I Don’t Know Anything About God

And neither do you.

What we say we “know” are items accepted on faith, communicated through scripture, written by mortal men. We accept them as inspired; we accept them as factual — but we accept them on faith.

I think it’s important to recognize that. Constantly.

Because overconfidence in what we “know” leads to an overweening pride in our own ability to interpret what we have read and accepted. Leads to arrogance. Leads to sects and parties and division and downfall.

Leads to loss of faith. Loss of faith, in favor of “knowledge.”

And I have to confess that in the past few years, my faith has changed. I hope it has matured, but I know it has changed.

I believe God exists, that He loves, that He cares, that He saves.

That means that I believe God cares in a divine way that I don’t necessarily comprehend. Perhaps even cannot understand.

For instance ….

Because I have faith in God, I have faith that God will let bad things happen to good people. He is God, and He can do what He likes in His own way and wisdom and time. I don’t know why. I don’t have to know why. If I needed to know why, I have faith that He’d have told me.

I have my own ideas on the matter, but they’re mine and they could be wrong — and ultimately they’re not important.

If they were important, I’d have answers.

I hope that doesn’t sound cynical, but I’m sure it does — especially to people who are certain that they “know” a lot about God. I think it’s just a recognition of reality.

But I also believe that God came, was and is present as human — in the form of the One whom we call His Son, Jesus — and therefore cares in a human way as well as a divine way.

Yet still lets bad things happen to good people. Lets good things happen to bad people (like grace). Lets things of all kinds happen to all kinds of people. And all the praying in the world will not sway His will if we are praying for something that is — in the divine perspective — not ultimately good for us; not something that can be within His will.

This is the God who let His Son suffer and die to give us the perspective of grace, a glimpse at eternity, a taste of blood and bread and the way that His world should be.

So we pray from a human perspective and receive our answers from the divine perspective. And the divine perspective calls on us to try to see them from His point of view. Even if we can’t do it. We must try.

Because we are also called to be part of the human answer to human prayers. Forgiving. Generous. Gracious. Kind. Loving. Self-sacrificial.

Part of the effort to make good things happen to all people. I believe that creating us, giving us His Son, showing us His grace, was all the work He needed to do; that it is sufficient. I can pray all I want to. But in the final analysis, I might as well just recognize that my prayers have (and must have) the power to change me. That’s entirely up to me.

Whether they have the power to change what He has planned to do in order to bring about good is entirely up to Him.

That’s what I believe about God. Just what I believe. Not what I know.

Because I don’t know anything about God.

And neither do you.

A Few Words About Faith

We all have it.

Those are my few words about faith.

Some of us have faith in God. Some have faith in God through Jesus Christ. Some have faith in science, in their own abilities, in humanity and in its worthwhileness to be saved and helped to reach its full potential.

Those are good things to have faith in.

I believe God gives us faith, and He gives it in the measure He chooses and that we need because He loves us. If He gave some folks too much faith, they would invest it in themselves and become disappointments and dangers and despots. Like all of the other gifts given to us, through His Spirit or however, God gives as He determines (1 Corinthians 12, especially 7-11).

I don’t imagine that too many of my fellow believers in God would agree with me. Most would say that faith is what each of us generates of herself or himself, to the degree that each of us is willing to have it.

At the center of a very powerful teaching, Paul tells the believers in Ephesians (2:7-8):

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Faith is God’s gift to us.

What — or whom — we place it in is our gift to Him … or to ourselves.

How do I know that we all have it? Because we are saved by grace through faith, and there is not a one of us that God wants to be lost (2 Peter 3:9).

So He gives us what we need.

In the measure that we need it.

And He waits.


To see what we will do with it.

My First Blog Post: When Faith Becomes Fact

My blogdaughter Lacey Mauk reminds me that it’s my ninth blogiversary today. So to celebrate, here’s “When Faith Becomes Fact”:

The topic my preaching minister chose for Easter Sunday was: “The Resurrection Changes Everything.”

My job was to call my fellow Christians to worship with the reading of Matthew 28:1-9, the story of the women who followed Jesus – following Him to the tomb, only to find it empty.

