So where is the elephant? (If you think I’ve lost my mind, you may wish to refer to the previous post.)
To answer this, look at the picture on the left.
Do you see the Dalmatian? If not, take another look. If you still cannot see it, scroll down to the end of this post and look at the same picture, this time with the contours connected. Then return here. The dog should now emerge from the black blobs.
Once you “see” the Dalmatian you are confirming something that has both fascinated and puzzled scholars for a very long time, namely the human brain’s propensity to deceive its owner.
Why am I saying this? For the simple reason that THERE IS NO DALMATIAN in the picture. At least not according to the normal accepted definition of a pictorial representation of an animal. The contours of the dog are illusory, which explains why some of you had to have a kick start before you could see it.
So what do you see then if not an actual Dalmatian? You are in fact seeing an image that is inferred by your brain based on all its prior experiences with Dalmatians that were real. Your exposure to certain objective connections in time and space created neural pathways in your grey matter that now cause those very connections to be made when you see a mere few clues associated with them.
Compare the following two pictures:
Would anyone say that the lines in the left picture represent a bird? Surely not. Yet most people immediately see a bird in the picture on the right. Why? The lines in the two pictures are exactly the same, but in the picture on the right they are arranged in such a way that they recall the form of a bird that is stored in your mind.
This habit of the human brain may be fascinating, but it is hardly innocent. If you look at the picture below you will understand why:
This is not a bird. It is a face of a man, drawn on the lines of the “bird” above. By connecting them in a way that does not conform to the strong associations of a little feathered creature in our minds, a completely different picture emerges. If I were to say a moment ago that the “bird picture” represented the face of a man you would have thought that I was a bit confused. Yet I would have been no more wrong or right than those who said it was a bird. I simply chose to connect the lines according to a different association.
Examples of these mind tricks abound. There is a triangle in the picture below, right? Wrong. There is no triangle. It is inferred based on a game your brain started playing when you first picked up those little red blocks in kindergarten.
Instead of seeing a triangle I much prefer to see 3 angry Pac-Men attacking one of those little critters from the beloved eighties arcade game. Why not? It’s much more fun than a triangle that is not even there.
(If you struggle to make the interfering triangle disappear, squint and focus on the top Pac-Man until the black in the picture becomes dominant over the white. The triangle will vanish and you will see a completely different picture.)
We will get back to our elusive elephant in a moment, but before we do so, let us consider another way in which our brains employ the very mechanism above to make sense of bits-and-pieces information and turn them into cohesive wholes.
You may not be aware of it, but when you recall past experiences you are also joining dots. The human memory does not retrieve an entire file associated with an event in the same way that a clerk would retrieve a law office file containing all the information associated with a case. Rather, it dips into the file and selects the highlights of the event. “Highlights” typically include the beginning of the event, the end, and any extraordinary or emotionally high-impact occurrences in between.
This leaves us with the job of connecting the bits by filling in the blanks. As with the picture of the “bird” above, we tend to do so in the way that seems most obvious to us. The result is that we oftentimes reconstruct our memories according to our own biases and preferences instead of the way in which the actual events took place. We impose an “idea” of sorts on the bits of information our brains feed us, and in the process we become poor witnesses and excellent storytellers.
One of the best examples of the “connection” phenomenon is the illusion of motion that is created by looking at a movie. A series of separate pictures played at a certain speed on a projector causes the stationary images to disappear and to be replaced with a lifelike rendition of the events that were filmed. Few people actually pause to think how strange this is when they watch a movie. They don’t realise that they are, in fact, witnessing a powerful demonstration of the mind’s determination to connect loose bits of information into a cohesive and sensible whole.
The Principle of Gestalt
The habit of relying on some or other “big picture” in order to make sense of the information presented to us pretty much dominates our lives, and has been noted by scholars for centuries.
The line of study that is most commonly associated with these principles is known as “Gestalt theory” or “Gestalt psychology”, the German school of psychology that traces its origin to the early twentieth century and to the work of the Czech-born psychologist Max Wertheimer.
