Thursday, 29 April 2010

Total depravity and truly gracious salvation

Something I've heard a lot recently and that seems to be in the phrase-book of some evangelists is that God gives us free will to either choose him or reject him. This is usually followed by the claim that we rejected him but the implication is that we could have chosen him in the first place. There are a few things to set straight about this issue.

Firstly and simply, we are not Adam and Eve, we are of Adam. We are his offspring and we do not have the same decision before us as they had in the Garden of Eden. They were sinless and chose to sin, we are born sinful and choose to sin. There is a difference between our situations.

Secondly, nowhere does the bible use the phrase 'free will'. When you begin to hear people talk theology using words and concepts which do not appear in the bible, be extremely cautious. The words 'total depravity' do not appear in the bible but I accept it as a name for a theological teaching drawn from the testimony of the whole of scripture. When someone creates a concept from the pages of the bible, it's fine to give that a name but when someone takes a concept from outside the bible and then tries to match scripture to it, that is not cool. It can lead to big trouble. The word of God should be the starting point for ALL theology.

When Adam sinned (and the bible quite clearly identifies Adam as the entry point of sin to all mankind, Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22), it changed everything. We see the effects of his sin spread to mankind and to creation itself as a judgement from God. It's the effect on mankind that I want to focus on here.
Genesis 6:5 says: 'The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.'
We see the beginning of the doctrine of total depravity here, as early as Genesis and plenty of evidence of it elsewhere but it is the opening few chapters of Romans which really solidifies it. Romans 3:9-18 is the best summary of it. When Adam sinned, he killed the human race in the sense that we are born spiritually dead. We don't seek God, we don't look for him at all. The true heart of total depravity is this: without God, we would only sin, all the time. Without God, after the universal first, physical death, we would face God's judgement and die the second death (Revelation 21:8) and suffer everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2). We would go to hell.

So, we are still-born spiritually. We are not lost or wandering, although these imperfect metaphors are used to describe us by Jesus. If we were literally lost or wandering, we might imagine that sometimes we would come near to being found, perhaps see glimmers of the light or even march straight into it ourselves, just through trial and error. This is not the truth. Ephesians 2:1-3, talking to the saved in Ephesus and to those saved among us, tells us that we were 'dead in our trespasses and sins', that we were 'following the prince of the power of the air [Satan]' and that we were 'by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind'. We weren't just bumbling about in the dark, we were DEAD. Like the rest of mankind, we were DEAD. We were children of wrath in the sense that we were born into the judgement of God on the sin of Adam and on all the sin of his multitudes of wretched children and our own.

Have we got that? We were born in an absolutely hopeless state. Now, hallelujah, it is written that through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be brought to life, we can move from death into life, from darkness to light, from despair to hope. We become a new creation in Christ, no longer part of the broken lineage of Adam and the flesh but saved and under the lineage of Christ and the spirit. By believing that Jesus has taken the wrath of God upon himself and pardoned those who trust in him and by believing that he has risen to reign over all and to establish a new, spiritual and eventually physical kingdom here on Earth, we are forgiven.

What I want to look at is that 'choice'. Have you ever heard this? 'We had seventeen people this Sunday who made a decision for Christ.' Assuming they are all genuine, sincere conversions, seventeen people have decided to trust in Jesus and have undergone that transition from death to life, but who made that decision? Did they make the decision for Christ? I'm going to say Yes and No, a favourite answer of theologians! You see, we're not really looking at the decision but at why they made the decision.

Jesus in John 15:16 says 'You did not choose me, but I chose you'. I'm sure we all know the verse but do we understand the full implications? Seventeen people did not make a decision for Christ on Sunday, Christ made a decision for seventeen people on Sunday! The only one who makes decisions for Christ is Christ himself. I think we're happy to nod along to this verse without feeling the gaping awe of grace that it reveals. Let me break off to give you a picture which I think will help.

You walk into a cemetery with no-one else around. The sun is shining, there is a gentle breeze blowing. You walk to the central point, a nice big mausoleum and climb onto the roof. From here, you can see the whole place, every gravestone, every tomb. Now you take a deep breath and shout, nice and loud, 'Who wants to be alive?'. How many responses would you expect?

