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Intellectually Bankrupt

Read 1 John 5:1 – 12 

It has always fascinated me that so many in the church spend a great deal of their time attempting to find scientific and historical proof to support the assertions of the Christian religion.          

For example, there are dozens of religious books in the marketplace that were written with claims that they contain “evidence” about Christianity that “demands a verdict.”  In similar fashion, expeditions are continually being taken throughout the Near East to discover some tangible proof of the Bible’s authority – such as unearthing Noah’s ark or some other noteworthy artifact.  Like Indiana Jones, Christian people seem to be on a continual search for the lost ark or the Holy Grail.

Additionally, many adherents of Christianity have become devoted students of something called “creation science,” a movement that seeks to scientifically validate the Genesis narratives concerning the origins of the world.

There used to be a time when the watchword of evangelical Christianity was:  “God said!  That settles it!  I believe it!”  Now, many evangelicals seem to be saying:  “God said it.  I’ve got archeological and/or scientific proof to support it.  That settles it!  Now I can believe it!”

This desire for proof – for intellectual underpinnings – has affected the very core of the Christian religion.  No longer do Christians conduct evangelistic campaigns seeking acts of faith in response to gospel proclamation.  Instead, evangelism and missions seem aimed at convincing the unchurched that Christianity is rational and logical.

Instead of responding to faith, the unconverted are encouraged to give intellectual assent to certain doctrines about Christ.  The core value is that lives can be changed only when people believe certain “facts” about Jesus.  

The scripture for this lesson rejects this philosophy.  For John, salvation is not a matter of believing doctrines about Jesus, but rather entering into the faith of Jesus Christ.  There is a difference between “belief” and “faith.”   In the Greek, the verb “pisteu” is usually rendered in the English as the verb “believe.”

The corresponding Greek noun “pistis” is usually rendered “faith.”  As a result, many in the church place a great emphasis upon belief of intellectual assent as the proper response to the gospel.  That’s not the gospel of grace.  Faith as intellectual assent is inadequate because our (human) intellect is inadequate.  In fact, everything about our humanity is broken and inadequate.  So, in Christ, God not only came to bring us the gift of Divine love.   It’s better than that.  In Christ, God came as a human being, to become our stand-in, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

What does that mean for “our” faith?  James Torrance writes:  

“Our response in faith and obedience is a response to the response already made for us by Christ to the Father’s holy love, a response we are summoned to make in union with Christ.  This, it seems to me, was the great insight of the Greek fathers like Cyril of Alexandria…He expounded grace in terms of the twin doctrine that ‘all parts of our salvation are already complete in Christ” in virtue of his obedience for us, and that we are summoned to a life of ‘union with Christ’ to become in ourselves what we already are in Christ our head.”

Torrance also writes:

 “…our first task is not to throw people back on themselves with exhortation and instructions as to what to do and how to do it, but to direct people to the gospel of grace—to Jesus Christ, as they might look to him to lead them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father.”

Both quotes are from Torrance’s book, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace

The New Testament makes it clear, however, that faith is not a noun – it’s a verb.  Trusting God is not a matter of right belief about God through we earn God’s grace.  Rather it is placing our confidence in Jesus Christ as the total source of all aspects of our salvation, and in so doing, to enter into a relationship with the triune God through faith in Christ.

The Gospel is not, “Repent, and when you do, you will be forgiven.”  That makes it seem that God must somehow be appeased before we can be saved.  (That is the great flaw in the “penal substitution” understanding of atonement).  The problem is that this inverts the order of grace.  The right order of the Gospel is this:  “Jesus, the Lamb of God, has taken our sin upon himself and dealt with it at the cross.  Therefore, repent and believe the good news, receiving his forgiveness in repentance!” 

It is the reception of this gift of forgiveness that allows that we might experience what Jesus has obtained for us at the cross.  Doctrine, morality, ethics, lifestyle, ministry, and everything “Christian” flow from the relationship entered with Almighty God as we “accept his acceptance of us” by grace, through faith.

As this happens, our lifestyle is transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit.  How so?  It is not by engagement in certain religious rituals.  Neither is it a matter of having the ledger of one’s religious life weighed heavily in our favor at the end of each week.

The expression of our love relationship with God is in how we love one another (vv. 2-3).  In must be, for if, in our salvation, we enter into the “perichoresis” (the Divine dance that IS the interconnectedness of community within the Trinity) then our lives begin to overflow, by the Spirit, with the love that is the very nature and being of the Trinity (God is love).

John is reinforcing what he has previously written.  He declares that being in a right relationship with God will lead to loving acceptance of others.

Where love is present, God is present.  When love is absent from a person’s life, then intimacy with God must also be missing.  “The one that does not love does not know God, for God is love,” (1 John4:8)

 But what about when it is present?   Would not such a spirit of love add power to the ministry and witness of the church?  You bet it would!

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