10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other… -Jesus in Luke 16:10-13a
Tonight’s dispatch from discipleshipland is going to be shorter and more terse than my usual missive. Before I write anything else, I’d like to have you look at the following link, and let the raw data wash over you:
Before I explain why I’m having you look at that wall of data, there’s something else that needs to come first.
I raised a few eyebrows on my Facebook account a few months ago when friends started participating in the #KONY2012 viral movement. I cautioned my friends who would listen to try and measure their response to what the folks from Invisible Children were trying to do. This was not because I support Kony (does anyone?) or because I wanted people to do nothing. It was because the situation to which that video refers is an complicated and nuanced situation which requires a nuanced and cooperative response from a variety of people. Independently funding a single (illegal) military operation to kill a marginally influential man hiding who knows where is likely not the best response to that situation. I also cautioned my friends that if they still cared about it in a year, that they would be justified to act only if they had done some research to find out the real issues were. I was accused of being a bucket of cold water. I was (and am) completely guilty of the charge.
We live in a world of virtual emotion. Virtual outrage over a very real murderer in central Africa is just one example. Nearly everywhere you turn in our culture, someone is feigning emotion about something. Serious issues are abandoned when the sizzle wears out for the media outlets who report it. Tragedies are given clever graphics packages and tag phrases and the complete attention of our media…until people tire of it and want a new tragedy to emote about.
For every genuine emotion a human being can experience, there is at least one counterfeit. Some of the counterfeits are obviously labeled: lust, for example is the virtual analog to love. Some of the same external features, none of the soul or conviction or sacrifice which would prove the existence of the genuine article. Other counterfeits are not so obvious. For compassion, for example, there are competing virtual emotions covered up by tag phrases like “raising awareness” or “highlighting an issue.” Those tag phrases are a comfortable way for people who don’t really care one way or the other to check off their social activism box in the “being a good person” merit badge, just another one of the altars that people worship in service of civil, works-based, religion.
For real compassion–for real caring–there is no substitute.
The Apostle Paul understood this well. In the Greek world of his day, the seat of the emotions was thought to reside in the “guts.” In several places in the New Testament, he reports that he is in agony, or that he was torn in his guts about the situations that his fellow believers were dealing with in their contexts. What Paul is saying, in the most direct and straight ahead way, was that he actually cared for the people he ministered to–to those he labored with and shared the Gospel with and prayed for. There was nothing virtual about his affection.
Jesus, for his part, is more than happy to let false disciples part from him when they discover that there was real sacrifice involved with following him and that the road would be difficult. Jesus, over and over, makes it abundantly clear that following him carries a cost, and not just persecution of the body. In the garden of Gethsemane, shortly before his arrest, Jesus was not sweating blood because he was under physical strain–it was because his emotions were waging war within him–He cared! It mattered to Him! And that is why he took on the Cross–because His caring for a lost world was greater than his own personal physical, emotional and spiritual pain. And that is our example.
Sadly, it is an example that many Christians refuse to follow. Frankly, Christians in America are, in at least some cases, being outstripped in real caring by people who do not profess faith in Christ at all. That such a thing could happen affirms both that the image of God still resides in all people, and also that something has gone tragically wrong in some Christians.
You can’t fake caring. Either you do, or you don’t.
Look at that list of statistics again. Do any of them jump out at you? Grab you?
Do you care? Honestly? What do you care about?
On the average day, where is your emotional energy spent? Is it spent on the hurting people around you? On the orphan and the widow? On the lost and hopeless? Or is it on temporal things and the next possession you can acquire? Your answers are telling, and may be the important thing about your life in Christ after knowing Him as Savior and Lord.
It is widely acknowledged that God is love. If you don’t have love, something has gone tragically wrong in your walk. (Clanging symbols don’t care either.) It is only dead things that feel nothing, and if we are alive in the Holy Spirit, we shouldn’t be numb or unfeeling, even in a world that is filled with so much tragedy and pain. Being calloused or overwhelmed is not an excuse. If you find yourself in an honest place realizing that you honestly don’t care about other people, there are some steps you can take.
The first step is to repent and cry out to God. God wants you to care, and he will open up the portals for you to do just that.
The second step is to accept what you know you should expect. I know that part of the reason people fear honestly caring for others is because they fear being hurt. Let me spoil the suspense: if you really care about other people, you WILL, without any doubt, be hurt. The good news is, so was our Lord–you’ll be in good company. And, just in case you’ve forgotten, the power that overcame death is rolling all up in your business if you’re a believer–you have all the resources you require to survive earthly pain.
After you have acknowledged your deficiency, repented of your sin and expressed a desire to love the world as Jesus does, you need to pay attention to the Spirit’s guiding and to your feelings. If you feel a deep compassion welling up inside you for someone, go with that. Pray for them. Look for ways to do something about it that will glorify Jesus Christ.
Because in the Christian life, when it comes to love and compassion, either you do or you don’t. Jesus did, and He does. Do you?
There is nothing worse than what “ought to be.” So much agony in this life is wrapped up in the little word “if.”
I’ve been thinking for the past several weeks about my tendency to revisit places in my past and wonder at what could have been and should have been. This is despite my near constant assertion to anyone who will listen that I really am content with my life. So far as I can tell from the objective and subjective pieces of my life, I AM actually content and I really like my life, its struggles notwithstanding. So what gives with the “what-ifs?”
I’m convinced that it’s a malady common to all humanity, regardless of our individual state–happy or otherwise. One of the drawbacks to being human is being bounded by the constraints of linear time. We get one pass through, and each decision we make limits the next set of decisions with which we are presented. You choose to eat soup for lunch, and that means that you don’t eat a cheeseburger. You choose to spend time with one friend and not another, and a few weeks later, you’re like complete strangers. And on it goes. Worse, we know it’s happening while we’re living it.
Almost everywhere I go, the lure of potential is before me. Pick up anything which contains articles about sports, for example, and you’ll discover it is rare to get through an article without it somehow addressing the issues of potential. Between injuries and the way the ball bounces, there are a multitude of ways in which any single game could turn out drastically differently, not to mention seasons or the careers of those who play professionally. In the last 30 years in the sporting world, there has been new and enormous attention paid to the drafting processes by which teams select players. The drafts for the major professional leagues are now a near holiday in some quarters, with resources springing up so people can devote time to become amateur judges of an athlete’s potential. (Don’t believe me? Check out the pages of any sports website. The day after the recent completion of the NFL regular season, one prominent sports website featured an entire series of articles on what the teams who did not make the playoffs needed to do to improve, which is actually TWO potentiality exercises happening at once!) In the world of literature, we lament about authors who write a single great work and are subsequently never head from again. Musical composers, painters and sculptors who died young are accorded a melancholy sense of awed respect, but in the next breath is always the question of what could’ve been.