You see, we were dead! Spiritually dead people don't make spiritual decisions! The ONLY way in which you can choose God is if he has chosen you to choose him. It is the most profound miracle that God gives life to those he has chosen. In the same way that Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb even though he is dead and rotting, he calls us and we respond because his grace allows us to. The Holy Spirit comes and enables us to repent and believe. It's so amazing that there isn't even a continuation of my cemetery analogy that we could even begin to get our heads around to understand how this works!

My point is that this choice is not 'of our own free will'. In fact, I'd like to conclude by using three texts to refute the idea of 'free will'. Romans 1:24 says that because men sinned 'God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity'. The whole text talks about how men rejected God and followed idolatry and their own desires and how God gave us up to sin. Adam and Eve belonged to God but they rebelled against him so he gave them up and all of mankind with them to sin. The other texts are to be combined. Romans 3:23 and John 8:34. 'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' and 'Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin."' So if all have sinned and if everyone who sins is a slave to sin, that would add up to 'All of us are/were slaves to sin', and that's not free will.
God has not given us free will or a choice in salvation. He has chosen us and, as the result of his choosing us, we choose him. It is entirely out of our hands. If God chooses you to be saved, you will be saved, simple as that.

That's scary, isn't it? It's grace. It's the only theology of salvation which the bible teaches. A theology in which God gets all the glory, takes all the credit and we read again and again that 'salvation belongs to the Lord'. It is truly gracious salvation. Some of those who God gave over to sin, he dies to take back.

Some people really struggle with this and I don't blame them because grace is hard to understand! It doesn't mean that we should cease evangelism (isn't it interesting that this is always the first wrong assumption regarding predestination?!) because we simply cannot know who God has chosen and who he has not. We must proceed as if he's chosen everyone, 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us '[God] desires all people to be saved' so we've got to proceed with that expressed desire and passion of God. At the same time, we must accept that God chooses his children with sovereign, perfect judgement and that he does it in mystery. It doesn't make God cruel or unloving, it makes him gloriously powerful, worthy of awe and respect, of holy fear.

I pray that we'll be humbled by the realisation that God chose us and that, without that, we could never have chosen him. With such an unmerited gift lavished on us, let's live with a renewed fervor and passion to see those children who he has selected but who have yet to be born brought from death into life, from Adam into Christ and from slavery to sin into glorious servant to Christ as his brother or sister and as a child of God.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

On finishing Job and Ecclesiastes: Real faith

What a pair of books!
Job tells us that, ultimately, there's no comprehendable answer for the suffering in the world. It asks the question: 'God, why do bad things happen to good people?' and essentially gets the answer: 'Because I am God and you can't hope to understand.'
Ecclesiastes meanwhile tells us that life, in itself, is empty and pointless. A book which tells us that all we can do on this earth, all the friendships we can forge, all the riches we can obtain, even the highest human achievements of kindness and being recognised as good are useless.
Uplifting... right?

I'm going to try and put into words, drawing from my meditations and thoughts on both these books over the past few weeks, exactly why I feel more joyful because of them but it's going to be a struggle because it seems paradoxical and confusing even to me!

I think that sometimes, as Christians, we can see life with God as making sense. It sort of all fits, doesn't it? It all comes together. I have moments of just perfect clarity where I feel like I can see eternity and it's all alright! Do you have them too? But more often than not, life, even with God at our side, is confusing and disturbing. I also have times of just absolute nihilism. I see something and it is just so foreign to my view of the world and my expectations of God that it shakes me to my core, sometimes makes me doubt my own sense of who he is.

My only conclusion is that life with God doesn't make sense. It makes more sense than life without him, that's for sure, but it's still a long way off being total and Job and Ecclesiastes, as books, show us the brick wall of human understanding. Read Job, read God's response to him and ask yourself if you're satisfied with it? I certainly wasn't on a first reading. Surely there must be something missing?! But no, that's it.
Ecclesiastes tells me to enjoy life with God but that a great deal is 'emptiness' or 'vanity'. That means something that we totally fail to comprehend the point or purpose of. A thin facade thrown over chaos.