I had to wonder, while preparing to read: What makes the resurrection real today? At what point does faith become fact?

Maybe faith becomes fact when you act.

Two weeks ago this afternoon, I pulled up at the church’s parking lot to pick up my children after school – only to see my wife putting their backpacks into the trunk of her car … and also to see a big, scruffy-looking red-haired fellow asking her for a ride across town. I pulled closer, rolled down my window and offered to help him instead.

I admit, a part of me thought “What if he’s a murderer?” and then, “Well, better just me than Angi and the kids!”

But that other peculiar part of me thought “What if he’s an angel?”

As we rode together, he told me he felt weird asking for help at a church but he was tyring to get his truck fixed, needed a part from across town, and was out of money and out of options. I told him not to worry about it; he’d come to the right place.

I told him about how, 20-some years ago, a big black man named Bill Johnson ran out of gas and money and options on the highway near the church while on his way home to New York City. I told him how our elders helped Bill get home and even began supporting him as a full-time missionary there, and how that church in Springfield Gardens had touched so many lives since then.

About that time, my son Matthew called me on my cell phone to make sure I was all right. My rider said, in his rather scary-sounding, desperate way, “That’s a good kid. He’s making sure ol’ dad didn’t pick up a killer.”

I laughed and assured Matthew I was fine.

He wasn’t a killer. He wasn’t an angel, either, I’m pretty sure. He was just a guy who needed a ride.

Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, to offer a ride to this stranger. But I couldn’t regret it then, or now. It was a ride that made me a little nervous, to be sure; a little excited. But for the life of me, I can’t tell you that I was afraid.

Please don’t read this as a boast, but rather as a confession: I don’t think I have ever acted on faith like that before.

Shame on me for taking 48 years to discover first-hand that the perfect love of a resurrected Christ casts out all fear.

Because He stands near that tomb, talking to those women, as an absolutely irrefutable guarantee that life is His to give.

God Through Us

God works through us.

It’s not that He can’t work in other ways; obviously He can and does. But because He believes in us — that astounding fact of scripture which simply cannot be denied or dismissed — He wants to work through us.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. ~ Philippians 1:3-6

Can you conclude anything from this that there is a partnership in the gospel? That “he who began a good work in you” can be anyone other than God? So is this partnership just between Paul and the folks at Philippi?

(for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), ~ Galatians 2:8

No! It’s God working through Peter to the circumcised and through Paul to the Gentiles! How does He do that?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10

Is it just to Peter and Paul? Does He just makes work for us? No! It’s for all, and for every:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8

Does He just give us the grace to prepare ourselves for the work? Not by a long shot! There are gifts attached to that grace:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ~ Romans 12:3-8

So He gives us specific gifts to prepare us for the work He has prepared for us to do. But prepared us in what way?

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

He empowers us. The Spirit, the Lord, God. How much power are we talking about?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:20-22

That’s a lot of power! Does He do it long-distance?

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. ~ Colossians 1:24-29

No; from within! Christ in us. It’s His energy working powerfully within us. That makes us partners in the gospel with God, through Christ!

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:1

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:20

How does Christ dwell in us? Through His Holy Spirit:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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. ~ Romans 8:9-11

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

The Spirit of God! The Spirit of Christ! Without His Spirit within us, we have no hope of resurrection! We have no chance of escaping destruction! Without His Spirit, we have no way to partner with God in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

We can know scripture forward and backward and think we know everything it means, and if we do not have the Spirit dwelling within us, we are pointless and powerless in our attempts to minister. By the Spirit, God speaks through us:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:3

And the One who knows how best to prepare and empower each of us does so at His own discretion, not ours:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

Therefore we work for the common good, Paul says, in partnership with God to build His building, sow and water and tend His field:

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:9

So how do we respond to this offer of powerful, dwell-within partnership?

Do we say, “Well thanks, God, but I’ve got my Bible and I understand it completely and perfectly; that’s all I need and I don’t really want your help”?

Or, “I’m just not sure about all that miraculous stuff or being a part of that; it’s not that I believe You can’t do it, but it scares me a little bit and I’d rather just believe that You don’t work that way anymore because it’s too likely to be perceived as fake and I don’t want to have my credibility damaged”?

