One of the main concepts of the Bible as I’ve come to know is trust in God rather than our own human means. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the stories of people struggling to just trust God. Likewise, we see a pivotal concept in Abram’s story:
He believed in Yahweh, who credited it to him for righteousness.–Genesis 15:6
This is a simple verse with a rather profound meaning. Simply believing in God was Abram’s righteousness; not knowledge, rules, morals, or a religious performance. Did Abram make all the right choices? Absolutely not, neither has anyone else except Jesus. However, it wasn’t Abram’s compliance, it was his belief in God.
God promised Abraham that his lineage would come from Issac, the same son he had, by God’s promise, when he was 100 years old. Shortly before this, Abraham and his wife thought they would help God out by having a son through a servant girl. We see in this instant that God keeps his promises, even when we falter based on our human pursuits.
This leads to some interesting points. Abraham lies to the Egyptians about his wife, yet God returns his wife to him as he had plans to make the nation of Israel from their descendants. Plagues came on Pharaoh so that he would know the seriousness and have no doubt that returning Sarah to Abraham was God’s intent. Again, God keeps his promises to Abraham. It wasn’t dependent on his ability to comply, it was always dependent on God.
Later, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. As mentioned before, God had already promised Abraham that his lineage would come from Issac. Likewise, God had already proven what he could do. Through these events, Abraham had developed more trust in God. We see this when he states to his servants that both he and Issac would return later and assures Issac that God would provide. Abraham’s increasing trust in God, by God’s fulfillment to this point, assured him that if God could give him a son in he and his wife’s old age, he would also honor his promise that his lineage would come from that same son. Abraham had trust in God that he could even bring Issac back to life.
On an important side note, this is one of the many hints in the Old Testament towards God’s promise to send Jesus: the only son being sacrificed and the promised “seed” or “offspring.”
Again, this is just a general overview of events and there is much more to these scriptures. However, the concepts presented here seem to be the ones that are most often confusing or taken out of context.
For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.–Hebrews 4:12
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;–Ephesians 6:17
He had seven stars in his right hand. Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining at its brightest.–Revelation 1:16
Often I hear the sword being referenced as the device to slay unbelievers or sinners. However, as noted in the above verses, the sword is God’s word. God’s word penetrates, like a sword, to get to our interior.
In Matthew 23 as well as other places in the gospels, Jesus uses some very harsh words to penetrate the wall of tradition, rules, and self-righteousness the Pharisees had erected around their hearts. This wasn’t because Jesus hated them, but it seems only the truth spoken in love could penetrate their callous exterior.
I’ve been led to write a little more as I’ve come to understand the Bible. This isn’t meant to be a high level theological dissertation, but rather a simple pointing out of how I’ve come to know God and his Word. To me, God is love and the Bible is his love story to us. In order for the Bible to be believable, there had to be something consistent that tied everything together. For me, this is God’s love. Most of the confusion of the Bible seems to stem from it being presented as a “how to get into Heaven” rule book. This leads it to being searched as a book of law to prove our righteousness in upholding these rules. However, I present it from the perspective of love. Much of this I went over in my book, but I wanted to clarify slightly more as I continue to learn.
So, what was the deal with Noah and God wiping out all those people? First, we see that people had become so corrupt that God saw only wickedness in their hearts and was sorry he had even created us. Also, we see Genesis 6:9 state that Noah was a righteous man (this was because he trusted in God, not because of self-righteousness). Peter also reiterates this and mentions Noah was also a preacher of righteousness (again, trust in God, not self-righteousness). In addition to this, we see that Noah lived 500 years prior to having his children, who were on the ark with him (this is right before God shortened man’s life expectancy to be closer to 120 years). In all this time of Noah telling people about God, only eight total were on the ark.
So how does God wiping out all those people show his love? If we were only to read the Genesis scriptures, we would have a hard time figuring it out as we only see God’s justice in these passages so far. However, Peter later makes mention of God’s overall plan of love and grace. In 1 Peter 3:18-20, we see Peter talking about the flood and those who were disobedient during that time. Jesus went and preached to those who were in a prison, including specifically those who were in the flood. Peter then states that what Jesus preached was the Good News. Even though these people had died in the flesh, it seems they were now given the chance to live as to God in the spirit:
For to this end the Good News was preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed as men in the flesh, but live as to God in the spirit.–1 Peter 4:6 (emphasis mine).
