Saturday, October 25, 2014

Only Human vs. Human Enough

Here is another insight from The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders, from the Moody Classics series.

Sanders writes, "We must be careful to distinguish between 'human nature' and 'sinful nature.' They are not synonymous" (p. 112). He reinforces this point by reiterating that Jesus was fully human and yet without sin. 

Being human is part of the original design that God declared good. Theologians have sometimes picked up on this theme and submitted that part of the sanctifying work in people's lives is not to make us less human (more "robotic"), but actually more human; more fully alive, with our emotions and intellect and all parts of ourselves being touched by God.

While it is obvious that part of being human is making mistakes, to say, "I'm only human" when we are faced with the fact that we have made bad choices or willfully disobeyed God or hurt another person, is probably a very poor way of avoiding responsibility for our actions, both naturally and supernaturally.

The fact is that our human nature is what God made us to be. It is good. So, attributing our sin to it is bad theology and anthropology. It quickly can become, God, why did you make me this way? Now, we have fallen into the same trap as Adam and Eve and every blamer and excuse maker in history. We actually dismiss our evil as God's fault.

However, we have a "satanic intrusion" (as Sanders describes it) that is our sinful nature. You may hear the apostle Paul talk about the sin living inside him or doing things he does not want to do (Romans 7), but you don't really hear the excuse from New Testament writers, "Well, I'm only human."

Knowing all of this doesn't solve much of anything for us. We are still left to wrestle with the reality that there is a force at work against us. Simply, we do sin in our humanity. The only point is to be careful what we believe as a result of that fact. We can quickly get into a pattern of all kinds of faulty thinking about God and ourselves if we are not careful to keep that distinction between the human and sinful natures that Sanders mentioned. Once those mindsets take hold, they distort the meaning, and reduce the power, of grace and mercy and love.

Sanders concedes that we are left with a mystery when we consider how we have two natures, and even more, how Christ depended on his anointing from the Spirit rather than his own deity for power in ministry (p. 114). It is mysterious, but it is extremely important and practical for us to realize this truth. Jesus did not have to escape His humanity to perform miracles or love perfectly. Neither do we have to escape ours!

No longer should we say, "I am only human" (insulting the Creator's craftmanship). Instead, we can say, "I am human enough to respond to God and submit to His Spirit and carry out His will today."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Instant Gratification Sold Separately

Here is another insight from The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders, from the Moody Classics series.

Sanders writes, "...our divine Lord spent six times as long working at the carpenter's bench as He did in His world-shaking ministry" (p. 69, emphasis mine). 

I have noticed that being in the "formal ministry" (associated with pastoral work in an organized church, which I did for about a decade) is not much different from working in another business setting in our society in one particular way. Instant success, or impact, is desired just as much. It is tempting to want to see a great move of God (people saved, numerical growth, a new ministry launched, etc.) after just a couple prayers or attending "that one conference."

If God is almighty and can work so powerfully, so quickly, then why wait? Why does He put us through the "trial" of preparing for so long? 

If there was one time when we would think God would speed up the process, then it would be when Jesus was on earth getting ready for His public ministry. The work of a carpenter was important and respected in those days, but couldn't God have fast-forwarded to the "Messiah miracles" part of the show?

This lesson is yet another, perhaps the most vivid, reminder that God is not on our timetable. If it was important for the Christ to put in His hours as a carpenter and to go through the process as a Rabbi, then we should expect no less.

It turns out that in God's way of doing things, the time of preparing us spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially is of major significance. Just as college or job training is necessary for certain vocations, spiritual preparation is equally necessary for disciple making and ministry. (This is not to be confused with building a case for seminary. While study may indeed be part of the preparation process, to automatically equate God's preparation in a person's life with man-made training systems misses the point, and has very little scriptural support.)

Moreover, the preparation is usually some form of "wilderness wandering" that involves testing and character building. God takes the time to rid us of ourselves until we are to the point of dependence upon His Spirit. In fact, I have thought that I was ready only to find times when God causes me to return to that uncomfortable prep work again. The wilderness may not be fun, but it is an essential prerequisite before entering a "promised land."

Sanders sums it up in one simple sentence: "Preparatory years are important years."
Well, I guess so!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

To Be Unaware

Now that I have shared some quotes from The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders, from the Moody Classics series, let's dig a little deeper into some of the concepts put forth in this work.

One of the realizations I had while reading about the birth of Jesus is just how easy it is to be totally unaware of what God is doing near us. We could be in the midst of a miraculous work of God, an extraordinary act, and not even know it.

Sanders says this about the Roman empire at the time of Jesus' birth: "The astounding fact is that with all its magnificent system of communications, 'the great Roman world remained in absolute unconsciousness of the vicinity of God.' The entrance of the Creator into the world seemed a matter so insignificant as to warrant no notice being taken of it" (p. 38, emphasis added).

I wonder how many times a day that God performs supernatural interventions in my life, my family, and my work to which I pay no attention. Am I so conditioned by a worldview that does not expect such divine things to happen?

Is life sometimes too natural? Too ordinary? Are there "laws" of the physical world and human relationships and economics that I trust in above my God to run everyday life?

While I would like to point fingers at the Romans long ago and criticize them for not "getting it," I am left with the very strong possibility, no, reality, that I am too often "unconscious of the vicinity of God" myself.

May we all become a little more conscious of the presence of the Messiah today and from now on.

Colossians 3:1-4

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Incomparable Christ - Even More Great Quotes

Here is a final set of quotes from J. Oswald Sanders' classic work, The Incomparable Christ. My next few posts will include deeper reflections on other material from this book.

  • "Those who love most deeply, suffer most intensely. For Mary, 'the greatest of all privileges was to bring with it the greatest of all sorrows' (259)."
  • "We can still hold the cup to His lips by going to those who are needy and ministering in His name" (282).
  • "The three English words, it is finished, are the equivalent of a single Greek word, tetelestai. With ample justification, this has been called the greatest single word ever uttered" (285 - referring to what Jesus said on the cross).
  • "It can confidently be affirmed that human priesthood reached its zenith in Judaism, but the story of the Jewish priesthood only serves to reveal how tragically it failed those who pinned their hopes to it. It is only in Christ, the ideal High Priest, that this deep and hidden yearning of the human heart finds complete fulfillment" (341).
  • "The Bible tells us sufficient to satisfy faith, although not always enough to gratify curiosity. The New Testament was not written to satisfy the inquisitive but to glorify the One who is coming, and to stimulate faith in Him" (355).