Our Wednesday evening Bible study group has just passed the one-year mark. One complete year and we have made it to chapter 12 of the Gospel of John. We might be slow but we are steady, taking our time to decipher not only the exegetical meaning of the text but attempt to find a contemporary application to our own lives as well. It is a lot of fun and along with the Tuesday evening Bible study and the monthly get-togethers at Bob and Marlene’s house have become an eagerly anticipated part of my life.
What I find so enjoyable is the fact that Bible texts that I’ve read numerous times come alive when other people throw in their views and understandings of the text. It is by sharing that we learn together. These Bible study groups started me thinking on how much I have changed over the years and how often I have changed my views on the Bible and theology.
Occasionally, I meet someone who just doesn’t want to change his or her opinions on anything Biblically. They believe that they understand everything perfectly, have all the answers and will never have to rethink a position regardless of how much contrary information is presented to their cherished position.
What some people declare as conviction, or standing firm for their faith may in reality just be stubbornness. It is difficult to have to say you missed the point on something, or you got it wrong, or that some cherished belief is not right. How much conflict within family groups springs from people refusing to admit they were wrong? Instead they get angry, defensive, stubborn and refuse to discuss the issue or in some cases become abusive. Why is it so difficult to change our opinion?
Maybe pride enters into the equation. As a young Christian I was taught that Jesus had a sinful nature (Adam’s nature). The arguments made sense to me. If Jesus had a perfect nature then He couldn’t be my example because He would have an unfair advantage over me. How could God expect me to be perfect and overcome sin with a sinful nature if Jesus hadn’t proved that it could be done in His nature? But at the same time I was taught that Jesus didn’t have a propensity to sin. He had the same “nature” as me but He didn’t have the propensity or inclination to sin and that is why He was able to live a sinless and perfect life while I struggled.
I wrote on the inside cover of my Bible texts like Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” Another text that I memorized was Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (See also Hebrews 2:17)
This is now where the teaching became confusing for me and started me thinking about the whole matter. My denomination taught that Jesus took on man’s nature in its fallen condition but He didn’t participate in sin. In other words Jesus had a post fall humanity (sinful condition) of Adam but He had a sinlessness of Adam pre-fall because He didn’t sin. In other words Jesus had all our moral weaknesses and frailties that we have but didn’t have a propensity to sin. Are you confused yet?
And in case the point wasn’t muddled enough came quotes from spiritual leaders in the church like the following, “The Lord Jesus came to our world, not to reveal what a God could do, but what a man could do, through faith in God’s power to help in every emergency. Man is, through faith, to be a partaker in the divine nature, and to overcome every temptation wherewith he is beset.”
The bottom line was that I believed all this because I had been taught this by pastors and teachers who were Godly men and women. It just made sense to me that if Jesus could overcome sin and be perfect then as my example I could overcome sin and be perfect. There are modifications on this theme where people say it is all done through the Holy Spirit but the final answer is still the same, you overcome sin and become perfect.
If you have read any amount of my blogs you can see that I no longer believe any of that. Yes, there are very different interpretations for the verses I quoted earlier that give quite the opposite views on the nature of Christ. This post isn’t about the differences people hold on the nature of Christ, but I simply use it as an example about how we change our views and grow spiritually when we study, share, read, pray and honestly look for answers.
I believe, for what it is worth, that Christianity has been devastated theologically because people don’t take the time to study and learn. Our views of Christianity and our faith are formulated and shaped by television preachers, what someone tells us and what we think the Bible says.
Go into any Christian bookstore to select a good commentary to read and you will find that in the average strip-mall bookstore they don’t exist. There are walls of greeting cards, Christian fiction, videos and CD’s but very little in depth material to help us on our journey. The reason commentaries and in depth theology books are not carried by these stores, you guessed it, is because they don’t sell.
It was only when I began to study the issue regarding the nature of Christ that my view changed. It didn’t happen over night and it was not necessarily easy rethinking what I believed. But, as I began to understand the true nature of Christ, the magnitude and wonder of the plan of salvation began to become clearer to me.
Suddenly, a whole new world of understanding the love of God and the magnitude of God broke open for me. Getting the nature of Christ right was the key for understanding the atoning ministry of Jesus, the depths of the sacrifice Jesus carried out at Calvary, the goodness and graciousness of God and the real meaning of Jesus perfect life of obedience and how it impacted all of us. Perfectionism could be placed where it belonged, in Christ and I could rejoice in His love, grace and mercy.
When I realized that no matter how good I was and no matter how much I struggled and tried to overcome through the Spirit I still failed in thought and deed, my life changed. I could throw myself on the mercy of the cross and fall at the feet of Jesus as a sinner with no merit to bring and accept His perfection in my place, His penalty paid for my sin and His taking away my guilt.
Yes, of course we live Christian lives once we have come to the foot of the cross. It is offensive to hear struggling Christians call what people like me have received as “cheap grace.” It is anything but cheap. It cost Jesus everything and that sacrifice has changed everything about us. We walk in the newness of life thrilled with the wonders of grace and that allows the principle of the law of love to dwell within our hearts.
Don’t be afraid of change. Sometimes to change our views of things looks scary and we are unsure of ourselves. But when we find the truth of what God teaches then we may walk in the newness of life regardless of our past. God is good, is He not?
* Please remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are subjected to persecution for their faith in Christ our Lord and Saviour. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for more on the persecuted church