. He was already under much distress knowing that he was soon to die a very horrible death. His death was simply a meaningless and unjustified death. It was a sacrifice. A willing sacrifice. A sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world. And as he passionately prayed, sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:44), we see the disciples sleeping. Unaware of the anguish of Jesus. Unaware of what he was doing for them. They had no idea. They had no concept of what Jesus was really doing for them. And as soon as Judas came to betray Jesus the disciples fled (although Peter did stick around long enough to cut off someone’s ear).
Then people made false accusations against Jesus, yet he kept his mouth closed. People hit him, spat upon him, mocked him, and still he remained silent. Like 1 Peter 2:23 says, ” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
Pilate somewhat attempted to save Jesus from death, but bowed to the pressures of the crowds. Jesus was beaten. He was mocked. They gave the true King of the universe a crown made of thorns, and smashed it into his head. Thorns, a result of the fall of humanity into sin. They put on him a purpose robe, mocking him as king in his royal colors. The statements made by the mockers were made as insults in mockery, but were ironically more true than they could ever perceive. Jesus’ statement of “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” could not be more accurate nor loving.
The crowds demanded that Jesus be crucified. The death of criminals and rebels. This was the most shameful of all deaths. This was the most humiliating and public of all deaths. This was an extremely long and painful way to die. But Jesus carried his cross as far as he could bear. Then he was nailed to it with a big sign in multiple languages that read, “King of the Jews.”
People still hurled their insults at him. People still mocked him. I can’t help but wonder if I would have been one of those people if I there.
“If you’re REALLY the Son of God, then why don’t you save yourself? You saved others…why don’t you get off that cross and save yourself?”
Good Friday is a reminder that we are very glad He did not get off that cross. He became sin. The one who had never sinned became sin for us. God’s righteous judgment that is due to us because of our own sin was all put on Jesus Christ right then. Like Peter said in 1 Peter 2,
‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
Or like Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
Jesus satisfied God’s wrath toward sin in his death.
Jesus died. But that’s not where it ended. There’s more to the story.
It is clear in our Christology today that if we are truly going to understand Jesus’ ministry while he was on this earth we must understand him as a servant. The Messiah being a servant, and particularly one that would suffer and die, was not a concept that was expected or readily accepted during the time of Jesus. The Gospel writers clearly saw it as an essential part of Jesus’ ministry, however, and they all reference in different ways Jesus as the servant of God. Matthew is no exception. In fact, Matthew seems to look at Jesus’ ministry as servant more broadly than the three other writers do.
Like Mark, Matthew clearly gets most of his understanding of Jesus as servant from Isaiah. From the outset of Jesus’ ministry it is clear that there are some echoes from Isaiah. At Jesus’ baptism a voice from heaven announces, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). It is here that the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove. This is reminiscent of Isaiah 42:1 which says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his ministry is being declared as one of servanthood.
Matthew differs from the other Evangelists in the breadth of his understanding of Jesus as servant. In Matthew 8 Jesus heals many people of their diseases and casts out many demons. He was doing many miracles. Matthew writes in verse 17, “This was to fulfill what was written through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’” That is a quotation from Isaiah 53:4. It is clear then that Matthew sees Jesus’ ministry of miracle working and healing as very much a part of his ministry as servant. This is unique to Matthew.
