Stack of old leather books

Stack of old leather books

Information can be seen as a set of ideas, propositions, or data. For example, this blog contains information.

Knowledge, however, as portrayed in Scripture, is experiential and involves a learning curve. It’s common to have a lot of information, but no knowledge.

Through good and bad experience, knowledge is what you gain when you act on information—whether the information is true or not.

When God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit, all they had at that point was information or “head knowledge.” Same thing when Satan said they wouldn’t die, only that their eyes would be opened. Some of the information was true and some was false. But Adam and Eve’s knowledge of good and evil didn’t come until they actually experienced it.

Mary asked Gabriel how she could become pregnant without “knowing” a man. Obviously, she had information about men, so she meant her lack of sexual experience.

There can also be a body of knowledge gained by other people’s experiences, but until you yourself experience it, it’s still just information. For example, the body of aerodynamic knowledge says that for an object to fly, thrust must overcome drag and lift must overcome weight.

Anyone who wants to become a pilot must gain this knowledge for himself by putting it into practice. So he “believes” by venturing out and taking flying lessons. He finds a competent instructor, studies the aviation “word,” does what both say to do, and discovers knowledge. Otherwise, although it’s knowledge for other pilots, it remains head knowledge for him.

Now, he could just steal a plane and try to figure it all out for himself, but he faces slim odds of coming out safe and sound. And he’d certainly be a danger to others.

Active vs. Static

Belief or faith, as Scripture means it, isn’t just mental agreement. It means to act as if something were true. So, Christian faith is about venturing on Jesus and his kingdom instead of trying to figure it all out on your own. It’s about trusting him enough to act as though his first-hand knowledge, and what he says, is competent and true.

“If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he’ll find out whether my teaching comes from God or not.”  (Jhn. 7:17)

To act appropriately on his information, we need faith, i.e., to believe. Yet faith isn’t the same as knowledge. For example, I can be aware that my car will get me to work each day. That’s a static kind of belief.

But if I never get in, start it up, and put it into gear, I don’t have active faith in my car’s ability, which doesn’t bring me to act in partnership, which doesn’t bring me the knowledge I need for the journey.

Truth and Knowing

It’s interesting that Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God. Many people know about God, but don’t know Him even if they call themselves Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever.

Jesus offers knowledge of life and the kingdom of heaven. He doesn’t just present awareness of, or information about, how to live, although he does do that. But he also invites experience through practice and knows that mistakes are part of the process.

To gain Jesus’ knowledge, I partner with him, become his student (“like a child”), and act on his information. Salvation is an active journey of learning to live safely in a community of love, racking up experience today that simply carries over into the next life. With Christ, I can know the truth, and the truth sets me free.

It’s not about getting my doctrines or atonement theories correct in order to get to heaven. I realize that’s contrary to popular Christianity, but it’s dangerous because doctrine is information, not knowledge, and doctrine doesn’t save.  Jesus does. And God designed us so that not even He can simply hand someone knowledge, even through flawless information.

Bottom line? Despite today’s Information Age, people still perish for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). And, someday, Jesus will shock even Christians with, “I never knew you.” (Mat. 7:23) So whenever I read about salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, it helps me to think—aha!—experience.

 

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Juggler

Juggler (Photo credit: anadelmann)

Continuing from last week, transformation from death to life starts with the realization that we’re jumbled, broken souls, but not worthless souls.

You and I can humbly acknowledge our ruined condition without self-contempt, for that’s a seed that lays deep roots and grows into a spirit of contempt for others.

It creates double-mindedness and a divided heart instead of an undivided one. How can you love neighbors consistently or be spontaneously kind to enemies when you’re not even prepared to love yourself?

The person you are inside is the person you are when your guard is down—like after you’ve had too much wine. Everyone knows the happy drunk or the belligerent drunk, and it’s common to hear, “That was the alcohol talking last night.” But it was really the true person sneaking out when alcohol put the guard to sleep.

