Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Active Word by Dudley Hall

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV) 

This text originally addressed believers who were having a difficult time accepting the radical nature of the present word of God. They were part of a culture that had grown up around the partial revelations of the Old Testament era. Now Jesus had come fulfilling the shadows of previous days with the substance of his own life being transferred to believers. Those who simply refused to consider the new day were persecuting those who had begun the journey of belief in the word as defined by Jesus. The author reminds them that when the word is given, it divides. Those who respond to it are changed. Those who neglect it are hardened. It is a serious thing to have the word of God given.

In our day we face a similar situation. We have been marinated in the culture of American Christianity, which has more in common with the American Dream than the New Testament Gospel. The word of God is sounding out to us, and it is distinguishing between the two. It is also dividing those who respond from those who choose to remain in the clutches of tradition.

There are at least three contrasts being exposed. First, the American gospel promotes prosperity as the primary goal and measuring stick of success. It takes the principles of the Old Testament that define success in physical, natural, and material terms and makes them primary. Noting that God blessed Israel with physical, natural and material assets when they were obedient, the conclusion is that our success is measured in those terms. But the New Testament transforms the shadows of the previous era into the substance of true son-ship. The great blessing of eternal life is knowing God through Jesus. Being aware of God as Father releases us from striving to make a name for ourselves as well as from making a fortune for our security. Material wealth in the New Testament is a tool for demonstrating the love of God to others, but the message of the Gospel is prized as the only real solution to mankind's dilemma.

Secondly, The American gospel focuses on improvement while the New Testament Gospel focuses on transformation. In the first, God and his teachings are used to make us better so we can feel better about ourselves and show that we are successful through our progress. Prizing progress as a sure sign of success, we all must be getting better at all times. If we are not growing and improving, we are failures. But in this paradigm we are still focused on ourselves. The New Testament Gospel, in contrast, offers us a chance to stop focusing on ourselves once and for all. We find a greater vision and lose ourselves in worship to an almighty Father and service to those he loves. We do get better, but often we aren't even aware of it. Others will notice and might mention it, but it brings no sense of pride. We have identified with the crucified Lord and now are obsessed with his resurrected life.
Thirdly, as American Christians, it has become normal for us to spend our energies in accumulating. Fifty years ago it was almost unheard of to have rented storage space. Now large and small cities alike are dotted with thousands of storage units for the stuff we don't have room for in our spacious homes and garages. We boast in how much money we spend on ourselves. Men and women are respected by how much they have accumulated. Not so for those who have truly embraced the New Testament Gospel. Jesus told of a man with the attitude of accumulation and how tragically he died in neglect of his soul. The New Testament exhorts us to give. There is no premium put on poverty or on wealth. There is, however, high value to those who display the nature of their Father by giving when it requires sacrifice.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19)
The "today" word of God is being heard. It will divide the false from the true. Let us hear and obey.

1 comment:

  1. Robert, I believe you are correct. There are many ministers who have confused the pure gospel of Jesus Christ which transforms us in the Holy Spirit. Materialism and their desire for earthly riches have corrupted their message. We are to be sacrificial gives; but the seed we plant should be from God. We are required to help plant that seed in the hearts of our acquaintances, not in a televangelists bank account.


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