Give Yourself to Others …

Archive for January 2007

The more I contemplate the message that Christendom conveys to both believers and non-believers, the more convinced I am that overall, people get the wrong message about God, Jesus and what faith is supposed to be about.

I hope it goes without saying that I don’t think anyone’s doing it deliberately. We just get so caught up in some minutia that we focus on the wrong things, which just perpetuates a misdirection.

Obviously, I need to elaborate.

Here’s how I see the message of the New Testament writers:

  • God loves us, but in order to have a righteous relationship with God, we must be without sin, because God does not allow imperfection to be in his presence.
  • Man, by himself, is incapable of such perfection.
  • Because God loves us so much, he sent his Son, in the form of Jesus, a man, to earth to demonstrate what God expects of man.
  • In spite of his own perfection, Jesus was killed by man — but on his way to death, he says to God, based upon Jesus own love for man, “Blame me for all the sins of men.” In effect, Jesus says to God, I love men too much for them to be separated from you because of their sin.
  • God says, I cannot let Jesus carry the burden for all the sins of men, so I must forgive him, and as a result, forgive all the sins of men. And he raises Jesus from the dead, to let everyone know that Jesus was forgiven of the burden of men’s sin.
  • God then says to us, “If you will believe that Jesus was my son, and you will try to live as Jesus lived, then you’ll be okay with me.”

So what is required of man?

To believe that Jesus was the Son of God, that he died and was raised from death, resulting in the forgiveness of our sins; and that all God requires of us is to love one another, the way Jesus loved us, and died for us.

It’s when we try to elaborate on this message that we get messed up. When we try to build an organization that we get distracted from the message of God.

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There are two reasons principles are not convenient.

First, it’s more difficult to follow principles than it is to follow rules. With a rule, the thought process typically focuses on the question of whether the rule applies. If the rule applies, you follow the rule. If the rule does not apply, you can ignore it. Pretty black and white.

Then, of course the opposite is true for principles. Principles must be applied, not followed. You must learn to evaluate a situation and assess how the principle would apply to that situation. The next situation may be different or similar. But even if similar, there may be sufficient differences to warrant a different application of the same principle.

As any observer of government would acknowledge, if you’re out to make rules to apply to everything, the task is never ending. And as a result, legislatures continue to make new rules, throw out some old ones, change some others. But they always focus on rules.

At the federal level, then the Supreme Court gets to decide whether the rules Congress makes are appropriate applications of the principles of the Constitution.

Well, according to Jesus and later affirmed my numerous New Testament writers, the one principle of the new covenant between God and mankind is: Love your neighbor as yourself. In the Gospel of John, John quotes Jesus as saying, “Love one another as I have loved you and give my life for you.” Certainly, the intent of the language seems similar.

But there is not court to decide whether we apply this principle properly — only God is the Judge. He judges me and he judges you, as we try to apply this principle. And it’s important to note that he says I should not judge you and you should not judge me.

And then, he goes even farther and tells us that it’s our hearts he judges, our intent, what we want to do — not what we actually succeed in doing.

Because of that, I’m going to keep trying to apply this principle, regardless of how difficult or how inconvenient.

Jesus never said this “loving” business would be easy. It’s anything but easy. And the question I’ve posed in the title of this post is just one example of how difficult it can be.

And I suppose the answer to the question lies in the manner of the disagreement.

It’s possible to get emotional and irrational when you disagree with people — especially if the topic of the disagreement focuses on deeply held beliefs — and that describes what most of us believe about spiritual matters — they are deeply held beliefs.

This is the moment to recall Romans 14:4 (NIV) – “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.”

That is to say, God is your judge. And God is the judge of everyone else. You are not their judge. They are not your judge.

And my relationship with God is not based on how many people believe the same as I believe. It is not a popularity contest. It is not majority rules.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 [NIV]).

Our relationship with God is his gift to each of us. All he asks of us our faith. And Gods gift to me is not dependent upon his gift to you. Nor is yours dependent upon his gift to me.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15 [NIV])

You need to know what you believe why you believe it. It must be your faith, not the faith of your “church” or the faith of your “evangelist” or the faith of your “pastor” or the faith of your spouse.

Your faith.

If your faith is your own, then you can disagree without being disagreeable. You can give yourself to others for their good expecting nothing in return.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus did. He loved all of us so much he died for us — all of us — even the ones who didn’t believe in him then, and those who don’t believe in him now. Certainly, he died for all of us who believe in him, but disagree about how to understand what the New Testament teaches.


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