Gestalt is a German word for pattern, form or shape and is employed in the English language to refer to the concept of wholeness, especially in the sense that it is used in the Gestalt motto: “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”.
What distinguished the Gestalt school of psychology from its counterparts at the time was its insistence that perception is not a passive apprehension and mental storage of observable details, but an active and dynamic process of seeking some sort of order, pattern or form of which the details would only be a part.
As Wertheimer put it in the introductory sentence of one his famous papers: “I stand at the window and see a house, trees, sky. Theoretically I might say there were 327 brightnesses and nuances of colour. Do I have “327″? No. I have sky, house, and trees.”
The Sum, the Parts and the Elephant
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see how the predominant “gestalt” or “big picture” held by your mind can actually obliterate the intended message of a single bit of information.
Which finally brings us to our elephant (phew). The six men in Saxe’s poem each made the same mistake. They allowed a strong existing association to impose itself on their sensory experiences and so provide the illusion of a final understanding. Their existing insights, valid as they were, caused their exegesis to be “interrupted” and turned them into heretics.
Interrupted theologians are all around us, and it is not difficult to see why. The moment the brain detects a suitable pattern from its storehouse for making sense of the bits of information presented to it, it sees no need for further exploration. Needless to say, this illusion of a final insight is the breeding ground for heresy.
I may make myself unpopular here, but it is my firm conviction that Confucius’ tormentors (See previous post) all suffer from this malady. By allowing themselves the luxury of a preferred theological gestalt (a “pet doctrine” in plain English), they have shaped the entire gospel into a form that resonates deeply with them but that is in fact a caricature of the real thing.
This issue is so huge that I will address it in a separate post. I intend citing examples from the most popular of current theological streams, and I am hoping for some insightful discussion.
Until we do so, take some time and consider the following verses in light of the above:
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. Matthew 6:22-23
To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. Titus 1:15
A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. Proverbs 18:2
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17
Those of you who have visited my About page will recognise the picture on the left. It appears there as a biographical sketch, and that is indeed what it is. Literally and figuratively.
The picture is called Denominational Nightmare, and the man behind the scream is Confucius (A derivative of confusion, nothing to do with the revered Chinese philosopher). I drew it in the mid-nineties, when I needed to express an emotion that could not possibly be conveyed with words.
I use the picture nowadays for teaching purposes. It is an ideal representation of five main streams of Christianity. See if you can spot them:
1. The Intellectuals or Dogmatists. Some would say “the thinkers”.
Some key words: Doctrine, teaching, truth, study, objective.
Some labels: Reformed, Calvinist, Neo-Calvinist.
Some names: Piper, Sproul, Mohler, MacArthur, Schaeffer.
Some books: Anything by the Banner of Truth Trust.
2. The Contemplatives. Some would say “the feelers”.
Some key words: Meditation, solitude, quietude, inward, deeper life, subjective.
Some labels: Mystic, Existentialist, Orthodox, Neo-Orthodox.
Some names: Guyon, Nouwen, Brother Lawrence, St John of the Cross.
Some books: Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ.
3. The Conservatives. Some would say “the doers”.
Some key words: Holiness, modesty, KJV, creationism.
Some labels: Independent, fundamentalist.
Some names: David Cloud, John Rice.
Some books: Anything by these authors, Jack Chick tracts and comics, above all the 1611 King James Version.
4. The Socially Conscientious. Some would say “the doers”.
Some key words: Conscience, poverty, hunger, brotherhood, compassion.
Some labels: Social gospel.
Some names: Ron Sider, Mother Theresa, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo.
Some books: Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.
5. The Charismatics. Some would say “the feelers”.
Some key words: Pentecost, Holy Ghost, power, gifts.
Some labels: Charismatic, Pentecostal, Neo-Pentecostal, Third Wave.
Some names: Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, Gordon Fee.
Confucius’ problem is a very simple one: Each time he runs into a representative of one of these streams, he is convinced that he has encountered the truth. But this only lasts until he runs into one of the others. Then, like the sheep in Animal Farm, he is swayed by the new rhetoric.