Perhaps just: “Oh, You don’t need me, Lord. Use my brother; he talks better than I do”?

Maybe: “I’m catching the next outbound boat for the other direction.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

Too familiar?

A Little Sermon for Us

My dear fellow believers and siblings in Christ,

This is a little sermon for us when we need it. “Us” includes me. In fact, I may need you to rub my nose in it later. So don’t forget it. Here we go:

It’s not enough to be a good Christian. If you’ve read my blog for long, you already know I believe that works testify to faith in God’s grace, and together they’re a salvific sandwich (just as a PB&J is not a PB&J without peanut butter, bread and jelly). But I’m not really talking about salvation here.

What I mean is that it’s not enough for the believer to get God’s work done in this world or to become transformed into the image of Christ just by …

  • donating to save the World Trade Center cross
  • affixing a bumper sticker for a candidate who opposes abortion
  • voting Republican (or Democrat; whatever your holy preference)
  • clicking “Like” next to a Bible verse or a picture of Jesus on Facebook
  • listening only to contemporary Christian radio
  • eating or not eating at Chick-Fil-A
  • going to church every Sunday and doing the things you’re supposed to do at church
  • abstaining from things you’re not supposed to do
  • sublimating with things that you can do that seem to take your mind off what you’re tempted to do

You know what I mean. All those things, as Paul says about other practices and rules and human commands and teachings …

“…indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

In other words, they’re not transforming of us. They’re not effective in getting God’s work done in us and for others.

I’m not saying anything that really surprises you, am I?

We all know what Jesus taught and it’s hard to do and we like to downplay or ignore or conveniently forget it when it comes to the difficult job of living His life in this world. We know what He taught, though. He pulled the most important things out of God’s law and emphasized them. He taught things like:

  • “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (That’s the goal. None of self, and all of Thee.)
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
  • “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
  • “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
  • “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
  • “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
  • “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I’m not going to cite these. You can find them yourself. You know where most of them come from in scripture, but more importantly, you know that they come from the very heart of Jesus your Lord.

I, for one, do not believe He is kidding about these. I don’t think they’re intended to be His laws that we must perfectly do or be forever damned. But I also don’t think they’re just suggestions about nice things to do if we have the time and they don’t inconvenience us too much.

I don’t believe there are any of His instructions to the people He loves that are outdated under the old Law, or no longer beneficial to one’s character, or no longer effective in doing God’s work in this world, or are exaggeration and hyperbole and wink-wink-smirk-smirk because it is impossible for anyone to be perfect.

That’s bullpuckey.

He was.

He’s putting His very heart out there and telling us to make it ours. He’s telling us who He is and whom He can help us become and how. He’s showing us a better life than the lives we’ve chosen, with all of those easy little non-sacrificial doo-diddly-do’s-and-don’ts that may do a tiny amount of good but don’t even come close to getting the job done.

No, they’re not easy. Jesus also said something about taking up a cross and following Him. The cross was not optional equipment for the journey. Doing these things is going to cost us, and cost us dearly — just as doing them cost Him his life.

Yes, they are goals. How can we learn to live the life of Christ in this world if perfection isn’t our goal? Not laws, not suggestions: His loving instructions about making our lives matter in this world, and thereby living out the eternal significance of His life in this world. That’s transformative.

I keep saying “His life.” It has to be His life. He gave His up for us. He’s asking us to do the same for Him … to the blessing of others. Not ourselves.

He’ll see to the blessing of our selves when His time is right.

Okay, that’s my little Sermon on the Blog. We’ve read it. We’ve thought about it. We’ve been made completely uncomfortable by it.

Now let’s live it anyway.

The Ideal | The Reality

The Ideal:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ~ Matthew 5:48

The Reality:
“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ….” ~ Romans 3:23

The Ideal:
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” ~ 2 Peter 3:9

The Reality:
“… Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” ~ Matthew 7:22-23

There is no point in mistaking the ideal for the reality (or vice-versa) in scripture. The Lord has expectations of us, but they are not unreasonable. He was a perfect example; God decided that we needed and deserved that, and that only a perfect Sacrifice would prove worthy. But there is no indication in scripture that perfection is expected of us.

