Tuesday, January 3, 2012

3 January: Rationalizing disobedience

Opening Sentence
Behold, the dwelling of God is with mankind. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God. Revelation 21:3

Commemoration: Gladys Aylward
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Gladys Aylward, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of China. Raise up in this and every land heralds and evangelists of your kingdom, that your Church may make proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 68

Lessons: 1 Kings 19:9-18, Ephesians 4:17-32, John 6:15-27

There is an underlying reason why some Christians never mature past the spiritual infancy stage. From the very beginning of their Christian walk, they have no idea what it truly means to be “born again.” They have an understanding of conversion more akin to Nicodemus than to Jesus. The new birth is viewed more in naturalistic terms such as a change of attitude or opinion, rather than a radical transformation of the whole person, from one enslaved to the perspective of the earth, the flesh, the temporary to one set free to see the perspective of heaven, the Spirit, the eternal.

The full meaning of the term “born again,” in the context of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3), is “born from above.” The new birth is not a natural experience for a fallen human being. Anyone who claims to be “born again” yet continues to be enslaved by an earthbound, naturalistic perspective is no such thing.

Nicodemus was not the only one who didn’t “get it” with regard to the new birth. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus encounters people who seem hopelessly bound by the natural limitations wrought by their sinfulness. The crowds which follow him to the other side of the sea are a case in point. If they truly understood their own traditions, they would have no trouble understanding Jesus when he refers to himself as "the bread of life." They do not understand Jesus, however, because they do not understand their traditions. For generations, they have read and been taught the Scriptures from an earthly, naturalistic perspective. If even their teachers, like Nicodemus, were in the dark, what is to be expected from those who have been taught by them? Bad teachers produce bad students. Soon enough, the corruption takes hold in the whole community and no one is without excuse.

Perhaps it is the legacy of years of bad teaching about the new birth that there are so many people in our churches today who claim to be “born again,” but exhibit little or no evidence of radical transformation. The most gullible of such persons are easy targets for the peddlers of naturalistic philosophies masquerading as theology, be they pan-sexual revisionists on the one hand or escapist dispensationalists on the other. Most, however, fall somewhere in between: orthodox in theology, but averse to anything beyond the simplest baby steps toward a deeper faith. These persons value security and certainty of outcome over bold ventures into uncharted waters. They scoff at those who do step out in faith, constantly warning them of the dangers ahead and seeming to relish the thought of them stepping on a few landmines.

Such a thought process is thoroughly earthbound and utterly devoid of spiritual maturity. Faithfulness often, if not always, demands risk taking; stepping out into the unknown with no guarantee of success. But success is not the reward one seeks. Obedience brings with it a sense of joy and fulfillment that “success” can never match. Scoffers, enslaved as they are to their earthbound, success-oriented perspective, are really doing nothing but rationalizing their own disobedience and lack of faith.


I Am the Bread of Life