head knowledge is not enough

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

James 1:22

Bible listening or hearing in scripture means obeying. This is especially clear in the Old Testament. One doesn’t really hear God, unless they’re intent on following through with what God has said. Samuel is a case in point. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3). And with one intent only: to serve, to obey.

James makes it clear that we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re alright, “religious” (verse 26), just because we know truth, or have it in our heads, having heard it through our ears. But has it reached the heart, and worked its way into our lives, is the question. Are we attempting by God’s grace to put it into practice? Do we at least want to, even if it’s a struggle to us, sometimes even over our desire?

It’s about “getting down to brass tacks,” the essentials. If our Christianity is not something we practice, then it’s of no value at all. It helps neither ourselves, nor anyone else.

We need God in this. It’s not some personal self-help endeavor or project. God must be in this, or it won’t work at all. And God is at work in this way in his grace in and through Jesus. But it’s up to us to do it. God won’t do it for us. But God makes it possible for us to hear and follow through so that we not only hear the word, but do it. In and through Jesus.

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grace changes

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

I don’t like talk against religion, and comparing that to relationship, because it seems to me that religion properly understood is what God put in place to bring about relationship, all through God’s grace in Jesus. But we can contrast law and grace, and see from places like Romans 7, compared to Romans 6 and 8, that the law helps us see our need, but ultimately can only condemn us. What we’re in need of is grace (Romans 6) and the Spirit (Romans 8) through Christ. And this grace changes us, in contrast to law. We can’t do it on our own.

It offers, or more literally brings salvation to all people. In other words, this grace is tied to salvation. We can’t do it on our own for sure. We need Christ. Or what we evangelicals like to call “a personal relationship with Christ.” We need to keep reading the entire Bible on what it means to know God. It is quite down to earth, and not just about “me and God.” Yet it is personal and relational. God loves us as if we were the only being that exists, because God is pure love. God can love each and every individual that way, and does.

So that God sent his Son. Remember, God did not hate the world so much that he sent his Son, but loved the world in this way, or so much, that he sent the Son (John 3:16). And while God loves the sinner, when one repents and believes through the gospel, the good news in Jesus of Jesus and his death and resurrection, than one enters into a relational, saving love, which helps one navigate life in such a way as not to please themselves, but God. And paradoxically end up pleasing themselves in the process. Whereas those who live to please themselves, will in the end be displeasing to themselves and others. Or, to get to Jesus’s point: Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, while those who lose their lives for him and the gospel, will actually find them. We begin to find our true selves as God created us, in and through the new creation in Jesus (Titus 3:3-8).

And so we’re all in need. And the answer is to live in God’s grace by the Spirit, a grace available to us all in the salvation of God in Jesus.

 

the call to complete discipleship not only to those in ministry, but to us all in Jesus

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

We often think that only pastors or those in “full time Christian service” are called to be completely set apart for ministry (2 Timothy 2), while the rest of us will even necessarily be engaged in the affairs of this world.

But Jesus’s call to discipleship is to us all. We remember that Jesus himself was fully involved in the world he was raised up in. Doing carpentry or whatever kind of work it was (whatever the term actually means) up until the time of his call to ministry at around the age of thirty. But that time did not exempt him at all from complete devotion to his Father, which we have inklings of in the narrative before, when he was a twelve year old in the temple (Luke 2). The world system or aspects of it which are opposed to God (systemic evil) we must be completely opposed to. But the everyday matters which can occupy our lives, and so much of our time, we’re to be fully engaged in to the glory of God. And to do so as those who are followers of Christ by the Spirit.

This certainly involves so much as spilled out and spelled out in scripture. And only possible by God’s grace through the Spirit. Through God’s call we can overcome and follow fully. Even though along the way we will stumble, and we won’t do it perfectly. But we want to endeavor to get back up, keep going, and keep on following no matter what. Given to us, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

Peter’s denial

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

Mark 14:27-29

During what we call Holy Week, not long before Jesus’s crucifixion, we find one of the disciples, Judas, betraying his Lord and friend, and another who was more or less the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denying him even with curses. I think sometimes we just push Judas to the side as a reprobate, without understanding Jesus’s love for him, and disappointment in what he did. On the other hand, I think we also tend to minimize what Peter did in denying the Lord, chalking it up to just the weakness of the flesh. While that is indeed the case, and Peter failed to lead the way in praying in the garden of Gethsemane as the Lord told them to (Mark 14:32-42), what Peter did was indeed serious, a grievous sin in openly denying his Lord. Of course after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, he would boldly proclaim his Lord in the face of strong opposition, even death. But in the story surrounding Holy Week, we’re certainly not there yet.

This was both a painful, yet important event for Peter’s sanctification in learning, awareness, and growth, just as it is for ours, as we look back on it, and probably experience something of the same in our own lives. Note how Peter probably saw himself, or was at least open to the thought that he was a cut above all the rest of the disciples. Pride. And of course we read in scripture that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Certainly this is an apt word for each one of us. Any of us are as capable of falling as anyone else (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). The moment we think we’ve arrived is the moment we’re in danger.

What was the difference between Judas and Peter? That’s a big subject, probably much to say from scripture and theology in trying to come up with some sort of answer for that. Simply here, after Peter’s failure, he had the grace of tears (Mark 14:66-72). But Judas seemed to be choked with self-condemnation, and the blame along with the destruction that can go with it. So that instead of a broken and contrite heart that could have led to repentance (Psalm 51), Judas succumbed to the enemy’s voice in rejecting the salvation that is always available in Jesus. Instead he heaped the blame on himself, taking matters in his own hands by tragically ending his life (Matthew 27:1-10).