Perhaps no where is this mindset more obvious than the cultural mindset surrounding those whose lives expire before we expect. I am not here to dispute that there is a special brand of grief and sadness that surrounds the death of someone young. I have had the unfortunate experience of grieving with parents who have lost young children, and I hope to never have it again. By the time I turned 20, I had already carried a box holding the remains of a friend around my age. But the kinds of things people say about such passings are revealing, and I think strike at the heart of all of our worship of potential. (Some of the most provocative arguments against both abortion and euthanasia are at their essence, potentiality arguments–that we ought not snuff out potential. Of course, such arguments are also impossible to prove, but that does not shake them of all of their power, which only demonstrates how core these potentiality questions are.)
At the core of all of these statements and what-ifs is a central theme: that what has happened represents an injustice or a reversal of the expected and assumed order of things. It’s not fair! Everyone is entitled to a long life. Everyone ought to completely maximize their potential, either for their own good, or for ours. Those who are most gifted ought to be the most willing to be selfless to contribute the fruits of their abilities to those around them. The people we give affection to ought to return it. And once again, on the list goes. We really believe in these unspoken rules of what everyone deserves, and we grieve when they do not prove out in the lives of those around us.
The problem is that these rules to which we refer are an illusion.
There is no world accessible by us where everyone will be guaranteed to be allotted their 68.7 years. There is no world we can reach where everyone we love will love us back in exactly the way we need to be loved. There is no world where everyone reaches their potential. It is a fairy land. A myth. A lie. And we believe it, sometimes beyond all reason.
I think this ties up in our core brokenness as humans. As the philosopher Blaise Pascal noted, “…what a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!” We are great because we understand greatness, but the refuse because we cannot attain it, however great our accomplishments. We know what we should be, and we are desperately avoiding the conclusion that we will never reach it. Ultimately, all our offerings to the idol of potentiality amount to a denial of our own sin and its consequences. Because all humanity has strayed, all of us are captive in a system where the options which lead to us being everything we were meant to be are not available to us. We can’t fully find the love and acceptance we crave. We can’t achieve what we think we should be able to. And at some point when the hubris wears off, we are confronted with that realization.
Again, this would be pretty depressing if that was all. Happily, it’s not. We need not offer up endless offerings at the altar of potential. Instead, we can worship the One who was everything man was supposed to be–Jesus Christ himself. He took on human form and all that meant, and then lived perfectly in the flesh. He lived the life we couldn’t to secure the future we couldn’t, a future where our human frailties are refined out of us and we can be what we were always intended to be. Anyone who is in Christ is in the process of being refined in this way, being made into the likeness of Christ, the one who actually capitalized on the maximum amount of potential it is possible to have by being simultaneously God and man.
We do not have to worry after our what-ifs if God is directing our steps. We can know and affirm that no matter our past, and no matter our abilities, we are becoming what we were always meant to be. Even if our past is filled with things we wish had gone differently, we do not have to have any doubt about the good things that God has wrought out of them. In case of life, give up sacrificing to the altar of potential, and rely on the one who was, and is, and is to come.
Meanwhile, I’ll be praying that God takes the bitter out of some of my bittersweet memories, and yours as well.
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. –Hebrews 12:1-4
Tonight’s dispatch from discipleship land is going out to all you out there who are still checking this occasionally. As so often happens when life and ministry abound, time for writing does not. I pray all is well with you as you follow after Jesus. As I sit at my keyboard tonight, bleary-eyed from translating Hebrew while propping up my eyelids with Kona, I am pondering what God is teaching me in this season of my life.
The lesson that has been resonating in my mind for these past several months is about the relationship between obedience and endurance. I have been in seminary for nearly a decade now–not the way they draw it up when you are admitted. When I started my journey through seminary in the fall of 2003, I was young, brash, and prideful (do they make 23 year old males any other way these days?). Despite bumps in the road, I feel as called to complete this degree today as the day God affirmed to me after a summer ministry internship 12 years ago that it would be necessary. If you had told me then that the journey would take this shape, I’m not sure how I would’ve have responded, but it probably would’ve started with denial and ended with disbelief, if not outright anger. I never would have drawn it up to look like this. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying I’d change anything about my life. I’m quite content, as a matter of fact. It’s simply that the road to ministry has been much more circuitous and difficult than I originally anticipated.
“I have decided to follow Jesus…no turning back–no turning back.”
This semester, I am in a Hebrew exegesis class which is requiring me to spend time translating portions of the book of Jeremiah. Translating the words of “the weeping prophet” has proved instructive to me. As I consider Jeremiah’s calling, and the callings of nearly everyone else in Scripture, for that matter, it now seems to me that none of those heroes of the faith expected what they got when they responded to God’s calling in their lives. Certainly Moses couldn’t have foreseen wandering in the desert with a grumbling people who wouldn’t obey the God who’d delivered them out of slavery. Samuel, as a young boy confused by God’s call, would never have guessed that he would be rejected by the people he was called to lead and then by the king he anointed to replace him. David, as a shepherd boy, never would’ve guessed that he’d be subject to civil war because one of his sons raped one of his daughters. Isaiah had no idea he’d be sawed in half by an evil king for delivering the words of the Lord. Saul, as he studied under Gamaliel, likely wouldn’t have believed he’d be tortured, stoned, beaten, and ultimately killed for preaching a Gospel which reflected God’s desire to save Gentiles. You get the idea. None of these heroes of the faith signed on for that.
Though it’s obviously not the same thing, I don’t think that anyone comes to Jesus expecting what they ultimately receive. I mean this in both the positive and the negative senses of the word. There are benefits in Christ which the world vainly strives after in nearly every other location–peace, contentment, provision, fellowship, love, mercy, and so on. These benefits are found only in Christ so far as I can tell. But there are also struggles unique to those who follow the Lord Jesus–self-doubt, the pain of rejection, the burden of knowing that hell exists while so many are oblivious to it, callings which are difficult to fulfill, loneliness, awareness of the brokenness of our world, watching that brokenness continue to wound and hurt people around us we care about, and so on. Perhaps most strangely of all, it seems that the benefits and the struggles are uniquely intertwined. It is only those disciples of Jesus who embrace the struggles of following Him who ultimately taste the riches of the Kingdom.
Everyone who follows Jesus Christ can expect two things: struggle and blessing. The only thing which will help the follower of Jesus to survive the struggles to receive the blessings is the grace of God in the form of the strength necessary to stand under them. As it relates to the will of the Christ-follower, this comes simply in the form of assent to the work of the Spirit of God. We will that His will be done in us as it is perfectly in heaven. This desire to “will the one thing” is the core attitude of a disciple of Jesus. We decide to follow Jesus, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow…no turning back–no turning back.
