lundi 20 février 2012

The Grace, The Law - First Steps of Understanding

Hello friends in the Lord,

I know some of you have been waiting for this moment. Yeah, the grace and law topic. Honestly, this topic didn't mean much to me neither early in my Christian walk until I read Watchman Nee book: "Normal Christian Life" and Derek Prince books, particularly: "La Sorcelerie Exposée et Vaincu." These two books changed my life for the better. It gave me the ability to live a more confident christian life and made a better follower of Jesus Christ than I was before. And this has been so since 1999.

It is with the same hope that I will share with you what many consider to be the secret of Christian victory. Truth to be said, it is not a secret. It is revealed in the scripture but it just demand that people sit and study their sacred scriptures (the bible) to make sense of the truth about this subject. I was very fortunate to have had two eloquent bible teachers to help me go through the learning. It saved me a lot of time and it helped me avoid making basic mistakes people who start studying this subject by themselves the first time almost always make.

I can only hope I'll make as much sense about this issues as Derek Prince and Watchman Nee did, when I learned from them almost a decade ago.

Let me first start with the basic.

A/ Philosophy: How do you come to know what you know?

We all come to learn what we learn by essentially two means. First, we are told about it, meaning we hear/read about it. Second, we have observed it for ourselves, meaning we experience it.

For example, how do you know that Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago? or What makes you think that God is your father? Have you ever thought of that? If not, then there you go. Think about it for second.

Let's take the first one, 'how to you know that Jesus died on the cross two millennial ago?' Is it because you experienced it or is it because they told you about it? Certainly, the second option. You never ever felt or experienced Jesus dying on the cross. You never woke up in the morning and said 'I feel Jesus died on the cross 2 000 years ago'. It is only because you have read about it in the bible or some other historical documents or watch pictures about it when you were a kid at the Gothic catholic cathedrals or in a Jesus movie. But you never felt that Jesus historically died on a cross. That information came to you through learning from a third part but not from your observation or personal experience.

What about God as your father? You may be surprise but people never regarded God as their father, not even in other religions. It is only through the Judeo-Christian worldview that this concept of believing that the Creator of this terrifying universe is related to us. I remember holding the book of a former Muslim woman titled: "I dared to call Him Father". Even for Muslim despite coming after the advent of Christianity, they still dare not call God father. It is too daring and even bordering sacrilegious blasphemy to even claim that we are related to God. Different tribal religion used to call Him, the great Spirit and it stopped there. No familiarity with that terrifying Spirit. Then how come today people call God so easily Father? It is because of Bible. And even Jesus before his crucifixion prayed his father and said that the mission was accomplished because he did teach people His name. Obviously he referred to the name father 'Abba'. He taught them to relate to God as father. To pray Him as father. To baptize people in the name of the father.

If you ever thought that it was just natural to consider God as father because He created you, then i submit that you really never gave enough thought about that. You were conditioned by your religion or your Christianized culture to regard that as normal. It is not because you naturally deduced that from observation or experience.

Why starting with this first step of philosophy - epistemology - while the main subject is grace and law? Simply because we need to realize where did we get this information about grace and law that we seem to use with so much familiarity. Maybe if you can step back for a second and ask yourself what is grace? what is the law? and why am I so excited about these words each time I hear them? Then maybe you can start realizing that people reacts, including yourself, based on your primary source of information. Did you learn about them by observing the effect of the law or the grace - meaning by your personal experience? or Did you learn about them by listing to a teacher, or read them in books or the Bible? Your source of information will definitively condition your understanding of the subject.

I for one will be using essentially the Bible to discuss this issue. Now, maybe the bible version about this issue will be different from the version that you have learned from your personal reading and musing. Don't be alarmed. That's life. Life is tough. All you'll have to do is decide what kind of source of information you want to use in learning a biblical subject? Do you want to use the bible or do you want to use another non-biblical sources? The choice is yours. Feel free to choose - no pressure!

So if you want to use the bible and learn about this biblical subject, then you definitively need to learn one more thing before we start.

B/ Context and Logic

One of the greatest challenge with bible study, is to avoid to fall into incorrect interpretation. The reason for that is simple, so is the remedy. First, the lack of familiarity with the bible content move people to jump to quickly into incorrect assertions. Second, the lack of proper logic lead people to overlook tangential implications.