We have all failed sometime along the way. We have either betrayed our Lord, denied him, or probably somehow both, at one point or another, perhaps a number of times. And maybe not overtly, but in more subtle, deceptive ways, so that we were failing to follow. Weeping while having a broken spirit, and contrite heart is good (again, note Psalm 51). Self-condemnation is not good. Only God is the judge, and God extends salvation to all who are under his just and righteous judgment. Of course on the terms that they would repent, just as Peter did. That possibility is open to us all.

And so, the great salvation of our Lord. Even to us deniers, who in our weakness and sin fail to follow at times. So that we might better understand, appreciate and experience what our Lord did for us on that cross.

grace to continue

The week of Jesus’s death and resurrection, which we now call Holy Week was a most difficult time for Jesus’s disciples, as we see from the gospel accounts. It is practically amazing that all of them except Judas not only were in it for the long haul, but gave their lives up in martyrdom because of their testimony to Jesus, and his death and resurrection.

This reminds me of the grace we need to continue no matter what. Why do some drop out of the Christian faith altogether? Some do, and there are surely a good number of reasons surrounding that. But the crux of the matter from one angle is the failure to simply continue in the grace of God available in Jesus. We see from various passages in the New Testament that simply to continue on in the grace of God is what keeps us keeping on in Jesus. We all need that.

The grace of God here simply refers to what we need to keep us both believing and following our Lord. Of course there is much involved in that, as we see from scripture. We continue to follow Jesus not because of us, or our circumstances. But always because of God’s gift to us in Jesus. Not even with the natural good by creation that is in us, that we are. But only through the new creation in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). And so we follow. Only in and through him.

accepting one another, living in grace

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15:7

There is nothing quite like a genuine acceptance of each other in Christ because of grace. And there is nothing quite so stifling and cold as when we refuse to do that, or do it with strings attached.

Everyone alive has their issues. No one has arrived, of course. And we all have our particular struggles, not to mention our blind spots. We are all in process. And in the passage quoted above, it is in the section in Romans 14 and 15 about disputable matters in which Christians can differ. In the context of that day with reference to what was actually clean and unclean in terms of the new covenant replacing the old. And it’s a bit complicated.

But fast forward to where we live today, and it can be in terms of all kinds of things, but at the heart of it is an attitude of judging someone else, so that we hold them at arm’s length, and likely see them somehow as inferior to ourselves, either in their character, or in their faith.

What we need is quite the opposite. If we focus on what’s negative about ourselves or others, then we will likely miss what God is actually doing. And the well is poisoned. Instead we need to accept both ourselves, and each other, just as God in and through Christ accepts us. So that we can be open to the goodness of what God is doing even in us, as well as our brother and sister in Christ. And so we can be hopeful of God’s movement of grace in others.

The only way we can live and go on well ourselves. And something we must apply in our attitude to others as well, in and through Jesus.

keep on forgiving

Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Luke 11:4a

Forgiveness is not something we withhold from others. We at least need to forgive everyone for whatever wrong they’ve done to us from our hearts. But there’s what I have called a functional forgiveness as well. Meaning that we forgive them only when they acknowledge their fault to us, being sorry that they did it. That kind of forgiveness is for their good. For some things, and especially concerning those in the church, people need to be held to a certain standard. And our Lord teaches us to do that (Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:15-20). But forgiving others from the heart includes both the functional forgiveness we extend, as well as forgiveness for all the other wrongs done to us, even by our enemies who might want to harm us all the more.

We might say that the functional forgiveness is primarily for the good of the other, the one who has sinned against us, while forgiving from the heart is not just for their good, but primarily for the good of the one who forgives. It’s a heart matter.

And being a heart matter to me suggests that it is more than functional, which we automatically do when someone acknowledges repentance to us. It is something we may well have to work through, in a heart by God’s grace of love, yes, forgiving them. But the wrong done to us may have been so bad, and perhaps the perpetrator is not even sorry they did it, that such forgiveness we may have to struggle through, and do again and again. God does this for us, and we need to do it for others.

We need to remember the example of our Lord on the cross when he prayed for his enemies, even for those who put him there, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But we also need to be honest to ourselves and to God, that there will be times when we are once again struggling to forgive someone for the wrongs they have done, either real or imagined by us. Once again, it’s a heart matter. Psalm 51 is a great passage to read about heart change. We often sin, and actually probably always do, when others sin against us. So that confession to God will be necessary, and perhaps to the person who sinned against us, if we responded in kind against them, returning evil for evil. If we just harbored it in our hearts we need to confess such to God, and work through it. We do this on the basis both of God’s mercy to sinners (Luke 6), and because of the cross where we find that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5).

And we may have to keep forgiving someone again and again. If we’re repentant ourselves over our struggle to forgive, God’s grace will be present, as it actually already is, to help us so repent. God will help us, and if need be again and again, to forgive the wrongdoer. It will probably take us awhile, and maybe will be something we keep doing the rest of our lives. Even if reconciliation with them is not possible. We forgive them, and release them into God’s hands, praying for their salvation, and for God’s good will to be accomplished even in the midst of evil, or what is not good. All of this in and through Jesus.