HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN OUR SYSTEMS FOR UNDERSTANDING GOD HAVE BECOME MARRED WITH SIN AND PARADOXICALLY BECOME SUBTLE JUSTIFICATIONS FOR OPPOSING HIM?
- If the Church is not discipling, then all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, even the Bible, are a waste of time (C.S. Lewis)
- Never decide on anything or start to do anything while emotion is agitating like a roaring sea. Again, during that time even our conscience is rendered unreliable (Watchman Nee)
- When we work, we work. When we pray, God works (James Hudson Taylor)
- Human beings tend to default to a self-at-the-centre mindset in everything. We even bring this predisposition to our understanding of Christianity and end up with variations on the same theme (Peter Mead)
- If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a heavenly king be considered a sacrifice? (David Livingstone)
TEXT: Mark 7: So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” 9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” 14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
In the journey of life, there is truth in what Corky Calhoun said, that a journey only becomes a journey once one is clear about the destination, otherwise it is just aimless wandering. If the destination is eternity with Christ, then it becomes important to review what is required for the journey. Remember, ignorance or unbelief does not change God's omnipotence or His plan. While Jesus Christ walked on the face of the earth, he confronted the Pharisees and teachers of the law who he said had a fine way of setting aside the commands of God so as to observe their own traditions. In a subtle way, they had deviated from God’s commandment and set their own which they were enforcing. Even today it is so luring to come up with pious religious jargon that fails to demonstrate exclusive love of God. Instead, emphasis is put on temporal social/political work that cannot, and does not, give expression to the overflow of God’s love. Can you imagine the sincerity of a people who faithfully keep what they assume are God’s commandments, only to have the rude shock of realizing they were sincerely wrong?
WHY WOULD PEOPLE REFINE WHAT GOD HAS SAID INSTEAD OF OBEYING IT?
Human nature – The tendency of human beings to rebel, be independent, is seen in the biblical message in Genesis chapter three. Listening to sources of information that do not come from the one who has our welfare in His plan for us is not new. In the very beginning, when the man and woman listened to another voice, they lost the relationship with God. They were stung by fear that led them into hiding and a sense of shame on realization of their vulnerability that made them feel naked. ‘I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’ (Genesis 3:10b). Instead of seeking God, human nature tends to come up with what one considers to be a workable strategy- make clothes out of leaves. Regarding the human nature, ‘The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time’ (Genesis 6:5). This is the reason Jesus Christ came to explain that no one, of their own effort, would see the kingdom of God, unless one experiences a new birth (John 3:3). To be born again is to believe in His (Jesus) name and so be given the right to become a child of God. ‘He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1: 11-13). That is why the apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians said, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Refusal to trust in one’s understanding, and seeking ways that empower the agreed upon strategies rather than trusting in God’s word is the real battle that every believer has to overcome.
Human nature and Obedience – To obey requires positioning oneself under someone by submitting to their authority and command. It is challenging to position oneself to one whose ability is in question. There has to be a belief that inclines one to trust the one in authority. Biblical obedience to God means listening, trusting Him as sovereign, loving and caring and so surrendering to His word. The word of God reveals His vision and mission – ‘May Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. When experiencing moral and spiritual confusion, people tend to doubt that God is in charge as they observe how He has not stopped the spread of viruses, invasion of malignant cancer cells, aggression of nation against nation, silenced the lying tongues, etc. Such observations increase fear, and the need to have a self-saving strategy. We are Like Jesus’ disciples, who when faced by a persisting fierce storm, focused on how to save themselves and failed to focus on Jesus Christ (Mark 4:35-40). Focus on what turns stones into bread, or gives fame, is easier than holding on to the word of God. When anything else is magnified in the mind, God is diminished. That is what leads to theology that is informed more by culture and the shared beliefs, than the Lord Jesus and His Word that is revealed in the Scriptures. Storms in this life are sure to come, as we are harassed by forces beyond human control. The question that each of us must reflect on is whether to maintain the position that what we do, though it cannot be traced to Scripture, or whether to allow God to inform us of which way to go. ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you’ (Psalm 32:8). To be sure that we are leaning on the word of God, there is a need to let the Bible, rather than our society, define our terms, set our standards, and develop our expectations. That guidance includes the political arena.
