You can read this through, since often one taught point leads on to another than qualifies it. But for an overview, see the list of what God has taught and for the context in which he taught each thing, see the beginnings and the history. Click here for home page.
But when Jesus clearly showed that religion was not the best way of relating to God, one main alternative was the personal relationship. It was underlined by prophecies that all would be able to know God directly, not via priests etc. (Jeremiah 31:33,34). Added to this the idea below that Jesus paid the debt for each person's sin, this made the personal relationship idea very powerful. The Apostle Paul expresses it as a deep, intensive love in his letter to the people at Phillipi (3:7-14):
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
Jesus made clear his desire for personal relationship with those who follow him in John 10. He talked about his sheep - those who know his voice and whom he knows by name, those who follow him, and he leads them, takes care of them, protects them even sacrificing himself for them. It speaks strongly of an intimate relationship of love.
Over the last 2000 years this has come through again and again. Wherever there has been a powerful turning to the Living God it has usually been fuelled by the idea of a personal, rather than religious, relationship with God. Here are a few examples:
However there is also a cultural impetus to the making-powerful==== of this discovery, the individualism that entered via the Rennaissance etc. From that time the individual is seen as as the main unit of society (and social organizations are seen only as collections of individuals, for example). Freedom is seen in terms of the individual: the libertarian notion of the individual being unconstrained.
But, from such a worldview, in which the individual is the most important, God's love can only make sense as individual-to-individual love. Since God's love is the best and most perfect of loves, therefore it must be the best and most intense of individual-to-individual love. This personal love of and for God has been a growing theme over the last 500 years. But nowadays, especially in the USA, as well as in the UK where Margaret Thatcher once said "There is no such thing as society", it seems to have come to some peak, and so the intense personal love of God is a favourite doctrine among many.
Those who over-emphasize it are not wrong. Rather, they are right in discovering, and holding to, it, but they are wrong in letting the bright light of this revelation blind them to all else. For example, such people often forget issues of justice and society which, as we saw elsewhere, is grounded in the very love of God they so value.
But for people like Julian of Norwich, it was not an easy thing to learn. She lived in a culture that emphasized the majesty and authority and judgement of God. When God started giving her visions of his personal, intense love, they were notable, and she started writing them down. They have been helpful ever since.
(Julian is considered theologically 'iffy' by some because she found it difficult to believe in hell. That does not detract from the truth that God gave to humankind through her, however. It was just that, in her distorted culture in which God's love was hardly ever recognised, it is not surprising that she spent all her attention on the rectifying that. I do not blame her for failing to go the next step to see that, because of his love for all he made, God wants justice and will punish those who proudly go against this.)
==== ordinary people: leon morris
In line with a clearer personal relationship with God comes an expectation that God will work in individual lives as well as in nations and peoples. If he is of a mind to attend to and value individuals, and ordinary individuals, then he will probably be of a mind to work in their lives. ==== # types of work a) power-miracles b) changing our wills and characters # i had to learn that he not only wants me for heaven but also wants to do things in my life here and now # purpose of his working in my now: a) to achieve things in this life - but he doesnt need me if he wishes to achieve, so its partly to give me the joy of working with God - b) to ready me for next life. # how he works: # words of knoledge # conscience # holy spirit convicting of sin # some examples of his working
Spiritual gifts, miracles, supernatural, power over demons. Also power in everyday situations, such as in political. Being rediscovered in last 100 years. The movement from spiritual/personal to bodily/collective, now to creational and global.
Link to the Prosperity Cycle. and have as antidote and balancing theme, the Dignity of Suffering.
If we are of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition we tend to think of God as some magnificent Being apart from us, with whom, as we have learned earlier , we can have a relationship. If we are of a pagan tradition we tend to think of God as someone or something within the Creation that is somehow special or divine, and with which we can have some contact. If we are of an eastern tradition, we tend to think of everything as God, and we are 'in' God. But what was discovered after the Messiah returned was more wonderful than any of these: it was that God is in us - that is, in the most intimate relationship that he can have with us without damaging us.
