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Some Random Thoughts

June 11, 2010

I just started my first Greek class for seminary this week and I should be memorizing the alphabet right now.  Alas, that is not happening.  So, I figured I would just get down some things I’ve been thinking about lately.  Like the last post, this will be much more personal and less “formal.”  However, unlike the last post, I’m not so sure I will bear my soul.  Who knows?  🙂

Random Thought #1:  I’ve been studying a biography of John Wesley for a class.  Now, he has been my hero for a long time.  Aside from Paul the Apostle and his conversion, I would be willing to argue that Wesley– with his conversion, and consequent ministry–has been one of, if not, the most incredible expressions of the power of God in Christian history.   Literally, for fifty years from the mark of his encounter with God, Wesley ceaselessly proclaimed scriptural Christianity to all of Great Britain.  In a nutshell, here is what he preached:

Methodism, so called, is the old religion, the religion of the Bible, the religion of the primitive Church…This old religion is ‘no other than love, the love of God and of all mankind, the loving God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, as having first loved us, — as the fountain of all the good we have received, and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth as our own soul.  This love is the great medicine of life; the neverfailing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world; for all the miseries and vices of men.  Wherever this is, there are virtue and happiness going hand in hand; there is humbleness of mind, gentleness, long-suffering, the whole image of God; and, at the same time, a ‘peace that passeth all understanding,’ with ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’  This religion of love, and joy, and peace, has its seat in the inmost soul; but is ever showing itself by its fruits, continually springing up, not only in all innocence, (for love worketh no ill to his neighbour) but, likewise, in ever kind of benfeficience, –spreading virtue and happiness all around it. (Sermon:  Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion)

Wesley was not willing to settle for anything less than this for what he would properly call Christianity.  It was complete and total–and robust.  To modern ears this seems like a fairy tale.  “No one lives their Christian life like this!” we proclaim.  However, this view is much closer to what the New Testament claims Christianity is to be.  Moreover, Wesley testified that there were many people who had been transformed in such a way that the above statement would not be an overstatement, but would accurately define their lives.

Random Though #2:  I was reading a sermon by Wesley this morning (I promise–last random thought concerning Wesley! :)) and he spoke about the verse in Hebrews:  “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).  I’ve read this verse before, but I was struck by it today.  The writer here does not say, “Without faith, no one will see the Lord” or “Without love no one will see the Lord,” but “Without holiness.”  Now, I know that faith, love, and holiness are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, I would say that genuine faith produces love and love produces genuine holiness.  Or something like that (I’m not trying to be theologically precise today–just thinking out loud. :))  But, the verse is startling nonetheless.  Here is why in my opinion.

Since the reformation, Christianity has basically proclaimed that by placing one’s “faith” in Christ, God’s righteousness is (warning:  theological jargon!):  imputed to the person.  In other words, God’s righteousness is placed upon the believer from the outside (it’s often called ‘alien righteousness’).  Since it came from above, it had nothing to do with the believer him/herself becoming righteous; it’s just given.  Now, I don’t know if they meant to convey this, but the resulting thought eventually became that by having “faith” we are now “righteous” irregardless of our lifestyle or actions.  Consequently, “holiness” became somewhat optional to later generations of Christians.  Sure, we should try to be holy, but no big deal if we don’t.

But, this doesn’t seem to be what the author of Hebrews is saying.  If this writer thought that holiness was simply “imputed” to the believer through faith, then to urge believers to be holy would be redundant.  On the contrary, the writer of Hebrews seems to be stressing that how one lives one’s life (obviously after the person has become a Christian) is of the utmost importance.  He’s warning believers that without holiness, they won’t see God.

I do not know what all of the indications of holiness are.  It seems that when we hear this word, we automatically start a check-list of what we are “supposed” to do.  I don’t think that is what’s meant here either.  So let’s just start with the minimum.  At the very least, as Christians, we are to be pursuing (diligently I might add) the life of God in our lives.  We are to “be holy as He is holy.”  Perhaps just by seeking it, God accounts that to us as righteousness.  And then we are led deeper.  At the very least, we are to be consciously seeking to deepen our lives so that they reflect God.  Sure there is grace–tons of it.  Sure, there is unconditional love–an infinite amount of it.  But, this does not get us “off the hook.”  God came to make a holy people, and that is what He is going to have.

Random Thought #3:  I’m realizing that if constant and consistent times and environments where the presence of God can be experienced are not created, then Christians will inevitably become “cold.”  Of course, the first place I think of where the presence of God should be a given is the local church.  Here’s why I think it’s so vital that the local church be a place and a community where God’s presence is deeply felt regularly.