The first time I really read the truth of God's sovereignty, his complete involvement not just in the world but in my life, my thoughts, my decisions - his sovereign guidance and manipulation of these things - I freaked out a bit, I must say. My mind just screamed in opposition to it and yet, there it was, clearly laid out in the bible; God hardening and softening hearts, God pre-ordaining the decisions of people. It made me feel violated, to be honest.

I prayed about it, long and hard and the more and more I thought about it, the less and less I really THOUGHT about it. It was a truth like a white-hot shard of metal falling into a basin of ice-water. When it first struck the surface of my understanding, it fizzed and hissed, it let off steam and spat but then, after that explosive first encounter, it just cooled and sank to the bottom. I didn't understand it, I went one better and I accepted it. I still can't understand but it's part of my life, part of my thoughts about God and about everything. It underlies my vision of it all, that unfathomable truth.

The same is true for the questions raised by Job and Ecclesiastes. There are no answers here but the books tell us to be satisfied with that. Job is gets a tiny bit of an answer as to why he is suffering from Elihu who tells him it could be training and discipline from God but God gives him the full answer. 'I am God.'

What's our reaction when we reach that brick wall, when we slam our heads into it and look up and just see those words on it? 'I AM GOD'. His very name 'I AM' is the only answer we should ever need.

It's terrifying but it's exhilirating. When I face truths like this I feel like I'm bungee-jumping. My soul at once recoils in protest and, in the same moment, soars in ectasy. I encourage you to take those jumps and those leaps. Go bungee-jumping. Don't shy away because it's hard or because you only want to know about God what you can take in. If you limit yourself to that, you won't understand just how fantastic and wonderful he is.

My prayer for every Christian is that they would take that thin veil of their understanding off God and have their minds blown open by him. When you reach that brick wall, look up in wonder and whisper through the confusion, the frustration, through the pain and suffering, through tears, 'He is God.'
That is real faith and there you will find fullness of peace and abundant joy - free-falling with God.

One day I know I'll get it. When I see him face to face, I will have no questions. I will be completely satisfied. I will look back on every circumstance and every moment and understand. But you can grasp this today through submitting to him in your understanding.

God does not make sense... and it's beautiful.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Food, clothing and God: True riches

Timothy 6:6-8:
'Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.'

Do you know what Paul describes as the essentials of life? First and foremost, godliness - the quality of being like God. Secondly, food and thirdly, clothing. The second two are obvious. No human can dispense with food permanently except by a miracle. Most humans require clothing for at least some of the year in most parts of the world to survive. How are we like God? We draw near to him and we have a good relationship with him, we do not sin and we seek him in all we do. So, number one on this list of essentials for life is a good relationship with God.

Doesn't God want us to have more than just food and clothing though? Yes, I believe for most he does.
Is this a call to voluntary poverty here from Paul? Not at all.
Is it a call to simple living? Yes.
Is it biblical? Yes... it's in the bible!

What the verse is saying is that we should be able to, realistically, imagine a content life in this world with the bare physical essentials and our relationship with God. Just imagine it. You woke up tomorrow morning and, like Job, you'd lost everything except God, the clothes on your back and a bit of food to get by. Would you say: 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' or would you freak out?!

There is a call in this age, in this time and country of relative prosperity and riches, comfort and peace, to simplify and stand out. You want to know why we're going through a recession right now? God's behind it (he's behind everything, by the way!). Isaiah 45:7 says 'I make peace and CREATE CALAMITY; I, the LORD, do all these things.' So listen to the secret, I believe God's been sharing this with me.

God has sent this time of economic recession so that his chosen people might stand out in their generosity, their sound counsel and their peace and serenity in the midst of 'crisis'. Read that again. It's a rare blessing when we're going through hard times and we can actually see what God is doing by sending them!