A member of my family was married years ago to a charming guy who became verbally and physically abusive when he drank. When he was sober, he was always deeply, genuinely, terribly sorry. He tearfully pleaded for (and received) forgiveness. But he never changed.

The fact is regret alone has no transformative power. Forgiveness alone won’t move you into the promised land of wellness. While these are necessary components of Christian repentance, the driving force behind transformation is a clear vision of who you can become, the willing choice to change, a sensible, knowledgeable way to do it, and then following it. God supplies everything but the willingness and the following. (more…)

Footprints
Footprints (Photo credit: Peter Nijenhuis)

Practicing the presence of God is the preliminary step to all other Christian practices. It isn’t something you do once or twice or just on Sunday. It’s a life-style that facilitates loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul—not because God needs His ego fed, but because it sets you up for filling with positive things.

Obviously, if you don’t see the Spirit of God as having qualities you admire and want for yourself, you won’t have much incentive to seek them. (I don’t mean His omni-qualities that no human being will ever gain. I mean love, competence, intelligence, strength, compassion, etc.)

Assuming the desire, it’s possible to develop inner Christ-like qualities (spirit) that naturally result in Christ-like behavior—“Christ formed within you” (Gal. 4:19). But trying to be Christ-like by merely conforming to right behavior short-circuits the spiritual process and you’ll eventually burn out. Jesus compares it to a house built on sand that comes crashing down (Mat. 7:26-27).

Burdens

Two different philosophies set you up for the crash:

(1.) Behavior and obedience are top priority. Don’t break the rules. If you do, the right rituals and prayers will atone for it, so the sort of person you are is of little consequence.

This is the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus says people must get past (surpass). They cleaned the outside of the cup, but the inside remained full of negative qualities (Mat. 23:25-26). Their idea of redemption was that as long as people tithed correctly, got circumcised, or avoided murder, they could be as full of greed or anger, for example, as the next guy.

 (2.) Behavior and obedience don’t matter. You’ll always break the rules. So, having the right beliefs, particularly in forgiveness or gratitude, is top priority. The sort of person you are is of little consequence as long as God finds the correct doctrines in your mind.

This is today’s idea of “right with God” among most Christians. This version of redemption is that people can be as full of anger or greed, for example, as the next guy as long as they believe they’re just sinners “saved” by grace. Instead of avoiding sin, it’s about avoiding guilt and punishment.

In either case, people learn to act like Christ rather than be like Christ; and acting is a heavy burden to maintain. By contrast, the way of salvation is much lighter—a gift from God to develop inner goodness that’ll shine on the outside with much less effort. C.S. Lewis noted, “Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is.” (more…)

Sparks
Sparks (Photo credit: Gnal)

Unlike the early Church, today’s American concept of salvation is separated from transformation into Christ-likeness. It probably wouldn’t occur to most modern Christians that transformation is salvation.

Regarding transformation, there’s debate as to whether God automatically does that to you after you’re saved, or whether it’s something that only hard-core believers seek as a desirable, but non-essential dimension of Christian living. Either way, salvation is seen strictly as an afterlife issue; Christian living in ordinary life is seen as a separate issue.

In this view, the definition of salvation is forgiveness of sin so you get into heaven when you die. The only essential connection between salvation and ordinary life is that you must get on the heavenly reservation list before physical death.

Generally, you get on the list by 1.) admitting that you’ll never measure up to God’s flawlessness, and thus need a Savior; 2.) acknowledging that Jesus Christ is that Savior who saves you by simply forgiving sin; and 3.) asking him to “come into” your heart.

If you do that sincerely, you’re immediately placed on the list, and that’s that. You’re suddenly saved and right with God (justified). “I got saved” usually means the end of a sin or merit problem, not the beginning of a process.

