Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obedience? (adapted from a letter I recently wrote to my children)

What is the nature of the term obedience in a Christian context? Many, including me, have held to various forms of legalism to achieve the beauty of obedience--embracing futility with fervor, certainly, and as certainly a residing in death. Andrew and George spar somewhat in the previous post over the issue, as we know Christians throughout time have done and continue to do.

Consider the two great commandments: love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; love your neighbor as yourself. These two statements are a great organizer of a believer's thoughts and actions. Lining things up with these two daily, life works fairly simply. If we focus on the active verb "love" the Bible has more to say. 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind, of course. Here, if we are having trouble sorting out whether or not what we feel is love, we have a guide sure and true. Sometimes what I feel as "love" is really my selfishness feeling sentimental. However, I might insist my action proves my obedience to God even as my “love” serves my own selfish ends. The challenge becomes to learn obedience to one's conscience, the sensitivity of which is developed both according to the Truth in the scriptures and through actively living in the Spirit.

My regular readers, friends and family know I am all about moving Christian experience from a legalistic application of the scripture to the revealed Truth of Jesus in-dwelling the believer. The scriptures point the believer to an experience of being united with the Holy Spirit. Anything less is just sentimentality or manipulation of words. Yet, as I have listened to others speak of the active guide of the Holy Spirit, I have found people saying things that undermine the trustworthiness of the Bible as a revelation of God. I recognize how the Bible has been used to harm as some push its meanings to parameters that are not in line with the revealed Truth of the Spirit of Jesus within. That is a problem, but a pendulum swing away from reliance on the written Word is not the answer believers need. However, on the opposite end of this spectrum, to rely on the Word alone can sometimes create an idol of the self who is one that “keeps the whole word of truth.” The self becomes qualified for adoration by its own “spiritual” achievement.

The paradoxes we face!!

The reality is that we walk a walk with a living God; God actively loves humanity and in-dwells the believer. However, the understanding to begin and maintain this walk is most often supported by the written Word. Thus we enter and live trusting the in-dwelling Presence we connect with through our conscience. Christianity isn't understanding the Bible alone or understanding living from within one's heart alone. These dispositions are in harmony with one another not in opposition. (Since the Creation speaks of Him, I don't think we can discount coming to know Him without the Word. Who are we to limit God speaking of and revealing Himself? Even so, such an experience of revelation is limited if it never comes to involve the revelation of the Scripture.)

Can one live the Christian life fully with the two Great commandments alone and trusting the Holy Spirit within? I think “yes” and “no.” God exists in such singularity of eternity that within the human understanding we must always grasp at knowing Him by holding onto tension created within paradox. This is one example of paradox. The whole of God’s intent might be summarized as the Two Great Commandments. The fullness of its meaning is grasped by embracing with faith the reality of the in-dwelling Christ.

So “yes” this is enough. It is the complete gospel: God has redeemed man who has become a holder, an ark, of the Divine Being. In this place, our personal responsibility becomes to love God and others.

Paradoxically, it is a “no” this is not enough for fully living the Christian life: There are two reasons. First, we are subjective creatures. Humans think according to what they believe in the depths of the heart. This thinking is self-referential. We reflect on what we believe to determine our decisions--thus our belief system which is skewed with error leads our decisions. Also, we will act instantly without true decision-making from an inner place where we do not even recognize we are guided by self and not outside-of-self insights. How does one learn to sort out a direction from God against these feeling-generating beliefs that are ours subjectively? Case in point, how do we know our feelings of love are the pure love of God and not our selfishness to love our own way? This requires taking the command to love and analyzing it, learning it according to other teachings in the Bible which reveal the nature of the word love.

Second, we need other people to hear what we say and think, to watch how we act and react and give us honest feedback. That is, we cannot simply take the two Great Commandments and think we are thus equipped to live life fully unto the Lord Jesus. We must enter into real relationships where love is practiced to fully understand love. We need others to experience our love and respond. How do we know we need fellowship? From the written Word and from within our hearts in union with Jesus. How do we get the courage to risk love? From the written Word and from within our hearts in union with Jesus.

The conclusion I draw for myself is...The Bible reveals Truth, Jesus, and can be trusted in what it says in guiding us into the living, active relationship with the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals the insights we need to fully dwell with God, neither squandering nor exaggerating the meanings of life or love according to our subjectivity. Living in the Spirit and considering the Word cannot be separated functionally.

As a young believer I searched the scriptures to understand Jesus. As an older Christian, I rest in Jesus to reveal more Truth to me through the scripture and my daily life among others.


careyrowland said...

Thank you for writing this:
"Second, we need other people to hear what we say and think, to watch how we act and react and give us honest feedback."
So true. Fellowship is more productive than introspection, friendship more accurate than a mirror; we need as much as we can stand of both.

ded said...


As friends who know this, we might fellowship more!

craig v. said...

Great thoughts ded. You've obviously spent some quality time thinking this through and I'm glad to be one of the ones that can grow from your insights.

ded said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ded said...

Hey Craig,

Thanks for commenting. It is good to hear something in the post was encouraging to you. I am blessed to have you provide some of my needed feedback that I might grow!