Trust God's word that with him, food and clothing, you can be perfectly happy, you can be content. That's a reality that you need to pin at the bottom of all your financial thoughts, all your material possessions. Are you willing to step a level closer to that contentment to bless someone else? Are you willing to give away some of your clothes to help those who are REALLY struggling in this recession? You are blessed by giving and you're blessed by simplifying! You can't actually lose when it comes to charity and kindness! When you set your standard low, when you put it down to food, clothing and that unbreakable love which you have for God and he has for you... you will find that your generosity goes through the roof. You will find that the recession doesn't scare you or make you uneasy because there's still going to be clothes, food and God, however bad it gets! You can grow your own food if needs be! God blessed the earth and told the plants to bring forth fruit and vegetable. Are you getting this? God is ALL YOU NEED.

We are truly rich. We are richer than Bill Gates and Richard Branson combined! We have a relationship with God through the blood of Jesus and that is the most valuable thing in the world. God is calling you to display that wealth, flaunt THOSE riches, Paul said that we shouldn't be ashamed to boast about Jesus! As Christians we should be parading our spiritual riches at this time, people should fall down in wonder at our peace, at our joy when we have nothing which they can see! Paul doesn't say that godliness with contentment is the standard, he says it is 'great gain'. It is something we have to attain, it's something that we're likely to lose, something we must strive after, ask God for, set as our target - we can all be lulled into materialism, into capitalism. Step out and take your inheritance today, show the world what it REALLY needs, what will REALLY solve its problems.

Can you truly say: 'God is enough'? It's a biblical truth that God is all we need, in his grace he often blesses us on top of that - but blessing is made to be passed on and we must never forget that it is blessing ON TOP of need and he has said 'I will never leave or forsake you'. In that, he's saying, you can always be content!

Let's finish by praying a prayer from Proverbs: one of the humblest and most moving prayers I've found in scripture. Let's pray for enough! Let's pray that God will give us just the right amount.

'O God, I beg two favors from You; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny You and say, "Who is the LORD?" And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God's holy name.'
Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Only by grace

I've got a spare hour on a Tuesday morning to take out of my hectic schedule and share something with you.

When we think of grace, we tend to imagine it as mainly applying to those of us who know Christ... but I think that's far from the truth.
Grace is a concept which encompasses many aspects of God's character. One aspect of grace is the undeserved forgiveness and love which Christians experience but there's a more general idea of it which I think magnifies its greatness ten-fold!
Even those who don't yet believe live under God's grace and God's grace governs every element of existence. Let me explain by starting with two biblical truths.

God is all-powerful. All things are at his command. Psalm 65 tells us that he stills the roaring of the waves and raises up mountains. Isaiah 45 says: 'I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.' Everything is under God's control, even bad stuff. He can make anything happen, he can do ANYTHING. Some people still struggle to understand this and still limit him.

Everything belongs to God. Psalm 24 says
'The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.'
So everything which everyone has belongs to God because he made it. This is very important. Everything belongs to God. This verse forms the heart of stewardship (which I'll hopefully get round to doing an entry on soon!) but is also really important to understanding the wider concept of grace.

So those two truths combine to tell us that everything in the world and the world itself belong to God and that he can do anything he wishes with his creation.

When an unbeliever wakes up in the morning, they awake by the grace of God.
We were all rebels living in God's world - some of us still are. If you had slugs in your vegetable patch - crawling all over your lovely plants, covering them with slime and eating big holes in the leaves - would you hesitate before taking every single slug you could find and destroying them? Welcome to God's daily experience of earth - covered in little slugs taking advantage of his lovely vegetables, ruining them at the same time as stuffing their little faces with them. Sin injures God's creation at the same time as feeding off it. As Christians, we should become like bees, pollinating and spreading God's goodness, multiplying our blessings, not feeding off him parasitically. Think about that...

Why should God not just flick each and every little slug into oblivion? Why shouldn't he immediately seize each and every sinner and cast them into eternal damnation? But he gives life! He gives resources for life like oxygen and food and water! It's like putting special slug food out in the midst of your vegetable patch! It's madness... it's grace. God's judgement hangs over every individual, only his patient grace prevents it from falling.