As Matthew and the other Evangelists have understood Jesus through the lens of Isaiah 53, it seems clear that Jesus very much understood himself in these terms as well. He lived out this model of servanthood even unto death. Jesus was the Son of man. He said so many times. In doing this he attributed authority and even divine authority unto himself. But it seems that his disciples really did not struggle at the times in which he proclaimed himself as one with authority. It were those in authority themselves that had issues with Jesus claiming to have authority over things such as the forgiveness of sins (9:6) or the Sabbath (12:8). But the ironic thing about this authoritative Son of man is that he would have to suffer. In fact, the first time Jesus mentions himself as being the Son of man he brings up the fact that he does not even have a place to lay his head (8:20). Jesus was indeed the authoritative Son of man, but he was also a servant. This meant that he would have to suffer while on this earth. He would not be treated as the king that he truly is. When Jesus told this to his disciples it clearly did not register with them. Peter could not even bear hearing such things (16:22). Jesus had to specifically tell his disciples three times that he was to suffer and die (16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). Even though Jesus was the Son of man and he had authority over all things, he had to make clear what it meant to be a servant repeatedly to his disciples. Even in the midst of Jesus’ disciples fighting over who was greater, Jesus explains what it means to be a servant of God. He said in Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV) “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”
Jesus understood his ministry on earth as that of being a servant. What this servant looks like is modeled first in Isaiah 53. Matthew understood this servant ministry even in the areas of his miracle working and healings. Jesus also understood his role of a servant as being one who was to come and suffer and die so that he could be a ransom for many. This is something that his disciples then struggled with, and it is something that we as servants of God must understand.
I took Pentateuch and Historical Books class this past semester. (It was my last OT class of my time here in seminary!) It was so refreshing. Although one semester clearly is not enough to study so much material, it was still vastly helpful to my understanding of who Jesus is and what His atonement really has done for us. This has also been girded by an in depth study of Romans 1-3 this semester in my small group.
But the OT law and the tabernacle…wow! There is simply so much to read and understand. All the laws, the different types of laws, etc. It was interesting to really spend time on them. But God was serious about these things. The sacrifices that had to be offered for the cleansing of the the tabernacle, the sacrifices given for various offenses, the sacrifices given on account of the priest and for the people God took all very seriously. People could not simply enter into God’s presence whenever they wanted. They could not simply ask for God to forgive them and keep on living the same way and be considered righteous according to the law.
When Jesus came and “tabernacled amongst us” the presence of God was amongst all people. If people had seen Jesus, they could say that they had seen God. When Jesus died, He was both the perfect sacrifice given on account of all people and the High Priest who offers the sacrifice on our behalf. Through this “once for all” sacrifice God was satisfied to call all who believe upon Jesus Christ as the atonement for their sin righteous. This means that we can be in a relationship with God without fear or without restrictions. We can now approach God’s throne room in prayer knowing that He will hear us because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Of course we ask for the forgiveness of sins that we commit, but He has already forgiven them. He did so when Christ offered Himself as sin on our behalf. What a privilege! How often do we consider that as we so easily call to God in prayer? Usually because of something WE want.
The Old Testament is packed full of requirements for the people of Israel so that they might remain holy amongst all the people of the earth. They were to be different than all the other nations that surrounded them so that they would stand out as witnesses of Yahweh, the one true God of this world. Of course they fail time and time again. But God is so long-suffering. God is loves giving mercy. And He instigated time and time again opportunities for the Israelites to come back to Him even though they committed infidelity over and over with other “gods.” He pursued them. He pursued them so much that He came down Himself to die on our behalf so that we might be able to be in God’s presence — because He does have to punish sin. He is a righteous and holy God. And therefore sin had to be punished, and so He took the punishment upon Himself by sending Jesus, His only begotten Son, and made Him sin for us. Because of this we can now come into the presence of God. He does not attribute our sin to us. If He did, we would not be able to be in His presence. All we have to do is simply believe that. To God, faith is everything. That is exemplified over and over in His word. And to us faith should be everything. Because if we truly believe this, then it causes us to live our life in a certain way. It causes us to live in such a way that is line with what God expects from people living on this earth. In fact, it is not simply a way, it is THE way. This way only comes through Jesus Christ.
People have wanted to remind themselves over the centuries of the truths about Jesus Christ. To do so they have made creeds to memorize basic facts about God and the church. Two famous ones would be the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. Here is common version of the Apostle’s creed:
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell. [See Calvin]
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
I have read this and thought in the past, “Wow, that’s great!”
But then, after having this class and after a comment made by another OT professor here at Trinity, I realized, “What ever happened to the OT?” There is nothing mentioned about it at all! No mention of the fall, the covenants made to Abraham, David, or Jeremiah. There is nothing mentioned about the tabernacle or the temple. There is nothing mentioned about sacrifices. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that there is no mention of the Exodus! I have a hard time believing that Moses or Joshua would be okay with memorizing a creed that does not mention the Exodus. God seems to think it was pretty important.
