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Archive for May, 2010

I like spiritual conundrums, and I find them often in the Scriptures.

A conundrum is simply a confusing or difficult problem, that throws my neat categories into confusion.  I love them because they shine a light on the multi-facets of God’s truth, and leave me not only scratching my head, but worshipping God for His grand mystery.  He alone understands all spiritual conundrums, and with great ease.  On the other hand, I’ve grown a bit suspicious of ‘religious experts’ who reduce most of these to a binary choice of truth (my view) vs. error (everyone else’s view).

Let me illustrate from John 5, which I read this morning.

Jesus heals a man who’s been an invalid for 38 years.  38!  The backstory is that this man, like many others in need of healing, hung out at the Bethesda pool, longing for the occasional ‘healing miracle’ to come as he waded into the water (a text note says that an angel would occasionally stir up the waters, and the first one in the pool would be healed).

No angel arrived poolside that day … but Jesus did! 🙂  He has the audacity to ask the man if he wanted to be healed.   Who wouldn’t want to be healed of a 38-year ordeal?  Maybe someone who’s entire identity was wrapped up in what those 38 years did to him?  If he says “yes” to Jesus, everything about his life will change.  No more waiting by the pool; no more hand-outs; no more compassionate glances (or derisive ones, either).  In short, he’ll need to become gainfully employed, and quite probably, care for others in their distress.

The man gives a half-hearted “yes,” gets healed, and walks away from the pool with his mat…losing Jesus in the crowd.  Later, Jesus finds him  and throws him a spiritual curveball. Here’s the conundrum, from Jesus’ lips:

Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (I’ll focus on the 1st clause, though the 2nd clause is interesting too)

Stop sinning?  Really?  Is that fully possible?  What does Jesus mean?

Maybe by stop sinning, Jesus actually means, stop sinning.   (Here is a novel idea: maybe Jesus means what he says?)  I’ve discovered a potential pitfall in our daily practice of reformed theology re: mankind’s depravity (the letter T in the acrostic TULIP stands for Total depravity of man).  The pitfall?  Since we know of our depravity, we run the risk of making friends with our sin, rather than stopping.   We excuse it, without a serious fight.

Does the simplest reading of Jesus’ words — that it’s possible to stop sinning — make you uncomfortable?  (I hope so).  Afterall, I don’t think Jesus is in the habit of making commands that He isn’t serious about.  So, what do we do with this, in light of our self-knowledge that we don’t currently pass his test?

Let me add a fun layer to this conundrum.  Paul implies in Romans 7 that Jesus’ words are impossible to fully experience, as he highlights the power of sin to derail him in his own life.  Also, Galatians 2 clearly shows that Peter failed this test of “stop sinning.”  If Paul and Peter failed at “stop sinning,” isn’t it likely that this healed man will fail… and me, too?

I understand how my dear Nazarene brothers will find evidence in Jesus’ “stop sinning” for their doctrine of ‘entire sanctification,’ a doctrine of sinlessness (not just sinning less).  Yet Romans 7 and Galatians 2 leave me with a more mysterious take on this, without diluting the tension of Jesus’ pretty clear words.

So, Jesus says “stop sinning,” implying it’s possible.  I experience (and the Scriptures support) that sinlessness is easier said than done, (the notion that I’ve achieved sinless perfection may betray an unexamined heart).  A conundrum to me.  But not to Jesus.

So…

1.  What Jesus commands must be possible, for surely He doesn’t mislead.

2.  But I haven’t catalogued any successful attempts by any Christian over a lifetime.  Certainly not me.  And I suspect, not this poolside man that Jesus healed.  In fact, it seems the more Christ-like the person, the more aware they are of the subtleties of their sinful heart.

3.  Yet, I have gauged undeniable progress toward ‘sinning less’ in both sins of commission and omission in my own life.  And certainly you’ve seen this as well, in the lives of genuine followers of Jesus.

Jesus’ command — stop sinning — sure is confusing to any sincere Christian, isn’t it?  Yet, He said it.  And I’m glad He did.  It makes me long for the empowerment He promises to obey what He commands.  And his impeccable standard makes me worship the One who provides a perfect redemption for me, who’s fallen short of his expectation.

And so, the Cross becomes more beautiful to me!  What a fantastic, mysterious Savior!

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I’m finally back from Atlanta… presentation to our leadership re: Changing Evangelism within our organization.  1 year of work, culminated in this presentation.  It was worth it.

Check out our report  at www.changingevangelism.org .  Also, we’ll soon have an audio of the presentation up for your listening pleasure.

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