Shortly after the Messiah rose from death he left the earth (we don't know where to, spatially speaking, though we know his status as 'on the throne'). But shortly after that his followers received baptism in the Holy Spirit of God. They were immersed, as it were, in something powerful - but the effect of this was that the Holy Spirit entered them and lived in them. The Holy Spirit living in a person makes them new. In the early followers, they became courageous and with special powers.
They had the experience, and so did many others, so that it was not something just for certain special people; as we have learned elsewhere, to God all people are essentially the same, so he can come to live in anyone. In anyone who seeks God with all their heart and asks God to come into them. A woman called Joan invited God into her life - and found thereafter that her temper had vanished. I asked her, "Was it that you felt that now you have given yourself to God you must control your temper?" She told me it just disappeared of its own accord.
God outside us is a bit like an exoskeleton: we are constrained. But God living in us is a bit like an endoskeleton: he gives structure and strength to our being while allowing us freedom of action. His structure is not constraining but empowering. This manifests itself in two main ways. Most visibly in actual power, which we look at next, but also in a more subtle and important way, that we look at later, in changed wills and minds.
Christians love revivals - at least, we love looking back on past or distant revivals and wish they would happen here and now. The manifest power of God would surely put to flight all the unbelievers that have bullied us for decades! Many a time in a prayer meeting I have heard pleas to God to send revival.
But we don't realise what revival is. And we don't realise what it would be like. Revival is no party; it can be terrifying even for those who believe. The holiness of God is awesome and cannot be stood by the human frame.
Even when revival comes, we don't deal with it properly, responsibly as God would wish. The Welsh revival petered out in pietism that became irrelevant. The Rwanda revival, while it gave different races of white and African a common ground of humanity and honesty, those touched by it failed to work this out in the affairs of everyday living like economic and political and social relations between Hutu and Tutsi peoples (this is the view of the General Secretary of the Rwanda Mission after the genocide of the 1980s).
The Hebridean revival was commented on thus by an old woman: "There used to be a lot of happiness on this island. But then religious revival came, and put an end to all of that." While much of the 'happiness' was probably drunkenness that destroyed husband-wife relationships and loyalties and led to oppression and poverty, much would have been true happiness and fun. It is a shame that 'religious revival' led to a removal of the latter as well as of the former. The Laestadian revival went the same way so that his followers today are an ossified group who are noted for what they refuse and deplore rather than the abundant life of Jesus.
It is also an antidote to the theme of Power above; the two must always be balanced and, in any given situation, if either predominates in people's thinking then the leadership of that situation should take care to stress the other.
Once we have learned to depend on God rather than our own pride or ability, once we have learned to obey God rather than our own desires, once our wills are no longer opposite to God's, but freely aligned with hsi - which might take a lifetime to learn! - then we might be ready for the next, complementary lesson: "Man With God". (In these two, 'Man' means 'Human' but that doesn't roll off the tongue so well in English.)
The key passage of Scripture that explains this is Paul's Letter to Romans, chapter 8, but the theme occurs right through Scripture, especially as it is tied up with being in the image of God. It enriches and fulfils that ancient theme. In Romans 8, Paul starts by telling us we are free, but that those who are truly God's 'sons' are led by the Spirit of God. Those 'sons' live as God would, and are therefore eagerly awaited by the whole Creation. In life they suffer but are on top of it all. God has invested himself in them.
==== that effect on environment perhaps needs greater explication as a separate section.
The Messiah told us that the Spirit of God would come to live inside us. We do not naturally enter this state, but have to be 'born of the Spirit'; we enter the New Covenant that God explained via his prophet, Jeremiah, (and also via Ezekiel). Under this Covenant, God forgives our sins and writes his laws, his will, in our hearts so that we no longer have to keep an eye on some external list of rules and keep an effort going to keep those rules. Rather, as we mature and become like God, we increasingly find "our wills freely aligned to his" (C.S. Lewis). So, as we live, we naturally do what God would have us do; the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5) is what grows in us, not what we try to do.