Further, we see Paul state:
But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore he says,
From these passages, it would seem that God gave even those who disobeyed a chance to be redeemed. This aligns with God’s very love nature and the grace he offers us all!
Further, we see God’s mercy during the construction of the Tower of Babel. God saw that men were again becoming corrupt. Not wanting to wipe out humanity again, God instead “confused” their language so they wouldn’t be able to communicate easily and continue in their ways.
That’s a basic overview of these two topics as I’ve come to know them based on reading the Bible as God’s love story to us.
Behold, the time is coming, yes, and has now come, that you will be scattered, everyone to his own place, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.–John 16:32 (emphasis mine)
Often I’ve heard, because of verses such as Matthew 27:46, that Father abandoned or turned his back on Jesus at the cross as to avoid sin because he is holy. According to the above verse, this doesn’t seem to be true though. So why would Jesus think that Father had abandoned him? We see in this instant how human Jesus had become. Just like us when we are lost in our sin, we can no longer see Father, though he never moves from us. Jesus became blinded by the darkness of our sin and could no longer, for the first time in their eternal love relationship, feel Father’s presence. This had to be more traumatic for Jesus than we could ever imagine.
As seen in the Old Testament, Father is not afraid of sin. That day at the cross, Father faced sin head on with the Son and the Spirit. God experienced the burden and punishment for our sin. And sin lost! God’s wrath destroyed sin that day and after doing so, Jesus simply stated, “It is finished.“
After this, Jesus, seeing that all things were now finished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I am thirsty.”—John 19:28 (emphasis mine)
Sin and the punishment were finished at the cross!
This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded.—1 John 3:23
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”–Galatians 5:14
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment.A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”–Matthew 22:37-40
All of my life, I’ve seen the Bible presented as a rule book. While there are guidelines in the Bible, when upheld as rule based, we end up with a legal document that is researched and parsed to find the minimum standards of conduct to be accepted by God. From this perspective, unconditional love gets marginalized and replaced by a performance based love. This love is shown mostly to those who act, think, and agree with each other. While outreach may be possible from this perspective, it is only pursued with the intent to convert someone to “our” ideology. This intent may not be malicious, but it is misguided. We show people to Jesus’ love, not a list of rules. As I’ve stated before and as the verses above spell out, the Bible is God’s love story to us. When read from other angles, it becomes confusion, manipulation, and chaos.
From the above verses, we can see that even the Old Testament laws were stating this love relationship. Yet, the Israelites only focused on rules to uphold externally. When we fall in love with God, we uphold the law by Jesus’ fulfillment and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. When we only uphold external standards, we often fall, languish, and rededicate in an endless cycle of performance while forcing these laws on others so we feel physically safe and morally superior. Living by the Holy Spirit makes “following the rules” easy and even enjoyable, but that love has to come first, otherwise we will not be able to uphold the law by our human standards as Jesus spells out in Matthew 5:27-47
For most of my life, whether I was inside or outside of a religious institution, I’ve behaved externally to be rewarded with “blessings.” I still see this in some of my actions today, though I’m starting to be able to accept the real Gift. Previously, I thought that if I was a “good” person, God would be good to me in that he would “bless” me with health, money, and the respect of others. Only in my wildest dreams did I think these things would be above normal. I was content just to have the everyday things–health, a few dollars in my pocket, security, and respect from my peers. These were the things I performed for whether at work or in a congregation. I’ve always known deep down that God should be first but couldn’t quite figure out what that was supposed to mean until recently.
Like myself, many today still perform for God’s blessings. I thought that this was the right path and that in doing things for God, he would do things for me. Under the Old Covenant, God established blessings for those who could uphold the Law–all of it (no one ever did except Jesus), and curses for breaking any of it. However, under the New Covenant, God never promises us physical blessings. Many of the people who were following Jesus were often brutally killed. So why would anyone follow Jesus if it just leads to persecution and death? How many today have really taken up their cross to follow Jesus or are just performing for external blessings?
The problem lies in our priority. We place the possible (not guaranteed) benefits ahead of the most amazing gift God has given us–a direct relationship with HIM! That is, even in our lowest, poorest, sickest state, we are in full communion with God. That is the reward. When we attempt to relate to God on a basis of his physical provisions, we board an emotional roller coaster ride that has us happy when we receive something and depressed when we don’t. When we accept and live in that full relationship with God, there are no valleys, we are always on the mountaintop because God is always with us. This is also what Paul conveyed when he was imprisoned.
