1 October 2014 by Jason Law CM –
I often wonder; am I alone in pondering whether we have overcomplicated our relationship with God as Christians?
At times, we listen to exhortations that we need to live holy lives, and everything we do should be directed upwards to God. Even the thought that we are obeying the commandments of God for our own good are viewed as self-centered, and thus, sinful.
And then another preacher comes along, telling of the Gospel of Grace, and that all ‘man-made rules of holiness’ are actually barriers, distractions, and hindrances to an open and complete relationship with God.
We have so many different types of gospels. Some would preach the Social Gospel and quote the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), in which Jesus seem to condemn what He calls false believers for not ministering to those who needed it.
And then another would come along, and preach at you about the evils and fallacies of the Social Gospel, arguing that it focuses too much on Earthly societies and humanistic efforts.
Words like ‘evil’, ‘false’, and ‘shameful’ get thrown around a lot. As Rudyard Kipling said in his ‘The Ballad of East and West’
Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
Make of it what you will but I think there is a way to read the poem that is clear enough.
As I look into the Gospels, what do I see? I see Jesus preaching about a Spiritual Kingdom and Children of God. I see the Son of God speaking a message of reconciliation that comes from the Father. I see the distinctive parables of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son (Luke 15), and of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Of these, the first two groups speak about the Father’s heart for His children, and the third, about transcending the divide between mankind on opposite sides of society, through our ministries.
Even the ones that are voiced in a pressing tone like the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25) and the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) comes from the standpoint of a relationship between both God and man, and in others, like the Parable of the Sheep and Goat, between men with men.
Recently, I read the autobiography of Helen Keller. She became both blind and deaf at the very early age of 19 months. And yet, when she was a young woman, she could share her story with grace and hope. Towards the end of her autobiography, she wrote with gratitude about the people who brought hope to her life, one of them an Episcopal preacher by the name of Phillips Brooks:
Bishop Brooks taught me no special creed or dogma; but he impressed upon my mind two great ideas – the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and made me feel that these truths underlie all creeds and forms of worship. God is love, God is our Father, and we are His children; therefore the darkest clouds will break, and though right be worsted, wrong shall not triumph.
The ultimate Word for Christians is the Bible, and through a natural process, every value and belief we have must come through the Book of God. In Matthew 22: 37-40, Jesus tells us of the Greatest Commandment:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
And then He tells us something significant in verse 40:
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us of the power and primacy of Love for God is Love (1 John 4:8)
1 John 4:8 New International Version (NIV)
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
So, when you correct your brother or sister, do it out of the Spirit of Love. Let’s not do it out of our judgment, because we think he or she should follow a certain code of conduct that has been established through a standard in our minds. Lest we get distracted by our own Laws instead of the Giver of the Law, we should remember the rule in Luke 6:37.
Didactic or holier-than-thou messages are so often preached, and yet at the end of it all, what truly matters? Some of these speakers ended their journeys in defeat, either through desperation, or through doing something stupid in a scandal that mars not just their reputations, but also the testimonies of the whole Body of Christ.
Reflecting on the Disciples of Christ, I often wonder what gave these disciples the strength to endure what they did. And then I realize that these people had been walking together with Christ, following Him in every one of His ministry, seeing with their own eyes what He brought into the lives of others, the miracles and power of the Son of God, and that while they did not understand it fully, they knew that the Christ was no mere mortal guru.
So the true questions should be ‘Who is Christ to us?’ ‘Are we really reconciled with Him?’ ‘Do we truly trust that He is for us, which would mean that His commandments are genuinely for our own good, and that through Him, no power in the world can destroy us?’
I realize that I may be talking from an advantageous vantage point. As Christians in Malaysia, we are relatively privileged. We still have our freedom to practice our faith and relationship with God. What about those in certain other parts of the world that are undergoing great persecution and pressure?
We have to remember, however, that the 12 disciples and Paul did not have it easy either. While they were promised the Second Coming of Christ, they did not see it in their lifetimes. They lived lives that were under intense persecution, most of which ended in martyrdom.
The thing is, the secret to the lives of the disciples and Paul is not about how great they were or how much they did, but because they knew the meaning of Being in One Spirit with God. This identity was so real and precious to them that they were willing to go through anything for its sake. And very often, I have found that freedom actually requires more maturity.
Jesus is the only Word that offers salvation and the richness of life. No amount of our good works and devotion mean a thing if we do not truly know how to rest in Him. We can produce however much work, but we’ll always be in bondage because we’ll never feel good enough to deserve God’s love. It robs us of God’s peace, and contentment in our hearts.
The purpose God created us is to have fellowship with Him, and God loves us so much that He wants to share this life with Him so closely that we’re one Heart and Spirit with Him. We’re not defined by what we do or what we have, but because of what He gave us through His Grace and the New Identities He has given us. And the same goes with our possessions or ‘lack of it’; we can find contentment because we already have the most precious thing in the world through Him.
This is what I learnt a few months back, and this is what I still believe is the right focus. I really think it is as simple as that. But of course ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ are two different things, and we all need the Grace of God in our lives.
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