That’s why the angel promised Joseph that Jesus would save people from his sins, why Gabriel told Mary that her baby boy would sit on a throne without end, why both Mary and Zachariah both saw this news as God making good on His vow to rescue Israel, exalt the lowly, and bring oppressors their just desserts.
God is saving the world, and He’s doing it through Jesus.
The question is, what will our role be?
Gabriel may have announced Mary’s pregnancy while she was a virgin, but it was still the teenage Galilean of little means who decided to embrace that fate. She was more than a host for Jesus–she was a willing participant in what God was doing to set things right.
We each have the same question before us, every single day. Do we believe that Jesus is God-made-known? When we pray the phrase, “… on earth as it is in heaven,” do we really believe this is something Jesus will accomplish, or are we too afraid to admit that we think it’s little more than a lovely thought?
Jesus is going to save the world, and you’re invited to be a part of that.
How that happens for each of us is going to be different. We all need saving ourselves, even if our vices aren’t always the same. And we each have different gifts, so how we join in God’s work is going to vary.
But it all starts when our answer is the same as Mary’s:
“I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to his word.”
Christmas is more than a story–it’s an invitation.
And it’s long past time for you to check your RSVP.
I want to follow up on my previous post, in which I tried to show why you can’t screw up your life because God can use even the worst mistakes you’ve made to make you more like Jesus. If you love God, then everything in your life will be used to make you into the person you’re supposed to be (which is a very different thing than saying, “Everything will turn out okay.”)
In light of this, what is sin?
Sin is the failure to love.
Over and over, the New Testament tries to show us that love is not only our top priority but also the key to interpreting Scripture.
Jesus called loving God and neighbors the greatest commandment. Paul said that to love is to fulfill the law and that it binds all other virtues together in perfect harmony. The same apostle also wrote that love is greater than even faith and hope. James said that “love your neighbor” is the royal law and that a person who has faith but not love has a dead faith. (Granted, James actually uses the phrase “good works,” but it’s pretty clear in context that the lack of good works is specifically a lack of love.) In Revelation, Jesus threatens to remove a church from its city because it’s orthodox but not loving.
1 Timothy states that the purpose of the instruction we’ve received is to make us loving. 2 Timothy says Scripture was breathed by God to prepare us for good works–and as we’ve seen, the greatest work we could be about is loving others.
Clearly, love has a central place in what the New Testament demands of us.
I wrote the previous post because I sometimes worry about screwing up my life (and I know that some readers are sharing that same anxiety right now). But often, when I think of how I can screw up my life, I think about the things I could or couldn’t do, the money I could have made but different, the date I wish had led to something deeper, the weekend trip I didn’t get to take, the job interview I wasn’t called in for.
I also think about the sins I commit, such as the lustful thoughts I had or my failure to set aside some money to give to a person in need. I think about the times I didn’t pray enough or harbored resentment against someone.
There’s a pattern in all of this: I define “screwing up my life” primarily in terms of how I act and think.
That’s a huge problem.
If you think of sin primarily in terms of how you act, then your solution for not sinning is going to revolve around changing your actions. You’ll stop doing one thing and start doing another. You’ll stop thinking about that one thing and start thinking about something else. You’ll change your actions, which we think is what Jesus meant when he told us to repent. But changing our actions doesn’t necessarily lead to love.
We were made to love and be loved and find our identities in that exchange.
Our identities are too heavy, too real, to be supported by mirages–no matter how spiritual they sound.
God’s will for us is to love Him and be loved by Him, to mysteriously be included in the love shared by the Trinity. When we have this right, then we’re going to be what we’re supposed to be, no matter where we are.
But when we neglect that love because we’re convinced that we can find out identities in something else–even if it’s spiritual codes of conduct–then we’re running to danger, not away from it.
Late this week, my church’s young professionals group continued its series on quarter-life crises (and I’m a little bummed that I’m old enough to the point where I no longer qualify as “quarter-life”). The focus was on how to know God’s will for a particular situation in your life. While this talk was going on, I was texting a friend–yes, I texted in church and no, I’m not going to hell for it–who had just accepted a new job in another state and was now worried that he might have a made a mistake.
I got to share this at our table discussion that night, and I’ll say it again here:
You can’t screw up your life.
People would often quote Romans 8:28 as one of those verses that they want to make themselves feel better about their present or future situations. The verse says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Here’s how I hear people interpret this: “My life sucks, but God will make it better.” Or, “I’m scared of screwing up, but it’ll turn out okay.” Or, “I’m still single, and everything will work out as God wants it to, but it’d be nice if He’d stop taking His sweet time with it.”
This interpretation fits nicely with how a lot of people understand God’s will. For many Christians, the divine will is like a cosmic game of Connect the Dots, and your job as a Christian is to find out the particular order God wants you to follow so you can paint the picture He intended for your life. For instance, the right college is Dot #1. Choosing your career is Dot #2. Finding the right guy/girl to marry is Dot #3. This will continue until you die–and hopefully, you won’t screw up your picture too badly in the process.
