Posts Tagged ‘Law’

Says What Now? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Here we go with the first entry in the Says What Now? series!  I’m starting with a verse whose misuse is obvious, and whose real meaning is meaty–challenging, encouraging, and spurring us to live passionately.

The Verse

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The Common Interpretation

People read this in the context of evangelism & the gospel.  Jesus is standing at the door with the gospel invitation–just open the door, and he’ll come into your heart.

The Context

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

The Meaning

Jesus isn’t talking to people outside the church–this is one of the messages to seven churches in Asia!  (There’s a question about what exactly “the angel of the church” means in these seven messages, which I’m going to ignore.)  So looking at the context immediately tells you that verse 20 isn’t about general evangelism.  What does it mean?

The first thing that strikes me is this: Christ is inviting people inside the church to let him “come in and eat with” us.  Is this some kind of higher level of intimacy or blessing?  If so, that should thrill us, and make each of us consider carefully.  How is he inviting us? How do we partake?  What’s actually going on?  Are we already there?  If so, who isn’t? (And how do we help our brothers & sisters enter into it?)

Laodicea the Lukewarm Church

Specifically, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm–churchgoers who do not pursue God with passion & zeal.  Perhaps it’s people who “prayed a prayer” or “joined the group”–but they’re personally apathetic.  Jesus calls them to repent–not from active rebellion & hostility to God, but from lives of comfortable presumption that it doesn’t matter how they live.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a standard passage in evangelicalism; we love it for the simple statement that we do not earn salvation–we’re saved by God’s grace, through faith, not as a result of our works.  I imagine the Lukewarm are those who bank on those verses, but who want to ignore verse 10–that we are created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.  We’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved for them.  The grace of God is not intended to give tickets to heaven to the lazy & comfortable–Christ “gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Christ died to save us, and to change us, to live lives of reckless abandon for him.  This is what he is calling us toward–opening our eyes to see true riches.  (Not that we do this by our own strength–it’s part of God’s grace in our lives, Phil 2:12-18.)

The Carrot and the Stick

And this is not simply a pleading invitation–there is carrot and there is stick.  There’s reproof here–discipline coming from his love for us, but discipline nonetheless.  Namely: Because they are lukewarm, uncaring, Christ is ready to “spit you out of my mouth”.

It would be inconsistent with the Gospel to say that this means, “Meet a certain standard to earn your continued salvation, or you’ll be kicked out.”  But it is easy to see the connection with the common theme in Scripture of “fruit”.

  • That “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • That real faith shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26)
  • That who we are & our relationship to God is revealed by our fruit (Matt 12:33, Luke 6:43-44, 8:9-15, John 15:2, Gal. 5:21-24, 1 John 3:9-10), and every tree that bears no fruit is cut down, because it reveals they do not know Christ (Matt 7:15-23).

So, it is possible that the Lukewarm in Laodicea did not yet truly know Christ.  It’s possible that they know Christ, and this is what God used to transform them.  (Or, if those who think you can lose salvation are right, these could be true Christians in danger of falling from grace.  But I take Rom 8:26-30 to mean that God bends every event in the lives of his children to prevent that from happening.)  I assume that the church would include a mix.

In any case, we’re being called toward what we were created for–the life of joy & passion & love we’re meant to live.

P.S. “Crazy Love”

I haven’t read it myself, but my parents tell me their church is studying Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.  It discusses these issues from Revelation 3, describing both the Lukewarm Church, and a life of “crazy love”.

“Jesus Never Talked About X”

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

So, Jesus was a Jew.  He didn’t come to begin a religion; he came as the culmination of the Old Testament, in its prophecies & promises.

With that in mind, does anybody really think Jesus had to repeat everything from the Old Testament in his teachings–or we can dismiss it?  That would be a pretty odd expectation.

And yet, modern religious discussion seems to have a new trump-card:  ”Jesus never talked about ______.”  If Jesus never talked about [insert traditional/conservative/disliked belief], then supposedly it has no place in true Christianity–it’s just man-made.  (The argument also has a more reasonable form, which I’ll talk about below–but first I want to look at the dismissive form.)

It might be used against any view seen as “traditional”–anything part of widespread assumptions about Christianity.  As an experiment, I googled “Jesus never talked about”.  Six of the first ten results were on homosexuality.  Another says that all sex-related rules are just man-made.  (That one’s odd, since Jesus did talk about sexual morals.)  Another says that Paul can’t be legit, because Jesus never talked about him.  I tried again, excluding “homosexuality” from the results, and came up with:  Original sin, “saying The Prayer”/”becoming a Christian”/”salvation”, legislating morality, and purgatory.

The Problems

Does anyone really think that if Jesus didn’t explicitly, directly mention something, it’s not sin? Did he talk about rape?  Child abuse?  Did he mention the common infanticide practiced in the Roman Empire?  Did he mention bestiality?

We know he spoke about murder, and sexual immorality in general.  But we don’t know that he ever mentioned these.  Does that mean he condoned them?

So where does this thinking go wrong?