The OT is very important. Without it, we really wouldn’t understand how important and gracious Jesus really is to salvation history. As Christians it is tempting to only spend time in the New Testament. It seems more practical. The epistles are very helpful in knowing what we should be DOING. We love to think about what we should DO. But the OT helps us understand who Jesus is and was, and how God has historically dealt with sin. Sin is a very serious thing. We go to church on Sundays and hope that sermon won’t go too long. Punch in, punch out, and we’re good for the next week. But if we had a better appreciation of the OT, and took the time to understand the history of the nation of Israel and the world, we would have a much deeper understanding of our so great salvation. We would have a better understanding of how great a privilege it is to come before God. Ultimately, the OT would give us greater faith in who God is and what He has done for us — therefore causing us to live our lives differently.
Seminary is often called cemetery. This is because people who have lively Christian lives come to seminary and then are pummeled by high academic work and strong challenges to beliefs, convictions, and lifestyles. But for me seminary has been an experience of equipping, emboldening, and empowering. I have indeed been challenged philosophically, emotionally, and spiritually (and sometimes physically through long nights). But, after coming from an environment which was devoted to only studying one point of view and not looking at other claims or viewpoints, coming to a seminary which allows for theological differences was at first a challenge, but ultimately a blessing. I have professors which are strong 5-point Calvinists. I have professors which are strong 5 point Arminians. Eschatological views are all over the map among students and faculty, and so on and so forth. The view of my college was that if you have the truth, why spend time looking at things you know are not true? This has some legitimacy to it. The rationale went something like this: When the U.S. Government identifies counterfeit money it does not spend time looking at all the different counterfeit bills. They study the true bills so meticulously that when they come across a counterfeit, it is obvious. Now I don’t know if that is actually true, but it does sound reasonable. But it really doesn’t hold weight when we are thinking about theological issues, doctrines, traditions, and opinions. To say we know the truth about every doctrine, even ones which are not that clear in Scripture, seems a bit presumptuous, and perhaps a bit ridiculous. There are doctrines which have been hotly debated by Christians who are fully committed to biblical ennerancy for a couple thousand years. These people want to know the truth of Scripture and obey it. Yet, over the centuries people have disagreed, fought, and sadly have killed over differences in beliefs. This has nearly always occured when people think that their view is the only possible view and that any other view is heresy.
Now of course it is true that there is typically only one TRUE interpretation when looking at Scripture. Most of the time the correct interpretation is so clear that there truly leaves little serious debate or doubt. However, there do arise passages in Scripture that are ambiguous enough to have multiple legitimate interpretations. There is a correct interpretation. There could be a handful of interpretations, but ultimately there is only ONE true interpretation. There also is the possibility that no one has the correct interpretation when everyone thinks that they, or their tradition, has THE correct interpretation. Hence, as we continue to understand the original languages, context, and historical setting of the various books of the Bible, we are understanding Scripture better and better.
Something that has really helped me deal with various traditions, viewpoints, and interpretations has been a statement made by Chrysostom. He said,
In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ.”
As Christians we need to learn that God is big and that He cannot be put under our thumb. We do not know nearly as much as we think we do about God, and we are not as smart as we think we are. How we live is directly affected by how we view God. We many times love to think we know why exactly God does things. We love to think that we have God all figured out and that Christianity really is not all that complex. But this is not a reality. Sure, aspects of Christianity are simple, salvation by faith alone seems simple enough, but the Christian life is complex. We live in a world of sin, despair, tragedy, hurt, and suffering. The Christian is called to be different. As the world is entrenched in sin and despair, the Christian has be broken from that sin. The Christian is now not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind through the power of the Gospel. We are the light of the world, and a light set on a hill cannot be hid.