Lack of knowledge of God – Jesus diagnosed the problem of the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law as a lack of knowledge of who God is. ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’ (Mark 12:24). Like viruses, ignorance is spread quickly and unconsciously. In a culture that is going through transition from traditional lifestyle to being part of the global market, in addition to pandemics and rapid changes, the uncertainty inclines the people to search for something solid to hold on to. ‘The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic’ (Peter Druker). How does one explain that a genuine Christian who is literate, has more than one copy of the bible, but has not read through the bible even once? Nurturing ignorance of God’s word while confessing faith in the same God is dishonoring, misleading and disillusions the believer. People may be grounded in faith, but it is faith in structural systemic organizations that keep them busy without them bearing fruit. In that hunger for a meaningful anchor, it becomes easy to accept ideas that sound spiritual without examining to see if they are aligned to the word of God. In addition, Satan, the deceiver, whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy, blinds the minds of the people so that they remain active in what is erroneous. Jesus taught that those who are His disciples need to choose their path. ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it’ (Matthew 7:13-14). There is need to be among the few that find the narrow path, otherwise one remains in the broad wide road where anyone finds his/her way and ends up in destruction.
Competing philosophies – Christians in this 21st century and particularly those who have had a history of being dominated are faced with competing beliefs and interpretation of messages. Some of the challenges facing Christians in the developing world include loss of self-awareness and usage of foreign languages. Languages are basic to human relationship for they represent ideas that form thoughts that guide action. When the language used in prayer is different from the language in which everyday actions take place, there can be inability to connect the need to the prayer. Moreover, when the scripts people learn growing up make them have self-doubt, low view of self and lack of confidence in the language used, they remain vulnerable to false teachings as they lack courage to question their beliefs. Interpretations of the occurrences of life are reinforced by cultural and historical prejudices that make people hold on to the beliefs that conceal fear and manifest in the desire to be recognized. Moreover, it is possible to sense that what is being propagated is wrong, but then one does not know what to do. There is formation of gangs labeled choir, ushers, women’s ministry, etc. and those become strong territories that do not allow others to enter. Blinded by traditions and hidden fear that manifest in search of what would make one recognized, and a desire to ask God to defeat and allow harm to those who do not share our twisted views.
The question of whether the gospel is a way to get people to heaven or a way to get people to God becomes downplayed. Peoples’ philosophies are revealed through culture which is more powerful than vision and can block people from acting on the word of God as revealed in the scriptures. People with different cultures come with their diverse philosophies that make it harder for those who have to view it through their beliefs, leaving individuals having their own interpretations. To some people, the gospel is a fireside chat – ‘nyihia hwai’ meaning shortening the evening; to others it is a stimulus for psychological health; still others view it as commentary on contemporary politics, while to others it is a way of earning a living. In light of these views, people know what is propagated is wrong, but one does not know what to do about it. Twisted thinking makes people grumble and lack gratitude and joy, seeking ‘blessing’ in their ancestors, and what people think about them. There is need to anchor in biblically sound philosophies that direct one to know God and be relevant.
As C. S. Lewis said, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road . . .. Going back is the quickest way on.” Faulty belief systems, though subtle in a way that one does not recognize them, sabotage the opportunity to know and experience the power of God in this land of the living. Since one lives within his/her belief system, there has to be determination to get out of the limiting system. Some signs that one is out of tune with the commandments of God are failing to discern God’s voice, seeking to have a relationship with the public, manipulating or using faith to meet self centred needs, and being fixated on activities sometimes referred to as ‘ministry’. It is advisable to stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways such as fellowship as entertainment, worship as unpunctuated singing of chorus while swaying the body, discipleship as caretaking, etc. Both Jesus and John put repenting and bearing fruit together because they go hand-in-hand (Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 13:6-9). To repent is to turn from systems of understanding God that have become polluted by ideas and beliefs taken from the cultures in which we live and then refining them so that they look godly. Augustine of Hippo argues that ‘sin is always unprincipled self-assertion. What seems mere instinct for survival in the beasts of the wild is in human beings a turning away from love of God and neighbor towards pride and emptiness’. It is sinful and dangerous to put aside the commandment of God in order to focus on what the denomination and the religious culture has come up with. Repentance begins with nurturing the spirit of curiosity and growth underpinned by the will and skill to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Magnify God in your thoughts, words and deeds, know His word and allow Him to give you a vision of your role in the kingdom of God. Are you encouraging yourself and others to examine your understanding of God?
‘Beware of people who know more than anyone about God but seem to clearly live for themselves. . . Truly knowing more of God makes us more concerned for others, and less concerned with ourselves’ (Marshall Segal).