The common interpretation of Romans 8:28 fits this view nicely: everything will turn out as it’s supposed to. You won’t miss your God-intended dots as you try to complete the picture.
The problem is, that’s not what this verse is saying.
I’m going to write the verse out again, with the two verses that follow, to show you what I mean:
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Yes, all things work together for our good–that is, to become like Jesus Christ.
“… so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
There’s always been a question that comes out of reading Genesis 1: why would an infinitely powerful Being need to rest?
In the Bible’s first chapter, God creates the world in six “days” and rests on the seventh. You could come up with all sorts of explanations as to why this is, but I’ll give a possible one here:
As the narrative in Scripture unfolds, we learn more about this creative God. We learn that He fully revealed Himself in Jesus, but that Jesus and God are both divine and in union with each other but continue to be different persons. We learn that the Spirit, who was present at creation, is also Lord but still distinct from God and Jesus. The Christian tradition has always affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity–even if it didn’t always use the term.
Jesus gave us a peak of into this relationship in his longest-recorded prayer:
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:25-26)
In the Trinity is a mutual exchange of love that’s been going on longer than our minds can comprehend. This love isn’t based on how each member of the Trinity performed. The Father, Son, and Spirit loved one another because God is love.
Here’s my growing suspicion: God rested on the seventh day, in part, to show us that our goal is not to do work for Him but to know and join in this loving exchange. Even when God stopped working, He never stopped being loved. I think that’s the lesson some of us, especially myself, need to learn.
Our worth as people and our membership in the kingdom of God is not based on how good we are. We are members and we have worth because we are loved. We are a part of the eternal exchange of love because Jesus brought us to God. At no point will our acceptance be based on what we bring to the table.
God rested to show that works aren’t the point.
Being in loving communion with the Trinity is.
So stop fretting that you’re not doing enough, because that was never the point, anyway.
“In this case, you either have to convert them–which I think would be next to impossible–I’m not giving up on them, but I’m just saying either convert them or kill them, said Robertson, who spent the first portion of his television appearance quoting verses from a Bible he brought with him.
They’re dangerous because they sound strikingly close to the ultimatum ISIS recently delivered to another group of people: convert to Islam, or starve to death.
Robertson’s views are dangerous because he apparently thinks it’s the role of the United States government to convert people to Christianity at the threat of gunpoint.
Robertson’s views are dangerous because they do not reflect, at all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ–the good news that God came to save the world and that He did this through shedding His own blood, not by killing His enemies.
“Convert or kill” isn’t the Gospel. It’s a poisonous religious belief that Jesus spent an entire lifetime opposing.
Jesus opposed “convert or kill” when he refused to call on angels to defend him in Gethsemane.
Jesus opposed “convert or kill” when he begged his Father to forgive his enemies while he slowly died on a cross.
If evangelicals truly believe the Gospel, then they’ll denounce Robertson’s remarks and not defend him just because he’s one of their celebrities. We’ll see what happens soon enough.
Fred Clark has a great post up in which he talks about the necessity of love for biblical interpretation. Below, I’ll unpack a little of what I’ve been thinking about since taking in his thoughts.
First, read Fred’s post, part of which I’ve copied and posted below:
Without love, without being influenced by love, no human can ever “study the Bible and change their mind.”
If that strikes you as a radical hermeneutical claim, you’re right. But it’s also exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13. That’s not just something pretty to be read at weddings or an ethical plea for everybody to be more nice. Paul is talking about epistemology — he says that without love we are incapable of knowing. Incapable of knowing God, knowing others, knowing ourselves, knowing anything. Without love, Paul says, what we think we understand or know amounts to “nothing.”
Scripture is abundantly clear that people who know God are people who love. So if you know someone who loves like Jesus, you can be sure that they “get it.” I don’t mean that they agree with you on how to interpret every hard verse of the Bible. They may get a number of issues wrong. But then, being right and avoiding being wrong is not the point of our lives. We were created to be loved by God and walk in communion with Him. If someone is doing that, then you can be sure they’re on the right track, even if their answers to creedal questions need some work*.
For me, this means two things:
First, I need to constantly be reminded that the goal of my Bible study is not to eventually think about and believe the right things. It’s not to be the smartest guy at Bible study or to win arguments with skeptics (particularly the obnoxious ones, against whom gaining a victory is so tempting). The point of the Christian life is to be like Christ. We do that by living by the Greatest Commandment.
Second, this means I can’t write off anyone who loves because they disagree with me. We may not read the Bible in the exact same way, but if they’re loving, then they’ve got the point of Scripture correctly. Love is our interpretation, if you will, and I can practice love in my life by not being so sure of myself and listening more carefully to others. (In the same way, I’d hope that someone wouldn’t completely tune me out because I affirm the theory of evolution, same-sex relationships, and the necessity of women pastors in the church.)
What do you think of the idea that love must be our starting point in interpreting the Bible? Do you agree? Why or not why?
* This does not mean that you get to believe anything you want and there won’t be consequences.