by Linda Rex
I was thinking about the lost art of Bible reading. The Bible used to be the main textbook in the classroom. Many parents and teachers used the Bible to teach their children to read. Although I don’t really see the benefit of teaching a child to read using, “and Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad, and Zabad begat Ephlal, and Ephlal begat Obed,…” (1 Chr. 2:36-37 YLT) when most adults including myself can’t even pronounce the names correctly, there is benefit in the Bible being used so frequently. The words and content were more readily available to the average person, so that many learned a basic form of morality and Christian basis for living as part of their daily life.
The great Protestant tradition of each person being able to read and interpret the Bible as the Spirit leads has allowed for a great variety in translations and religions within the realm of Christianity. But, naturally, there is some danger in this. When a person believes that they have received a specific revelation out of scripture and they begin to spread it around as though it is the truth (when really it is a misinterpretation of Scripture) then this is a problem. When the Scriptures are used to lead people away from the central truth of Scripture—Jesus Christ and salvation through him alone—this is a serious situation indeed.
In Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes, who were taking him to task for associating with and caring for the sinners and outcasts of society, he brought up the fact that even though the Israelite nation had had the word of God for centuries, they really never did hear it. Or when they did hear it, it did not transform their lives. It pointed them to Jesus Christ, who would be the fulfillment of the scriptures and bring salvation for all people, but they didn’t recognize him when he came.
The truth is that a person can have the Bible and even read it and memorize it, but without a heart of faith, a heart that is humble and surrendered to the Father, that trusts in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and is open to the work and will of the Holy Spirit, the Bible will make no difference in their life. Until God, by his Spirit, writes the law of love on a person’s heart and mind, the words cannot and will not be understood correctly, or believed and obeyed as God intended.
Surely, a person can have an outstanding “form of godliness.” We had a form of godliness for many years as members of the former Worldwide Church of God. We had seventh day Sabbath-keeping, holy day keeping, tithing (3 of them even) and clean foods eating godliness. We had the “we are the nation of Israel” holiness that excluded people of other races and ethnicities through our Anglo/British Israelism. And we brought the Holy Spirit along as the power we needed—always asking God for more of it because we never could be quite good enough. We definitely stood out in the society as being “separate.”
It was a “feel good” religion because all of us felt how good we were compared to everyone else because we were doing what was right while everyone else was obeying pagan holidays and disobeying God. The truth was that this “form of godliness” was a slavery and we didn’t really feel that good after all, because in our hearts we knew we never could be good enough. We were constantly striving to “overcome” so we could make it into God’s kingdom. We lived daily with that nagging feeling of guilt and shame that comes when we are striving to do relationship with God in our own strength. We were never sure that God really did love us, individually, fully, unconditionally.
Being immersed in this religion since the day I took my first breath and having seen and heard the founders, movers and shakers of this religion since the time I could first remember, I, much like the apostle Paul in his day, feel a deep yearning for the freedom of all those who are still bound by these ways of thinking and believing. How I long to help others see that Jesus Christ, who is/was God in human flesh, brought together all of Israel and all other people together in himself, in his person! He joined us forever in himself so that now he is the law, the law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The testimony of the Scriptures points to Jesus Christ as the center—the old covenant and new covenant have him at the core. It is all about him—he is our Sabbath rest, he is our holy day, he is our clean food as the Bread and the Wine, he is our baptism, he is our tithe—the One set apart for holy use!
Was it not enough that he lived in our place, died for us and rose from the dead? Must we continually add things to this in order to feel good enough? If we need guidelines for living, then we need to look to him and look to those he taught when he came. They provide plenty of “rules for living” if we need them—but the apostles all began at a central place, faith in Jesus Christ and in our union with God in him through the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of our faith and from there we build. This means we have a unified basis for belief and faith.