Instead, the perfection of Christ covers our imperfections.

The Ideal and the Reality:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” ~ Isaiah 53:5

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” ~ 1 John 2:1-2

If God had expected perfection from us, expected nothing else, foresaw nothing else … there would have been no need for “… the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” ~ Revelation 13:8.

Perfection should be our goal; we should aim no lower. We should yearn to be like Christ; to learn obedience as He did (Hebrews 5:8-9). He should be our Ideal.

But we should also have a sense of reality. We will not be perfect. We will need His perfection between ourselves and God, the vindication of His good and righteous will for us.

It is not what we do that saves us, but what He has done.

It is not by what He has done that we will be judged, but by what we say (Luke 19:22) and do (Matthew 25:31-46) that testifies each moment to our belief in what He has done.

That is how the world will judge us: by what we say and by what we do. That is how the world will judge Him through us.

And that is how the world will be judged by Him.

We All Want To Have It Right

Calculator or calcunow ... it's all the same to me.You can count on the fingers of both hands the number of times in the New Testament when someone is recognized as being “right” or “correct,” in the sense of having deduced things accurately – and you’d never have to use your thumbs and still have one finger left over.

  1. Mark 7:6
    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.
  2. Matthew 15:7
    You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you …
  3. Mark 12:32
    “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.
  4. Luke 7:43
    Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
  5. Luke 10:28
    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
  6. John 4:17
    “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.”
  7. John 13:13
    “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.

At least, that’s all I found. (Other than a couple more where people thought they were right but were wrong!) Now, I’m not talking about the times the word “right” is used in the sense of “opposite of left” (as in “right hand”), “moral/holy” (as in “do right”), or “innate privilege” (as in “my rights”). I’m just counting the ones having to do with people cogitating correctly.

Because we think that’s pretty important, don’t we?  We all want to have it all right in our heads. Right?

But the numbers for knowing right don’t add up to the number of New Testament verses that feature “do right” or “do what is right.” I found eight of them:

  1. Romans 12:17
    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
  2. Romans 13:3
    For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
  3. 2 Corinthians 8:21
    For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.
  4. 2 Corinthians 13:7
    Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.
  5. 1 Peter 3:6
    like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
  6. 1 John 3:10
    This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
  7. 1 Peter 2:14
    or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
  8. Revelation 22:11
    Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

Now, I’m not trying to minimize knowing what’s right as compared to doing what’s right; you have to know what’s right before you can do it. Right?

But if you add them together, you still only get 15. Add “do good” / “doing good” and you get about 25 more. Factor in “obey” and “obedience” and you get about 56 more. All that still doesn’t begin to compare to the number of times that the New Testament talks about righteousness or being righteous:


In the NIV, that is; from which I’ve drawn all these numbers and comparisons. (Your results and versions may vary. But not that much. I mean, I want to be right all the time. I just don’t have time to be right about all the different versions and counts and numbers and stats. It’s driving me nuts. However, I digress …,)

We all want to have it right in our heads, and some of us want to have it right through our hands, feet, lips, hearts and wallets. Hardly any of us, though, want what it takes to actually be righteous. And that’s okay, because we can’t. Not on our own. Not ever.

Oh, of course, we want to be righteous. We just can’t muster what it takes to be perfect.

That’s okay, too.

Yes, Bible Fans, I’m talking about Romans 3 here. And John 13:15. 1 Peter 2:21-24. It’s pretty simple to correctly deduce:

All we have to do is be like Jesus, and let Him be righteous for us.

You’ll fail. So will I. (Romans 3:23)

We’ll get up and try again, and again, and again; because our Example is perfect (Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 5:9). Yet through His sacrifice, He makes us perfect (Hebrews 10:14).

I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.

If not … I’m sure you’ll set me right!

Covenant-Appropriate Hermeneutic

New Wineskins - The Instrumental Music IssueI’ll say it right out: I think the CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) hermeneutic can be really useful.