So this 'leading' by the Holy Spirit and this living like God would, are not just in the form of obeying his promptings moment by moment, but rather of becoming like God in will and heart. As we saw, obedience is learned under the theme of Not Man, But God. But, once we have learned that (to some extent at least), God wants to take us onto this next step, in which the Holy Spirit has become so deeply living in us, that our hearts and wills almost automatically respond in the way he would. By 'sons' (Greek 'hios'), Romans 8 (and in fact the whole of the New Testament) means, not just children or offspring of God (Greek 'paedo' ====), but mature offspring who are like their father in will, desires, decision-making, etc.. They live in exactly the way God would. That is why, Paul understood, the Creation 'eagerly awaits' them: they are the ones who treat the Creation aright rather than destroy it. They love God, but they also love Creation as God does. They act in the world and all works together for good around them.
This is the glorious plan of God. And yet we human beings find it so hard to learn. Those who are not yet born of the Spirit of God do not even obey him, and have to learn Not Man, But God. Most of those who are seem stuck there. But, since the advent of what is known as the Charismatic Movement, in the 1970s, increasing numbers are learning this new theme (though many Charismatics have reverted to the theme of Obedience, big time!). However, even those of us who are learning this new theme have to keep on learning it little by little.
Just the other day (from 20 August 2000), I had yet another little lesson.
I stowed my bicycle in a small compartment in a train. Strapped to my bike was a large piece of luggage, and it filled the width of the compartment, preventing any other bike being placed there. I had a prompting that I should unstrap the luggage, but ignored it. When I came to retrieve my bike, I found it damaged; obviously someone had come with another bike, lifted mine to allow theirs to be placed underneath, then as they removed it a lamp bracket on my bike got caught and ripped. I knew it had been my fault, rather than theirs, for not obeying the prompting. "Oh dear," I thought, "When shall I learn to recognise and obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit?" I seem to mis-recognise and ignore them all too often. If they came with a clear label attached 'This is from the Holy Spirit' then I would have no hesitation in obeying the prompting, but they don't, so I often don't recognise them.
But then I realised - I have been wrong on this. God would rather I had the heart for other people, so that I would have unstrapped my luggage for their sake, to allow others entry. He would like me to have a heart so that I do not need his moment by moment promptings.
Or, to put it another way:
Not a heart for obedience, but a heart for the Creation and other people.
("Aw, come on Andrew! That's not some high spiritual thing. It's just a matter of being considerate to other people." Yes, you are right. I am particularly inconsiderate, and have long been. Each of us has lessons we particularly need to learn; I particularly need to learn to be considerate. The lessons we learn are not high spiritual things - God has already revealed himself as an 'earthy' God. But what I realised there, in that very concrete situation rather than as just a piece of theology, is that I need to become considerate in heart and will, rather than learning to recognise promptings to be considerate.)
God's 'sons' can be proactive and take the initiative for God, because their wills and hearts are right. Even if they mess up, God forgives and overrules, and sometimes weaves their mess into his overall pattern. There is a dignity in this. We should realise that we are nothing of ourselves before God, yet we nothings should act from our hearts to the good of the Creation and to please God. We should be obedient to God, but this should not stop us from taking initiative for him.
Why must most of us first learn Not Man, But God? Because we have both concepts of humility and likeness to God deeply distorted. Forgetting that God himself is humble, we tend to see humility and likeness to God as opposites and we focus on one at the expense of the other. God wants us to be humble, brave, strong and joyful, but most of us are bold and strong are proud, and most who are humble are timid and weak. No! Let God remake us in his own gracious, humble, strong, love image.
This theme of human beings being like God in heart is such an important one that we find it played in several different ways. We have seen it enriches the ancient idea of being in the image of God. In this way, image God - we show what he is like, we act as his servants, we bring the blessing of God to the rest of the world, and we provide a pathway to God - but we do so naturally rather than as obedience to something foreign to our natures. Though they did not know it at the time, it was at the core of being ambassadors for God. It is also played out with a different instrument in the next theme, on What We Should Seek in God.