It shouldn’t surprise us, but to a world unconvinced first of God’s existence and second of His goodness, following a God who could make such a demand of His followers is foolhardy. Why follow a God who could ask us to do something we don’t approve of? What possible reasoning could there be for such behavior?
If this opinion were only outside the church, that would be difficult enough. But because all of us are built differently by God’s design, with our personalities, proclivities, backgrounds and giftings, and because the outworking of that singularity of creation expressed in us is lived out in community with other believers, we are often subjected to the same kinds of questions from our fellow believers. These kinds of questions are thrown between denominations as they accost one another on a variety of bases, and inside denominations as they argue amongst themselves. Even inside local churches, there is often a shocking lack of awareness of the variety of God’s creative work, and how He designs it to be deployed in the world. Seasons of loneliness can be expected in the Christian walk, even for those who are blessed with strong churches and many friends and loved ones. It is one of the unfortunate consequences of the fall of this world.
We endure this loneliness because we believe that it too is part of the burden Christ Jesus bore for us. If anyone in the history of existence ever had cause to feel alone, it would be Jesus, even before he was subjected to crucifixion by Pontius Pilate at the insistence of his own people. Being God incarnate most certainly comes with drawbacks, most notably, a lack of intelligent company who can understand what it is like to lay aside so much of your essential nature. Leaving the perfect community of the Trinity for a campfire circle with Peter and John, while quaint, likely left much to be desired. But Jesus lovingly related to and taught his disciples, and our calling is to do the same, even if no one understands us. To understand our Lord is better than to be understood. Because we are unique, there are limits to our understanding of one another, which is why our relationship with Christ is so crucial–only He is ultimately equipped to fully understand. Ultimately and finally, we are understood by the God who made us. Fleeing to him when we are lonely is then the most appropriate thing a follower of Christ can do.
My cross I carry until I see Jesus…no turning back–no turning back.
I’ve already written on this, but in following Jesus, we are called to struggle against the sin still at work in our mortal bodies. We do not struggle alone in this, but nevertheless, we must struggle. Sin is constantly crouching, waiting for an opportunity, and like Cain, if we do not master it, it will master us, yielding death in our lives. For this reason, we must be diligent in dealing with the reality of our own sins, beginning with our thoughts, and extending all the way to how we behave. This is the essence of carrying the cross of Christ. The life of the Christian is not totally comprised by our efforts, but we would be foolish to think that we can do nothing and still mature in Christ. We must endure until our appointed work on earth is completed, or until the Son of Man returns in glory. Either way, we endure and work and perservere and struggle against sin until we see our Lord’s face. Struggle is a core component of what it means to be a Christ follower.
The world behind me, the cross before me…no turning back–no turning back.
If we stopped there, this would be one of the most depressing blog entries in the history of the internet. Happily, it doesn’t end there. In the midst of our struggle, God showers His blessings on those who persevere. Ultimately, the final blessing is to lay down our labors and strivings and be with the Lord. But until then, we have promises from God that He will stand on our behalf, providing for us. This provision comes in a variety of forms, but ultimately, we are assured that our sinful humanity will be finally defeated. We are, as Paul says, more than conquerors in Christ. Ultimately, arrival at the cross means death to an old way of being, and a welcome into and empowered and eternal life. It is a life we reach by slow degrees until after defeating the last enemy, we arrive safely home. No turning back, indeed.
Every day is a new beginning…
Each morning when we wake up, and tomorrow when I awake from my slumber into punchdrunk stupefaction, we have choices to make as followers of Jesus. The choice boils down to whether we will obey, regardless of the struggles we may encounter, or whether we will bog down in the cares and worries of this world. Empty promises of loyalty will not suffice. Our decision will ultimately be made the first time we act. And the second. And the 900th. In case of life, obey Jesus Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit, even if it means temporary struggle, because the blessings come with each new day.
Recently, I received a request from some long-time friends who are aware of my Sabbath convictions to explain my position on the matter. For those who were unaware, I am of the opinion that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath of the Bible and still has value for Christians today.
Goals and a Disclaimer:
Before I do so, I need to clarify my position and what I am attempting to accomplish in writing this. I am simply trying to explain the reasons that support my convictions. I am not attempting (at least not explicitly) to “convert” anyone my position. I am not trying to suggest that the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath is a matter which automatically bears on someone’s salvation. I am not suggesting that seventh day Sabbathkeepers are “real” Christians and those who observe the first day of the week are second class or worse, not saved. The observance of Sabbath is not a legalistic conviction for me–it is not something which one MUST do to be saved. This sort of disclaimer must be given because the most common charge raised against Sabbathkeepers is that they are legalists–requiring other people to do the trappings of the old Mosaic Law in order to be saved, or requiring people to keep some other extrabiblical set of rules to be saved. This is likely due to the theology of “other” Sabbathkeeping denominations, whose beliefs are more well known (though significantly shorter lived, historically). I am NOT a legalist.
I am a Baptist. I do not believe that any denominational body has the right to prescribe extensive doctrine on individuals. Instead, I believe that the conscience of the individual, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (which will always conform to Scripture’s testimony), is the means that God uses to guide Christians. Accordingly, I am comfortable with the idea that not all Christians believe exactly the same on all issues. Matters of eschatology (end times theology), prophecy, and others generate a tremendous amount of press inside the Christian church precisely because the Scriptures themselves are not abundantly transparent on these matters. I am comfortable leaving such matters to the Holy Spirit’s direction. Ultimately, it is individuals who must answer to God for their convictions and beliefs. I do not believe that matters like the “divinity of Jesus Christ” or the “personhood of the Holy Spirit” are up for debate. Orthodoxy (the long standing theological tradition of the church) has a long witness which can be found in most of the older creeds (Nicaea, Chalcedon, Westminster Confession of Faith) and documents of the church. The main substance of Christian doctrine has not changed for thousands of years. I am not refuting any of the intractable truths of the faith in what I am about to say, at least not as I understand them (I would disagree with Westminster about a few small things, but not on the fundamentals of the faith.)
To sum up: I am not trying to change your mind. I am trying to explain a belief which I am fully convicted of by the Holy Spirit and which does not refute anything in Scripture. Now that I’ve done my preliminaries, lets get down to business.
First Principles and Bible Interpretation:
It is my conviction that the work of interpreting the Bible (hermeneutics) is, at its most basic level, one of first principles. Despite our best intentions, all people approach the Scriptures with their own assumptions. I am no exception to this rule. In the interpretation of Scripture, most conservative Christians would use some principles to guide their understanding. First, they would understand the texts as inspired: God participated in the creation/authorship of the texts. I am bracketing for the moment questions about exactly how that works to make the more general statement above. Second, they would affirm that the text is authoritative upon the matters which it teaches. Third, they would be cautious of outside factors outside the context of the original audience (read: modern ideas and ways of thinking), which could impose incorrect meanings on the text. Fourth, they would search the language of the text itself for clues about how it should be understood. Fifth, they would attempt to understand the situation of the original audience as best as it can be distinguished (this is frequently tricky business). Sixth, have done all to understand the text on its own terms, they would then take the lessons derived from the text as they would’ve been understood by the original audience and tried to bring such lessons into the present day. The work of exegesis and hermeneutics (finding and interpreting the meaning of the text) is completed in this way. Furthermore, certain logical principles must also apply (laws of identity, contradiction, bivalence/excluded middle, etc).