Grace is seen as something that happens to you. You contribute nothing to the process but gratitude, and to suggest otherwise somehow steals God’s glory. Even your faith isn’t your own or anything you do, but something God just produces in you. “Transformation” then follows, if at all, as mere behavior modification (Bible study, praising God, etc.) and adherence to various statements of belief. This is considered Christian living, and it’s the extent of transformation for most.

Instead of generating a new kind of life in people, this model creates stone-like passivity that prevents discipleship and passage from “death” to life, the dominant issue in Scripture. American churches are thus full of converts to doctrines, but few disciples to Jesus. (more…)

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (Photo credit: bamalibrarylady)

Yesterday, Part 1 brought up the debate over how the Law, grace, atonement, character, and faith relate, and the confusion over Paul’s apparent conflict with Jesus’ teaching.

Many people believe that Paul sort of trumps Jesus because Paul’s preaching is more “updated” after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But this has a sneaky way of making Paul the reigning expert and Lord instead of Jesus. It’s unintentional, of course, but nevertheless dominant in church thinking today.

If you want a good example, just ask any pastor, layperson, or yourself what the Gospel is. Ninety-nine percent will quote a dozen verses from Paul, but not a single quote from Jesus. (More info here: A Badly Needed Clearer Gospel.)

I myself did this for decades. But it’s just one of many inadvertent forms of “harlotry” that I now call The Great Substitution.

Lover or Hater?

At any rate, with the preliminaries from Part 1 in mind, let’s look at what Paul says in the book of Romans about the relationship between life, death, spirit, and Law. We’ll see he isn’t the Law-hater he’s been assumed to be, both in his day and ours. It’s the letter (or “works”) of the law and Death he opposes, while he loves the true Law and working of grace. In fact, all his epistles repeat this theme. And, to my great relief and amazement, he’s right in sync with Jesus.

Romans 7:6

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Followers of Christ are “dead” to rule-following and alive to God because Jesus abolished Death, not love.

Romans 8:2

“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:4

“…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

Thankfully, because God changed His tactics by sending Jesus to abolish Death, He doesn’t require flawless obedience. He simply wants honest practice and growth—fruit. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit that Paul teaches in Gal. 5:22 (love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness) is precisely the righteous requirements of the Law he teaches here.

Anyone who says you cannot change your sinful nature underestimates the transformative power of human spirit working in conjunction with divine Spirit. Sure, by yourself you can’t do it. But that’s different from doing it with help from Jesus, the now-living, fully competent Expert on life.

Romans 2:13

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” This agrees with James, who says we shouldn’t be hearers of the Word only, but doers of the Word (Jas. 1:22-23).

Romans 3:31

“Do we, then, nullify the law by [our] faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Jesus won’t obey for us, but he will show us how to keep God’s commands. Grace and substitutionary atonement mean that his atonement substitutes for our atonement, not our obedience.

That’s why we no longer need repeated animal sacrifice but are still accountable to the Law’s intent. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows the way in great detail; faith means we follow his instruction because we trust that he, more than anyone else, knows what he’s talking about.

Romans 13:9

“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Old Yet New Again

In Jhn. 13:34, Jesus gave a “new” command to love one another as he loved us, but it wasn’t new because God had just recently thought it up. It was new because people hadn’t heard it from their leaders. This mind of the Spirit was almost a foreign concept that had to be reintroduced. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as their teachers of the law.” (Mrk. 1:22)

In the Pharisees’ day, God had already proven His point through Israel’s long history that human virtue isn’t a matter of following divine rules. That doesn’t mean God wasted His time or that the Law was no good and should be thrown out. It means that mankind had reached a pre-determined point, ready for the game-changer: Jesus, the Messiah and Savior.

He teaches and demonstrates what kind of person lets the Law of love flow from the inside, thereby becoming well enough (“fit”) to live with God in His great kingdom of love. Regardless what tactics God uses over time to teach the world, His prime message is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments.

“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.” (Psa. 119:1) Not because they have to, but because it’s who they are in spirit.

