Living In Reality With God: Avoiding the Error of the Pharisees
Who is Jesus?
How do we talk about Him?
Is He merely an ideal to us?
What is the danger of ideological musings?
The past couple weeks I have been observing a dangerous trend in Christian conversation, that is conversation that is theological in nature. The danger in theology is to reason and postulate without developing application. This danger is especially prevalent for those who are intellectual students of the word of God. However, the layman and common man, especially in an American culture that so highly values knowledge, does not escape the danger of appeasing their conscience by simply reasoning and talking about God. Without practicality, theology is pointless and profitless. God is not nearly as concerned with our ability to reason and store up knowledge as He is with our ability to apply the knowledge we attain properly. Theology affects reality and does not merely exist in theory. When we talk about theology in a lofty manner, we often end up developing a false reality, a theoretical world. This is the same danger the Pharisees ended up encountering in their study of the Law. They ended up serving a mere shadow and copy of the reality of God (Hebrews 10:1-10). They missed the point of the Law in all of their reasoning about it. The lofty character of their conversation, study, and learning produced a spirit of self-righteousness. They ended up chasing an outward ideal of righteousness that they could not inwardly attain to, and when Jesus arrives on the scene they are called out for their hypocrisy and pride (Matthew 23). The new covenant Jesus brings puts the faultiness of their philosophy and the crudeness of the their self-righteousness on display (Hebrews 8:1-7).
Now I must ask again.
Are we seduced by the philosophy of our culture and the ways of the world that regard the attainment of knowledge and facts as a measure of success and prestige?
Has knowledge become the supreme goal of our spirituality?
Have we developed a lofty theology that is entirely unpractical in nature?
Have we talked about Jesus so much in a theoretical sense that we have lost sight of who He is?
Has Jesus become a mere philosophy, a set of ideals and principles, or do you know the God-man?
Is God’s power openly displayed in your life, or has your knowledge of theology developed a pride that self-righteously seeks a justification by works rather than the one acquired by faith alone?
Can your practice match and measure up to your theology?
Do you really want to know God, or does it appease you to merely know about Him?
I know these are hard and probing questions that can easily be misconstrued. I am certainly not opposed to the study of God’s word to discover more of His character and to develop, to the best of our ability, a theology that accurately portrays His nature and character. However, I am sick of conversations that belittle the King of Glory, Jesus Christ, who left His heavenly throne to endure the consequences of the curse of sin in order to redeem a fallen Creation. How often do we flippantly mention the name of Jesus or the gospel of grace? If we fail to make much of Him, much of the Father, much of the Godhead, in our practice of theology, we fail to truly know Him. If our reasoning about God never moves past theory, we never experience the power of God demonstrated through us, the abundant life promised to us, or the unfathomable joy that stems from knowing God personally and intimately. Knowledge alone can never produce true life because abundant life comes only through the abiding presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Have we forgotten that God truly became a man? Jesus endured the elements. He felt the cold of winter and the extreme heat of the Arab summer. He experienced pain when He stubbed His toe or jammed a finger. He experienced a pain most men or women could never fathom in the beating He incurred prior to His gruesome execution. He experienced emotion in the same way we do. He cried when Lazarus died (an extremely deep and vast concept all its own). He experienced the elation of those who were healed and restored. He became angry when made aware of the perversions and sins taking place within the temple. Jesus walked this earth the same way we do, one foot after the other. At times He needed solitude, so He went off to the side of the mountain to spend time with His Father. Jesus is no mere ideal, not simply an example. He lives in us.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.”