The reason you didn't die in your sleep is grace. When you eat your bowl of cereal and you don't choke to death on it, that's grace! When you step out of your front door and you're not knocked down and killed by a car, that's grace! That is the way the world works; because the world is fallen, people die, people are killed... and its grace which means you're not one of them, that you're kept from that. We all live under God's grace, even unbelievers enjoy God's provision and his protection.

Even more than that though, when we think of God's incredible power and action in our lives, we can see that grace isn't just about survival but about WHO we are! The way we are raised, the way our lives pan out, massively effect who we become when we are older. Serial killers, dictators, mass murderers... there's nothing specially or innately evil about them. OK, brace yourself because grace is about to go even further than just you waking up in the morning. This deserves a line to itself.

It is only by God's grace that you don't go out every day and kill people.

I believe that we are all born equally sinful and it is purely situational and circumstantial as to how evil we become. God gracefully keeps some of us from experiencing the fullest depths which sin could take our lives to. There is nothing to say that when God formed Adolf Hitler in the womb, the life he breathed into him couldn't have been yours. I almost hold back before saying something like that... but it's what I believe. It is only by grace that we are kept from the greatest sins in our lives and from massive evil.
God has been at work in all the circumstances of your life to make you the person you are today.
This will be too far for some people. I ask that you take some time to think on it.

This aspect of grace is amazing and mind-blowing because it reveals God's phenomenal love and patience with humanity. He loves those little slugs so much that he'd rather try and turn them into bees than grind them down into the dirt with his heel. We all deserve that but grace says otherwise and that is just one reason why God is spectacular.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Poetry and symbolism

I've been on holiday for a couple of weeks, hence a lack of posts on here but, praise God, I had some very involving discussions and revelations from conversations and events in the past two weeks which will provide some fuel for several upcoming posts.

The first is about symbolism and metaphor in the bible. It comes from a conversation about one of the biggest issues connected with the topic; how to interpret the account of creation at the beginning of Genesis.

Yes, the beginning of Genesis is poetic. There is no doubt, whereas most of the rest of Genesis appears to be historical, the opening few chapters are rich with poetic devices. The repetition of phrases, the grand descriptive language, the fact that Adam addresses Eve in Hebrew rhyme when he first speaks; all these things point to this segment being poetic. The two most important doctrines or teachings to be taken from the opening chapters are creation (that God created all things good) and the fall (that man, created good, rebelled against God and separated himself from Him).

Now, in poetic terms, the fall is not really a problem. The fall is a spiritual event, easily represented in poetic terms. Although it does result in physical consequences, it's origin and actual happening occur spiritually, in fact, invisibly. Poetry lends itself perfectly to, in fact some might say is defined by, describing the intangible and invisible events that surround us by tying it to objects and situations we can see and understand.

My point is this: whether Adam and Eve literally ate fruit or indulged in some other sinful act which the fruit-eating represents is not the issue - they still sinned. It is rebellion against God whether symbolic or literal. Whether Satan was genuinely disguised as a snake or whether the snake is used to represent Satan as a subtle and dangerous being doesn't matter, Adam and Eve were still tempted by him. Revelation 20:2 shows that the snake is to be regarded as Satan, literal or not. It's true that Genesis does not say this in itself but if we believe the bible is a cohesive document, then Revelation must be correct in its analysis.

In terms of the fall, poetry functions well, in fact actually simplifies and aids our understanding of the complex spiritual event. When it comes to creation, the problems with interpretation begin.

Let's begin by stating this: poetry is a still true but the truth becomes symbolised. If I were to say: 'My girlfriend is a rose' it would be poetic but I would be stating something which I believe to be true; that she is beautiful. In calling her a rose, I have made a link between the generally accepted idea of the beauty of a rose and my girlfriend. I have also made the reader think about the romantic connotations of the flower. Even though the statement is not literally true (my girlfriend is not a thorn-covered flower) it is still true, just in a poetic sense.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because sometimes people take Genesis' quality of being poetry as implying 'It can mean anything'. No! Not at all!

The poetry of the segment doesn't give us license to essentially negate its meaning or twist it. The poetry of Genesis DOES set limits on how far it can be stretched. For instance, some people believe in theistic evolution; the idea that God somehow guided evolution and that this is what Genesis 1 is representing 'poetically' when it talks about God creating animals - but the poetry doesn't match up.