My case for the seventh day Sabbath will employ these same principles. It is my opinion that in order to make the Bible teach that either there is no Sabbath or that the day was changed will require readers of the Scriptures to abandon one or more of these basic interpretational principles.
There are historical considerations which must be addressed before the Scripture texts themselves are addressed. I debated about whether the tests of the historical context of the interpretation should come first, but given that the historical context here is the reason that the Sabbath question has been debated, it seems logical to put it first.
Christianity began as a sect of Judaism. Jesus, obviously, was Jewish. He was an observer of the seventh day Sabbath, as one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5). In fact, to Jesus and the other Jews of that day, to use the word “sabbath” to describe a day other than the seventh day of the week (or one of the Jewish festivals), wouldn’t have made any sense: the terms were equivalent. After the death of Jesus, there is no biblical evidence to suggest that the disciples stopped meeting on the Sabbath for worship. In fact, the book of Acts is clear that the disciples and other followers of Jesus were still participating in the worship at the Temple. The Apostle Paul made it a habit to not only observe the Sabbath, but go to the synagogue on the Sabbath as well. I don’t think anyone would dispute this who has serious considered the texts of the Gospels and Acts. There are mentions made of meetings which took place on the first day of the week (literally, “first from the Sabbath” in the Greek New Testament), but I see no indication from these texts that this was to be considered normative. (That point would be disputed by many first-day/Sunday observers.)
Through the early church period and up to the time of Constantine’s reign, Christianity was illegal. Christianity had been denied the status of religio licita after Jews declared that the Christians were not of their sect and was declared illegal before the end of the first century. Between that time (approximately 80AD and the Edict of Milan in 313AD), all Christian practices and meetings were illegal, and subject to punishment from the Roman authorities. In the early to middle part of the second century (somewhere between 130AD and 160AD), some Christians began to distance themselves from the Sabbath and other Jewish practices because Jews were also not popular among some Roman emperors. (As one example of this, the Emperor Nero began a process of persecuting the Jews in the early 60s AD in the series of events that led up to the Jewish revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.) Justin Martyr was writing in 150′s AD against the value of sabbath observance in favor of honoring the first day of the week, the day Jesus was resurrected. By this time among Christians, the first day of the week was frequently being called “The Lord’s Day.” There is some evidence in Palestine that Christians there kept the Sabbath into the 300′s AD, but in 321AD Constantine instructed that all people in his empire observe “the venerable day of the sun.” This is what we now call Sunday. Much debate in the historical literature about the Sabbath centers on whether Constantine was actually a Christian or not. To me, the point is moot. Even if he was a Christian, he could still be mislead. Nevertheless, after Constantine made worshiping on Sunday compulsory, Sabbath observance wasn’t recorded much before the Reformation.
At the time of the English Reformation, the issue of Sabbath came up for the Puritans. Reading the texts of Scripture, a Puritan named Nicolas Bownde wrote in favor of Sabbath observance in England in 1606 (He understood the Sabbath to be Sunday). In 1618, another Englishman, John Traske, was imprisoned, along with his wife, for keeping the seventh day Sabbath. Traske later recanted his views and returned to his first-day congregation. Theophilus Brabourne, an Anglican priest, wrote in 1628 asking the English religious establishment to consider a move to the seventh day Sabbath. Again, with pressure, Brabourne withdrew his proposal, though he continued to write about the Sabbath in his later years. By the 1650s, there were seventh day Sabbath keeping Baptists in London. They were meeting together for worship by 1654 or 1655. My current vocation is stewarding the historical archives of this group, Seventh Day Baptists. From then to now, Seventh Day Baptists have had an amazingly constant position on the Sabbath.
Three Positions on Sabbath
With relation to the positions someone could take about the Sabbath, I think that ultimately there are three.
First, you could decide from the biblical texts that Jesus’ death on the cross rendered the entirety of the Old Testament law null. That none of the Old Testament laws applied, including the 10 commandments. This position would focus on the completion of the Law in Christ’s work on the cross. Subsequently, the early church’s keeping of Sabbath would then be confusion springing from their Jewish roots. The right understanding of the Sabbath was that it was a vestige of the Jewish law which has been entirely abolished in Christ.
The second position would be to see that the Sabbath was changed at the time of the resurrection, and that while the Jewish Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, the Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week. God has the power to change the day, and the change was signaled by the coming of the new covenant, which rendered the Jewish law unnecessary, undone by Christ’s atoning work on the Christ. The right understanding of the Sabbath is that it was a vestige of the Jewish law which has been repurposed and changed to Sunday to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and as a symbol of the future rest we will all have in Christ’s kingdom.
The final position is that the day has never changed. Because the first two positions are much more common in the Christian church, I will not spend my time explaining them. People who are convicted of those beliefs should be able to articulate them, it seems to me. I would be underqualified to speak meaningfully about a conviction that is not mine, and to do so charitably inside the constraints of this blog entry would be difficult. Perhaps if the readers could find good arguments for the other positions they could post them in the comments. Those treatments would be more likely to be fair from their own points of view.
Part 2 will focus on the Sabbath in the Old Testament, and the nature of Covenants. [Coming Soon(ish)!]
39 Jesus said,“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
-From John 9:1-41
For various reasons, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the book of John lately. This story has jumped out. I think part of the reason is because the first and most obvious thing about this story is something that, in my density and taking things for granted, is the thing I missed in this story. It’s a profound truth, so I’ll try to point it out, just in case, like me, you’ve missed it.
The story of John 9, on the basis of the data, appears simple. A man born blind is healed by Jesus. The neighbors and Pharisees question this because of their preconceived idea that physical maladies like blindness are punishments from God doled out on people for their sins. When those assumptions are challenged by the blind man who now sees, the Pharisees come unglued. After this, Jesus seeks out this same man he has already healed and further reveals himself to the man, who immediately worships him. The juxtaposition is telling, and Jesus, through John’s retelling of the story, makes it explicit in verses 39-41 above. It is one of the standard reversals in world literature: the blind man who truly perceives and those with physical sight being unable to perceive simple truths. Even inside the Bible, it is not an uncommon motif, with perhaps one of the most obvious locations in the book of Isaiah where the people of Israel are seemingly mocked by their inability to understand what they should see clearly. Jesus himself later quotes this prophecy in his interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Soils).
So what was it that I missed in this story?