It may not help your appreciation of Hebrew poetic literature or prophecy or history, true. But CENI can really help you determine what God’s law and will was in the Old Testament. And, chances are, the verses you may have heard/seen/read to support this hermeneutic (method of viewing scripture) mostly or all come from the Old Testament.

I think that’s telling. The Old Covenant was about law, the law of Moses. It would seem that the rabbinical schools of thought which emerged at the close of the era chronicled by the Old Testament used something like CENI to create interpretations and traditions.

Many of those included interpretations and traditions that Jesus never failed to surgically explore, to excise any falsehood – and, when necessary, to pronounce dead on arrival.

But a New Covenant requires a new hermeneutic – or two, or maybe even more.

You see, the New covenant is not about law, but grace.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. ~ John 1:17

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ Romans 5:19-21

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. ~ Romans 6:14

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! ~ Galatians 2:21

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. ~ Galatians 5:4

Law can’t save. Law can only condemn. (Romans 8)

I’m afraid that many people who apply an Old Covenant hermeneutic to the New Covenant – trying to establish what is both written and unwritten in it as only law that must be obeyed to the tiniest jot and tittle – many of those people eventually become very good at doing what law itself is good at doing:


It can start innocently enough with simple correction (even lovingly delivered), but it can also snowball out-of-control into accusation, insinuation, judgment, and condemnation of others.

All because the wrong hermeneutic for that covenant is in play.

I’m sure I’m not the first to propose A Jesus Hermeneutic (Luke 24:27; John 5:39-40) – one which looks at scripture and seeks to see Jesus Christ yet to come, fully present, returned to heaven and/or yet to come again. It puts all of scripture in perspective for me. It has application for my own life and choices. It implicitly asks the Charles Sheldon question, “What would Jesus do?” and all of its other forms.

But I would be the first to admit that while it can accomplish that purpose, it is not of ultimate value in helping determine the answer to procedural questions, especially with regard to church and worship. (It is still of great value there, but as an overarching rather than specific hermeneutic.)

Al Maxey has done a great service to his fellow Christians by proposing A Reflective Hermeneutic in this relatively brief New Wineskins article. That’s not enough space to fully develop the concept, of course, but the proposal alone that you’ll find there is extraordinary.

He recommends a method of discernment that goes well beyond the simplistic everything-must-be-right-or-wrong viewpoint of the CENI hermeneutic, especially when coupled with the Regulative Principle. That view served the wandering and settling tribes of Israel in a dark, violent, barbaric era. But it cannot deal with the complexity of procedural questions like those Paul dealt with in Romans 14. There are some matters about which God expresses no preference – and He expects us to respect the preferences of others in these situations, not to make law for them or judge them.

But what I want you to notice in the article is that Al doesn’t dip heavily into Old Testament scripture to form or exemplify the Reflective Hermeneutic; he quotes the New Testament to answer the questions which fall under the New Covenant.

Here are the four queries that the Reflective Hermeneutic asks us to make regarding any interpretation of scripture (and I would like to add some scriptures which I feel/agree are supportive of asking these questions):

Is it BIBLICAL? (Matthew 22:29; Acts 17:2, 11; Romans 4:3; 2 Timothy 3:16 and many, many others)
If not, is it NON-BIBLICAL? (Al cites Romans 14; I would add Mark 7:1-23; 1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 1 Corinthians 7:25)
If neither, is it ANTI-BIBLICAL? (Matthew 15:3-6; Colossians 2:8; 1 John 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7)
Finally, is it BENEFICIAL? (Al cites 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 6:12; I would add Romans 6:21-22; Colossians 2:22-23; Hebrews 13:9)

Is that to say there is no law at all in the New Testament or New Covenant? No, not at all; but a Reflective Hermeneutic paired with a Jesus Hermeneutic does recognize these simple facts:

  • that not all scripture is intended to be law;
  • that while obedience testifies to our faith in God’s grace, it does not earn nor merit it;
  • that law can still only condemn and only grace can save.

Eat This ‘Roll Forward’

Maybe you’ve heard it taught before – the doctrine that all of the sins of Israel were not forgiven by God; but “rolled forward” to the cross.

Where did that teaching come from?

As nearly as I can tell, it didn’t come from scripture. I can’t find the term “roll forward” or “rolled forward” in the Bible at all.