The poetry shows rapid and spontaneous creation, it shows man being created from the dust of the earth. Even when we begin to think of poetic things this might represent, it's still an unfathomable leap to say that Genesis 'supports' the idea of theistic evolution because, even poetically, it doesn't. The quality of truth in God's word is not lessened by the use of poetic language and devices. Psalm 119:160 sums it up really nicely: 'The entirety of [God's] word is truth.'

I think the real issues with interpreting Genesis only really come when non-Christians use it to attack the entirety of Christian faith or biblical reliability but it can also begin to be troublesome when Christians get their priorities wrong.

Don't underestimate the use of science as an idol for many, many people even some Christians. Our primary duty is not to make Genesis fit with scientific discovery - that would as good as saying that the account of creation that God deemed worthy for us to have, Genesis, is insubstantial or lacking when it's not AT ALL. It is totally sufficient to telling us all we NEED to know about how the world began, the involvement God had and the reason for our creation.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the first step of evangelising to someone with a 'creation hang-up' isn't to try and make Genesis fit with what they believe. The first step is to get them to stop idolising science! They must be convinced that it's right to give God and the bible authority over science instead of giving science authority over God and the bible!

Genesis is not a scientific textbook but it tells us the truly essential things we need to understand for our lives and the gospel to make sense.

That is this: God created all things, including humankind, and he created them good. Humankind, cooperating with Satan and failing to trust God, disobeyed God and, as a result, evil entered the world and humankind was cursed with separation from God. Creation, which God made good, became bad because of humans. This is the root cause of all the problems in the world today... and enter Jesus and the gospel of his death and resurrection to reconcile humankind and the rest of creation to their creator!

How God created the world is not the issue AT ALL, it's the why which is really important. This 'why?' should be the starting point for how we live our lives as Christians and also the introduction for those who don't yet know God.

Do you want my stance on creation? I believe that because God deemed Genesis as totally sufficient for informing us of our purpose, we should live our lives and evangelise, to all intents and purposes, as if Genesis is entirely literal... whether we believe it is or not.

Honesty: Being a 'Yes Yes, No No person'

I want to talk about a real personal revelation I've had over the past few weeks.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:37: 'Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.'

Lies hold such a power over us. I especially find that I struggle with telling the truth or, at least, the whole truth. One of the key qualities Jesus attributed to himself was truth; he said 'I am the way, the truth and the life' in John 14:6. If we're trying to imitate and image Jesus to the world, how do we approach simply telling the truth?

This is something God convicts me of again and again. I find the biggest reason for my lies or my withholding of the truth is avoiding awkward situations or conflicts.

If I'm annoyed with someone or upset by something they've done, I tend to just bottle it up. If they ask me, I might tell them, sometimes I don't even do that.

This is easier said than done, but by far the most godly and beneficial way is, as soon as someone upsets you, to tell them in love and grace what they have done and why it upset you or annoyed you. It's so simple. It might be awkward, pride might be hurt on both sides, but the problem will be resolved, issues will be brought to light and it's so much better for everyone involved than the alternative. The alternative is brewing and it happens in the dark of our individuality and pride.

Someone says something which upsets someone else. That person gets down about it, the other person notices their change in attitude and, before you know it, there's miscommunication and ill-feeling, harboured negativity, doubt, mistrust, bitterness, anger. The devil works in the dark of our rugged individualism but God calls us to open, honest, loving community. We can sometimes only believe this open-ness applies only between ourselves and God but it doesn't, it's interpersonal too!

Truth isn't just responsive, it's active, all the time. I wish I could see more and more people just truthfully, lovingly approach their problems head-on. It's one of the deepest desires in my heart for my walk with God to be an honest 'Yes Yes, No No person'. We have to break this power that the enemy has to make us islands. Clear communication, frank and gracious discussion and a valuation of truth and growth over comfort and conflict-avoidance is SO important in all our relationships. We are to be honestly interconnected with God and with each other.