 

 

English: Compass

English: Compass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faith that needs repeated revival or recommitment should probably be examined to find out why it’s so short-lived. (I’m assuming the reason for rededication is a relationship with God that’s flagging in some way; so there may be other reasons that don’t apply here.)

When I worked as a geospatial analyst, the engineering department had a saying for solving design problems: “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting. If you want different results, you need a different system.”

Today’s widely-taught faith system, presented as something God “does” to us, is a big reason it often flags. The believer is subsequently told that he/she isn’t dedicated enough, or hasn’t prayed enough, doesn’t believe enough, has failed God again, and must once and for all swear commitment to the Lord. I’ve heard it a million times, as do multitudes of diligent, sincere Christians who recommit over and over only to get the same disappointing results.

Some even give up on faith and God altogether.

It’s caused by a simple lack of vision, a solid purpose and plan, a means to carry it out, and therefore, a lack of correctly aimed intention. Who can follow through on something they’re unaware of? So when we’re spiritually starved like this, we can pretend to be filled for only so long before the reality becomes evident: faith that limps along or crashes in the sand.

Yet it’s easily remedied if we read and listen carefully to the words of Jesus, his original disciples, and the earliest “people of the Way.” An entire book is needed to adequately address the manifold wisdom of his kind of faith, but we can review the foundational components.

In A Nutshell

The correct vision: Jesus’ rich view and model of new life in God’s kingdom through partnership with Him—God with man. Without this preliminary vision shift, people can’t pursue abundant strength, peace of mind, and love. To use biblical terms, they can’t “enter” into the world Jesus presents or put confidence in him for everyday living. They remain “blind,” stumbling, or conflicted, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing.

This is why Jesus’ gospel message is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” God’s kingdom around us stands ready to guide, enable, heal, and support.

A solid purpose: learn to love ourselves and others the way Jesus loves us. The idea is to become united in spirit and purpose with him and with one another. To live this new life is the assembling of the great Body, or, the marriage of Jews and Gentiles who become the bride wedded to the Bridegroom to rule and serve with him. God planned this objective even before He created the world.

The plan and means: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For example, willfully indulged anger is the first faith-killer he tackles. Turning away from it enables us to increasingly implement (obey) the remaining parts of his plan—get rid of spiritual adultery/divorce, sworn behavior, score-keeping, outer appearance/image, and hypocrisy, in that order. (More info in my series 6 Steps to Un-sabotage Yourself in Every Relationship.)

When we follow his prescribed instructions, the unavoidable result is transformation and spiritual formation in Christ. The best part is that God hasn’t given commands and left us with no ability, or way, to do what He says. Neither will He do it for us since that would rob us of our roles with Him. God is gracious enough to give us some responsibility and to let us participate!

That’s something we can sink our teeth into, put long-term confidence in, and not be stuck with flagging faith that needs frequent re-starts.

 

A Gorilla lounging around.

A Gorilla lounging around. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post was prompted by an article in Relevant Magazine, “I Used to Be On Fire for God” and the associated reader comments. I enjoyed the article, left my own comment, and elaborate on it here.

I like Relevant’s site (self-described as aimed at the twenty-something crowd) because it’s like a finger on the pulse of the Body of believers.

As a Baby Boomer with roots in the 1970s “Jesus Freak” movement, I like seeing positive changes that younger Christians bring to the Church. Yet some things are no different today than back then.

It’s been my experience in 40+ years as a Christian that a huge segment of the Body still sees Christ’s message of new life entirely as, “Jesus is Lord!” or, “Your sins are forgiven!” or, “God loves you!” These statements are all true, of course.

But for multitudes, new life in God’s kingdom has been reduced to little more than slogans and hype. It’s sometimes called bumper-sticker Christianity. And many Christians define passion, revival, and the Great Commission as saying these as loudly and as often as possible, which is what the article touched on. (more…)