Friday, August 14, 2009

A question to make you uneasy

Here is a question for you to think about. It is directed to Christians, but I will ask supply a "Muslim version" of the question too, afterwards.

Question: What would you say to someone who believed and had wholehearted faith in Jesus Christ, but who ignored God and was often disobedient to God? What if that person was you?

Question: What would you say to someone who believed and had wholehearted faith in the Prophet (PBUH), but who ignored God and was often disobedient to God? What if that person was you?

Just to be fair, here is the Jewish version of the question.

Question: What would you say to someone who believed and had wholehearted faith in Moses, but who ignored God and was often disobedient to God? What if that person was you?

This reflection is mostly targeted at Christians. I provided the equivalent question to Muslims and Jews so that they can follow along with the logic-and the peril of error-that I am pointing out among many who declare their faith (and have genuine belief and trust) in Jesus, but who feel that having done that, God himself can be ignored or selectively obeyed. What would you say to such a person, and what if that person is you?

Luke 18:28-29
And Peter said, "Behold, we have left all and followed thee." And he said to them, "Amen I say to you, there is no one who has left house, or parents, or brothers, or wife, or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive much more in the present time, and in the age to come life everlasting."

Notice that Peter affirms to Jesus that the Apostles have left all to follow him. Look carefully at what Jesus replied. Jesus affirms that as a result, anyone who has done so will receive more "in the present time" (now, while alive) and "life everlasting." In other words, Jesus affirms that people who follow him will have better lives, in addition to salvation. But here is my greater point. Did Jesus say that this is for his personal sake? No. Jesus said, "No one who has left house....for the sake of the kingdom of God." Jesus always, always, always points the attention of his followers to God, not himself.

With this in mind, look at this example of the important wording and distinction a few verses later.

Luke 18:42-43
And Jesus said to him, "Receive thy sight, thy faith has saved thee." And at once he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people upon seeing it gave praise to God.

You read this role modeling of how both Jesus and the recipients and witnesses of his miracles repeatedly. First, Jesus gives all glory to God (and applauds the person's faith) when he performs a miracle. Second, the recipient of the miracle realizes that the source is God himself through Jesus, and accordingly glorifies God while witnessing to Jesus. Read that again. The petitioner praises Jesus and witnesses to him, but glorifies God. Likewise do the people who witness the God given miracles of Jesus.

Luke 20:25
And he said to them, "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Jesus did not say that because he, Jesus, is now present that all that is due to God is no longer required. There is a vast difference between updating, for lack of a better word, the Law, to reflect the Messiah's arrival and bringing of the New Covenant to replace the Old Covenant, but that does not mean that God is no longer due to him the things that are all along, and will be forever, due to him, since he is the source of all that humans have.

Luke 21:15
"For I myself will give you utterance and wisdom, which all your adversaries will not be able to resist or gainsay."

What does Jesus tell the Apostles and disciples that he will give to them? "Utterance" and "wisdom." What kind of utterance and wisdom can withstand any enemy? There is only one answer, for there is nothing but one thing that can withstand any and all adversary of any type or sort, and that is knowledge of the truth about the one God.

It is thus entirely possible, and even alarmingly frequent, that people "stop," so to speak, at believing in Jesus, trusting in Jesus and having faith in Jesus, but do not accept that gift of Jesus as he offers it (not as some might wish or imagine that he offers it), which is knowledge that he, and the entire scriptures, have given about the truth, and what is due, to the one God.

John the Baptist explained:

John 3:34-6
For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for not by measure does God give the Spirit. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hands. He who believe in the Son has everlasting life; he who is unbelieving towards the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.

Ah ha! such people say. See? All we need to do for everlasting life is to believe in the Son, Jesus Christ. But wait a minute, because it's abundantly clear what John is saying as he is careful to explain to both sides (he is explaining when disciples of his were arguing with some Jews) the proper order and working of things. Yes, belief in Jesus yields everlasting life, and deniers of Jesus will receive the wrath of God. But John puts the relationship and "mechanics" in its proper context. Jesus "speaks the words of God." They are God's words, and Jesus speaks them with authority given to him by God, as is appropriate to the Son who represents the Father. So the "duh" moment for many moderns is that incredibly they have the notion that like God has popped out of heaven, into Jesus, rather than understanding that God is always everywhere, in totality, in control, with perfect constancy over all things and all times. Jesus is speaking the words of God, and is thus showing the face of God to humans, but God is still God and is where he always is, and is due all that he has always been and always will be due. John makes this very clear, most particularly to the Jews who are, understandably, confused and thus antagonistic.

What does John mean by "for not by measure does God give the Spirit." Again, understanding of this important statement has diminished with modern societies and scripture readers. Your agricultural great grandfathers well understood this statement. John is saying that God does not dispense the Holy Spirit through usage of a measuring cup or a liter container. In other words, God has not given Jesus a cupful of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is speaking the words of God, not some words of God, since Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit from God, not dispensed an allocated amount of the Holy Spirit.

I marvel (in a bad way) how people miss the brilliance of John the Baptist, as he explains what is nearly impossible to understand, patiently (even under fire), and in a way that makes the relationship among God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit crystal clear. You can see also the structure of classic teaching and logic as John patiently and simply lays out the "physics" of how the Trinity works.