The more we deny truth and suppress it, the more we open ourselves up to the enemy and in reality when we deny truth, we deny Christ. 'I am the truth' he said; part of the quality of God is truth. When we attack it or suppress it in any form, we really attack and suppress God's character and it's reflection in ourselves. I implore you and challenge myself to open up our lives, our thoughts and feelings not just to God but to each other. I'll say my mantra for this just one more time: 'The devil grows his harvest in the darkness of our individualism and pride.'

Pray with me:
'Father God, help me to live a life of honesty, humility and godly communication. Let my 'Yes' be 'Yes' and my 'No' be 'No'. I want to live with integrity and truth because you are integrity and truth. Break down the boundaries between me and yourself and between me and other believers so that we might live in the light of truth. Help me to value communal truth over individual comfort because I know this is the path to peace. Lord, I love you and I love your truth. To your name be all glory, honour and blessing. In Jesus' name which is truth itself, Amen.'

Friday, 17 July 2009

Jesus, our brother and Lord or 'The danger of compartmentalising Jesus'

Doing some research on our adoption into God's family I read an article on the internet yesterday. The jist of it was 'We are comfortable to think of Jesus as our brother, but we don't like to think of him as our lord' I'd include a link but I just don't want to direct people there! Incidentally, for the biblical basis to Jesus being 'our brother' check out Hebrews 2:10-18.

The article drove me a bit mad for a few reasons but the first one was this. It started to compartmentalise Jesus.

Jesus is both our brother and our Lord... but the problem the author has is placing those two things together. He seems to see almost a contradiction. Jesus must either be our brother OR our Lord. It's true that Jesus is both and many, many other things to us (the bible calls him our high priest, our king, our saviour, our friend and a ton more stuff!) but that doesn't mean he's our brother one minute and he's our Lord the next, or that he has some dissociative identity disorder and is flicking between these many faces. He holds them all together in perfect harmony, neither lessening the other. In the same way we think of Jesus as the lion of Judah and the lamb of God, he holds power and might and humble, silent sacrifice TOGETHER.

If I could say one thing to the author of the article, it would be this: Jesus being your brother is integrally, inseparably part of him being your Lord.

I can see the heart behind the article was good and I actually know where it comes from, the motivation. There are some aspects of Jesus character which, separated from the others, suggest we shouldn't respect and have the awe for him we know we should. If Jesus is just my brother then I'm liable to treat him like just my brother and I'm a real pig to my brother sometimes, you can ask him!
Another is that sometimes people start to project onto Jesus things from their own lives which warp and change him into just what they want him to be and not who the bible tells us he is.

Jesus is our loving brother and friend and he brings us into union with our loving Father in heaven but do you know the bible also tells us that he is a mystery? Ephesians 3:4 mentions the 'mystery of Christ' but if you read around it, what does it say? It says that the mystery has been revealed to us. How has it been revealed? It has been revealed via 'the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.' How do we know what was revealed to the apostles and the prophets? Because they wrote it down and it forms the bible, the prophets in the Old Testament, the apostles in the New! Hallelujah!

Now Jesus is a mystery but the answer and solution to that mystery is right before us in the word of God, we can reveal more and more of that mystery when we read. This verse also tells us something else: You can't know Jesus fully through just the New Testament! That's a challenge to someone out there!

The Holy Spirit will bring light as we read the word and we will understand Jesus on a deeper and deeper level. Like a friend, like a brother... we have to get to know him! We can't just stop short at the bits we like, we must continue to strive deeper but, and here's the true blessing, the more we understand about his might and his power, the MORE we will love him as our brother! Every bit of Jesus' character compliments the others perfectly and enhances and deepens the others as well.

Finally, if ever you feel like your view of Jesus is off, just spend an hour looking at Jesus in the gospels. Jesus was still Lord as he walked about the Middle East as a man but does that mean that he puts himself above his brothers and followers? Not at all, he gets down he washes their feet! Think of it! We have a servant king who is worthy of our praise and our unabashed love! Never, ever, ever, EVER, try and pull Jesus into his constituent parts - because you'll just ruin him.
Get to know the mystery through his word by his Spirit because although you know you've got a brother, you don't yet know fully how wonderful that brother is!