In the middle part of this story, John implicitly tells us that the Pharisees are blind by having them ask questions of a blind man, who clearly knows more than they do. The Pharisees bring forward a series of witnesses, including the blind man’s own parents, who aren’t willing to testify beyond the fact that he was born blind. In essence, his parents say, “he’s a big boy and can speak for himself.” When it becomes clear that the blind man isn’t going to become a scapegoat for their impotent rage, they insult him instead when he prods them with his question about if they also want to become his disciples. The religious leaders and the self-righteous neighbors are so sure of themselves and yet, at the same time, they have to ask a blind man what he saw. While it may not be the dictionary definition of irony, it’s certainly in the ballpark.
Once the blind man actually encounters Jesus, he is more than willing to accept Jesus for what he is. His healing has caused him to be able to not only physically see, but spiritually perceive. The story seems to suggest two kinds of people. The first is people who know Jesus and accept him for what He is: God himself. These people are humble because they understand the depth of their own need for His healing power, and Who they are dealing with. The second group is comprised of people who are too good for Jesus, and who need nothing from Him. They are self-sufficient, and they have their neat religious system to bound their understandings and guide their lives. They are rigid, uncaring, unloving and utterly unaware of what happens around them because they cannot comprehend a world which does not fit their preconceived system. In other words, their preconceptions blind them to everything else. The basis for their amazing (and foolish) self assurance? Their absolute confidence that they are without sin.
I wonder how many Christians have more in common with the Pharisees in this story than the blind man? Too many, I’d wager. Christians in many parts of the world have a reputation for being judgmental, hypocritical and self-righteous–people who would throw Jesus himself out of their weekly worship service if he didn’t dress the part or already know the order of service. This story should be a powerful reminder to those in churches that Jesus is much more interested in those who are needy and know it than those who are needy and are too self-righteous to care. Remember, in this story Jesus sought out the blind man, not the other way around. It would seem that Jesus pursues those who are aware of the depth of their own need and the breadth of their own sins, and in seeing ourselves as we truly are, we are blessed. In case of life, take off the rose-colored glasses of self-sufficiency and see yourself as you really are: a sinner desperately in need of a healing touch from the Master’s hand.
And, it’s been a year since I’ve added anything to this blog!
I have good excuses…been working on a book that’s tied to some of the issues this blog was meant to cover. Luckily, I think this means I’ll have more posts, but they’ll be shorter. I’ll look forward to comments if I can! The book project is really one I meant to take on collaboratively, so I’m looking for feedback, but it’s hard to write with multiple pens at the same time, so someone has to sit down and do it! More from me soonish. I think by mid-August I should be ready to roll once again.
12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
This dispatch from discipleship land will probably make you uncomfortable. You probably already know what this is about from the verse I just posted above, and a part of you is twisting, running through the list of people who you’ve got a grudge against or a problem with. Some of you may not even have a list anymore, you’re just angry all the time and you don’t trust people. Or perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps you’re the kind of person who read in your Bible that you should forgive people and you’re trying really hard to do it, and you’ve been blessed by our Lord and your efforts have found some success.
Either way, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, forgiveness is what is asked (even required) of you. It’s non-negotiable.
So, let’s begin with tangling with the obvious. Before we deal with your need to forgive others, let’s talk about everything you’ve ever done. If you’re the visual type, I suggest you get a piece of paper, and you write down every sin you’ve ever committed, according to the biblical definitions. (Remember, the etymology for the word used in the New Testament to describe sin comes from an archery term for missing the target–we’re talking about ALL the times you didn’t do what you should’ve.) Despite what you may think, and despite the fact Christianity is often accused of making people feel guilty, the fact that you don’t have a clean sheet shouldn’t surprise you. If you’re a normal person, as you started writing down your list, you went for your big “screw-ups.” This is normal. But it’s also likely that as you kept writing, you realized that you made mistakes today, likely in the last couple of hours–and these are just the sins you’re aware of.
So, right now, you’re probably asking yourself why I’m doing this to you. I have one motivation: to remind you that you’re not infallible. You screw up. Join the club…everyone does. You have to know that the Bible never teaches that people are sinless. The Bible is honest about humanity, and the honest truth is that everyone makes mistakes. (Romans 3:21-26)
This next part I want to handle in a form called a syllogism. A syllogism is a fancy way of laying out a deductive argument–where the first two statements prove the third. So for example…
- All people are sinners.
- I am a person.
- Therefore, I am a sinner.
See how that works? The first two statements, if true, must lead to the third statement. I’ve just logically and deductively proved everything in the previous 500 words. Let’s move on to the next one, which is just as obvious.
- All people are sinners.
- We are surrounded by other people.
- Therefore, we are surrounded by sinners.
In other words, every person you encounter, if the first premise is true, is a sinner. So why prove that? Seems obvious enough, right? Here’s the question that my words tonight turn on:
If we really believe that everyone we encounter is a sinner, whether saved or not, how should we expect them to act towards us and others?
The only logical answer to that question is that we should expect people to sin against us, just as we should expect ourselves, at some future point, to sin. That is not to say that we should accept this reality and give up struggling against it, but the reality is that sinners sin. Hurt people hurt people. And, if you live long enough, people will hurt you. You will hurt others. It’s a given of human existence.
Most of us don’t need any logical proofs of the truth of my previous statements–the hard reality is one we have learned as the product of hurtful experience. If you live, you will learn this lesson the hard way–likely from both sides.
But it doesn’t have to keep hurting you, and you don’t have to wallow in the wounds of your past–not the wounds you have taken, nor the guilt from the ones you’ve issued. The cure? Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a refusal on the part of the wounded party in a sinful interaction to hold another sinner responsible for their sin. It is the gift of a self-aware sinner, saved themselves from their sins by a gracious and merciful God, to another sinner, who may or may not be aware of their sin. To clear up some misconceptions, here’s a few things it is most decidedly NOT:
- Forgiveness is not forgetting. While forgiving people often do not have reasons to remember things they have forgiven others, just forgetting something happened is not, and will never be, an acceptable substitute for forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is not justifying what someone else has done. You don’t have to make excuses for someone who sins against you in order to forgive them.
- Forgiveness is not understanding why someone else has sinned against you. You don’t have to have any understanding of why the other person has done what they have done in order to forgive. Sometimes, such information can make it easier to forgive, other times it will make it harder.
- Forgiveness is not pretending that it didn’t negatively affect you. Lying to yourself or others and saying it doesn’t hurt is nothing like forgiveness, it’s just prideful dishonesty. Don’t believe the hype.
- Forgiveness is not ignoring what someone has done. Pretending that the sinful act never happened is not forgiveness, it’s delusion.
- Forgiveness is not holding their actions against them until they make it right by you. You don’t get to make people who sin against you do penance until they demonstrate enough contrition or do enough to pay you back. That’s not forgiveness. It’s extortion.
