Malachi 2:16 (NKJV, emphasis added)
16 “For the Lord God of Israel says
That He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you do not deal treacherously.”
Malachi 2:16 (NIV)
16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
“…you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.”
Teachers, Pastors, Priests, Christians: you are to follow the commands and words of our Lord without partiality. The words of God are being changed, being softened and manipulated to speak to us in a way we feel we ought to be spoken to. Both versions of Malachi 2:16 proclaim that divorce is wrong. If we are to place our hopes in the words of our Lord and Savior promising everlasting life and peace from our strife in this world we are to hear the words of our Lord and God as He has said them without partiality. The nature of sin is to question God’s words, contemplate His motives and intentions and conclude that God could never be that strict and that uptight about how we ought to live. We are merely human, right? But He means what He says. His words are strict to our sinful ears because His ways are higher than our ways. He is Holy and we are not. His words are as uptight as they sound because the way of Jesus is a narrow gate that few enter because of the costly sacrifice and complete denial of self that following Jesus into eternal fellowship with the Father requires.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Be shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove, Christian. Our Heavenly Father demands that we be Holy as He is Holy. The sin within us will always seek partiality concerning God’s Holy words. It will always endeavor to weaken the sting of His rebuke in order to massage our weary soul from its burdensome struggle for Holy perfection and encourage us to seek the desires of our heart. God is love, right? And the gospel of Jesus is forgiveness and grace, right? Yes on both counts. But Jesus is still the narrow gate that came preaching repentance of sin and complete transformation in his image. Holiness. Righteousness. Obedience to the Father. Let the words of God sting you. Let them stab you. Let them cut you to the heart as a double-edged sword. Protect and cultivate a relationship with our Lord that welcomes the sting of Holiness and the demands of it on our life. The sting of God’s Holy words and the self-sacrifice of our sinfulness for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus is nothing compared to the sting of eternal separation from God that Jesus came to save us from.
What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to have faith in Christ? What does it mean to go to church? What does it mean to read the Bible? What does it mean to serve as Christ served? What does it mean to desire heaven and fear hell?
What does any of it mean?
Why would a person go through day after day after day consumed by such things? Is it to stay busy in a world of drifting and laziness? Is it to find purpose in a life of wandering and ever-changing directions? Is it to right wrongs that we know deep down exist in order to sleep at night? Is it submission to an authority figure in our lives that we strive to impress?
Christians do a lot. Christians are very busy people consumed by their Christian lives, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a horribly misguided, useless existence if the Christian is caught up in what they can do and not what Jesus Christ can do. The foundation of Christianity and of every Christian must be the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this life, death and resurrection occurred for no other cause than outrageous love. Therefore, a Christian’s busy-ness must only stem from the love received from Christ and returned to him. Understanding the relationship between man and God is no different than understanding relationships between people. A relationship built on activity and productivity is empty and futile without love. Love between people is not just the product of that relationship, but the fuel that propels the relationship forward. Similarly, a relationship built on anything other than this received and returned love is not the relationship that God desires.
The debate between faith and works has been waged since the early church and will continue until Christ returns. In a true relationship, one overwhelmed and overcome by the love freely given us by Jesus Christ, there is no possibility of service void of love. The love that we received from him on the cross is returned to him in our transformed lives. The selfless nature that operates in ours works devoted service to him as proof of our commitment to loving him with everything we have, because he loved us first.
If we desire change, we must introduce something that has the power to create change. If we desire a radical change, we must introduce something that has radical power. We face extreme troubles with insufficient resources, and we desire a change in our limited ability to ultimately overcome and find success. In order to create a change in our limited human ability to overcome the daily trials of this world, we must introduce something so radically powerful and real to give us any hope that the change is possible. This new agent for change must be more extreme than the obstacles we face if success is possible.
To commit to this process and to hope in this change requires great trust and confidence. Jesus Christ claims the power to produce the change necessary for overcoming the challenges of this world and providing us with a hope beyond them. If we approach these promises with anything less than complete submission to their power and reality, we should not be surprised when our progress in this life remains limited by what we try to overcome. There is no complete healing without complete submission to the healing agent. If we cannot or will not take the promises of Jesus seriously then we must not seriously hope that we can ultimately be healed. If we cannot submit to the reality of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth and continued presence in the form of the Holy Spirit, then we must submit to the fact that our problems will remain.
Faith in Jesus Christ is all encompassing. There is no halfway. There is no 50 percent. Faith in Jesus Christ establishes truths that must be foundational, never decorative or supplemental. These truths include complete submission to his life and death on the cross, complete submission to his resurrection and life in our present age through the Holy Spirit, complete submission to the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit to transform us from sin and self-indulgence to righteous passion and service in the likeness of Jesus Christ. These truths must be held if the obstacles they promise to overcome shall be in fact overcome. Pretending to take medicine will only result in pretending to be healed.
Nothing about the new life in Christ is realistic. Everything about it pushes the standard limitations we place on what is possible. Approaching the word of God and how it applies in this world is completely unrealistic from the reality established by the world we have been raised by. Everything about the new life in Christ calls us to expect what our world teaches us to never expect. The world leads us to believe that certain things are not to be expected, that certain things are out of the range of possibility, and certain things simply cannot be. The concept of genuine selfless love for another is clouded by our belief that the limits of our human hearts can neither handle nor be expected to exhibit such unrealistic love. The concept of complete abandonment to an authority that has the power to permanently change us from paralyzing insecurity to confidence and contentment is not realistically possible. We are wary of anything that might tempt us out of the real world and into a mere fantasy state.
