Saturday, 10 April 2010

Empowerment or enforcement

I hear a lot of modernists take issue with someone they call, The God of the Old Testament. How strange, given that the solemn affirmation of Moses, Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one’ (Deut. 6:4) is reiterated by Jesus as part of the greatest commandment to love God. Although His policy towards His creation may be deployed gradually over many centuries, God Himself is immutable.

‘God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?’ (Numbers 23:19). So it’s surprising when liberal churchgoers contradict this in defence of a more relaxed ‘inclusive’ attitude, as if ostracism of a perpetrator were a greater sin than the vice itself. They cite that Jesus was silent on homosexual and transgender issues, as if He should have pre-emptively singled out these debates for 21st century Bible readers. God knows what paedophiles would make of His ‘silence’ on child abuse.

Of course, we could make a tiny leap of inference to realise that His pronouncement that, ‘whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea’ (Matt. 18:6) might also relate to those who abhorrently gratify themselves by plundering childhood innocence.

The main development in God’s policy towards Man from the Old to New Testament is the transition from enforcement to empowerment. The most any law can do is to contain disobedience. Mankind is self-willed. The promise of prosperity for good behaviour and sanctions against evil cannot overcome our selfish desires. Without empowerment, we are being goaded against our will.

Direct moral empowerment from God is promised with the New Testament outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be under grace: to move from enforcement to empowerment.

‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.’ (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

God promises an amnesty from sin that clears the way for all of God’s people to experience a personal first-hand insight into the knowledge of God. The Christian life doesn’t just begin this way, it’s meant to continue in this way. Eternal life is the knowledge of God through a personal relationship with His Messiah Jesus. It is the unending relationship of deliverance and worship that culminates in the first resurrection and rapture of the saints. ’But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ (John 4:14)

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, You worship you know not what, we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22) Historically, the truth about God is revealed in His Old Testament relationship of intervention and deliverance among the Jews. Worship declares and demands an accurate knowledge of God. Yet, Jesus contrasts this with a more personal depth of revelation that supersedes the corporate worship of Israel. It is the personal intervention of God in the individual lives of believers: ‘But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’

God reveals Himself through His Son’s direct personal intervention and deliverance in the believer’s life. However, it is supernatural  intercession of the Holy Spirit that unites with our human spirit to respond at the depth of sincerity that the Father seeks. ‘The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:’ ; but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered and he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.’ (Romans 8:16, 26, 27)

This is empowerment, rather than enforcement. Paul’s constant fear for his converts was a return to enforcement. He hated the externalised imposition of detailed rules and regulations rather than a broader level of moral guidance. He states, ‘Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another hath fulfilled the law. For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love thy neighbour as thyself. Love works no ill (causes no harm) to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.’ (Roman 13:8). I might add that Paul could have also said by inference, You shall not lust, since he declared, Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet. (Romans 7:7) Yet, In spite of the clear message of Jewish history that enforcement did not work, the Judaizers wanted to impose all of the Old Testament externalisms from circumcision to dietary and Sabbath-keeping regulations on non-Jewish believers. I should add tithing to this list.

So how does empowerment work?

Jesus tells a man with a withered hand to perform a personal impossibility: Stretch forth your hand (Matt. 12:13). The man was healed because:

1. The man wanted change. His withered hand made him a pariah, excluded from full participation in his community.

2. The man believed that Jesus had unrivalled authority to do in him what had never been done before and that He wanted to.

3. The power to perform the impossible was embedded in Jesus’ immediate command, or word.

These three steps are central to the New Testament experience.

1. You are challenged by a parallel to your own life in reference to scriptural instruction. This arouses a desire for change.

2. You rely on Jesus' unrivalled authority as Lord of heaven and earth to overcome even your own weakness of resolve and self-contempt: ‘And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.’ (Mark 9:24)

3. The power of the Holy Spirit is aroused in us by the Word of God. Thereby, God combines insight, prayer and supernatural intervention to transform you to perform the impossible and overcome your shortcomings and vices.

For these three reasons, genuine faith means that we have no more excuses for not overcoming our vices. And if we continue to excuse modern vices by citing immorality as an Old Testament concept, it’s not genuine faith.

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