To be able to combat the world’s philosophy and hedonism, we must be thoroughly studied up in the Scriptures. We must know the commands and precepts of the Bible, and find delight in doing them. We must desire Godly wisdom and not turn our ears from it. We must hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Unfortunately, what happens many times is that as we meditate on Scripture and hear sermons from people we respect and formulate our own personal systematic theologies, we can give too much dominance to our own personal interpretations. We end up becoming so attached to some of our theology that to have it challenged is a personal attack of our person. But we must remember, the renewing of our mind must come from Scripture, not theological frameworks. If we equate theological traditions with the authority of Scripture, we have taken a step in the wrong direction. We are giving too much weight to man’s organization of what Scripture says. (Side note: I am completely a fan of systematic theology, I am just saying that we need to be careful to not let one system which makes sense to us determine how we interpret the Bible. We must remember to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and to allow a specific passage to be seen in its own context).
This brings me to my main point:
If we honestly desire to know truth, no truth claims should scare us
What is our authority, Scripture or our own theology? Many times we can grow up in a biblical tradition that makes sense. Various passages of Scripture are explained in such a way which all bend toward a certain theological position. And oftentimes when we have held to a specific theological tradition and then find it being challenged we get defensive. In some cases, people begin to doubt their entire faith because of a tension within one aspect of their theological framework/worldview.
This is easily seen in tragedy. Take, for example, a horrible car crash in which a husband loses both his daughter and his wife. Most would assume that because this is such a horrible tragedy the husband would begin to doubt the true goodness or sovereignty of God. Ironically, this is not typically the case. It is typically the friends of the family, or other various family members whose faith and theology have been shaken that they are uncomfortable with a God that would allow this to happen.
A prime biblical example is Job. God wiped out everything that Job had — his family, all his possessions, and even his health. Satan assumed that Job only worshiped God because He had blessed Job so immensely. But after all this tragedy had taken place, the first thing Job did was fall to his knees and worship God. How could this be? It seems so counter intuitive. Job obviously was upset. He sat silently for a week in sackcloth and ashes, the symbol of sorrow and misery. But he was not alone. Job had friends. They were also initially quiet with Job. But as they sat silently, they obviously were trying to contemplate how such a thing could possibly happen. Job was righteous and he feared God. In fact, they probably could not think of one thing that he had done wrong. He was blameless, and continued to be throughout these horrible days of his life.
But to his friends, this just didn’t fit their theology. How could this happen to Job? There must be some reason this happened. So Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, began to question Job. In doing so they exemplified their devotion to their personal understanding of who God is and why He does things. Surely God would have to have a reason to do such or to allow such horrible things to happen to him. Surely their own theologies were right, and therefore Job must have done something wrong to deserve this. In doing this the three friends question and interrogate Job – doubting his blamelessness and sincerity.
In the end, the friends of Job were truly not friends at all. They were critical. They were accusing. They were kicking a man while he was down, and ultimately led Job down the path of bitterness towards God. They were lovers of their own theology more than lovers of God. They assumed that because Job was suffering, he must have done something to deserve it. They assumed this because that was what they had already believed about how God worked. But, what they didn’t know was what the reader is privileged to know — that God and Satan made a “bet” over whether or not Job would bless or curse Him even when he did not have all the blessings from God. Also something to note, God never let Job in on why it all happened either. He was left, like many are today, not knowing exactly why things happen. In Job’s case he suffered BECAUSE he was righteous. It was the exact opposite of what his friends thought.
We should learn from this ourselves. Do we try and make everything fit into our theological framework or are do we allow life to help us better understand who God is? Are we okay with trusting that God is good and not knowing why God does everything that He does? And we must learn not to make the same mistake that Job’s friends did — to defend their own theology, when they should have been supportive of their friend, perhaps by simply keeping their mouths shut. God does not need to be defended. People who go through terrible tragedies will often tell you this. They don’t need their theologies reassured, they need simple support and love. Job’s friends were not defending Job or helping him, they were trying to help themselves.