Jesus warned of the dangers of attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. This is what our church did. We taught that the early church was deceived and left the faith. This is a denial of the Spirit and his work and I shudder to think that we disrespected him by professing this. May God forgive us! The real truth is that as the Spirit led the early church into a new and deeper understanding of the nature of God that had been revealed to them by Jesus Christ, they included this in the creeds and in their worship. Rejected by the Sabbath-keeping Jews, they began to center their life around Jesus Christ, with the Christian calendar focused on his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. This was not a twisted deception, but a leading of the Holy Spirit and a handing down faithfully of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. It was Spirit-led and Spirit-filled.
Moses and the Prophets spoke of these days, when the knowledge of God would fill the earth like waters cover the seas, when the worship of God would be found in all nations. Moses and the Prophets pointed us to the One who would come and transform the world by transforming human hearts. When God goes to work in someone’s life and heart through the Spirit and Christ becomes the foundation of their faith, they become a new person. There is a joy and light in their eyes that comes from them knowing to their core that they are loved and cherished by God. I pray that that light will never be extinguished by the lie that somehow being loved and forgiven, being in Christ, is not enough—that they have to add something to this, that they have to add all the things Christ did in their place. May God grant us all the grace to truly trust in Christ and to trust in him alone!
Holy Father, it breaks my heart that so many cannot see the wonder of what you have done for all of us in Jesus Christ. It makes me sad that we are so easily deceived by words, words that twist and corrupt the simple message of the gospel, of faith in Christ. Holy Spirit, forgive us for grieving you, for attributing your gracious work for humankind to the devil. I’m so sorry! Lord Jesus, please come in your Spirit and transform hearts. Forgive and bring healing, liberation, hope, regeneration, God, please. Jesus, in your name, for your sake, I pray. Amen.
“But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:31 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15
Sometimes we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is God’s will in this situation?” There are many verses that talk about the will of God. In this particular instance, Peter is talking about the will of God in the midst of a pagan anti-Christian culture with an oppressive government.
The people of that time lived under Nero and other Roman caesars, who took pleasure in the persecution and destruction of Christians. Peter himself would eventually experience a martyr’s death. This was a difficult, and no doubt, fearful time in which to live. Many of the issues Christians faced in those days are similar to ones Christians face in their world today.
Peter wrote that the way to silence those who know nothing about God and the way of life Jesus taught his disciples was to live in love with fellow Christians and others in the community in the face of suffering, rejection and death. What got the attention of the people of the day was the love and affection of the Christians. They had formed communities in which those in need were cared for and relationships were built. Not only that, but they reached out to those who were not Christians and showed them love and compassion even when it meant putting their lives at risk.
The Christians may have been ridiculed by their neighbors and community members for their funky observances like eating the body and blood of a dead guy (participating in communion), but the criticism was often silenced by the love and compassion these people witnessed these Christians sharing in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. It was the “doing good” and the non-violent response to martyrdom and suffering that eventually silenced the persecutors and paved the way for the Roman empire to embrace Christendom.
As we go about our daily lives and experience troubles and trials as Christians, it would be good for us to keep in mind the impact we have on others by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are preaching the gospel in the way we “do good” in our daily lives. As we reflect to the world around us the grace and love and truth of Jesus Christ, we pave the way for God to ultimately silence those who oppose him by transforming their hearts by faith. This is the path toward accomplishing the will of God–giving his Spirit full expression in and through us in the midst of a broken and hurting humanity who are ignorant of or live in opposition to God’s love and grace and truth in Jesus Christ.
Dear Lord of Life, please grant us the vision to see beyond our daily trials to understand the impact we can have on the world around us by living upright, godly, loving lives no matter what we may face or suffer. Help us to fully reflect the wonder of your love and grace in Jesus as we go about our daily business. You have worked mightly through your people to change the world. Please work mightly thorough us as well. Grant us the strength, wisdom and courage to bear whatever suffering or sorrow this may require and to do whatever you may ask of us. For Christ’s sake and by your great power. Amen.