When we turn towards God, we first often seek his hand; that is, we seek his power and his work in our lives. Some people, from a materialistic, rationalistic culture, need to see non-materialistic, non-rationalistic things happen in order to be satisfied that God is real. God's hand does things; we seek his hand.
But God wants us to go further, to seek his face. He wants a direct relationship with us, one-to-one. He wants us to be open with him as he wants to be open to us. He wants to love us and for us to love him in return. He wants us to recognise him in the affairs of life, he wants us to know his smile towards us and to smile back.
But God wants us to go even further, to seek his heart. He wants us not just to recognise him and love him, but to be like him. He wants us to go beyond seeking his face, and a close personal relationship with him, to seek his heart. He wants us to become mature.
He wants us to become like Christ. As we started to learn a thousand years before, God is interested in what our hearts are like towards him. He wants us to become mature 'sons'; in Greek the word is
hios, which meant the mature son whom the father could trust to make wise decisions and good promises because he had developed to be like his father in attitude and will as well as knowledge and wisdom. This 'son', can be, of course, male or female; it does not refer to gender, but to maturity.
The maturity of God can be summed up in one word: love. Throughout history people have believed many things about what characterises God or Deity - power, spirituality, authority, goodness, infiniteness in various qualities, the ability to win any battle with any enemy, and so on. Take a look at the tribute to the Egyptian deity, ====. The qualities ascribed to him include:
But what was revealed in Scripture is more wonderful than those, and it was not really made explicit until John, one of the people who had been with Messiah during his time on earth, wrote the now-famous sentence:
"God is love."
Love is more than compassion or benificence. These are what a great Being can offer to a lesser, just because he is so great and abounding in resources that he can be generous. It costs the great Being little, compared with his total abundant resources. Love is more than a good feeling towards the other, more than friendship or affection. These depend on the qualities in the other.
God's love is something that costs him dear, and is something that does not depend on qualities in the beloved. Paul summed up both these in his famous statement:
"But God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
That is God's maturity, his heart. It is what God himself is like, and much comes from it. For example his justice: if God loves all, then he will be angry if one of us harms another of us, and will judge us. Notice that his justice comes not so much from his authority or his power but from his love. The question is: have we the heart of God?
While there are only a few places where we find words like "God loves all he has made", his love for Creation is like an echoing song that pervades the whole of Scripture. It starts with the use of
radah to describe the relationship we should have with Creation: managing it for its good rather than our own good. It continues with likening it to tending a garden. We find among God's laws: let the land itself rest, kill animals in a way that gives them least pain (letting blood flow out so they drift into unconsciousness), preventing obscenity against animals, letting animals rest, letting animals gain their food by their own initiative, not cutting down trees needlessly, and so on. God shows Job that there is a large section of his Creation that he values even though its relationship to human life is either zero or negative. And one day the Creation itself will one day share in the resurrection, and Christ will inherit it.
The question is: have we this heart of God? As we have found above, we need a new heart.
We were not to know until Messiah returned. The answer is that God comes to live in us by his Holy Spirit; this is the other, deeper side of God living in us that was mentioned above. Getting a new heart is not like a surgical operation; it is a process, that starts when we say our main "Yes" to God, at which time God comes to live in us. Then he starts to grow his fruit in us, if we let him, and we start to increase in maturity and become like the Messiah.
What does it mean to have a new heart? Two main things: a changed will and a transformed way of seeing things.
God's command is that we should forgive - yet we find it so hard to do so. Baroness Cox once told of a woman who'd been abused, beaten and shot by men, and asked what she thought of them. "I love and forgive them - because the Bible says I must", she replied. Baroness Cox commented, "With people like that, there is hope for the future." That woman knew what God commands - and she had the inner will to do so. And, as we shall see below, that is what give the world hope.
Perhaps a corollary of the Prosperity Cycle is that we human beings seem to benefit from adversity and even persecution. Using a horticultural metaphor, we bear most and best fruit when we are pruned hard. We are destined to "bear fruit, the type of fruit that endures" (as the Messiah put it) and are most fulfilled when we achieve our destiny.