I give Job’s story as an example of how we can become married to our own theologies rather than simply trusting God. They let their personal convictions come between them and a friend in need. And many times we make the same mistakes. And it happens with the most fundamental conservatives as well as the liberal leaning evangelical. For the fundamentalist in the pursuit of purity, people are rejected, scorned, and discord is sewn. For the evangelical in the pursuit of unity, people are mocked, criticized, and pushed away. That’s what happens when we hold too strongly onto our own convictions and doctrines — people are hurt.
Something that has become abundantly clear to me is that we as the body of Christ need each other. We can’t do it by ourselves. With all of the various traditions and denominations, no one has it completely figured out. We need each other for accountability and to not fall into one locked theology in which we use as a lens for interpreting the Bible. The Bible must be kept as the focal point and lens by which we examine one another and our interpretations of the Bible.
But some reject such an idea, and I believe the root cause of this rejection is not truly a desire for purity. It is fear. Whenever people are challenged in their beliefs, especially long held beliefs, they get defensive. It is natural. And I believe it is definitely forgivable. We all do it. It’s practically inevitable. But that is even more reason for why we need to be exposed to other viewpoints. We may be surprised at how much we become sharpened in our faith if we allow for our defenses to be let down a bit and to honestly hear out another take on a passage we have understood in another way.
There are things which are the non-negotiables, so to speak. These would be considered dogma – the things which make Christianity what it is, the orthodox beliefs passed down through the centuries. For example, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the crucifixion and atonement of sins, the resurrection of Christ, etc. These things are pillars which are not to be compromised upon. These are the uniting orthodox doctrines of true Christianity throughout the centuries.
There are doctrines which we hold dear, and are still foundational to our theology, but are not necessary for salvation. These things are firmly held within various traditions of the church, but can be disagreed upon if their is biblical merit for such a disagreement. This is what makes many people uncomfortable and it takes spiritual maturity to have honest conversations about differences in these areas. Examples of such doctrines would be how baptism should be done, how communion should be done, etc. Differences in these types of doctrines are extremely important for various traditions. It is also something not to be taken lightly. People have died for some of these differences because they have felt them to be dogmatic. Honest conversation is a hard thing to do, and it takes humility.
There are also various convictions that people hold about how to live the Christian life. These are things like strict music standards, strict dress standards (skirts for girls), not going to movie theaters, not drinking alcohol, using the King James Version, etc. These are things which are convictions. Many people scoff at such things. In fact, I lived in such an environment and lived by such rules through four years of college. But as I lived in this environment and thought through the issues, I realized that these were the were “weaker bretheren.” They would most likely not agree with that statement, but I wholeheartedly believe it. And once I came to that conclusion, it helped me understand how to relate and navigate in such an environment. But these convictions are important because it is in these convictions that people are able to serve God where they are at in their walk with Christ. They love and serve Christ, too.
God is amazingly merciful. He uses people which are all over the map theologically. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but if we are honest with ourselves we’d admit that we don’t really have everything figured out. There are doctrines that we hold to and believe because that is just the way we had it presented to us, and it makes sense that way. And we love to hold onto the things that just make sense to us, or to things that our pastor always taught. But we don’t have it all figured out, and neither does any one tradition. We need to be humbled by this fact. We many times like to think that God uses us because we do have Him figured out (so we think). God uses us because He wants to be made known among all people. And He uses those willing and submitted to Him to proclaim His word. Remember how Paul explained us in 1 Corinthians? He uses us, who are generally foolish and simple, to confound the wise.
Oftentimes when we see God using people who don’t seem to believe the same things as we do, we get all defensive and emotional — perhaps even scared. But this should not scare us. This should encourage us as we grow in our own relationship with God. This should simply drive us to the Scriptures and check scholarship and truth claims against what the Bible says. We have the truth — revelation from God through man. We should not be alarmed. And scholarship about the text helps us understand the original context in which Scripture was written. And as we find out or discover aspects of our faith which are incorrect, or built upon faulty premises, we should have the honesty to change our opinions and convictions based upon the TEXT rather than change the text based upon our CONVICTIONS. But sometimes that is hard for people to do. It is uncomfortable, but if we want to truly worship God, we have to be intellectually honest.
If we have the truth, no truth claims should scare us.