The reward and primary focus is a personal relationship with our Creator, regardless of our circumstances. Even if we never come into the secondary objectives of physical health, wealth, or notoriety, we can at all times be in that relationship. Even if we are imprisoned for the rest of our life or even executed, our treasures are stored in Heaven and nothing can get to it there.
Often I’m asked by other logically minded people how I can believe in God. However, for me, it is no longer a belief but an experience. This experience is continuous and everlasting with no signs of slowing down. It only continues to grow. I can’t even say I believe in God, I can only say I know God (at least to the extent that my feeble human intellect can comprehend).
I continue to see more and more the depths of God’s amazing love for us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. Yet, I am only scratching the surface. That love transforms to the extent where I’m shown, little by little, how to love the otherwise unlovable. Even in my failures, Jesus teaches me love. Even when I’m wrong, I learn to love more if I’m willing to grow. The Holy Spirit will quietly whisper all of our lives for us to get out of our rut and grow in love towards God so we can show that love to others. That love extends to atheist, abortionist, homosexuals, and even those who would seek to do us harm. That love has changed me to have more of a desire to lay down my life in love for these same people, even when it isn’t “fair” to me. That’s the type of love Jesus exemplified on the cross and the same love he still exemplifies today. Those are the type of people Jesus attracted while the religious people of his day hated him without reason.
Jesus isn’t about upholding the minimum standards to get into Heaven as to avoid Hell. Jesus is about an all consuming love relationship that removesall of our sin through his sacrifice, keeps us from being re-corrupted by the gift of the Holy Spirit within us, and drives out all fear, even the fear of death. Jesus will never force us into this love relationship though because that wouldn’t be love.
This is another passage of scripture that I knew deep down contained a lot of truth, but couldn’t quite figure out what the message was. Like many, I always felt I would have to do more and more to get into Heaven while also giving up everything instantaneously. After I put the entire story together and saw the nuances, it made much more sense to me. I had been looking at the story backwards all my life.
Referencing Mark 10:17-27, we first see the rich young man run up to Jesus and state in v17, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ first response is quite interesting and also sets the tone of the rest of the dialogue. He states in v18, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one—God.” Jesus was already trying to get the man to stop thinking in terms of how to earn goodness. He most likely judged Jesus as good because of the things he had heard about him. Jesus was hinting that it is only by God that we are made “good.”
After prefacing that only God is good, Jesus goes on to list some of the commandments in v19. The man’s immediate response is to state that he was upholding them (v20). This is an area I was stuck at also. I didn’t take into account Jesus’ “good” statement. Instead, I assumed, like the rich young man, that observing the commandments made me good.
Again, v21 states something that can easily be overlooked. Jesus looked at him with love. He didn’t look at him with disappointment, condemnation, or anything negative. Jesus then stated for the man to sell everything he had, give away the proceeds, and follow him. Here’s the second context that I was stuck on all my life. I always thought that I would have to give up everything in order to follow Jesus. In a way this is true, however, giving up everything still doesn’t earn salvation (1 Corinthians 13:3). We are only saved through Jesus. Once we are following the Holy Spirit from within, we learn how to give up things at God’s timing. When we try to lay them down by our own human willpower, we inevitably pick them back up again. Only Jesus can truly free us from these burdens.
The man’s face fell as he went away when he realized what following Jesus would cost him. Was Jesus intentionally trying to drive him away? I don’t think this was the case. Jesus was trying to show him, and us, that it is not by law following and our physical possessions that we are saved. It is by God’s plan of salvation through Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
The disciples also didn’t seem to get what Jesus was trying to say when he stated in v23, “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into God’s Kingdom!” Again, Jesus was trying to show that we can’t enter the kingdom by our merits and wealth. On a side note, he wasn’t just talking about Heaven, he was talking about the spiritual kingdom which we are reborn into once we accept him.
The disciples were amazed and became even more astonished when in v25 Jesus states, “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.” Again, Jesus was showing the impossibility of our efforts to grant us access to the kingdom. Likewise, the disciples, who were still dumbfounded, ask in v26, “Then who can be saved?” In v27, Jesus states simply a summary of what he was trying to teach all through this passage, “With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.”
This is the whole point of the passage. It is only through Jesus that we can be saved. With man’s efforts, it is impossible. However, most of my life, only the passages about rule following and giving up money were lifted out as the standards to follow. Ironically, Jesus is actually stating the opposite. No matter what we do, we cannot earn our righteousness by our efforts.
Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me. He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.—Matthew 10:34-39
These passages of scripture have been an enigma to me most of my life. On a mental level, I was always led to believe I had to somehow muster up the resolve to love Jesus more and prove it through works based suffering. On a more spiritual level, I knew there was truth in this passage but couldn’t quite reconcile how to apply these verses. Every sentence here seems to have a profoundly deep meaning. Likewise, all together these verses can take quite some time to digest.
The first verse (34) seem backwards when Jesus talks about sending a sword instead of peace. How I’ve come to know this is that we will be persecuted if we are truly following Jesus and his followers will not find physical peace in this world. These verses can be easily manipulated though to make it seem like we have to carry swords for our own protection and even forcibly try to convert people. Likewise, the people of Jesus’ time, even the disciples, seemed to be looking for a Messiah that was going to bring Israel into a new golden age by overthrowing Rome.
The next two sentences (v35-36) talk about how family members will even turn against those who are truly following Jesus. Up until this point, I could somewhat understand and accept these passages. However, verse 37 is one I could never fully comprehend mentally. I knew I should love Jesus more than my family, but I couldn’t understand how to get to that point. To some extent this is because I was never truly shown how Jesus loves us; instead, his love was always tied to agendas and politics. The message came across as though I had to do more to earn Jesus’ love. Once I let all of these external obligations fall away and sought after the Jesus of the Bible, his love showed through and I found out what his love is really about. These verses show that when we love Jesus first, we learn how to love others more than we ever could by our human means. I use to love people based on how they performed—if they attended church regularly, didn’t drink or smoke, didn’t have tattoos, didn’t curse, didn’t watch R-rated movies, had the same political views I did, were vehemently patriotic, etc…the list goes on and on. I loved them conditionally, though I would still claim “love” for them if they were willing to change to my viewpoints. Now that I’ve discovered the unconditional love of Jesus, I strive to love everyone, even if they persecute me.
Verses 38-39 seem to state this implicitly. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we will be persecuted to the extent that we may lose our life. It seems this verse states that we can’t love our own life more that Jesus. Falling more in love with Jesus, I’m learning to love my life less to the extent of laying it down, even if it’s not “fair.” Many today claim they have the right to take another’s life under certain conditions, but Jesus never condoned such acts in any of his words that I can find.
Ultimately, like with the rest of the Bible, it depends on what context these verses are read in. If someone reads the Bible as a rule book, these passages would seem to contradict God’s love in that we almost have to dislike our own family in order to truly love Jesus all the while forcing change onto others. If read from a non-religious standpoint, it would seem that Jesus is arrogant and requires us to hate others and only love him. When read from the viewpoint of God’s love for us, we can see that he doesn’t want us to place all our hope into those things that will eventually fail us no matter how well intentioned the motives may be. This, in effect, sums up God’s “jealousy” for us.
God established Adam and Even in a relationship of love. However, for it to be real love, there had to be a choice to return it. Love cannot be forced otherwise it is no longer love and instead obligation. The same with us relating to God today. If that choice is manipulated or forced, we attempt to relate to God by what we do right while avoiding what we deem wrong instead of just being in love with God and trusting him.
When God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree, they seemed to have no problem following his instructions at first. When the serpent showed up, he mixed words to convince them to try to relate to God by their efforts and definitions. The tree presented this choice–relate to God by love and trust his definition of good and evil, or eat from the tree and attempt to do it by our own means.
I use to think I wouldn’t have made the same choice Adam and Eve did. Hindsight is 20/20 right? However, my choices to attempt to uphold “righteousness” by my efforts showed I was continuing to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. I was being fed a steady diet of “this is right and that is wrong.” Even today, we attempt to define what is right and wrong and impose that as the way to God instead of existing in that love relationship that shows others to Jesus. Did Adam and Eve eat from the tree to intentionally be evil? I don’t think this was the case. It seems they ate to know what good and evil was so they could avoid evil and uphold good to attempt to please God more. However, our ways of pleasing God never work.
Yes, Adam and Eve committed an offense and had to suffer the physical ramifications for that. Also they died spiritually when they chose their way over God’s. Today, we still try to relate to God as they did. While our sin has been paid for and we have been made alive spiritually, we still see the physical consequences of our “right” choices in ourselves and the world today.