Is the question really simply managing our sins in such a way as to make sure we go to heaven? I have a dear brother who is serving Jesus in China on mission. Because of the way things are over there he is an English teacher in a small vocational school as he can’t really pastor and preach openly. Yet it seems he is not welcome because he is in a community of law and not a community of grace. He hasn’t conformed to the rules – he has consistently been “caught” speaking to the young women (apparently the management doesn’t care about him speaking to the men during those times), always in open areas and never behind closed doors or in dark places – outside of office hours or fellowship times.
Another young lady in our community asked me the other day where in the Bible does it say people who commit suicide and people who are homosexuals are going to hell? Okay, I know there are ways to construct an answer that such things are “true” but ultimately all I can say is that these acts are sins – not statements about final judgments on salvation.
When did the Gospel become learning how to modify our behaviors? And frankly, all I can really say is good luck with that. Even the apostle Paul struggled mightily with all of that – “For I do not understand my own action. For I do what I do not want, but I do the very thing I hate,” Romans 7:15 ESV – and if Paul struggled, then how can I not be struggling as well.
In our community I often ask our youth to spend time in the Word, the Bible. And for most of them, even the adults, this is a hard one. Reading what for them is a very dry and maybe irrelevant book is a tall order.
Sometimes I ask them why they think I am asking them to read. Usually they tell me because we are supposed to read it.
So I ask them, what is the Bible about and they usually tell me it’s about how we are supposed to live. I let them know that’s a maybe true, but there is something more involved in reading and absorbing. Maybe the central question is not really about how do I get saved? (and from those chats with my friend in China and my friend asking me about suicide and homosexuals, the implied answer is that my salvation somehow depends on keeping all these rules in place).
I ask them if the real question is finding out who this Jesus is.
Maybe the truth is that Jesus has told us how to live, but it doesn’t require behavior modification, and efforts on our parts to manage our sins – something we heard from Paul is simply not realistic – rather, it’s about being transformed. Paul again tells us that we are indeed new, “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 God’s Word translation (I like the way this version interprets all of this as it tells me I am not only new, but that newness affects the way I think and the way I do). The Message paraphrase says it like this, “anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.” We aren’t bound to the old ways anymore but we get to learn something new, who this Jesus is and then we get to ask what does this mean for how I approach this new way of living/this fresh start.
So I ask them to read the Bible not to come to better understand the rules, frankly even if we do, we still can’t keep them. Rather, we get to see and learn, and through the work of the Holy Spirit (“the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” John 14:26, ESV), we get to become people who begin to reflect some of that light and understanding, from time to time as we can’t get all caught up in the ideal of doing such things perfectly, as we are transformed and develop Jesus lenses to see our world.
Be blessed and be a blessing.