We have the truth given to us in Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit to help guide and illuminate us. We have the example of Jesus Christ in how to live and to relate to others. These are amazing gifts to us which should be the foundation of our faith and understanding.
Because of these objective truths, we should not be afraid of others who CLAIM to have truth. There have been many who have claimed things which seem to be contrary to what we know and believe traditionally. Initially, I believe it is okay to have “red flags” go off in our heads when there is something presented by someone that appears to be contrary with what we know about Scripture. But it shouldn’t SCARE us. We shouldn’t live in fear of those who seem to be making truth claims.
I believe they initially should quickly be considered, held up to Scripture, and then categorized as legitimate or illegitimate. Our initial reaction should not be fear. If someone is preaching falsehood, then we should indeed point them out, and explain why. But we should not just run away from the conversation. That is not healthy. And to just simply label something as heretical is not intellectually honest. We need to consider things in a very honest manner.
Earlier in the year there was an amazing amount of attention put upon Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. In this book Rob Bell challenges the traditional views of hell. Initially people seemed to react with fear, anger, and hatred. Then there was the second wave of people reacting to the reactors with anger and disappointment. But this was all caused because anger and fear were the initial reactions. We simply need to interact with each other in charity and in honesty. (Of course Rob Bell does seem to try stir up controversy, so he can take part of the blame as well…)
My point is that if we have the truth (and we do) then we shouldn’t be scared of truth claims. If we draw attention to the false claims in fear and anger, then we do nothing but hurt ourselves and our faith. If they are not true, then we should explain why they are not biblical and move on.
Claiming to know it all…
We like to think we have God figured out. And many times we act like we do have God figured out. I believe we have to be careful of claiming to know why God does what He does. Remember, God is infinite and therefore we could not possibly know why God does all He does. I personally believe we should not try and define the working of God in short pithy statements. But people do it all the time. Famous preachers and teachers do it all the time.
John Piper, to me, is notorious for doing this. He summarizes much of why God does what He does through simple, easy to remember one-liners. They sound good. They seem biblically sound, but is it the whole truth? Can God really be summarized by the fact that He does EVERYTHING for His glory? Can missions really be summarized by saying that “missions exists because worship doesn’t?” To me, John Piper seems to be claiming to know why God does all that He does. And of course he backs his arguments with Scripture, but what else is he leaving out? We need to be careful that even in our theological statements we aren’t putting God in our own theological box. I believe we always need to be recognizing that God is bigger than we can truly describe, and He cannot be put under our thumbnail.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I appreciate MUCH of what Piper says and does and what he stands for. But sometimes Piper can be a bit too heavy handed in his theology and discount much of what others bring to the table. There needs to be a balace. There needs to be grace and mercy in our conversations with people. We have a lot to learn from Piper and his insights, but I believe that he also has a lot to learn from others’ points of view as well.
Ultimately my point is if we believe in God and His sovereignty, then we should not be afraid. God loves us. He makes that clear over and over in His word. He wants us to know Him intimately, and we can thanks to His Son Jesus Christ. There is no reason to live in fear. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Let’s focus on those because fear has no place in the person of faith.
Sometimes some of the simplest concepts are some of the most transformational.
Assuming you are a Christian, if someone asked you if you loved God, how would you respond? I’m guessing you would more than likely say yes, right? But what if that same person asked you, “How do you love God?” or “Can you prove it?” How would you respond then? Would you give them a list of things that you do that somehow proves that you love God?
I go to church regularly. I pray from time to time. I put some money in the offering plate. I’m in seminary. I went on a missions trip. I read the Bible. I memorize Bible verses from time to time. I sing worship songs. I fast.
Or would you give them a list of things that you DON’T do?
I don’t do drugs. I don’t get drunk. I don’t swear. I don’t break the law. I don’t sleep around. I don’t…
Nice lists. But do they prove that you love God?
Okay. This is something that I have been thinking about recently. I got to this point just a few days ago. It seemed kind of ridiculous. I mean, I love God. I know I love God. But is knowing good enough?
