Sometimes I wish I could go back. Back to when I didn’t see God’s Word as the final word. Back to when the distinction between people’s ideas and God’s teachings was completely off my radar. Back to when the Bible was more suggestive than truth, there for me to interpret according to my personal needs. Back when I believed that if someone’s intentions seemed good, they couldn’t possibly be deceived, or deceiving. It was so much easier then. I was able to attend churchy functions and sit under teachings without the bother of testing people’s words against scripture. I was able to relax, sit back and enjoy focusing on my “spiritual betterment.” I was able to use the language of the group to show that I was “in,” just like them. I accepted things at face value. I didn’t have to rock the boat. I was able to laugh, “amen” and actually feel that I was really receiving some profound spiritual truth. And even though the teaching I received reflected man’s opinions more than God’s, I truly thought those spiritual nuggets were coming from him. Because I honestly just couldn’t tell the difference.
Then I started to pray a simple prayer: “Lord, please give me discernment.” And do you know what? He did. Gradually scripture became more alive to me, and I began to see how true the truth is. I know that might sound redundant, but to just take God at his word was a huge paradigm shift for me. So many other ideas had crept into my thinking over such a long span of time, that I hadn’t even noticed. Like oil in water, the purity of the gospel had been compromised for me. But I didn’t see the oil – the grease and grime of my own idols that had entered the mix. All I saw was my own righteousness and my own efforts to “be a good Christian.” Scripture says of itself that “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (1) I have found that to be the case, beyond all shadow of doubt. His Word is a living thing, because it breathes out God’s very heart and thoughts to us, his creation. Like hearing a song or reading a poem that stirs you to the core, his Word speaks volumes of comfort to our pain. But like that song that feels like it was written just for you, his words actually are written just for you, to you and me. He sees us so much more clearly than any other person can, but unlike them, he loves us perfectly, unconditionally.
If God is God, and therefore “Creator” or “Supreme Being,” then by definition he is capable of making himself known. He is capable of saying what he means and meaning what he says. Why would he go to all the trouble of penning his Words to us if he didn’t know his own mind, or had nothing but vague notions about humanity? From what I can tell of scripture, God doesn’t mince words. Yet even though he’s spoken through his Word, many of us have vague notions about him. That’s why all this talk referring to God as “the universe,” or as some kind of cosmic energy kills me. Because it makes God out to be a mere force, rather than a personal being with distinct characteristics. It’s a more convenient way of viewing God, because an impersonal force can’t have an opinion about people’s lives; but it can’t love either. Only a personal God can love. And the Bible says “God is love.” (2)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there are never difficulties in understanding or interpreting scripture. But the change from my “a little of this, a little of that” mentality, to seeing scripture as more logical than mystical, more historical than allegorical, more objective than subjective – has made all the difference. When we come to the Word alone, as a slate wiped clean of all personal opinion, so much of it does become obvious. I actually don’t think the main issue of studying scripture is that it is unclear, but that we simply don’t want to conform to it. So we reinterpret it. We change its apparent, inherent meaning. We complicate it. And we add to it – always. We are prideful by nature, and we want to believe that we have things figured out. We want to have the last say. Yet one of the biggest mysteries of God’s truth is that we can’t come to it through reason alone – we need his Spirit, and revelation. We need him to help us understand. We need him to make himself known not just to our heads, but to our hearts as well. And just like his words to us, this too is a gift from God.
As I read my Bible, I find myself experiencing deeper and deeper gratitude. As I learn more about all that Jesus has done by taking the fall for me, I am set free. But this is a different place than I have been. I’m still getting used to this room with so much light in it. My pupils are still adjusting, trying to take it all in. But where my vision was dim before, now I can see. I love the words of Psalm 36, which say “with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (3) In the past, I followed after my own idea of Christianity for so long that now, to simply follow God alone – and nothing else, is profound. The old hymn says it so eloquently:
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take him at his Word;
Just to rest upon his promise,
And to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
It’s harder now to find my place. Harder to “fit in.” But to a great extent, that’s as it should be. For those of us who have been buried and raised with Christ (4), we know the reality of our old self being gone. Our old lives don’t make sense anymore. We crave his Truth. We want to live in the light. And we know how true his words are, that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (5) We can’t just continue life as usual. The status quo is a bar set too low. We are new creations, awakened to our hunger for God, to please and to praise him. Our hearts of stone have been traded in for hearts of flesh (6). Hearts fully alive, beating for him. Our minds are renewed. Our inner man is known. We are never alone.
I have wasted a lot of energy in my life trying to feel at home in this world. Wasted time and energy worrying what people think about me. I’ve been more concerned about their expectations than God’s. And I’ve allowed their opinions to shape my beliefs. Yet all God asks of me is faith. Faith in his Son as God incarnate, who takes away all my sins, in order to give me peace with God. At its heart, faith is trust. And trust is taking him at his word. As long as we live on this planet we will be strangers and exiles. We live like people in a foreign land. We speak a different language. We talk constantly about our home, and we long to be there. This world is not our home. Like the fathers of our faith, we don’t desire the country we have come from, but a better country, that is heaven. (7)
I want to live life in the freedom Christ has given me. He bought it with his blood. No amount of human approval can compete with that. Not even close. Let the chips fall where they may. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t hope the chips fell into a few sweet spots – of friendship or community. But I have learned through the trial and error of my own sin that trying to regulate or improve oneself is a futile endeavor. Now I just want to drink in his life-giving words, and let him show me where my life begins and ends. Colossians 3:3-4 says “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Words of encouragement. Words of promise. Words of mystery, steeped in truth we know, yet can’t fully express.
The incarnation is one of the most mysterious, astoundingly beautiful aspects of God’s love for us. John chapter 1 tells us that Jesus is the Word, and that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (8) How amazing that the person of Jesus is the Word that became a human – so that God could not just tell us how much he loves us, but show us. The mystery of a life hidden in Christ is that the real, palpable, powerful stuff that joy is made of is unseen. Invisible. Just like words. Yet words remain. After we read them, they linger on in our hearts and minds. Jesus has made his home in me. And the more his Word fills my soul, the more I trust in him, and the closer to him I become.
1. The Word is sharper than any sword – Hebrews 4:12
2. God is love – 1 John 4:7-11
3. In your light we see light – Psalm 36:9
4. Buried & raised with Christ – Romans 6:1-7
5. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me – Galatians 2:20
6. God will give us a heart of flesh – Ezekiel 36:26
7. We desire a better country – Hebrews 11:13-16
8. The Word became flesh – John 1:14