This leaves him with a problem. What should he do with his former allegiance?
Cognitive dissonance is the term used by psychologists to describe the discomfort a person experiences when trying to hold on to two conflicting beliefs at the same time. It is in fact impossible for the human mind to do so, which explains why you or I cannot serve God and Mammon simultaneously. The heart has the capacity for only one overriding allegiance.
This is Confucius’ problem. In fact, it is worse than that. Confucius is trying to hold on to five conflicting beliefs at once. His problem is more than mere dissonance. Confucius feels cognitively blown apart.
You may wish to interrupt me at this stage and ask: Why do these views need to be presented as conflicting ones? Why can they not be integrated? Why can someone not introduce Confucius to the old Indian legend about the blind men and the elephant?
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
I see, quoth he, the Elephant
Is very like a snake!
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain, quoth he;
‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: Even the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!?
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
I see, quoth he, the Elephant
Is very like a rope!
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
The version above is John Godfrey Saxe’s, and I share it because of the last stanza. Confucius’ problem is not the elephant. It is the blind men. Understanding the connection between the tusk and the tail is not the difficulty. Any sensible person who has a bit of time for exploration and reflection can connect the two. The difficulty arises when, instead of exploring and reflecting, one tries to connect them through the mediation of the second and sixth man in the poem. In fact this is impossible, for how can a rope and spear be the same thing?
This is the problem. The confusion does not lie in the different dimensions of our faith, but in the insistence of our faith’s commentators that their particular analysis of it is the most important one and the exclusive paradigm or interpretive grid for making sense of all the others. Integrating such claims is impossible, for each excludes the others.
There is clearly only one way out of the predicament. Confucius needs to meet the elephant. A personal and unmediated encounter will reveal the truth. There is no other way.
In the first “Simply Organic” post I pointed out that I wished to say something about the fact that we (or some of us) are not a celebrity cult. I did this to an extent with The Last Revival post, I further elaborated on it here and I will do so in the next post. There we will address the obvious question:
WHERE IS THE ELEPHANT?
A long time ago, in a world very far from here, two fingers were having a conversation.
“I like you,” said the one.
“I like you too,” said the other.
“You are prettier than that toe over there,” said the first.
“So are you,” said the other.
And so a long and intimate conversation began between the two fingers. They were amazed at how similar they were. They could relate with one another’s frustrations, hurts and dreams. They found it astonishing that they both preferred to touch rather than be touched, and they had many other traits in common. They soon became best friends, and began spending almost all of their free time together, speaking about the things that fingers most like to speak about.
One day a large finger arrived in their part of the world. They heard that he was giving finger talks, and so they attended one of them. They were stunned. The large finger articulated everything they had ever spoken about, only better and with more authority. He spoke so well that many other parts of the body also came to listen to him. The toes, especially, found him very appealing. But he also attracted hands, ears, eyes, noses and so on.
“This is the day of the finger!” he said.
“This is our day!” the fingers answered.
“Now everybody together: This is the day of the finger!” he shouted.
“This is the day of the finger!” everybody shouted, even those body parts who were least like fingers.
These events came to be known as the Finger Revival. The entire countryside was transformed by the understanding of how remarkable the fingers were. One would think that the other body parts would have been offended, or felt inferior, but in fact they did not. The large finger had taught well, and he had convinced all the body parts that it was quite possible for all of them to do finger things. Of course they would never be as good as the fingers, but the honour of being allowed to do what the fingers did was more than enough.
Many decades later, when community halls with finger signs on their roofs were found all over the countryside, two toes were sitting on a park bench.
“I like you,” said the one.
“I like you too,” said the other.
You guessed it. The whole process repeated itself. There was one difference, though. During the ensuing Toe Revival there was fierce resistance from the fingers. Some of them joined the revival and started doing toe things, which was not too difficult as toes and fingers are very similar, but mostly the fingers were outraged.
“Who do these toes think they are?” the leading fingers asked. “We need to warn the body parts against them. They are destroying all our work.”