St. Paul the apostle knowing that informed his protegé Timothy with these words:  "Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly." 2 Timothy 2:15 from the Common English Bible (CEB) Version.

If you noticed, he doesn't worry about the message of truth. He is advising about the correct interpretation or the message of truth. Let's read this same verse from the New King James Version (my favorite English bible version):
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15 -New King James Version (NKJV)
When we study complex subjects or issues, even in the academy we are told to reduce the complexity to its simple form. So it is with the biblical topic. If you find it complex, then divide them into small parts for easy analysis and study. The only warning the apostle Paul want to leave to Timothy is this: "RIGHTLY dividing ...". As you divide it, do it rightly! And i know that by experience now, that when people segment biblical subject incorrectly, they end up with a messy theology. Sometime repugnant theological positions.

Before I start the subject of grace and the law, let me just show you what I mean by taking an unrelated biblical topic for an example.

You have probably read this verse: "I (Jesus) don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you." John 15:15

When I was younger in the faith, people loved this verse. I was told that I shouldn't call my self a servant of God. 'We are no longer servant' was i told, 'We are children of God' they insisted. They kind of begged us to accept our new amazing 'revealed' position as 'children' and not 'as servant'. It took me sometime to come around this issue. Here is how i resolved it.

1. The text of John 15:15 doesn't contrast a 'servant' with a 'child'. But it contrast a 'servant' with a 'friend'. So they failed to RIGHTLY DIVIDE the word of God in this issue when they addressed me.
2. The text of John 15:15, doesn't even say that they were no longer servant. Jesus just said that he no longer CALL them servant. Nuance! They may still be servant even if he doesn't call them servant.
3. Jesus didn't define what a servant was. He just told them the reason why he decided not to call them servant. Etymologically speaking, they were still servant and will still be servant.

With this three points, i was now ready to look at the wider context of this issue of being 'servant'. And i found interesting biblical facts. The New Testament doesn't even find a contradiction between being a 'child of the Father' and being a 'servant of the Father'. For after all, as the word indicate, servant comes from the same root as service. And in God's kingdom, we are all called to serve. And to serve regularly. Which make all the children of God who serves God their Father, servants. C'est pas sorcier!

Here are text that impressed that there was no rivalry between a child of God and a servant of God:

Peter and all the disciples are praying God in Acts 4:29-30 after being beaten for their faith and they referred to themselves as servants in plural. No shame to be called servant of God. And I can assure you, they had the revelation that they were also children of God,
"And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy SERVANTS, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus."
 Here are again that expression 'servant' in the new testament:

1. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God," (Romans 1:1)
2. "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:" (Philippians 1:1)
3. "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;" (Titus 1:1)
4. "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting." (James 1:1)
5. "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:" (2Peter 1:1)
6. "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:" (Jude 1:1)
7. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:" (Revelation 1:1)

Did John the apostle forgot that he was not a servant but a child of God? Can someone can make me believe that St. Paul was confused about his position of being a son of God/child of God with that of being a servant of God? The simple answer is no. They knew the difference and they also knew that it was not mutually exclusive. It is only when we rightly divide the word of truth as St. Paul advised that we can avoid saying falsity. Now, i ain't saying that those people when i was young were intentionally trying to mislead me away from the truth. Actually, i even bet that their motives where pure, but their logic incorrect, hence their conclusion was also incorrect. A friend of mine in South Africa once said in a meeting I was in that we human have the tendency of polarizing topics. We are incline to always go for the extremes. I hope as we study this topic of Grace and the Law, we will move away from extreme positions and rightly divide the word of truth on this topic.

Thus I have to ask, what is the issue between this topic of the Grace of God and the Law of God? As you can realize both words are followed by 'of God' meaning they both belong to God. Hence, we should touch both subject with respect because they belong to God. And only God can inform us why He gave both the Law and the Grace. If you are ready to find out, stay tuned!

Until next time, I'd like to challenge you to reflect about what i wrote and then try to 'rightly divide' this verse:

"For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17 - The New Testament)
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