By Rick Barker
How do we relate to the commands given by Christ—especially the “hard” ones? This might seem like an insignificant question in light of all the theological issues we face, but I believe this is an important subject for Former Adventists.
I believe it is a very dangerous thing to pick and choose which Scripture we believe is true. I believe that it is even more dangerous to start claiming that we can provide new meanings for Scripture when it seems to disagree with our understanding of theology. When we ascribe meanings to Scripture that deviate from the plain reading of the word, I believe we are in danger of rejecting God in favor of our own understanding.
I would rather admit that I don’t fully understand how Scripture is always true than to start believing (and worse yet teaching) that Scripture is not 100 percent true and accurate but requires our re-interpretation of its intended meaning. In fact, I freely admit exactly this belief in my writing and blogging. I don’t always understand Scripture. I don’t always understand how every verse applies to our lives today. I believe, however, that Scripture is true, and I believe that ALL Scripture is given for our benefit.
Relating to Scripture
Having an organized and consistent approach to understanding God’s word (hermeneutics) is important. A person’s hermeneutic may not be fully accurate, but if it is consistent, one can examine it and adjust it if necessary. Picking and choosing how one interprets various passages is not a consistent approach. In fact, picking and choosing (combined with reinterpreting passages) allows any conclusion from Scripture that one would like.
I believe that I understand the hermeneutic that I apply. I’m not naive enough to believe that I have the “perfect” hermeneutic, and I examine what others say and adjust my approach accordingly if I discover an inconsistency or weakness in my method. I can confidently say, however, that I do my best to approach Scripture in a consistent manner, regardless of whether I “like” what a passage says. That consistency and refusal to reinterpret difficult passages isn’t always easy.
Some claim that statements made before the cross, for example, don’t apply to Christians. If one claims idea this to be true, then one must consistently use that approach. In other words, one can’t use this belief to dismiss one passage, only to ignore this belief in embracing another. Therefore, if one has an approach to understanding Scripture, consistently apply that approach. If we can’t consistently apply our hermeneutic, then we have to accept that the approach isn’t a valid principle.
Perhaps we believe, as I do, that all of Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) is only understood accurately through the cross and the gospel. If so, we don’t claim that “since this was before the cross, it doesn’t apply to us.” Nor would we claim that since a passage was spoken specifically to Jews, it has no application for us. Instead we acknowledge the truth of the verse, look at its context and its meaning for the first audience, and then examine how the verse’s meaning continues to apply in light of the cross. Was it a shadow that was fulfilled at the cross? Does it point out our sin?
Sin and the Christian
Perhaps one has fallen under the spell of false teachers who claim that Christians don’t have any reason to care about sin once they are saved. I have written this before, and I am compelled to write it again: acknowledging that Christians sin is not the same thing as saying that Christians lose their salvation.
I believe that, in light of Christ and Him crucified, every command and curse in Scripture is complete and paid by Him. That fact, however, doesn’t change the reality that breaking or ignoring a command of God is sin. One might ask, quite reasonably, why does sin matter if Christ paid the price for all sins on the cross? This question shows that one understands the message of grace, but not the full message of Scripture. In fact, this is the same question that Paul addresses throughout Romans. Do we sin so that grace may abound? Why is our knowledge of sin now that we are saved so important?
I believe that the knowledge of our sin is not just important, but critical, to our lives as Christians. Recognizing our sin is not for the purpose of trying to remember and confess every sin in order to gain forgiveness (this approach makes salvation based on our confession). Instead, I believe that seeing and acknowledging our sins (even to ourselves) is crucial in our Christian life. It reminds us of our ongoing total dependence upon Jesus. There is nothing more meaningful to me, as a believer, than knowing how my salvation is based 100 percent on Christ. As I know my sin, I understand daily that I am God’s child solely by His unwarranted gift.
Sin is serious. It separates us from God. It deserves death (the curse or punishment associated with sin). Every time Scripture speaks of the seriousness of sin, it is within this context. The sin we have committed is worthy of death. If we only committed one sin in our entire lives, it would be worthy of our eternal punishment. (Yes, the second death is clearly described in Scripture as eternal punishment). Without the gift provided to us in Christ, we would justly suffer this eternal punishment. Daily, however, I am reminded that I have been granted a forgiveness that I didn’t deserve.
This realization of my sin and flesh helps me to understand, with the Spirit’s power, that since I have received forgiveness that I don’t deserve, maybe (just maybe) I can start considering extending that same type of forgiveness to others.
This recognition of my sin and of God’s gift to me is the very heart of “loving others as I have loved you”. I have been forgiven despite doing nothing to deserve it. I have been forgiven of things that I have never “apologized” for doing. I have been forgiven of things that I continue to do. My Lord has called me to do the same to others. It isn’t easy. I often (probably even usually) fail. But my failure doesn’t determine my salvation. Just like the failure of those who have offended me shouldn’t determine my forgiveness. This is a hard teaching. Many of Christ’s teachings are hard.
Finally, being willing to interpret Scripture consistently is the key to understanding what we do with Christ’s commandments. When we realize that the whole Bible is for our instruction and training in righteousness and truth, we can admit the truth it reveals about ourselves, and we can submit in gratitude to the reality that in Christ, we are counted righteous before our holy God.