This led to a very sad state of affairs in the country. Toes and fingers were fighting like never before, and not a few of the finger community halls were divided. Eventually the toes erected their own halls with toe signs on their roofs, and the body parts could decide for themselves which halls they would attend.
This went on for a while, but then the Ear Revival broke out. And after that two kidneys happened to run into one another and experienced an affinity that led to a very unusual revival.
So it went on for centuries, until each part of the body had had its own revival. You would drive into a small town and find twenty or thirty different community halls scattered all over, each with different body parts constructed on their roofs. It was truly an amazing sight.
One day, towards the end of the age of that world, it so happened that an eye and a tongue sat down next to one another.
“I don’t like you,” said the eye.
“I don’t like you either,” said the tongue.
They were quiet for a while.
“What is it that you do?” asked the eye.
“I lick ice cream,” replied the tongue.
“I have always wanted to lick ice cream,” said the eye.
“You can, but unfortunately you have to be connected to me,” said the tongue.
Again they were quiet.
“So what do you do?” asked the tongue
“I look at sunsets,” replied the eye.
“Wow,” said the tongue, “I have always wanted to do that.”
“You can, but unfortunately you have to be connected to me,” said the eye.
They were quiet yet again.
“Perhaps we should think of connecting,” said the tongue.
“Perhaps we should,” replied the eye.
And so the two of them connected, and they ended up spending many happy and interesting hours together, licking ice cream and looking at sunsets.
One day, while they were doing so, a solitary ear came past.
“Who are you and what are you doing?” asked the ear.
“There is no name for us,” replied the strange connection, “but we don’t mind because we’re having fun. We are licking ice cream and looking at the sunset.”
“Gosh, that does sound like fun. I’ve always wanted to do both those things,” said the ear.
“You can, but unfortunately you have to be connected to us,” said the connection.
For a while no one said anything.
“So what do you do?” asked the connection.
“I’m listening to Beethoven’s Fifth,” replied the ear.
“Oh wow…” said the connection.
I’m sure you know what happened next.
And so the last revival broke out. It was unlike any revival that had preceded it. It had no name, because the bigger the connection became, the more difficult it was to give it a name. And so it came to be known as The Anonymous Revival or The Revival of the Body. There were no strong body parts leading it. It did not exclude all of the other revivals, as every single one of the previous ones did, but included all of them. For the first time it was believed that all the other revivals were necessary, but only in preparation for the Anonymous Revival. It was truly something phenomenal.
That world is no more, in case you wondered. The final result of the last revival was something so amazing that the old world could not contain it. The Body, once mature and free from focusing on its parts, was taken to a world as glorious, whole and complete as itself.
We believe some sort of a marriage took place there, but it is said that the occasion was so wonderful that words cannot describe it. So I’m not even going to try. Besides, this story is for those in other worlds that may need to hear it, and that is why I wanted to share it with you.
(This post is the seventeenth link in a chain blog, started by Alan Knox, on the topic ‘One Another’. Please have a look back through the other links and comments to join in the topic. You can even join in the chain – read the rules below to participate.)
Links in the ‘One Another’ Chain Blog
1. Chain Blog: One Another – Alan Knox
2. Linking One Another – Swanny
3. What Does It Mean to Love One Another? – Chuck McKnight
4. The treasure of ‘One Another’ – Jim Puntney
5. This is how the world shall recognise you… – Kathleen Ward
6. Accepting one another in love – Chris Jefferies
7. One Another-ing: A meta-narrative for the church – Greg Gamble (also see part 2)
8. Individualism and ‘one another’ – Pieter Pretorious
9. All Alone with One Another – Jeremy Myers
10. When it’s OK for Christians to compete – Joshua Lawson
11. Jesus Christ: the Corner Stone for One Another – Peter
12. Be Superficial With One Another – Jon Hutton
13. The Unmentionable One Anothers – Alan Knox
14. Loving more fully and widely – Chris Jefferies
15. The one another weapon – Dan Allen
16a. Corporate one anothering (Part 1) – David Bolton
16b. Corporate UN-Anothering (Part 2) – David Bolton
17. The Last Revival – Tobie van der Westhuizen
18. Love: A ‘One Another’ Comic – Dan Allen
Who will write the next link post in the chain?