This lesson started coming across in Israel's settled state, as that part of the Prosperity Cycle when things were going badly, and they would turn to God, and he would bless them. But it gained in richness in the experience of God's people after the Messiah returned, as they faced misunderstandings, injustices and persecutions. It has been noted that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Many Christians were killed for their faith in the first couple of hundred years after Messiah returned, and in fact even more are being killed or persecuted today (Paul Marshall). But the sufferings they endured (and we endure) bring remarkable results:
All this is given to us who suffer unjustly for the Name of God, and it dwarfs in value any prosperity that we might obtain as a result of the workings of the Prosperity Cycle. Many have found that just being part of the purposes of God is reward enough to outweigh any number of sufferings. The human frame seems to be designed to respond very positively to suffering, especially unjust suffering. As expressed in the Letter from James:
"My brothers, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials the result is the ability to endure."
And the Messiah told his followers that God "prunes every branch that does bear fruit so that it will be clean and bear more fruit." The writer to the Hebrews said that God "chastens every son he loves".
But these benefits do require an appropriate attitude on our behalf. We must accept the suffering, even if undeserved or unjust, because God himself did, and also because we look forward to a much more substantial future. If we get angry and bitter, or if we seek to avoid suffering and retain good times now, then we forfeit our reward.
Now, through the Messiah's death and resurrection and ascencion, we find a new phase of the people of God: those in whom the Spirit of God lives and is at home. Jesus said "If I do not go away the Spirit will not come; but if I go away I will send him to you." The Spirit of God lives in human beings, as as he does so, he does several things that are important in making a new people of God who can properly represent him.
Even so, God knows we are still limited human beings and steeped in our sin. So the glory of this is that God trusts humans at all to be his people. It is just that he has a way in which all humankind can be involved in this wonderful privilege, not just one nation or one individual. He is working his plan out, to achieve what he originally intended: that humankind should be his representatives to the whole Creation. But, when this is achieved, it will have been achieved through human beings, not in spite of them. That is why he himself became human, and took humanity back to his throne. (Not to exalt humanity above the rest of Creation, but to have a very real link between Creator and Creation, lover and beloved, that is more substantial than a mere emotion.)
Either you can now see there are some categories where you fall short. Don't try to justify yourself. Rather, honestly seek God about it. It is the Spirit of God who will convict you, and then grow the fruit more in you. He will prune you if you let him.
Or you think you are more or less OK on them all. Beware! lest you are fooling yourself and, in the end, find yourself cast out in the company of those who "say 'Lord, Lord' yet do not do the things I tell them".
Or you don't really care about being one of God's people.
So grace is forgiveness but is also more than that. But it doesn't make sense as real grace without the Holy Spirit of God living in us. We can understand it in four steps:
Of course, that is oversimplified, in that we sometimes find ourselves doing the same evil after having been forgiven. But it is true in essence, in that it is no longer we who are doing that evil, but residual death in us, and as we said above, obtaining a new heart is a process rather than a one-off event.
Law is important in God's scheme, Paul concluded, but for a different purpose than the Jews had assumed. Law had two purposes:
"The creation groans .. the creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God."
The sons of God are those who, being like their Father, would treat his beloved creation aright. No wonder the creation eagerly awaits such people. We see this hope in the story of the early church. And we see it down through the ages. Think of Francis of Assissi.
Imagine you were among the early disciples of Jesus just after he had returned. You might be elated - especially when this new power and confidence from the Holy Spirit had come upon you - but you would still be puzzled.
"He seemed to be of God.
But how come the Messiah of God could suffer?
How come the Messiah could be so humiliated as to be crucified?
Where is the justice of God in this?
Where is his steadfast love?
Yes, I know he overcame death, and returned to us. But he has gone again.
Where? And why?
Surely, if he had overcome death, he could have stayed on with us forever.
Why did he go? Oh, I know he told us the Holy Spirit would only come if he went away, but I'd rather have had him around.
What does it all mean?
How does it all fit into God's plan?"