The first problem:  The written gospel accounts don’t pretend to record everything Jesus said.  We can’t say, “Jesus never mentioned X.”  We can only say, “The gospel writers didn’t include anything about it.”  Each gospel writer included and emphasized different portions of Jesus’ teaching; they don’t claim to include all of it. (On the contrary.)

Even if Jesus himself actually did directly mention every moral issue during his time on earth, we don’t have everything he said.

The second problem: Red-letter Christianity.

Sometimes, modern printings of the Bible put the words of Jesus in red letters.  And some people view the red letters as the only part that’s really Scripture, really God’s word.  Oddly, people will reject Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures.  He appealed to the Old Testament as the word of God; he affirmed Moses and the Psalms and the prophets.  They spoke by the Spirit of God–the same Spirit by whom the apostles & prophets of the New Testament spoke.

If you try to separate Jesus from the Scriptures, reading only the red letters, you can’t get very far.  You have to excise all the red letters that talk about Scripture and the Holy Spirit.  (That’s exactly what Marcion tried to do.)

And that takes us back to the third problem: Jesus didn’t come to create a new religion.  He’s not dropping in out of the blue and starting with a blank slate.  Jesus is a Jew; Christianity continues & builds on Judaism.  And according to Jesus, he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

Jesus’ birth in Israel wasn’t an accident of history.  He’s not a moral teacher who just happened to appear in Israel, and when he spoke about the Law he wasn’t simply commenting on the prevailing morality of his surroundings–he certainly wasn’t affirming some and discarding the rest.  (It’s not as though he set out to ratify the valid parts of Old Testament morality and ignore the parts he didn’t like.)  The Law was from the Father, with whom Jesus is one.  When he criticized the prevailing morality, it was because they departed from the Law for the sake of man-made traditions.  But the Law itself was the word of God.

If we take Jesus in the gospels seriously, we have to take the rest of the Bible seriously.  Jesus, the Word of God, affirmed Scripture as the word of God.  You can’t separate its teachings from his.

On The Other Hand…

More reasonably, “Jesus never mentioned ___” does raise a question about importance and emphasis.  It’s silly to assume that Jesus mentioned every moral issue and theological truth, but he did specifically teach about his purpose in coming, the kingdom of God, and the central meaning of the gospel.  So it seems reasonable to expect that the main things would show up coming from Jesus himself.

It’s a slippery question, but at least it raises food for thought.

Aside from that, the criticisms people are making might still be valid, even though “Jesus never mentioned X” is a bad argument.  Going back to the list from Google, I certainly agreed with some of the critiques–against purgatory, against some forms of legislating morality, against “praying-the-prayer”-as-magical-words-that-grant-eternal-security.

But to make a valid critique on anything, you need a lot more than this argument from Jesus’ supposed silence.

To Sum It Up

Saying “Jesus never talked about ____” isn’t a good trump card.  It doesn’t do much, though it can raise food for thought.

Law vs. Gospel

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

There’s an interesting discussion at the Internet Monk’s blog, based on a recent broadcast of the White Horse Inn. (Links further below.) It’s very meaty and edifying, and is related to some of what I said in my last entry. (OK, so practically everything in theology is connected. But the connection here seemed particularly strong.)

Note: The following intro is sprinkled with links to Scripture references. They’ll pop up in a new window, and I tried to keep them concise (just a couple or a few verses each), so I hope you’ll take the time to open them up as you read–and get the richness of God’s word from the source, rather than just from this faulty conduit.

In the last entry, I mentioned how the Spirit works in God’s children, teaching us that we are sinners, showing us our need, and pointing us to Christ and to what he did for us. When Paul taught about the way that God convicts us of our sin, he emphasized the role that the written Law plays. All of us (even we Gentiles) do have God’s Law written on our hearts, so that we have an instinctive understanding of morality–against which we sin. But Paul says that a function of the written Law is to increase our sin–when we see the written Law, it confronts us with our sin. And not only that, but our rebellious nature is such that when we hear a command, “Don’t do this,” we may be more likely to commit that very sin!

The Law points us to our need, and to our utter inability to satisfy its righteous requirements that are based in the very nature and character of God. So when Christ comes, we fall at his feet, and know that we can only be justified by faith. Apart from our working.

That’s part of the reason that Christians struggle with the awareness of our own sin. The Law teaches us sin more clearly. Sin abounds, so that grace may abound to those who believe. And those who believe are exhorted to present ourselves as slaves to righteousness. But…As his children whom he disciplines, with the Spirit in us moving us to delight in God and his law, we struggle with our sin even more. Realizing the need to assure us in our struggle, Paul wrote Romans 8. In this life, in this unredeemed flesh, the struggle makes us look ahead in hope to the promised renewal of our bodies and all creation. God is our adopted Poppa, he has given us the Spirit to guarantee our inheritance, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, God uses everything that happens to our good, and nothing will separate us from his love. (And notice: In our struggles–both against persecution & suffering and against our own weakness–God promises that he will bring us through. God is moving heaven and earth so that those whom he calls and justifies, he will also sanctify and glorify. And nothing can stop his determined effort! Our security and our perseverance stands in the strength of the Creator God.)

OK, so, that was the introduction. :)

On to the links, with a (much briefer) description of the broadcast and discussion. (more…)