Chain Blog Rules
If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment on the most recent post stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both this post and the other link posts in the chain).
When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.
Words, names and stereotyped expressions can deafen us to the voices of the things themselves, so that for the deaf the things have died – a personal and original relationship with them has become impossible. One can’t tell a thing to a person who knows the words, he is no longer receptive. Gerrit Kouwenaar
I have been thinking about this word “organic” lately. Some of us are planning a “Simply Organic” conference here in Bloemfontein for early 2013, and so the term has been on my mind more than usual.
It’s a nice word, I must admit. It works well. And that is where the problem is.
One of the cars that are most popular with hijackers in South Africa (our hijacking statistics have gone through the roof ages ago) is the Nissan 1400 “bakkie”, as it is called here.
The reason? It works unbelievably well. It does what it is supposed to do. It is simple, strong, cheap and reliable. It is popular. And so hijackers love it.
The same has happened to the term “organic”. It’s being wordjacked. It’s such a lekker word that everyone wants it, even those who haven’t paid the price for it. And so it is being grabbed and claimed all over. The result is that a very good word has now become somewhat overused and murky.
The name has taken the place of the thing itself, as oftentimes happens with descriptive words. To make matters worse, its meaning has become associated with some of its new owners, rather than with its own and original definition.
For a true understanding of a clichéd descriptive word, such as “organic”, two things are needed: Firstly, we need to rid ourselves of those things that block our perceptions to the real. We need to weed out the unfortunate associations that have taken our thoughts captive and blinded us. Secondly, we need to revisit the original word to ensure that we understand its own meaning.
The next few posts will be mainly concerned with the first exercise. It is a weeding experiment, and it is mostly birthed from a number of recent observations that have stirred up that old feeling of being invaded (some would say molested) so reminiscent of the type of Christianity that wants to turn someone else’s private and subjective experience (and interpretations) into doctrines and norms for the rest of us.
I don’t mind you walking on my holy ground, but please leave your shoes outside. They fit you and they have walked your journey. Bring yourself in here. That’s ok. But don’t impose your walk on me.
With that sorted out, let’s talk about those things that many of us are not, and that we will never be, even though we proudly associate ourselves with being “organic”. I will deal with them one by one in the next few posts.
Please note that these are not astute scholarly observations, but knee jerk responses from those of us whose desire it is to preserve our freedom in Christ. If you don’t agree with the list, just imagine that the heading reads “Simply Organic: Who are Some of Us?”
1. We are Not a Resistance Movement
Need I say more? We are not “against” or “anti”. We are “for”. To use another overused and now clichéd term: We are not reactive, we are pro-active.
Don’t take this for granted. Are you a Protestant? The moment you say “yes”, you have distinguished yourself as being “against” instead of “for.” You are a protester. That’s what your name means and that’s how subtle this whole business is. Your reason for being is derived from the fact that you are protesting against… uhm, what was it again?
Truth is, most Protestants cannot complete this sentence. If you are one of them, dust off that church history book and turn to October 1517. Then you’ll find out what your problem is, or rather who you have it with. And then you may also wonder what you will become once the problem is no longer around. (Or what you have already become, seeing that you have forgotten about your problem.)
That is the tricky thing with all resistance movements. The accomplishment of their goals signifies their demise, and so they usually need a new enemy to sustain their levels of commitment.
This is why our fervor may never arise from our anger or disgust with the religious establishment, or “institution”, or “system”, or whatever we may wish to call it. Too many organic folk feel a sense of camaraderie because they relate with one another’s hurts and the ecclesiastical abuses of the past.
Beware. Judas was a zealot and the man of perdition’s title begins with “anti” (Is there a hint somewhere in there that offense has been taken?).
We are FOR, not AGAINST.
Of course we resist. Of course we fight. But that is circumstantial to our main calling, namely to inherit a promised land and to be made into a kingdom. We do not allow the fight to get into our bloodstream. We are not mercenaries. We do not feed on the presence of our enemies.