1. He whom God sent speaks the words of God.
You can deduce that God is still where God always is and always will be, but he has sent someone who is speaking his actual words.

2. God does not allocate fixed amounts or doses of Spirit to the Son.
You can deduce that the Holy Spirit cannot be understood as something that God gives or that humans can gain in a step by step, piecemeal dosage AND further, you can deduce that the Son does not receive a partial amount of the Holy Spirit, but is filled with the Holy Spirit.

Then John makes the third important point.

3. Why does this happen? Because God the Father loves the Son.
There are two things that you can deduce. One is that the purpose of what God does is love. The second is that there is a perfect Father-Son relationship between God and Jesus; God and Jesus are not "interchangeable."

4. Therefore, because of 1, 2 and 3, God "has given all things" into the Son's hands.
Jesus therefore is wielding the full authority of God in all that he says and does. [Again, that does not mean, of course, that the only things that God is "doing" are the things Jesus was doing. God is always God and busy, for lack of a better word, being God, even as he gives full authority over whatever Jesus is doing to Jesus.] Think of it this way: God gives to Jesus full authority to be Jesus, and to speak the words of God. Jesus is not "being God" in his totality while he is alive in his ministry. For example, it's not like Jesus, while walking the Holy Lands, was also listening to the prayers of all the people around the world. God is still, and is always, the one and only who is doing that. A person who believes in the one true God, and even those who prayed to the reflection and image of God in their culture, but who has not yet received knowledge of the true God, is not timesharing praying to Jesus! Obviously all that is due to God (such as prayer) to going to God, even as Jesus walked the earth. It's not like Jesus had a buzz in the back of his mind that some person in China was praying to God and it was being routed to Jesus! But surprisingly, many moderns, who just cannot understand the eternity and all presence of God, think of God as some "energy" that popped into and thus became Jesus. Yikes, I hate even typing this, but it must be said.

5. Because 1, 2, 3 yield 4, therefore God affirms that all who believe God's word (in this case spoken by Jesus) and his love (the authority of the Son and the utmost importance that God be understood as the source of all love, including earthly love) by believing "in the Son has everlasting life."

6. If 4 is denied and ignored, those disbelievers will not receive 5, and thus will "not see life" and have "the wrath of God" resting upon him (or her).

This is one reason that Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest of men. Jesus knew that John understood and, of course, witnessed to, during the Baptism of Jesus, how the Trinity works, and the oneness of God the Father. It all comes back to and is due to God. God loves Jesus, and gives Jesus his words and authority, and God gives the Holy Spirit. God is the ope rant word and entity, as God is dispensing to humanity both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. To put it another way, it's not like the Holy Spirit can send God or Jesus on missions, nor can Jesus send God. Once Jesus died, resurrected and ascended into heaven, at the right hand of God the Father, then Jesus sends the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), in the fullness of God's presence. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit but not until he was ascended into heaven and has taken his place by God, who was always there.

I could keep citing scripture (loads of it about this topic) but I think you see the problem.

Many people think that if they believe in the existence of Jesus, trust that he will bail them out of anything, and even love and have faith in Jesus, that this is "enough" and they can ignore or at best be selective about rendering to God what is his due, what is God's. Incredibly they cite this scripture without understanding the laborious and patient context that John the Baptist offers it in the lines immediately before!

What does this mean to you? It's not theology or abstract thoughts: this is essential day to day giving the due to heeding and obeying the Lord God.

It is this type of misunderstanding that results in people committing incredible sins, sins that God has forbidden, yet because they genuinely belief in Jesus Christ, they think it's alright to sin! Another variation is that they think that the sins are no longer sins, because belief in Jesus Christ trumps all bad behavior. Further, they think that Jesus and God are interchangeable. To put it cynically, they think if they make Jesus happy because they believe in him, then God and all his needs are "covered" too. Nothing that Jesus ever said or did should give that impression. The Christians who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior when they were alive continued to praise and glorify God. The obvious example is as I cited, that as Jesus performed miracles people followed, praising God and witnessing to Jesus.

Here's a little bit of a silly way to demonstrate what I am saying. Imagine you are a disciple of Jesus during Biblical times when Jesus was in his public ministry. When you are away from Jesus, do you figure that God no longer exists, and your every action, both secular and faith, is guided by specific orders given by Jesus before the two of you parted? Imagine if Jesus had to be sure to tell each disciple, "Now, while we are apart, don't lie, don't steal, be kind to your family, wash your hands and feet, don't forget to give to the poor..." etc. Jesus would have to "program" each disciple "what to do" while they were apart because after all, if one believes in Jesus one no longer has to be obedient to what God has been saying all along, nor no longer give God his due attention, whether in prayer or in obedience! Wouldn't that be absurd, demented, in error, and extremely scary? Welcome to modern times.

I hope, and pray, that you have found this helpful and thought provoking for some self examination and also, well, think about those whose opinions you previously valued and wonder if God is truly pleased with their "belief" in Jesus, if it is a belief that is not at all reflective of the totality of what Jesus and the Apostles, John the Baptist, and God himself through the Holy Spirit teaches and requires.