Together, you would have searched the Scriptures. And then one would have found Isaiah 53 "He was wounded for our transgressions ...". "Hey! Look at this!" - and so the doctrine of the atonement would have entered the stage - "Yes, and I remember his words at the last supper: this is my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins" - and it would have grown in strength and clarity - "And," says another, "I can see now why that happened at Passover: deliverance, but of a different sort." And so it would go on. The people would begin to understand, clarify and work out, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of atonement.
Many doctrines that Christians have long believed, but which liberal theologians tried to question in the 19th and 20th centuries, were worked out in this fashion, and worked out very reasonably. Those who try to deny them must stop denigrating the honest attempts at understanding that were carried on those early days, as people tried sought the principles, the understanding, and built up bodies of belief that were encapsulated in the Creeds.
In the same way, we are still called upon to work out principles. God made us in his image, and with that gave us responsibility of understanding. Thus, for example, slavery was largely abolished in the 1800s to early 1900s, and the main movers of abolition were Bible-believing Christians. Slavery would not have been abolished in the way it has been without these Christians. We can say rightly that abolition came from Biblical faith in action.
Yet the Bible does not seem to forbid slavery outright. There were those who looked for quotations against slavery and found none direct - and thus slavery must be OK, said those with vested interests therein, and quoted pieces that mentioned slaves. So how come abolition came from the Bible?
The answer is that, in line with the whole thrust of what we are saying here, God's messages do not come primarily from individual texts, but are written large through the whole substance of his revelation. We can put it another way: many messages about the way we should live come as principles not from precise wording. We can also put it a third way: the principles by which we should live come from the heart of God. Principles are heart. And, as God revealed his heart, so we human beings gained a clearer idea of the principles.
We can see this in the laws he gave to Moses. Often he gave a reason along with the rule. Here are some:
We have seen that God wants us to become people like him, people after his own heart, his mature 'hios' (sons), that he wants to write his laws on our hearts, and does this by living in us in the form of his Spirit. The result is that we will 'naturally' do what God wants, tacitly and without thinking about it. We saw above that part of the mechanism that God uses is to prune us. Another is to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, and part of that process is to come to understand ever more widely and deeply the principles of God.
The Messiah used principles. For example, when he was asked whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar he did not give a rule but a principle: give what is due to each. When a religious group asked him "Is it right to divorce?" he did not say "Yes" or "No", but pointed them to a principle. He pointed back past their own experiences, of the pain that both sour marriages and divorce yield, back past the Law of Moses, to which they tried to adhere and which tried to prevent the pain becoming injustice, back to God's original intention: that two become one. By the fact that the Messiah omitted to conclude, as we often do, with "Therefore divorce is wrong", I deduce that he wanted us to take the principle and apply it in each situation along with all the other principles. He did not want the timeless principle codified into a timeless rule.
Perhaps this is because God wants humans to work things out for themselves. God holds his creation in dignity, and it is the dignity of 'kings' to find things out (Proverbs x:y). Imagine yourself as one of Jesus' disciples shortly after Pentecost trying to make sense of Jesus:
Jesus did not say a great deal to explain what it all meant. He gave a few hints but they seemed few and far between. But you begin to search the Scriptures for yourself.
And so you begin to weave together what it all meant. You remember some of the few-and-far-between statements and now they seem to make much more sense. Perhaps Jesus wanted his disciples to work out for themselves what it all meant. And perhaps he still does.
Many Christians tend to rule their lives by what Paul wrote in his letters. I believe that much of what Paul wrote was not to be strict laws for us, but rather an outworking of various principles that he had come to understand deeply, in the situation in which he found himself. The number of times he says "Do so-and-so because such-and-such" suggests this; the such-and-such is the principle, while the so-and-so is its specific outworking. We too should aspire to have God's principles in our hearts, so that we will naturally live by them, rather than having to continually correct and check ourselves.