- Forgiveness is not wallowing in how badly someone else has hurt you. Likewise, if you’re going to forgive someone, you don’t get to wallow in self-pity because someone hurt you.
There’s lots of advice in the world about forgiveness that is totally worthless. It either misjudges the reality that when people hurt us, we hurt, or it misjudges the reality that people are sinners and will frequently take the easy way out. Forgiveness is acknowledging a hurt, processing it, and then immediately disposing of the anger, frustration and avarice that accompany our hurts in favor of giving someone something they do not deserve: to be let off the hook. Forgiveness, REAL forgiveness, is looking into the eyes of someone who has hurt you, fully grasping the depth and breadth of the damage that was done, and deciding not to make any claim on that person at any later point for their transgression. In order to forgive in this way, you have to let things that hurt you hurt you. You have to stop trying to protect yourself from the blow after it has been delivered and let it hurt, and then tend it with regular care. You have to understand what has happened to you, accept it, and then let the guilty party go free. You have to stare your anger, frustration and desire for revenge full in the face, and then willingly put it down and refuse to take it back up.
The reasons why you should forgive are compelling. The first and most obvious reason is because Jesus commands it. Over and over again (including this highly disturbing passage from Matthew 18), Jesus teaches his followers that forgiveness is the first and greatest value of the kingdom. Even more, Jesus teaches that measure of forgiveness we use with others is the same one that God will use with us. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that God would forgive them as they forgive their debtors. Ouch. Many people pray that prayer from memory, oblivious to the fact that they are asking God not to forgive them, because they don’t forgive others.
These two reasons should be enough to convince you that forgiveness is the right thing to do. But just in case they aren’t, let me give you a few more.
1. Forgiveness is an act of faith that demonstrates you believe that God is gracious and merciful. If you received Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior, you are the recipient of an enormous gift–freedom from the cosmic scale of good and bad (where the ledger of your life is the basis by which you will be judged). As a believer in that extremely good news, it is your responsibility to put your faith into action by paying it forward. Forgiveness in an unforgiving world may be one of the most arresting acts left to us to demonstrate we believe in God. It’s a powerful evangelistic tool as well.
2. Forgiveness frees the one who gives it as much or more than the one who receives it. There is nothing more tragic than someone who refuses to forgive because they think they are getting revenge on the person who hurt them by withholding forgiveness. Inevitably, they hurt themselves more than the person they are withholding from, and ultimately, if they continue on that way, the bitterness will turn on them and they will become consumed by their own selfishness while the offending party goes on with their life, often completely oblivious or nonplussed by the other persons refusal to forgive. Bitter people don’t get less bitter as they age. There is a pithy saying that unforgiveness is like eating the poison and then wondering why the rat won’t die. If there are truer words, I have no idea what they would be. When we forgive, we let ourselves out of prison to continue our lives. We release ourselves from a ball and chain that would bind us and slow us down in favor of walking in freedom.
3. Forgiving people have more friends and better relationships. If you think you’re going to make lots of friends by holding grudges, you’re crazy. Unforgiving people spill out malice and anger without thinking, and they only kind of people they attract are those as venomous as they are. People with that much anger, when left to themselves, will inevitably fight amongst themselves as well, and end up refusing to forgive one another. In other words, unforgiveness is the fast track to loneliness (or, perhaps more appropriately, a self-involvement so potent that there is no room for other people). You want to live a long and happy life? Forgive people. When others know that you will forgive them for being human and that you know you are too, there is room for a healthy friendship to grow. Without that mutual offering of grace, friendships wither.
Are you hiking with a ball and chain, all the while holding the key that would set you free? Right now, I urge you to consult your conscience for your list of grudges and unforgiven people and begin to forgive them. To begin with, you will probably just have to make a decision. It won’t feel any different, but you will begin to train your mind and your emotions to not attach the person’s actions against them. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel relief immediately–just as some scars take time to heal, so also will forgiveness of deep hurts. Keep at it. In case of life, unlock yourself from a burden of unforgiveness and walk in freedom. Your life will improve drastically when you do.
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” -God speaking in Exodus 20:3-4
“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” -Joshua challenging the Israelites in Joshua 24:14-15
Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. -Elijah confronting the Israelites in 1 Kings 18:21
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” -Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:24a
“What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” -Paul, to the believers in Corinth, 2 Corinthians 6:15-16
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” -James addressing immature believers in James 4:4,7-10
Pretty straight-ahead message today as you follow in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve been given lots of opportunities lately to think about the difficulties that Christians in the United States face as they attempt to imitate and be conformed to the likeness of their Savior. My next few entries will probably attempt to point out some of these difficulties, in an effort I hope will shine some clarifying light on your own struggles to be a disciple.
I’d like to begin with a question: who is the master of your universe?
If you believe poets like William Ernest Henley, we are the “captains of our own souls“–we build with our hands, we live, we direct, and ultimately, we are our own masters. That humanist sentiment is found nearly everywhere in our culture. It is present in concepts like the American sense of ‘rugged individualism’ or the “Protestant work ethic.” The American Dream is at least partially built on the premise that we can achieve it by the work of our own two hands. In music, we see it in songs across many genres. The most obvious example that came to me as I considered this was the Garth Brooks track, “The River,” in which Brooks sings several times that he will “sail his vessel,” even while claiming during the bridge that good Lord is his captain. Apparently, the songwriters conception of the captain of a ship doesn’t extend to the captain actually guiding the ship anywhere. There is perhaps no where in American life where this sentiment is more obvious than our tendency as a culture to separate our public and private lives. Our relativism and pluralism have led us to the place where speaking beliefs of any kind in public can earn you scorn, or worse.
Leaving aside for a moment the debates about government, politics, individual rights and ethical systems which usually accompany this discussion, I want to focus only on what this means for us as followers of Jesus Christ. Our modern confusion as believers today can center on how much our faith can inform our public life, and how much of it should remain private. There are those who would claim that all beliefs should remain exclusively in the private sphere. It would seem that these people are telling us that what happens in our home or church is our own business, but that we ought to make sure it stays there. Today, I’m going to attempt to show the disastrous consequences for your spiritual walk if you adopt that system of thought for your everyday life. In fact, I think that in practice this divided system of thought is impossible for anyone to apply consistently and uniformly.
All of us carry ideas about the way the world works. This sum total of all our ideas is a worldview. Everyone has a worldview. We form our worldviews a variety of ways. Some of it we inherit from our environment. Other parts of it come with education and relationships. Some of it comes through study. No matter what, we all form ideas about how the world operates and how we should respond to it. Because all ideas are different, they effect worldview formation differently. If it helps, think of a worldview as a test-tube in a chemistry laboratory. All the ideas that exist in the world, in this analogy, would be like the chemicals and instruments you could mix or use to make something in that test-tube. Some combinations of ideas are volatile…others are stable. Sometimes you put things in the test-tube and they don’t mix at all, they simply separate back into layers. Modern conceptions of the world teach us that it’s okay to have a bunch of items in your test-tube that don’t form a single compound thing. In fact, they would tell you that the proper way of ordering your life is that it should separate into two parts–a public part and a private part, and there should be a definite and consistent separation between the two. But it is here where this analogy breaks down for those who want to follow Lord Jesus as his servants and disciples.
