I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. For you were made rich in every way in Him, in all your speech and in every kind of knowledge – just as the testimony about Christ has been confirmed among you – so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by Whom you were called into fellowship with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I love how Paul begins his letter to the church at Corinth. He encourages and affirms them, while at the same time magnifying the name of Jesus. In studying and meditating on what Paul taught about God’s grace, I truly desire to hold in tension the seeming contradictions that I have come to understand are, in God’s “reality”, equally true. Although it’s quite difficult to concisely communicate all my thoughts, I have a firm conviction of my own conclusions … as of today, of course. In this post, my desire is not to disrespect others’ beliefs (being overly critical) as much as it is to share what I’m learning, which is most certainly subject to fallibility. What concerns me about written discussions regarding biblical interpretation is the way that those who claim to follow Christ allow differences to become divisions. I have learned to truly celebrate and enjoy our differences. We don’t have to divorce other believers, claiming “irreconcilable differences”, every time we encounter a difference of opinion. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. But humans are flawed at the core. Even our best intentions are wracked with selfish motives and we can’t even fully know ourselves (Jer 17, 1 Cor 4). My heart is grieved when I perceive intolerance – at times accompanied with downright meanness – cushioned in terms that attempt to mask prideful unbiblical debate. Paul warned Timothy and Titus to avoid (not engage in) arguments with false teachers when the message of the gospel was at stake. His deepest desire in every circumstance was for all people to come to “repentance and the knowledge of the truth”. When Christian discussions/debates begin to damage our testimony, we should at that moment lay aside our “right” to be heard.
So as I conclude my thoughts today, I humbly (with God’s help) recognize how very little I actually know. 🙂 And I do know that not everyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ views Paul’s biblical writings as authoritative. “All scripture is God-breathed” says to me that all of Paul’s teaching in the pages of scripture are Spirit-led and Spirit-delivered. I believe the same God who spoke through Jesus also spoke through Paul. And I believe that same God speaks today. I do not believe, however, that He speaks in the same way as His direct revelation to the apostle or other biblical writers. While subtle, I think this is an important distinction. If we only know about God what is written in His Word about Him, it is possible to misunderstand Him due to our personal biases and preconceptions. In concluding my thoughts about judging, I hope to communicate the why (the motive) of my conclusions …
Even those who would agree that scripture should be held in high regard differ in interpretation of how God speaks today. Some would say that God spoke through the Bible authors to give us the word of God; that He speaks only through what has already been spoken; and as believers we should study His word and strive to obey what has been spoken. These self-defined fundamentalists, if taken to the extreme, claim they are the authority in interpreting scripture. They infer that the more someone knows God’s word and obeys it – as interpreted by them – the more they are loved by God. (There is a spiritual superiority through a works-type of Christianity)
Others accept that God worked through Bible authors to give us the word of God; however they would say that God is still speaking to them today through His Spirit, even implying that it goes beyond the written word of God. In my observation of those who fall in this camp, there is a tendency toward emphasizing that we are accepted and perfectly loved by God, not dependent on what we do. While I agree in part, taken to extremes this freedom in Christ sometimes expands the boundaries of holiness as defined in the bible and relies heavily on a personal connection to God, inferring a
relationship with Him apart from His Word.
(There is a spiritual superiority through a feeling-type of Christianity)
My personal view of the Spirit’s work has evolved through the years as I have made my way through the pages of the bible. It falls somewhere in the midst of these two.
I have seen the damage that judgmental attitudes expressed in both legalism (extreme fundamentalism) and libertinism (extreme license) can cause. Some have argued that those who definitively fall into the extreme category of either of these would not be a true convert, lacking clear understanding of the gospel. While I may agree, I can see from my own life that as a Christian it is easy to begin leaning to one side or the other in a negative and unbiblical way. The main danger is how it affects our prayers and our view of God. The legalist prays, believing his prayer is heard and answered based on his adherence to the law and his goodness (God has spoken and he has obeyed Him). The libertine prays, believing his prayer is heard and answered based on his experiences with God which give him a closeness to God. (God speaks to him directly and he is in tune with Him).
Both of these ways of thinking can devalue the gospel of grace and truth:
The God of the bible is the One Triune God. He never changes. His word speaks with full authority to who I am (there is nothing good in me) and to Who He is (in Christ alone, my hope is found).
As Paul prayed for the Corinthians, I pray for myself … to know the riches of salvation. I desire to lack nothing that is mine – any knowledge or spiritual gift from God. I believe the best way to know Him is to study His word and pray His Word. I am thankful for the gift of the Spirit of God that is at work in my life, guiding me as I read and study the word of God. Through Him, I can know what I would not know apart from Him. But He will never reveal to me any more or any less than is contained in His word, already spoken. I possess a faith that I did not earn, and that faith produces prayers that are heard and answered on the merit of Christ alone. Because of the mercy poured on my life, I desire to live a life of holiness. Only through His strength and faithfulness, will I be found blameless on the day He returns.
May we strive together to grow in His grace and truth…
with His word as our authority, His Spirit as our Guide, and His grace as our foundation.