When a person begins to struggle with sin or doubts, it can become difficult to experience the presence of God on their own.  The devastating power of sin is that it causes the believer to hide from God.  A person is undoubtedly responsible for allowing sin and brokenness into their lives, but the power of sin is that it becomes a sickness which pervades the person even after they want to get out.  It “ensnares” us as the writer of Hebrews says.  (Maybe that’s why the author of Hebrews urges us to seek holiness–not so we can just “do the right thing” but because sin really does destroy us.)  So, what can a person do who is becoming enslaved to sin?  If you haven’t experienced this, then it’s hard to sympathize with people, but if you have, you know what its like to not want to be doing something destructive, but end up doing it anyway.  You also know what it’s like to feel the gap between you and God, not because of God, but because sin has darkened your heart.

So the only solution I can see, is that people who are in this spot must have constant access to God and his changing presence.  While they may not be able to cry out to God on their own, if they have a community of believers who are consistently experiencing God and moving forward in faith, then they have access to a place and a people where healing can occur.  If the church does not provide this, then who will?

Okay…back to Greek:  Alpha…Beta…Gamma…

Blessings.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2010 11:45

    jon, you’re surely a thinker. such random deep thoughts! 🙂 when you mentioned ‘holiness’, i think of the word ‘repentance’ and ‘confession’. i’ve had this experience of being enslaved by sin (more often than i ever liked). and though jesus’ blood claims me and purifies me, i still have to do my part – that is to turn away from the old repeated sin and walk towards God w/ humbleness. for God is holy…how can i come before Him with bloodstained hand? provoking thought, jon.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      June 12, 2010 3:49

      Thank you Mink! Yes, sometimes my brain goes on overdrive. 🙂 I think confession is vital to holiness. In fact, I think it’s the gift God gave us to keep our hearts soft and pliable. It also exposes our areas of darkness; and when sin is exposed, it loses its grip. I think Jesus loves when his body “confesses their sins one to another and pray for each other” (James 5). Good to hear your thoughts!

  2. Matt Bohlman permalink
    June 15, 2010 10:48

    “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). I’ve read this verse before, but I was struck by it today. The writer here does not say, “Without faith, no one will see the Lord” or “Without love no one will see the Lord,” but “Without holiness”…..the resulting thought eventually became that by having “faith” we are now “righteous” irregardless of our lifestyle or actions. Consequently, “holiness” became somewhat optional to later generations of Christians. Sure, we should try to be holy, but no big deal if we don’t.”

    Hey Jon this little section struck me the most…very thought provoking…and very N.T. Wright or leaning that way–which is good in my estimation. Your thoughts on how Christianity developed the view of imputed or alien righteousness and how this perspective needs to be revisited is an engaging topic today…especially in light of Scriptures teachings on sanctification (holiness).

  3. August 3, 2010 5:21

    Jonathan,

    Enjoyed your thoughts … which I for one don’t find to be so random. The verse from Hebrews is one which certainly takes up residence in the head and rattles itself around, doesn’t it?

    I think it’s nigh to impossible for many people to grasp where Wesley comes from on this without understanding that his stance on holiness was that the key role of the Christian is surrender to the work of God. That stance involves a surrender of our right to say “no” to God and for us to request that God gives us the power to say “yes.”

    I preached to my church recently that we cannot give such a “yes” on our own, but we CAN relinquish our “no.” Holiness in Wesleyan thought involves ever increasing and deepening levels of such surrender, ever-continuing moments of relinquishing our “no’s,” which make Christians more and more receptive to God’s ongoing work of grace in their lives. It seems to me that Wesley saw personal holiness as the point of total surrender, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      August 4, 2010 11:18

      Chad,

      Those are EXCELLENT thoughts about Wesley. I appreciate your input. I completely agree that the primary expression of a believer toward God is that of surrender. That’s about all we can do. I’ve actually thought a great deal about that myself in terms of the perennial debate concerning Calvinism/Arminianism. Calvinist argue that if we can “choose” to come to Christ, then we are performing a work in some way. So, I’ve considered that the humbling of oneself before God (i.e., Surrender) is not a work, but a POSITION. We position ourselves in surrender–obviously after we are impacted by his revelation and drawing.

      I LOVE your idea about not being able to say yes, but being able to “relinquish our no.” I will certainly steal that someday. 🙂

      I will check back to your site often bro.

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