In fact, we are not even angry.
Some of us were, I have to admit. But no more. We are moving on.
And so, for those who are foaming at the mouth because of what the institutional church has done to you: Welcome. But you are going to have to leave your offense outside.
Right there, next to your shoes.
(The next post will deal with the fact that we are not a celebrity cult, which means that no single person or party speaks for the rest of us.)
You study the scriptures, thinking that by them you have life… yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John 5:39-40
There are two ways in which a person can arrive at the answer to a sum: You can get it from someone who already has it (with or without his/her consent) or you can work it out for yourself.
If schoolteachers are to be believed, the latter way is by far the preferable one.
But even here conditions apply. Years ago, way back in primary school, I was awarded one point out of ten for a perfect answer to a quite complicated sum. The teacher disregarded the innovative way in which I had figured the answer out in my head, explaining that I would not be able to do the same with larger numbers. I lost the other nine points because I had ignored the tried and tested formula. I had set myself up to become a maths heretic.
I learned the lesson well in my formative years, but had to unlearn it when I finally graduated into seminary. Here everything was about answers. The sums had already been figured out and we were expected to learn the answers without thinking too much in the process.
The only problem was that another theological school, a mere few blocks away, were teaching their students different answers.
I sometimes wish my mathematics teachers taught me theology. She would have insisted that I became a thinker instead of a parrot. But she would have forbidden me to use my own independent judgment in my thinking. I would have had to think according to very specific rules and within very defined boundaries.
That’s the whole idea. The knowledge of God has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ and is preserved in Scripture and the ongoing teaching of the Holy Spirit within. You cannot have the one without the other. True Christianity is not memorising doctrines or living by laws. It is not to blindly accept the conclusions of another, no matter the brilliance of his/her scholarship or any reputation whatsoever of great understanding or guru-like insight. It is to work it out for yourself: Personally, experientially, uniquely. Yet it is to do so within the clear objective boundaries of Scripture.
If you say “Lord, Lord”, but you don’t know how you got there, you are in for a surprise.
There is nothing as exhilarating as the discovery of truth. It is to find a fine balance in the midst of the mightiest bursts of revelation imaginable. It is big wave surfing in every sense of the term, an encounter with the might and beauty of God, but with a focused concentration and skill that makes the required balance possible. This skill cannot be taught in a classroom, yet the method of obtaining it can. It has to be discovered in a way that will make you feel you are the only one who has discovered it. It is an experience that is wholly unique and original, yet it is one that takes place within very narrow boundaries. It is totally original, yet the scope for innovation is extremely limited. It is your own discovery, yet it can only be discovered according to a method that is so precise that it can be described as a science.
Truth is to know Jesus Christ personally and intimately, but never apart from the clear guidelines presented by Scripture.
Where this happens, the answers will present themselves.
(This article has appeared in abbreviated form in Bloemnews.)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them… Romans 12:1-6
A living sacrifice is something that has died, yet it is alive.
Paul’s comment in Romans 12 is the logical conclusion of his teaching in chapter 6 of the same letter: Christ died and was resurrected, and we died with him and were raised with him. We are to “reckon ourselves dead unto sin and alive unto God” (Romans 6:11.)
We are to think of ourselves as living sacrifices, in other words.
This is what the “renewal of the mind” is all about. We need to align our minds with the historical reality of our co-death and resurrection with Jesus Christ. If we do so, our lives will be transformed accordingly.
But Paul does not stop there. This new type of thinking is further elaborated on in verse 3. We many no longer think “higher of ourselves than we ought to.” The illusions of grandeur that were entertained by the old self are no longer allowed. We are now to think of ourselves “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” to us. This measure is determined by our membership in our new family, that is, the body of Christ.
Our calling in life is not to live up to some projected image of the idealized self. Neither is it to try and eradicate the self in order to become nothing.
No, it is to understand the measure and calling of the new resurrected self, as it fits into the body of Christ, and to live according thereto.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
The Bible is a very thick book. With the help of some of us, it has also become a very complicated one.