Throughout the Bible, God repeatedly tells those people who want to follow him that they must follow him with everything they have–no separation between different parts of their lives. I’ve noted just a few at the top of this entry. I’ve made sure that they come from a variety of locations and personages, so that you don’t think I’m cherry-picking my examples. In fact, the sin that God’s people are most frequently accused of in the Old Testament–idolatry–is really nothing more than religious double-mindedness. Most of the people who are accused of idolatry (a violation of the first two commandments, which are at the top of this entry) are not guilty of not worshiping God–they are guilty of not worshiping ONLY Him. In the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, God repeatedly tries to get this point across, ultimately unsuccessfully, to His children. He will not be satisfied with “some” of the devotion of his people. If he is God, then He is the Lord of the Universe and the sole object of worship, praise, honor, glory and adoration by those people who believe. If He is not worthy to be worshiped as the ONLY God, then He isn’t worthy to be worshiped at all. Jesus’ pointed responses to the legalism of the Pharisees is largely based on this fact–if God can be reached solely by observance of rules and regulations (e.g. humans gaining salvation by their own efforts), then God is not God–He would be impotent and unworthy worthy of worship. The Apostle Paul is also strident on this point. In short, it is impossible to have a Christian worldview while simultaneously believing that you can have one part of your life that does not include Christ.
The net result of this for us as Christians is two-fold. First, if we are going to rightly call God our “Lord” he must be actually be Lord of the entirety of our lives–there is no place for “having two opinions” or “serving two masters.” We must actively serve Him in all the areas of our life, purposefully. Second, we must be careful not to serve any idols, no matter how closely those images might fit our idea of how “God should look.” God is not a negotiable being, with traits that can be selected by his followers as though He were some of kind of deity buffet. You don’t get to build your own Savior. You can follow the one that God provided, namely God himself in the person of Christ, taking on all that entails, or you can struggle in sin and serve an idol instead. There are no other options.
As it applies to the matter of the public/private split so prevalent in modern thinking, hopefully you see what this means. It won’t do to be a model Christian at home and a ravenous sinner in the marketplace. I hope you see that’s absurd. But what is equally absurd is to assume that all Christ demands from His followers in the workplace is that they “play nice with the other children.” In your vocation, and indeed in all of your public life, you represent the risen Lord. If He is not the Lord of your public life, He will never be the Lord of your private life. Christ himself tells us why this is. Functionally, it is impossible to live with a divided mind. You will automatically default to one side or the other–one side of your life or another will ultimately prove more important to you, and that is the one you will choose. In his discussion about wealth (quoted in part from Matthew 6 above), Jesus speaks the plain truth of the matter–either you will love one and hate the other, or you will serve one and despise the other. If you choose to make your public face entirely secular, you are denying Christ, and you are worshiping an idol instead. (To anticipate a question, yes, acceptance, success, fear, sloth and most of the other reasons why people would deny Christ control of a part of their life are themselves or directly representative of an idol.) While that might sound harsh, it’s the plain truth. Anyone who has ever been in the dreaded position of hedging on their faith in public in order to “get by” will testify as much.
Even those who proclaim the worldview of double-mindedness know this is the case. Functionally, all pluralists are single-minded. They are not nearly so interested in a plurality of opinions in public as they are in their own ability to live however they please privately. However, to achieve the freedom to live however they please privately, they must also remove all private choices from the realm of legitimate public discussion, which is exactly what the culture’s move toward relativism has done. Those with minority opinions have shamed the majority into silence in the public sphere, and without the ability to agree culturally, all we are left with is, “what happens behind closed doors is their business.”
But before we go too far afield, let’s return to the more important matter: your life and attempts to serve Jesus Christ. If as you read this today you have separated a part of your life out and have not allowed Jesus Christ into it, you have an idolatry/sin issue you need to confront. This is, quite literally, the moment of truth for you. Will you turn away from your idol(s) and follow after Christ with everything you have? If the answer to that question is yes and you have decided to follow Jesus without turning back, now is the time to repent. Confess your sin to God, and seek Him for how you can functionally turn over the parts of your life which you’ve held back to Him. Evaluate why you were holding back that area and look for weaknesses in your own character which you can pray further about. It is often the case that one weakness in you will have several sinful activities or attitudes which accompany it. Today is a great time to start prayerfully working out those areas of your life. Do you struggle to know how to make Jesus the Lord of your working life? Your playing life? Your finances? Your relationships? In case of life, turn over your entire life to Jesus, seek Him, and make Him the master of YOUR universe. You’ll never regret it.
Hey folks. Hope you’re smack in the middle of God’s will for you as you read this.
I’ve got something for you right now that is hopefully something that will cause you to take a long, deep, thoughtful look in the mirror. But before that, let’s go the easier step, and talk about the people all around you.
As I’ve said before in this space, I think that most people are experts about the people around them. We spend enormous amounts of our time socially as human beings in this day and age trying to psycho-analyze the people around us, identifying their gifts, their faults, their fatal flaw. I’d wager if most of you were given a cup of your favorite beverage and total immunity from the consequences, you’d be able to come up with this list fairly quickly for nearly all of your friends, co-workers, and family. What all this adds up to is that if we have any true insight about the people around us, we should know what to expect from the people around us in nearly all circumstances. In Math and Logic, they have a name for this process: the law of identity. The law of identity states that a thing is itself. A=A.