I think the closest you’ll come to it is Hebrews 10:3-4:

But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

And as for the part of the teaching that says the sins of the people of Israel were not forgiven … well, I have a problem with that because scripture has a problem with it.

In Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31 and 35; 5:10, 16, 18, and Numbers 15:25-28. Unintentional and accidental sins could be forgiven. Sins that weren’t understood to be sins could be forgiven.

And in Leviticus 6:7 and 19:22. Sins that restitution was made for could be forgiven.

And in Numbers 14:19-20. Some sins prayed about by the leader of the people could be – and were – forgiven.

And in 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Isaiah 33:15-24, God promised forgiveness for sins when penitence was shown.

And in Psalm 51:1-9, and 130:4; and Isaiah 43:25; and Micah 7:18, where God’s forgiving nature is recognized and praised.

How is that possible, if Hebrews 10:3-4 is true?

Because of the context of those verses – the surrounding chapter, Hebrews 10.

Only the blood of Christ – His sacrifice; His death; His burial; His resurrection – can bring about forgiveness of sins.

So one can only conclude that the power of His blood is as potent when “rolled back” through time all the way to Eden as it is “rolled forward” through time to its end. One can only determine that the blood of bulls and goats was powerless to do anything – except to serve as an “annual reminder of sins” – including any presumed “rolling forward” of sins from one era to another. God had no delight in it.

Now I realize that this is an inconvenient fact – a bitter-in-the-stomach roll – for those who would completely separate the Old Covenant from the New, and who maintain that there was a different kind of God in the Old Testament from the kind of God we find in the New, and who insist that what we do now in obedience is the only way anyone can or ever could achieve forgiveness.

Well, too-bad-and-have-a-Pepto-Bismol. Nobody achieves God’s forgiveness. Not by righteous acts of obedience, whether animal sacrifice or penitence or confession or even baptism. Nothing we can do, apart from the power of the blood of Christ, can save us or anyone who has ever lived. We accept that by obedience, just as those long before us accepted God’s grace and forgiveness by obedience. It’s not like any of us has done any heavy lifting in removing that burden – not even accepting relief from it by living lives of gratitude for the atonement that was made.

It isn’t our obedience that saves us. It’s His. We just have to accept that.

Christ Himself made the sacrifice. Only He could. Only He did.

That’s just the kind of God He is.

And He does not change:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. ~ Hebrews 13:8

So I don’t think we have to worry about the eternal destiny of those under the Old Covenant. Guilt was never “rolled forward.”

Forgiveness “rolled back.”

The GraceFaithWorks Sandwich – A Third Bite

In the second bite of this way-too-long running series (which began here), I made some unsubstantiated claims about what I believe. Unsubstantiated, that is, by citing scripture references – and I would like to correct that. I said:

”… whatever a Christian does in this life is really not his or her own work, but God’s work through her or him (1 Corinthians 12:6; Philippians 1:3-6; 2:13; Galatians 2:8; Hebrews 13:21). It is no longer we who live, but Christ in us (Galatians 2:20). He created us for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We’re partners in the good works He does through us (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1). He gives us the eyes to see them and the ears to hear of the need for them. He gives us the bodies, hands and feet to accomplish them (Luke 14:13-14). They become His hands, His feet (Acts 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:20; 12:27). He gives us the energy (Colossians 1:29) and time (2 Corinthians 9:8) with which to do them. He gives us His own example to show us how and why (John 13:15; 1 John 3:16). He gives us His own Spirit to empower us to do those good works (Ephesians 1:19). If we don’t do them, we don’t really believe (James 2:26). If we know to do good and don’t do it, it’s sin to us (1 Peter 4:10; James 4:17). And if others judge our gospel by the way we live it or don’t (Galatians 2:14; Philippians 1:27), by whether we do it or not – why should God judge us any differently (Matthew 25:31-46)?”

Some of my beliefs are insubstantial and unsubstantiated. These are not among them.

And I hope they give a few moments of quiet meditation to those who disagree.

Frankly, it gives me pause to realize that I am not applying the Nike hermeneutic as often as I should.