How did God give principles? A few times they emerge directly in verbal form, but in the main they do not. They do not often come as propositions - partly, of course, because language can never fully encapsulate God's truth. (Unlike the books of some other religions.) Usually they come contextualized as precepts and rules, and we have to discern the principles behind theme. In fact, we have two things we must do:
Now, of course, there is a danger in this, in both steps. There is first the danger that we will wrongly discern the principles. Then there is the danger that we will wrongly apply theme. However, if we take seriously the whole message of Scripture, then the answers to this are clear. We saw first that Law cannot prevent evil nor ensure good. We saw second that God has himself provided the way to make everything right: he came to die for us and the whole creation. So, even if we make a mistake in discerning the principle, or in applying it, Christ's blood covers those mistakes. The twin dangers are not so dangerous as we might at first think.
Ah, most of today's Christians might object, does this not open the door to everyone doing what they think is right in their own eyes? Surely anyone can interpret Scripture any which way they want? Surely these mistakes do matter; after all, sin matters so much that God had to die to pay for it.
The answer to this is that I used the word 'mistake' above. A mistake is when we misunderstand or misinterpret yet with a good heart. A sin is when we do so deliberately, out of our pride or self-dependence or stubbornness. Most of the cases of harmful misinterpretation fall into the latter category, not the category of mistakes. Christ's blood is effective only in the context of repentance, of turning to God away from our pride. In fact, rather than being constricted by fear of getting it wrong, we can afford to be wrong, because of the blood of Christ. His death is not just to show how important sin is; rather, it is gloriously of much greater value than the debt accumulated by the sin in the world, and brings in much greater things than merely the cancellation of sin. "If by one man's sin death entered the world," says Paul, "how much more will be saved by the blood of Christ!".
Now, let's consider some other principles that seem to appear in Scripture: I mean to have a paragraph on each, or more.
As God's Good News spreads, we must make decisions on how to deal with cultural things we encounter. Much in different cultures are deeply infected by the religions of those people. For example, certain foods, dances, places, etc. How should those who carry the Good News react? Or, better, what should those who adopt God's ways do with them?
We have two extreme possibilities: assimilation and rejection, with a middle course of allowing.
Which is right? Or, better question: when and in what circumstances is each right? The Scriptures seem to give little guidance on this, and we post-Messiah people have been given the challenge and responsibility to work it out for ourselves, with wisdom, love, courage, etc. Signs that the New Testament people were engaged in working this out appear. For example, whether Gentiles should be required to obey the whole Jewish law. For example, "All things created by God are good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (Paul), for example "Hate even the garment spotted by the flesh".
In the worldwide missionary expansion through the world's cultures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many such issues had to be faced, and much has been learned, if we read the situation aright. I can see the following issues:
To provide all this - not just part of it - to cultures not yet touched with God's light is an exciting task and challenging responsibility. May we all take it seriously under God. Then we will fulfil Romans 8:
"The creation waits with eager longing for God's [mature] sons to be revealed."
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2000. Comments and queries are very welcome.
Last updated: 16 July 2000 replaced 'like.Christ' by new section 'should.seek', and linked with prophets#heart, filled in new.heart. Put pers.rel.clear, works.indiv, power first. Wrote love, put it and loves.creation before new.heart; better links. 17 July 2000 link principles with heart. 13 August 2000 'Man With God'. 20 August 2000 revamped that as 'Being Like God'. 26 September 2000 revival. 15 October 2000 Purpose of Law brought here. 25 October 2000 Suffering. 5 November 2000 Added in.us. changed.will added to new.heart. Three steps of grace added. 10 December 2000 new contacts pointer. 11 March 2001 Wrote New People of God. 7 April 2001 ending redone. 26 June 2001 'in.us' moved later, and 'like.God' note added. 30 September 2001 more on principle. 17 February 2002 Added Cox' forgiving woman, and a bit on Hope 2; Phil3:7-14 for personal relationship. 2 August 2002 slight rewrite of Grace. 22 September 2002 Julian of Norwich. 5 October 2002 new sections on evangelism and culture. 3 February 2007 unet. 12 April 2009 principles more. 16 August 2009 pers.rel sheep Jn 10.