We’ve built collections of data through our personal experiences with others, and we use that data to gauge how they will react to certain situations. If at any point, people behave in a way that is entirely inconsistent with what we know about them, we must change our definition of what they are. This process of incorporating new data into a system in which it does not fit is called cognitive dissonance. In short, we want our world to make sense, so when we get data that doesn’t fit the system, we either change the system or discredit the data. In relationship terms, this means that either we view people as constantly changing, or static–either they’re changing, or they’re the same old person we’ve always known. Either way, we have a definition of the people around us. We know what we expect from people, and we fit their behavior to our expectation, sometimes because we’re right about who they are, and sometimes because we’re blind to our own assumptions about people. The good news from this process is that at any given moment, we should have enough info to know what to expect from people. Insecure people act insecurely. Egotistical people behave egotistically. Impulsive people behave impulsively. You get the picture. That leads to…
Application #1: You shouldn’t expect people you really know to behave differently that what you know about them. If you know someone lies to others, it’s a good bet that they will lie to you too, given the opportunity or reason to do so. If you know someone is selfish, and they behave selfishly, it should be the least shocking thing in the world. I think despite all our efforts to analyze people, we don’t do a good job of putting our knowledge to use. Let me give you an example from the Christian worldview. Someone is a new believer. They know next to nothing about the faith. We should therefore expect them to be unstable in the faith, making the mistakes spiritually and otherwise that people who aren’t mature in the faith make. Paul makes exactly this point in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, in essence telling the Corinthians, in Gump-ian terms, ‘immature is as immature does.’ They’re acting in an immature way–exactly how you’d expect immature people to act. (In this case, the sign of their immaturity throughout the letter is boasting about how mature they are.) Likewise, we should expect people who don’t believe in Jesus to behave like they don’t know Him. Again, Paul speaks on this matter, saying that the things of the faith are foolishness to those who don’t believe them and must be, because people without the Spirit behave like people who don’t have the Spirit, and can’t understand spiritual things. (1 Cor. 2:1-16)
This is the ultimate in “duh.” People are themselves. People reveal what they are through what they continually do. I know what you’re thinking: “He spent 650 words saying that?”
But I’ve set you up. Let’s flip the script and put a mirror in front of you right now as you read this. If you were to stand in the mirror and look at yourself: what you did today when you thought no one was looking, what you thought throughout the day, the way you treated people, what would they reveal about who you really are? If the law of identity holds, and a thing is itself, what are you? If you claim to be mature in your faith in Jesus Christ, are you living like it? If you’re new in the faith, are you willing to embrace that newness and follow hard after Christ?
All of us have blindspots–places in ourselves that we can’t see. We like to believe that we’ve got the corner on the market for knowledge on ourselves, and that no one else could know something about ourselves that we don’t already know. But we’re deceiving ourselves when we believe that, and our difficulties in living our lives and maturing in our faith will be proportional to the size of our blindspot(s). It’s the equivalent of walking in a perpetual house of mirrors. We have difficulty getting information about ourselves, and sometimes it takes another set of eyes we trust to help us get information we desperately need to make good judgments. There’s a reason that cars have mirrors strategically placed all around them.
Application #2: You desperately need to take seriously the feedback you get from other people about where your blindspots are, even if you think they are wrong. Even if the feedback you get ultimately proves to be wrong, taking it seriously will help you to keep yourself in check. The people around you have a reason for thinking what they do. You should be aware of it, and do everything you can to make use of that information. In the Christian life, we call this accountability. The people we trust to see us clearly (and we are all supposed to have these people), are called to hold us accountable, and to make sure that we are who we think we are. Find people in your life who can serve you as a mirror to check your blindspots.
That leads to my final point tonight. Christians in our time have become famous/infamous for judging people in the culture around us. Whether that charge is right or wrong is not my concern at the moment. As it so happens, I’m going to take my own advice and assume that at least from the point of view of someone who would make such a claim, they have a reason for doing so. Their reason is because they have an idea of what the Christian life is about. If the person making the judgment is not a Christian, their information may be incorrect, but they are still judging from what they know. If we hold an unbelieving person accountable for the standard given for believers, we have made a big mistake. We compound the mistake when we judge non-believers for their behavior (which does not follow the identity principle as discussed above) and do not hold people who do profess faith in Jesus to the standard they have claimed to be in use for themselves (also a violation of the law of identity). In other words, the charge of hypocrisy towards believers is built on the knowledge that non-believers are being held to a standard that believers do not employ among themselves. That leads me to…
Application #3: If you’re going to claim to be a Christian, you must be prepared to be held to that standard. There is no such thing as an insanity plea inside the body of Christ. If you’re going to claim to believe the Bible, you should be willing to be accountable to it, by others who claim to believe it. It follows logically from the commitment. If you’re not prepared to do that, Christianity is not for you, and you should go back and make sure that your ‘conversion’ was real. There are real reasons for you to be worried about your eternity if you claim to know Christ but have no desire to live according to ALL of his dictates as described in the Scriptures. (I am bracketing, for the moment, the issue of what exactly the content of all of those dictates are–I know there are disagreements, but that is separate from the issue I am trying to address here.) What I am NOT saying is that if you struggle to do everything you think you should that you’re not saved. What I AM saying is that if you have no desire to hear what Jesus and the Bible have to say on an issue, there is reason for you to be very concerned. The Bible has much to say about who we are and is the ultimate set of objective eyes–it was written about humanity before any of us were born, and it will stand as truth long after all of us have given up our physical bodies. We desperately need the accountability that comes from taking the Scriptures seriously.
The law of identity (A=A) states that a thing is itself. This has big implications all around us.
1. We should expect the people around us to behave in a way that is consistent with who they are. If we pay attention, this means that we can save ourselves disappointment, hurt and difficulty by simply expecting people to be what they are. Likewise, we should expect non-Christians to behave as such, and Christians to behave as though they believe.
2. You probably have blindspots about your own character that others can see and you cannot. You need to find trustworthy people to point these blindspots out to you, so that you can seriously work on those areas in your character. This is critically important for your spiritual growth. After finding such people, take what they say to you about your character seriously.
3. Christians claim to believe in God (in three persons) as explained in the Bible. As such, if the law of identity is going to be true in our lives, we must live up to that standard, inasmuch as any person can. We need to be willing to be held accountable by the faith we profess without becoming hostile or irritated.
A few practical steps for you tonight.
- Reserve judgment on other people. You should expect people to behave in a way consistent with their character. If that is true, there isn’t much left to judge–there is only two groups of people: people who need Jesus, and people who need Jesus more. Put differently, group one is people who know they need Jesus. Group two is those who don’t know they need Him.
- Don’t put faith in people who don’t merit it. If someone behaves erratically or demonstrates themselves to be untrustworthy in someway, you should act accordingly and not put too much trust in them. Trust is earned.
- Find someone(s) in your life who merits your trust and who cares about you, who will say hard things to you about your character and maturity. You desperately need people who can tell you honestly about your blindspots.
- Once you’ve found someone(s) who will perform this necessary service for you, LISTEN TO THEM. They care about you, and don’t deserve to be yelled at for being honest with you.
- Spend time in prayer and in study of the Scriptures, asking God to show you the truth about yourself and where you can stand to grow.
- Pay attention to your daily life–there’s a good chance the next thing you need to work on is hiding in plain sight. Do you get road rage? Do you lie to people? Do you gossip? Do you lust after someone or something? Are you greedy? Are you mean? Again, ask God to help you to see what is not obvious to you right now.
In case of life, realize that people are themselves, and so are you. Then ask God to show you not only what you are, but what He wants to make you into. Ask Him to give you people who will help you to get there. The kingdom will be bolstered by your maturation in Christ, and you will reap the benefits of being truly mature in Christ.