God may be mysterious, but he is not complicated. His revelation to us has always been simple. There was nothing complicated about Jesus Christ, his life or his teaching. Paul wrote to the Corinthians “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.”
The Old Testament, commonly referred to as “the Law and the Prophets”, can be summarized in a single sentence. That is how understandable God has made it.
Every single one of my children came into the world knowing exactly what they wanted. Every person I have ever met in my life knew what he or she wanted from others. Inscribed upon human nature is a script that cannot be erased: “This is what I want.”
The central message of the Bible is remarkably simple. It does not prescribe an ascendance of consciousness that will take the participant from one mystical illumination to the next. It does not prescribe decades of academic research to discover the evasive thoughts of God.
No. It takes that which is most clear to every person on the planet and uses it as a script for our lives. It takes the “This is what I want!” and prescribes it as the basis for our actions towards others.
Inside of us are the Law and Prophets of God. We cannot shake them. They are revealed perfectly. The problem has never been with the “What?” It has always been with the “Who?”
You know full well what a human being needs. Now go and provide it.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20
Apart from John 3:16, the “Great Commission” may very well be the best-known and most quoted verse in the Bible. Yet it contains a startling implication that we oftentimes miss when we read it, speak about it or try and obey it.
Note that the calling is to make disciples, not converts. Also note that the way to do this is to teach them “to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Some of us stop reading when we see the word “nations”.
If you are a tent evangelist up in Africa and your fiery sermons and passionate altar calls make thousands stream to the front to say the Sinner’s Prayer and “give their hearts to Jesus”, you are doing a mighty fine job. But you are not fulfilling the Great Commission.
Others stop reading when they see the word “teaching”.
If you are a Bible teacher and you devote your life to expounding the Scriptures and teaching the great doctrines of the Christian faith to people, you should be applauded. But you are not fulfilling the Great Commission.
Note again: The great Commission is about “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”, not “lead them to me” or “clarify my teachings to them”.
Jesus Christ is more intelligible than any one of his commentators. His teachings and commandments are crystal clear and extremely simple. The difficulty has never been to understand Jesus. It is to obey him.
We are to go into the world and assist people to obey commandments that are stated in the plainest language imaginable. That’s the Great Commission.
This post ministered to me in an unbelievable way. Yes, I admit it. The Pharisee within has oftentimes been deeply offended by the way in which God chooses to use people whom I would never have used (I would always use me, of course). I’m also offended that I didn’t write this.
The Offense of Radical Grace by Stephen Crosby
God uses very flawed, damaged, and “imperfect” people to accomplish great things for His kingdom interests. After all, damaged, imperfect, and flawed people are all He has to work with to begin with, including you and I! The expansion of His kingdom is not held hostage to the development of our character. Faith works by love, not by holiness and this is offensive to all spiritual over-achievers.
Some say this makes grace a license to sin. God forbid. However, this truth of radical grace is very offensive to religious sensibilities of propriety: how unholy people can be used to accomplish dynamic, holy results. It is, never the less, the way it is. Does this mean we do not deal with sin issues? God forbid. Does this mean that our transformation into the image of Christ is of no value? GOD FORBID! Transformation is EVERYTHING that matters to us subjectively and for all eternity!
HOWEVER . . . .
it also does not mean that in order to go forward in and through human vessels, OBJECTIVELY FOR THE BENEFIT OF OTHERS, that God’s kingdom requires a preconceived notion of some level of personal holiness (Begs the question . . . How holy do you have to be, and who measures it?)
Yes, this is the offense, the risk, and the contradiction of putting His Holy Spirit in clay vessels. It pricks and irritates the little Pharisee hiding in each of us. It irks that carnal religious desire for “fairness” and “equity.” We often have a language of grace on our lips, but in the deepest recesses of our soul, we still live and think out of a merit-based system. We operate under a contractual understanding with the Almighty, rather than covenantally from a revelation of His love.