Wow. My quest for transparency and honesty with myself and God just got a bit depressing. What does it mean to love God, and how do we do it?
Through means of conversations, classes, and recent Bible readings I worked through a lot of thoughts and concerns to have it all boil down to one simple truth: by loving people.
Indeed, the way we love God is by loving people. Or rather, as Dr. Osborne, my NT professor said it,
“The way we love people is the way we love God.”
A simple concept, which contains a deeply useful and practical truth. After I heard Dr. Osborne say that, things started to make sense. I sat in my class thinking, Why have I never really thought of it like this before? It’s so simple…
Or so I thought.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized its truth. Especially in the context of the Epistle of James, which was the book we were discussing in class. To me it seems that James deeply cares about whether or not we love all people, but especially those who cannot take care of themselves, making claims that pure and true religion is taking care of the widows and the orphans (James 1:27). He calls out against being partial to people based on external things such as appearance or amount of material wealth (James 2:1-10). He condemns our ability to curse someone made in the likeness of God and then give praises with the same tongue to that God who made those people in His own likeness (James 3:9). And it is at this point that I realized the deeper truth of the matter at hand. We don’t really see most people as being made in God’s likeness. (To see more on the topic of being made in God’s image, see a previous blog post).
It’s really quite a strange thing. We all struggle in this area in some degree. Some find it easy to love the down and out, the hungry homeless man on a downtown street of Chicago, or a widow who needs her driveway shoveled. It seems obvious to love these sorts of people, while others can’t even walk past the beggar asking for some change without feeling awkward and uncomfortable. For some, to love their fellow Christian brother or sister is natural, while for others, fellow Christians are some of the people they despise the most.
I realized this while sitting in class. As Dr. Osborne was mentioning this concept to the class a student raised his hand to ask a question. This student interrupted Dr. Osborne at a time during the class period in which he was trying to quickly move through his lecture to make up for lost time. The student also unfortunately asked a question that was not relevant to the point at hand, and Dr. Osborne quickly answered the question and said that we needed to move on with the lecture. I know nothing about this student, except for the fact that this is not the first time that he has asked a question not in line with the lecture, and that he is a bit quirky. But at the time that he asked the question, the students at the table to my left starting mocking and joking about the student. And as I sat there I had two thoughts that came to mind:
One was: I cannot believe this. Dr. Osborne JUST said ‘the way we love people is the way we love God.’ Yet less than two minutes later these guys are already mocking someone made in the image of God, made in God’s likeness. I mean…are they deaf? Do they not LOVE GOD?
The other was: Wow, Andrew! You are pretty dense. You just realized this truth yourself, and you are already judging other people. Five minutes ago you were blind to this concept, and you expect everyone to understand it just as quickly as you realized it? If this simple concept just sank in with you, what other things are you missing that are also just as basic and relevant as LOVING PEOPLE?
In the end however, this stands as a simple yet deep truth. Jesus Christ said that the way people can know that we are his disciples is whether or not we love one another (John 13:34-35 – He also said to love people as he loved us). John said that the way we love Jesus is to obey his commandments (1 John 5:3). What did Jesus say the two greatest commandments were? To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-28).
If we truly begin to see people as being made in God’s likeness, then we are well on our way to being able to love people. For me this has been quite transformational. We need to love people for who they are: the image of God. I believe that this is HUGE. It influences so much of our practical Christianity. If we are loving people for who they are, we are very unlikely to judge them. If we see people as made in God’s likeness, the respect and love will be well received by non-Christians, and unity will more likely result within Christian communities.
When we see people as made in God’s image, we give them dignity and value. This helps shape our understanding of issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and war. If we understand people to be made in God’s image, it should affect whether we kill them. For me, this is one of the main reasons why I believe human life is so sacred, and should be protected.
There is more that could be said at this point, and a look at some key texts would probably be very helpful for this discussion. But I have found this to be quite helpful in my daily life as I try to learn what it means to love God, and how to show Him and others that our love is not merely a cognitive thing, but is an integral part of what it means to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ.
You can love people without loving God, but you can’t love God without loving people.