Saturday, March 10, 2007

What's Out? Mind-Game Christianity




So I got to wondering if God does anything in response to human mental assent...

For example,

A: "Do you believe God forgives you through the blood of Jesus Christ?"

B: "Yes, I believe that." (Meaning, "I assent to its truth)."

A: "Good. You are thereby totally forgiven by God."

Is this accurate? Is it saying more than Jesus would say?

Is forgiveness a mental game played with God and his grace based on the work of Jesus Christ?

With an uneasy heart I say "I don't think so."

"Forgive us our debts/sins, as we also have forgiven our debtors/those who sin against us. ...For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

We like to think that forgiveness is a neat, clean transaction just between our mental agreement and God's Word (promise). Other people are actually peripheral or unnecessary. Not so, according to Jesus. There are very real social, relational connections between us and others and God and us. Nothing is private about forgiveness.

Less you think this is going astray, let me refer you once again to Jesus as recorded in Matthew:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." --Matthew 18:21-35

Now if there is a relational dimension to something as fundamental as the forgiveness of our sins, I wonder if all of our alleged privatized doctrines ("between just me and God") are suspect. What if all our theology is valid only through the gateway of the entire Great Commandment which ends with "...and your neighbor as yourself." What if it is true that we don't really love the God we can't see because we don't love the very real human being we do see. John the Apostle suggested something to that effect.

What if all propositional theology is valid only if relationally lived. I don't think the simplistic bifurcation (dividing into two parts) of Paul's letters (e.g., Ephesians) is correctly understood. We tend to think that the lofty doctrines of Ephesians chapters 1-3 are a thing in themselves. They present "truths" we then "have to live out" (chapters 4-6). Not quite accurate. The changed lives and ethical newness of chapters 4-6 are the God-energized validation that the truths of chapters 1-3 have taken root in human lives.
Paul can describe the wonderful, comprehensive salvation in Jesus the Messiah (chapters 1-3), but he is thrilled to go on and describe the incarnation of that salvation in wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters, Gentiles and Jews, poor and rich, female and male, cultured and Barbarian (chapters 4-6). In another place Paul actually says that believers are "the message of Christ." Words carved in stone and placed in the ark of the covenant, and written with ink on leather, papyrus, and printed on paper---words highly revered---have never thrilled God as much as "the Word made flesh." God dreamed of the day when "I will write my words on their hearts...I will put my Spirit in them..." That's incarnation.

Unless we incarnate what we say we believe, we're stone monuments, not living messages; museum pieces, not world-changers.


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11 Comments:

At 3/12/2007 11:57 AM, Blogger Jim said...

John,
A very nice piece! You are really on to something here. I like your last line regarding the importance of incarnation. (We become stone monuments instead of living messages.)

 
At 3/12/2007 12:16 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Jim,
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate your kindness.

 
At 3/12/2007 7:12 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Hi there. I've been checking out your blog for a while and enjoy it. This is my first comment, however. My husband and I were talking about this just yesterday. This mental nod of assent and "privatization" of our faith is exactly what is being preached from so many pulpits today and part of the reason I think so many churches are in such a mess. Thanks for such a thoughtful and challenging post.

 
At 3/13/2007 7:04 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Jamie,
I am glad you have been enjoying the blog. The privatization of faith along with strong individualism has damaged the USAmerican church. I am sad that it is preached as normal. It certainly is not biblical.

Blessings on you and your husband!

 
At 3/14/2007 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your discussion. My only question is, what does it say about someone that tries to live out the Christian life and forgive others when it's mere duty? Are we truly forgiving them? Oftentimes, we act on the necessity to forgive because we are supposed to. We don't hold this against them, but don't simply forget it either. It affects us. Is this "hardness of heart"?
Dave

 
At 3/14/2007 9:55 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Dave,
I appreciate your honest comments and question. When a person forgives another and doesn't "hold it against them" whether out of duty or not, they do something that God would do: forgive. When things happen to us that need forgiving, I doubt that we ever forget those things. We just don't act on our not forgetting because we have done the bigger, redeeming thing--forgiven. And, no, not forgetting is not hardness of heart; it's humanness of heart.

 
At 3/14/2007 11:47 AM, Blogger Adam Gonnerman said...

Very good post. I haven't blogged on this topic yet (at least not that I can remember) but I need to do so. I've been reflecting deeply and painfully on how I've failed to forgive. A lot of the trouble comes from not having learned forgiveness from childhood.

 
At 3/15/2007 10:15 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Adam,
I will pray as you journey into the realm of practicing forgiveness. It's not a neat, clean, formulaic thing. It's a gut-wrenching, cross-facing, God-like reality. Like so many high-energy, deep-seated truths, fundamentalism turned forgiveness into a "if you say it, then you've done it" triviality. Blessings on this journey!

 
At 3/23/2007 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that Jesus taught under the old covenant -- since he was still slive (and thus no sacrifice had been made). For believers, forgiveness of others can only come by first understanding and accepting our own forgiveness and salvation (which doesn't always happen quickly). The book of Hebrews and Galations are really great at dispelling the notion that the old and new covenants can be mixed (Paul states clearly that like a will-- which is exactly what they are -- only the last one is in effect).

Moreover, it is the Christ living is us that forgives not our rotten flesh. To forgive, I must see people (believers and nonbelievers) as they are: flawed -- just as Jesus did even to those who beat him and nailed him to the cross: "forgive them for they know not what they do." When I first became a believer, I tried to live the Christian life on my own and found it not difficult, but impossible. It was not until I realized that this was not a self-improvement course and that I was in fact, a new creation learning how to crawl first and walk second, that I began to display fruit. I didn't display fruit by following the law or a set of rules, but rather as a direct response to the new spirit/new man within.

Yet, like Paul, I know the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and that there is no good in my flesh -- somewhow though I am learning to yield to grace and the spirit as I grow -- the process of sanctification. However, I am growing because I am saved and in Christ not as a result of these works etc. More and more, I actually desire to what is right (not to attempt to earn my salvation or out of fear), but because I am a new creation.

The salvation issue must be settled first -- salvation is not just the forgiveness of sins but rather accepting the new birth. We were dead and we needed life -- not just forgiveness. With Christ, those that believe that have both. Salvation is a gift that only needs to be accepted -- growth will follow.

 
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