Do you see the depths of this assertion that Jesus makes in the midst of His address to His disciples? He tells His disciples that He goes to prepare a place for them and when asked the way to get there, He makes a bold statement. There is but one way to the Father. No man will reach the Father apart from Jesus Christ. We will not save ourselves through the attainment of knowledge and the implementation of a system of principles based on the learned character of God. The truth is a man. Life comes only through this man. He is the only way. Paul points this out often in the theology of salvation he teaches to the Romans. We cannot live a godly life apart from the power and spirit of Christ in us. He gives us life. However, we still must have knowledge of this life He gives. That is how Christ establishes the Law.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; or the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
Romans 8: 9-11
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 1If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
The Jews did not recognize and could not understand the coming of Jesus because they were trapped in an ideological way of thinking. Part of the purpose of Romans 2 is to eliminate the ideals and presuppositions perpetuated by Jewish thinking in order to establish the truth of the good news of Jesus. How man ideals have we developed when we think about Jesus and the good news He brings? My fear is that we have developed many ideals and presuppositions that we attach to the gospel, perhaps not verbally but internally, that elevate the gospel to a lofty theology or ideal that is effectually impractical and surreal. My fear is that we are not truly coming to know Jesus the man, our Savior. My fear is that when we talk about the gospel we think only of a list of facts and a set of principles. The depths of His riches and mercy extend so far beyond man’s reason and the knowledge of this world! Do we wonder why so many men and women who claim to be Christians are actually asleep?
Sleeping Christians have traded the Truth for a pursuit of knowledge only to become puffed up and self-righteous. They miss the mystery and power of a passage such as the one above from Romans 8 that explains our ability to pursue and attain a practical righteousness through the presence of God in us. We spend time reasoning and talking about our fickle and evil affections. If Christ lives in us will we have any choice in regards to the direction of our affections? If we abide in the vine will we not find true Life (John 15)?
I question whether we really want to know God. I know in my own experience that often times I have settled for mere knowledge and neglected spiritual power that is truly transformative. I have attempted at times to be a “Christian” apart from Christ, a Christian in theory and not in practice. We have all seen and been challenged by Christians who seem to have something that we do not, those who seem to have a walk so much deeper and closer to the Father than ours. We have envied their relationship with the Father not taking time to examine the shortcomings of our purposes, which affect our relationship with Him. Where does the separation originate? What really is the difference?
In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning states, “Perhaps the real dichotomy in the Christian community today is not between conservatives or liberals or creationists and evolutionists but between the awake and the asleep.”
What causes us to sleep? What is dulling our consciousness? Why are some clearly awake while others remain?
I return to the question: do we really want to know God, not just know about Him?
I don’t know if this post maintains continuity. I am simply pointing out a deep problem that I have witnessed in my life and my conversations with others. I recognize that much of the message that I desire to convey is deeply spiritual in nature and cannot be put into words. It is my prayer that the Spirit will convict your heart even as He has been convicting my mind and causing me to ask these questions. I realize that I provide no solution to the questions I have asked or the problem I have pointed out. I don’t think there is an answer I can provide or that I am qualified to give. Only God can give you the answer, and only His presence and power can truly wake you up.
Are you awake or are you asleep?
Will you be found ready upon Christ’s return?
Will you spend your life living for a mere ideal, a shadow of the heavenly things?
Or will you spend your life alive and awake in Christ?
Pray. Ask the questions. Ask the Father to wake you up. Pray.
Do not fall into the sin of the Pharisees and the Jews. Lay aside pride and self-righteousness.
Can you see the ways that you have made Jesus out to be a mere fact and concept?
Are you willing to do something dangerous and submit your mind to Christ?
Will you allow your knowledge and theology to move beyond theory and reasoning?
Will you confront your sin and allow your failures to become real to you?
Immediately prior to Brennan Manning’s quote about the dichotomy found in Christianity, between the awake and the asleep, he says, “The ragamuffin gospel reveals that Jesus forgives sins, including sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit.”
Pride and self-righteousness are sins of the flesh that God cannot tolerate. Will you be found out to be merely a pretender in the Spirit, someone who knows a lot about God but never truly experiences intimacy with Him?
Will you spend your life sleeping when the offer to experience wakefulness beyond comprehension has been presented to you?