There is no synchronicity between the new life in Christ and the life we were born into in this world. The two lives are in a state of constant contradiction. The more one is overcome by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the more one begins to perceive oneself as a “stranger” in this world. A stranger that has a home somewhere else, but is nonetheless in this world with a job to do. That job is not to reproduce or replicate the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others. That job is to simply bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our own life. One cannot simply share the expectations of the Gospel with another and expect that those expectations be received, followed and cherished. Rather, they are completely unrealistic and should receive an adverse reaction. If one is listening and understanding the implications of the words of the Gospel, these words are not liberating. To begin with, they are crushing by the magnitude of what they expect from us. They are unrealistic and impossible. They should not be taken seriously— if the words are the only witness.
However, witnessing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in the life of another suddenly opens the door of possibility. The real-time power of the spirit of Christ in man is the only witness that can effectively lead a person from utter desperation in the face of the Gospel’s expectations to complete satisfaction and hope. We are not meant to read the words of God as one reads literature. Literature is from man and for man and thus will be received by man as man would naturally receive it. The words of God are from God, for man. They will shake us, press us and ultimately change us. Our expectations when standing in the presence of God must only be to expect something entirely different from ourselves. However, what we should expect to find is beyond our reality and supernaturally good.
Submission is at the heart of obedience. And contrary to popular belief, obedience does not limit or confine, as much as it potentially liberates. The difference between an obedience that oppresses and an obedience that liberates is in the will of the one who obeys. If the obedience is ultimately for the sole benefit of the leader at the expense of the one obeying, this obedience will only benefit one party. If the obedience is for the greater good of the whole and both parties benefit from the obedience, then the obedience can be a means to liberate rather than imprison. Everything about the life of a Christian revolves around this state of complete submission. There is no life or union with Christ if there is no submission. Along the road of discipleship exists only one shepherd with one voice, and the sheep that follow after and listen for that voice have only one choice once they hear it: submit to his authority, and follow.
This, however, is not a submission or obedience that empowers the one giving directions, while burdening the one following. The purpose of submission to the authority of God’s voice, spirit and will is his pure desire to free us from ourselves. Left to our own devices we will recklessly and carelessly destroy everything that surrounds us. Our human nature is not bent to serve others with the fervor with which we daily desire to serve ourselves. The human heart has a tendency to overlook more far-reaching implications and consequences of our own actions in trade for more immediate gratification. We are a horribly near-sighted and forgetful creation. We learn and then we forget the lesson. We hear and then forget what we heard. We follow and then forget why we were following and whom we were following in the first place.
Along with all of this, we are predictably unstable. We stand firm and then we collapse. We know for certain and then question everything at hand. In the presence of God’s word and the life given us in Jesus Christ, being in a state of near-sightedness, forgetfulness or instability is impossible. The life renewed in Jesus Christ is the opposite of all of those things. When we allow the words of Christ to enter into our lives, and when we completely submit to him, we are made aware of certain truths that are immovable and unshakable. When wandering makes our direction unclear, our God leads us through the desert as a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke that is unmistakable and undeniable.
In these moments the reality of his presence in the desert of our confusion must not be taken lightly or overlooked. The only way to miss the pillar or the cloud is if we choose to look another way or close our eyes. Otherwise, it is there, it is real and it directs us where to go. In times where we are tempted and our flesh prompts us to act as our old life would desire us to, the transforming power of the Spirit must receive our complete submission to turn from our old self and press forward, both with the spirit of Christ and the faith that the impossible transformation is complete in Jesus Christ. In times of blessing, where we are overwhelmed with peace and joy in our lives, we must never forget that before we were, God already was. We must never forget that it was his authority over creation that willed us into existence, and all of the blessings that we enjoy had their beginnings far before we ever knew we desired them. We have been given simply because the authority of the Lord has willed us into a position to receive. The submission and obedience required by God’s authority is not to establish a hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy. He desires that we submit to him because if we submit to anything else, we will lose, and lose everything. He is our protector and provider. Submitting to his will results in our protection and provision forever, by the only one who has the means to provide what we need.
The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
Support for my belief in the virgin birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:
- The Ascension
- The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
- The Gospel
- The Virgin Birth
This week, let’s consider how the Ascension supports and fulfills our faith in the Virgin Birth.
Debate about the origins of Christianity and its various doctrines often dominate, and at times tend to hijack, opportunities to share and witness the Good News to believers and non-believers alike. While debate often arises over certain topics like the Virgin Birth, in some ways this becomes the classic example of putting the cart before the horse. Instead of arguing or debating the historicity of the virgin birth, we should be asking a much more important question: “Why are we discussing Christianity in the first place?” The mere fact that Christianity is being discussed is a much more important topic for discussion and inquiry.
The only reasonable explanation for the emergence and survival of the Christian faith is that a man named Jesus Christ actually lived, died, was buried, resurrected and then ultimately ascended into heaven, out of the sight and reach of his believers, only to then bless them with the power necessary to teach and physically heal the world through the power of his name. The mere fact that the Christian faith has survived persecution, outlasted empires, emperors, tyrants and wars is an almost unbelievable historical fact. The fact that men and women throughout history have affected the world the way they have, in the name of Jesus Christ, is evidence that they were touched, healed and gifted with extraordinary abilities that are inexplicable even to the persons who received them except by the one Name: Jesus. The fact that there is a debate about the virgin birth is proof that Christianity is a faith worth discussing. Jesus did not live and die an old, wise man in the arms of his faithful followers, but, after a violent death, he resurrected and ascended as he promised, and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father.