Thursday, May 25, 2017

Carnality in Perspective

The Corinthians have a reputation. They have become almost synonymous with carnality. Yet it is interesting how they are described at the beginning of 1 Corinthians. They are described as saints, people not lacking in any gift, and objects of God’s faithfulness (1 Corinthians 1:1-9). This is said in spite of their behavior as chronicled in the rest of the book. We see divisions, lawsuits, sexual immorality, and fighting over things of a marginal nature. Yet it is despite these things that the Corinthians are so described. Now I do not want to deny that God is at work in us to change our behavior patterns (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10). Also, it is clear Paul wants to encourage the Corinthians to grow up spiritually so that they might not continue behaving as they have been (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 5:6-8; 6:19,20). But that does not change how Paul addresses them. 
To see the basis for this, we have to start with the fact that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), based on what Christ has done (Colossians 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24,25; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But salvation should not be seen as a door we enter, with everything after that based on our performance. Rather, we always stand before God on the basis of grace (Romans 8:31-39; 5:1,2; Galatians 5:1). Therefore, we are to regard ourselves as completely supplied in Him with what we need to live for Him (Colossians 2:10; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6). Nor do we approach Him with fear, but with confidence that we are His children (Romans 8:15; 1 John 4:15-18; Hebrews 4:16).

Why then should we live for God, rather than simply indulging our own desires? The answer is because we love God in response to what He has done for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1). In this, it is helpful to remember a person cannot scam God. This is because God knows the heart (Romans 2:16; 1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 21:2). The individual with genuine faith will not simply continue on in their old manner of life (James 2:14-26; 2 Peter 2:7,8; 1:9). But the new life is not a life of drudgery, but a celebration of what God has done for us (Romans 14:17; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Philippians 4:4). Because who we are in Christ does not depend on what we do, but on what He has done.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Writing Our Own Story

I confess, I want to be the writer of my own story. I think this is a tendency true of all of us. I am willing to serve God, but I want to do it my way and under my conditions. I would even be willing to endure great toil and make large sacrifices. But I want to be able to define the toil and the sacrifices. But God does not work that way. God wants us to submit to His will and do what He wants, the way He wants. He wants us to undertake the toil He calls us to, even if it does not make sense to us that this is what we should be doing. He calls us to make the sacrifices He wants us to make, which may not fit our desire for dignity and recognition. God requires that He be the author of the story. Take Moses; he was ready to work to deliver his people. He thought he knew what needed to be done and was willing to take risks to do it. But God sent him into the desert to herd sheep for forty years before He commissioned him to go back and deliver his people. David was anointed king and killed Goliath, but sent many years running from King Saul before he came into his kingdom. Then he wanted to build God a temple, but was told his son would do it rather than him. Saul, later to be the Apostle Paul, was converted to Christianity and was zealous to serve the faith he had persecuted. But he ended up spending years in Tarsus before being sent out on his great missionary journeys. God always does things His way.  

It is important to remember that God is in control of the world and is working all things together for our good (Ephesians 1:11; 2:10; Romans 8:28). But our good does not necessarily mean what we want or how we think things should work out. And frequently our good involves being willing to put God and His glory before what we want (1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Colossians 3:23,24). But this is not always easy. I would find the story of the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness hard to believe if I did not see the same things in my own life. It is easy in each new situation to forget God’s past deliverances and to grumble and complain about what God is requiring me to face now. This is true even though God has brought me through in the past time and time again. I think ultimately we just have to trust that God has a plan for our lives even if we do not understand what He is doing at the moment (Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 11:13-16; Habakkuk 3:17-19). Easy to write, but not always easy to do.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Approaching God's Word

There is a Peanuts cartoon where Linus is shown lying on his stomach, reading a Bible. Lucy asks him what he is doing and he replies he is “looking for a Bible verse to back up my preconceived notions.” Unfortunately, this is all too commonly the way we approach Scripture. But if we are to live consistent with the idea that the Bible is the Word of God, capable of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us so we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17), we need to make it the authority in our lives. This means we start from what Scripture says and test other things by it. Otherwise, it makes it difficult for God to change us because we change Scripture to fit what we want it to say. James pictures the Word of God as a mirror which we look in to see our true self (James 1:22-25). But the question comes whether, having seen what we really are we change, or walk away and forget what we saw.   

But it is easy to take the world’s assumptions and read them into Scripture. For instance, our culture sees angels as the spirits of those who have died. They are pictured as having wings and white robes and sitting on clouds playing harps. They are not uncommonly pictured as cute. Scripture says angels are another part of God’s creation, distinct from human beings (Hebrews 2:5-16). They appear either in human form and not easily distinguishable from us (Genesis 19:1-11) or in complicated majestic forms (Ezekiel 1:4-21; 10:15-17). They are frequently so overwhelming that those who should know better are tempted to worship them (Revelation 22:8,9). This may seem a secondary issue, but I have seen the same principle at work in more crucial matters. For instance, I have seen people argue in favor of things clearly contrary to the Word of God, such as homosexuality (Romans 1:26,27) and racism (Acts 17:26).

There are things we can do to help avoid these types of errors. We should base our understanding on all of Scripture and not just a few odd verses. I am convinced that God is not shy, and the things He regards as important (such as what we must do to be saved) He says over and over again so we will get them. Also, we should understand issues based on the passages where God directly addresses them (for instance, in the case of salvation, the first half of Romans). If we find places which seem to conflict, frequently they reflect different aspects of the same truth and we need to ask how they fit together (for instance, James 2:14-26 is not explaining how to be saved, but what the results of salvation are in an individual’s life). But most of all, we should understand Scripture based on what it says, not what makes sense to us or what we have been taught. Only then will Scripture change us rather then us changing Scripture.