Saturday, January 31, 2015

Matthew 17:25-27: Freedom and Conformity in Christ

“...But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?”
“They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them...”
-- Matthew 17:25-27 (NLT)


We are made free by the salvific atonement of Christ on Calvary and our faith in Jesus as our Redeemer. He conquered the world for us and saved us from our sins, death, and the enemy.  But even though we are free by His grace, we should avoid setting a bad example and offending others.  We can do this, moreover, by conforming in ways that are inoffensive to God and others.
This can apply to traditions of the church. Although we are liberated by our faith in Jesus and his sacrifice and resurrection, we should avoid offending others by feeling we are entitled to skip out on unnecessary traditions. How might this look in ordinary practice? When we know the church obligates us to follow a rule or precept, we should approach it not in the sense that the rule or precept will deliver us from sin, for Christ already did that on Calvary, but we should conform for the sake of the community and to not offend others.  Conformity, when approached in faith, can also lead our hearts to love more deeply.  For in humble conformity, we can put on Christ in our hearts, knowing that what we do in conformity we do for others and not ourselves.  And what we do for others, we do for the love of Christ.
Jesus tells Peter to pay the tax and not offend. We should, following the example of Christ and in the context of our conscience, conform and not offend.  Conformity, however, should not be at the risk of opposing an informed conscience and certainly should not be offensive to God.  We remember what happened to the Israelites that conformed to the idolatrous cultures around them even though God forbade it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Personal Commitment to Jesus Christ: Basic Christianity “Chapter 10: Reaching a Decision” by John Stott

“You can believe in Christ intellectually and admire him; you can say your prayers to him through the keyhole (I did for many years); you can push coins at him under the door to keep him quiet; you can be moral, decent, upright and good; you can be religious; you can have been baptized and confirmed; you can be deeply versed in the philosophy of religion; you can be a theological student and even an ordained minister – and still not have opened the door to Christ. There is no substitute for this.”
~ From Basic Christianity “Chapter 10: Reaching a Decision” by John Stott


Our faith life takes interesting twists and turns.  But if we truly commit ourselves to Christ, each bend in the road of faith leads us to God.  For Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (8:28).
Over the past several years, I have spent hours each day studying and reading about my faith tradition.  This study originally yielded the good fruit of initial conversion and a zealous appetite for knowing and submitting my life to Jesus.  But in that journey, in that depth of intellectual debate, I came up against problematic doctrines that I initially questioned but prayerfully submitted to in the name of “obedience” and a blooming faith.
This obedience, after some time and trial, started to internally gnaw at me. My personal life experience, reason, and moral conscience presented a challenge. When I prayed through these challenges, sought God's grace, and worked to be obedient, I found momentary peace, but continued strife quickly followed.  Several instances took place in my personal life that brought on spiritual hurdles, crises birthed out of doctrinal obedience. As a result, I hit a wall in my faith life. This wall, however, did not turn me away from Christ, but it opened my eyes to the indoctrinating paradigm of a Classicist worldview of faith.  I was trying to give my life to a closed-minded view of programmatic tradition rather than the Person, love, and community of Christ.
I was guilty (and in some ways I still am) of almost all of the things that John Stott lists in the above selection.  Although I did wholly commit myself to Christ and opened the door early on in my faith journey, I was trying to lead the re-creation of self.  I was, in effect, trying to work my way into the man Christ wants me to be. What I failed to see, however, is that it is Christ who does the work.  We are called to let Him work and to follow His lead.  
Letting Christ do the work and following His instruction can be a difficult task, and there are many temptations along the way, temptations that look like God’s will but are not.  How does this look? For example, in my wanting to submit my life to Christ, I might read a bit of doctrine and say to myself, I will follow this no matter what I feel or what those around me experience because of it.  If the Church teaches it, and the Church is Christ’s voice on earth, then it is truth. But in my experience, this can be destructive, harmful logic, a logic that ignores the “still small voice” inside of each individual.  It is not the voice of relativism, which many Classicists argue; instead, it is the voice of moral conscience.  That voice of conscience is the voice of the Holy Spirit in each of us.  It is a voice that is tuned to our specific life experiences, reason, logic, and well-formed instinct to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. It is not a voice to be ignored at the behest of authority or religious doctrine. Even the Church herself, in a clandestine way, teaches this. We cannot earn our salvation, do the work, earn the merit.  On the contrary, Christ already did and continues to do the work.  He did the work on Calvary when he offered Himself in salvific love to the Father for us, and it is Christ in us, through His Holy Spirit, Who, with our cooperation, does the work in making us adopted sons and daughters of God.  
We have to let Jesus in and give Him control.  It is our choice. Giving Christ control of our lives does not mean acquiescence and passive living, however.  We don’t say, “Christ is in control; therefore, I have nothing to do but stand still.” A life in Christ is anything but stagnation.  We are to love and live lives of self-giving and Christian witness; we are to let Him make us perfect as Jesus states in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Being “in Christ” means we carry the cross of discipleship and undergo the persecution of our witness in the world.  But the cross, although difficult and painful at times, is a light burden and sweet yoke (Matthew 11:30).

Have I arrived? Has my faith life reached maturity and fullness? Not by any stretch of the imagination.  But I have learned that in order to reach that deep intimacy and transformation with Jesus Christ, I have to give Him control, let Him completely into my life, and not think that I can figure it out by following a program or formula.  Although essential religious doctrines (such as the creeds, the Trinity, basic moral teachings, the commandments, etc.) are essential to living in the Body of Christ, anything outside of this is periphery to the centrality of Christ in our hearts.  It is sacrifice, intimacy, love, repentance, mercy, prayer, community, and daily renewal that brings us closer to our Lord.  All Christian virtue comes to us in different ways, but it is scripture, Christian reading, prayer, and by God’s grace, saying “yes” to loving God and others that draws us more deeply into a life committed to Christ.