It is deeply offensive to our religious sensibilities to see someone who in thinking, doctrine, and behavior, is in error, sin, immaturity, or gross misbehavior, experience LEGITIMATE kingdom fruit in greater degree and measure than ourselves and the people we associate with. “God . . . how can so and so be so used by you?” “I mean they are______. (Fill in the blank with the egregious shortcoming of your choice)
It bugs us.
When that question comes out of our consciousness, it proves we still do not understand the grace of God. The obvious question to ask in response is “How can God use you?”
Do you really think your acquisition of personal holiness merits His special favor? The Lord is LORD of His own! He can do what He wants, how He wants, when He wants, with His own. Before Him, and Him alone, will each of us stand. How the LORD of the harvest uses other broken sheaves in His field, is none of our business.
What then of obedience? What value is there then to obeying? It breaks my heart to even hear that kind of thinking come out of believers’ mouths. It reveals such a meager understanding of the gospel.
Jesus is His own reward. Obedience is the logical fruit of the new nature, the logical return on the investment of the life of the Son of God in us. It is the reasonable expectation of the husbandman on the seed of the Son that has been planted in us by and in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t obey because of some sort of quid-pro-quo negotiated benefit contract with the Almighty! I obey because obedience is His gift in me, He is worthy of it, and most of all . . . because I love Him! Why would I not want to obey? Fish are created to swim, birds are born to fly, and horses are born to run. Obedience is the supernaturally natural response of the new creation nature! It is HIS LIFE in me, released through the power of an endless life, via the cross daily taken, in cycles of death and resurrection to my soul . . . all the days of my life. We are born to it . . . if we are really born . . . if we are really participators int eh new creation life . . . and the longer I live the more I agree with Dr. D. J. Kennedy who said before he passed that it was his conviction that 75% of the people in evangelical churches are not born again/converted. I think he may have been an optimist.
Obedience is its own reward. Our “reward” (If we must use that language) is not necessarily harvested in this life. Eternity is not a commune with everyone in a white robe and a halo sitting on a cloud and strumming a harp and singing praise songs forever! We will be occupied in eternity with unspeakably glorious co-regency privileges of mature, overcoming sons and daughters like unto the First-born . . . things so glorious that like Paul, I can’t share them with you here. But what we do with Christ, the gift of God . . . how we live . . . in this life . . . matters. It determines eternity.
I often wonder if the people who ask that question (“Well, if grace is so radical as you say, what’s the point of obeying?) have ever really met the Lord? I can’t help but think they haven’t, or at least not the Savior I know and love. They may have been introduced to some system of religious beliefs and behavior modification based on the Bible, but I have doubts about their encounter with a resurrected, God-Man in glory, the ever living Son of God and Son of Man who is the lover and redeemer of their souls, who has united His Spirit with theirs, who has taken up residence in them, and who will be in them forever . . . .
Joy unspeakable . . . and full of glory . . .
Copyright 2012, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, http://www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Corinthians 3:18
The first humans were created in “the image and likeness” of God. This image was marred as a result of the fall, but is under construction yet again due to the fact that we are new creations in Christ Jesus.
The New Testament and the Old Testament are perfectly correlated as far as our reason for being is concerned. From the beginning God’s purpose for you and I was to exist in the image of God.
But there is a catch. In order to be transformed into this image, we need to “behold” it first. The word is not one we use in everyday English, but can be roughly translated as “looking with intent”.
Why? Sociologists and anthropologists may provide the answer. The process of human growth and maturation is dependent on an intricate process of identification with a “role model”, they tell us. This may be confirmed by the fascinating studies that have been done on so-called “feral children”, that is, children whose primary caretakers, during their formative years, were animals.
Feral children take on the characteristics of the animals that raised them. They typically walk on all fours, have short lifespans, develop many of the same sensitivities and oftentimes suffer from telltale growth deformities.
We become like our role models. We become like those we look up to. We identify with them and in the process trigger a magical transference of qualities that are characteristic to them.
It is the same spiritually. We become what we behold. The most important song on planet earth may very well be the classic Irish hymn: “Be thou my vision…”
Who, or what, are you beholding?