Adam, during our last audio, somewhere close to the end, you and I touched on a very powerful reality regarding the whole matter of obedience. It went like this:
[Adam, I will probably just edit the audio by inserting the clip from that program, but I’ll just read it now to get us up to speed. Jim]
Jim: What if instead of our immediately assuming that, Oh I must be wrong, I must be at fault, I must be inferior, I must not be hearing, I must not be obedient… because I’m really struggling here… You know, if you’re actually reading your Bible there, it’s in the midst of the suffering that we, like Jesus, are learning the nature of this obedience. We are coming to see, he is teaching us … through everything that comes our way.
Adam: And remember, he suffered — the writer of the Hebrews made sure, he said, not just in suffering, but “in the days of his flesh”, they said, “in the days of his flesh”. And the days of his flesh had to do with feeling separated, not seeing clearly, confusion…
Jim: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”
Adam: Those things are like … we still think it had to do with his piety … as if it doesn’t have anything to do with us.
Adam, I love how you immediately jumped on the word everything. I mean, I could tell that you had caught on to the profound reality of God’s grace I implied by using such an all-inclusive word and that you wanted to make sure our listeners wouldn’t miss it. I think an awful lot of believers are terrified by the prospect of missing out on this grace because they aren’t so sure that God isn’t necessarily teaching us this obedience through everything.
I liked where you were leading off in the end of the audio. We talked about ‘learning’ obedience and how that is somehow rejected by those looking outwardly [the religious mind] as some kind of sinful behavior because it doesn’t always appear to be so pretty while housed in the body of flesh [think “in the days of His flesh” here]. I was reminded of Sarah and Abraham and of course the Lord Himself in crying out at God in unbelief and confusion while on the cross. It all looks so messy. It doesn’t APPEAR to be in compliance with what God wants. It doesn’t LOOK like the reality of God is happening in them. We who are in the flesh[or thinking as one in the flesh] are concentrating only on the shifting opinions of our temporary conclusions [those beliefs present for the whole of the temporal world].
Your reference to the outward appearance of behavior of certain Biblical characters — especially your mention of Abraham — reminds me how easily we have misunderstood God’s grace. If we didn’t live in a world that was so accustomed to the stories and themes of the Bible, we might realize, as you stated it, how messy so many of them must have appeared.
When I consider my own introduction to American history, I remember how my childhood illusions kept getting shattered over and over again as I slowly came to understand that my heroes weren’t always as noble as had been presented to me in earlier years. It was always so simple: we were the good guys, our enemies were the bad guys.
I suspect that among many Bible-believers, those same kind of illusions have kept many of us blinded to some things that would have caused strong reactions in those who originally heard them. We’ll come across certain Bible verses and try to apply them to our own lives. So much of the time, we have so little idea as to why our strained attempts have so little bearing upon the verse we’re trying to apply.
In reference to our attempts to apply Bible verses to our lives, why does this life often SEEM as if it has to be applied? Or that it is mechanical? I’m in Christ, shouldn’t I be changed to the point that I would recognize the things I need to recognize? What have I been experiencing all these other things? Why and how COULD I be led astray? (Possibly because we are living in a temporal world connected to temporal bodies HOUSING the eternal things of Christ).
Yes, the whole concept of application has so often replaced life, hasn’t it? It’s not that the word apply can’t be used for some things, but because our life in Christ has been so often presented as mechanical, that is, as a program or as a set of principles, it doesn’t make sense to do anything else other than attempt to apply these Christian truths.
Anyhow, I was going to comment on our perception of Abraham and his behavior. To me, one of the more misunderstood of him being used as an example is found in James, chapter 2. You know, that’s where the infamous, grace-squelching passage faith-without-works-is-dead is found. I find it ironic that those who love to bring James 2 up in the attempt to dispute the premise of salvation by grace apparently have so little understanding of the examples James used to highlight what he wrote about being justified by works. What I’m saying is that if we actually heard his intention in the letter, we might not be so quick to shy away from such a fantastic passage.
We get ourselves all in a frazzle by James’ statement “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?,” and we will immediately counter it with Paul’s “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Of course, that’s why so many grace people have written James off as a legalist. Sometimes we just need to chill out and look at what’s in front of us, instead of immediately jumping into defense mode.
Can we not hear the undercurrent of things-are-not-as-they-appear within the example James used by mentioning Abraham offering up his son? Let’s drop our religious sensibilities and illusions for long enough to consider how many fathers who heard this example might have had a contrary reaction? The man was going to kill his own son … and that work was supposed to prove his faith? Realize that I am not questioning the reality of Abraham’s faith, rather I am questioning our own reluctance to hear what was behind the scenes. Now, if you think I’m overstretching the point, let’s consider the next example of what it means to be justified by works: Rahab.
Yeah, Rahab, the harlot. Or should we say, Rahab, the prostitute. Rahab, the foreign (aka unclean) prostitute. How about, Rahab, the unclean prostitute who sold out her own people in exchange for the lives of herself and her family. Somehow, we can read the Biblical account and totally miss the unspoken message that I don’t think one single Jew would have ignored. Can’t we see that the so-called works offered as examples by James, the works by which one would be justified would not accepted in the eyes of man?
And there are the fearful consequences of God using even sin …. I mean, What shall we say then???
This is quite an unnerving proposition to consider, isn’t it? However in view of God teaching us obedience through everything, it cannot and should not be ignored. In fact, when I made my statement, I was specifically including it. As to whether God could possibly use sin, let’s consider what Paul wrote:
The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21
I mean, how often do we think in terms of in spite of sin rather than through sin or in the midst of sin? Or, heaven forbid, that God would use sin? But don’t we know that God’s working all things together for our good included a purposeful increase of sin by him having introduced the Law so that grace could overwhelm it?
When we were digging into Romans to bring out the amazing truth of obedience in that letter, we stopped short of a very familiar discussion found in Romans 7. Just because we may not find the word obedience in that chapter doesn’t mean that it’s reality was not continued in that narrative. In fact, it has everything to do with learning the true nature of obedience, for it is within that chapter where Paul describes his own understanding of what was really going on within himself in his own struggle with the Law and sin. I mean, how could it be otherwise? For a former legalist to have to so passionately and convincingly presented a picture of the totality of grace, he would almost have to describe his own personal insight into the grace that overwhelmed the sin that was stirred up by Law in his own life.
There are different views regarding this chapter, which is not at all surprising. After all, it’s dealing with some very sensitive subject matter that would undo perhaps most of our current Christian teachings.
Some have suggested that Paul’s description of falling into sin must be referring to his life before coming to Christ. Although there is some validity to it, to ignore the connection with a struggle that took place after he had been saved really misses the whole force of his argument … and his conclusion.
Some grace teachers, on the other hand, will present this chapter as if it represents the ongoing cycles Christians should come to expect as the normal Christian life. I’ve seen diagrams written out to describe the ongoing cycle of life and death that looks much like a stock graph that steadily climbs higher as it rises and falls. The rise is supposed to represent our living in grace followed by a fall caused by law Now, while I might agree that we’re going to recognize some patterns in our lives that seem to valid this view, it is not what we have been called to.
The truth is that what is presented in this chapter sets up the reality of our victorious life in the Spirit.
Obedience: Where are our “rocks crying out” to us when we have taken a path into the religious mind’s attempt to deceive us?
What if there were not any Jims or even Adams testifying to the grace that truly is in Jesus?