Apr
09
2013

 This post is from a larger series under the cat­e­gory Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed explo­ration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the ser­vant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the begin­ning, it begins with the post How Look­ing at a Car­avag­gio Paint­ing Can Change Your Life and then con­tin­ues chronologically.

He says one thing, but he does another; it seems to me to be common sense to look at what is done, and not to what is said. Billy Martin

The sacred page is not meant to be the end, but only the means toward the end, which is knowing God himself. A. W. Tozer

Going back to looking at the life of Peter that we read in the gospels, it can teach us a lot. This is where he was living—he was living life bound by conventions—what is good and proper. Those caught in the stage of being just a servant have a mechanism which allows them to forget that they are broken people. To make themselves feel good about themselves, they put in place what psychologists call coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms can be described as the different ways in which a person attempts to handle stress and difficulty in their lives. Sometimes these mechanisms we use can be unconsciously motivated, learned behaviors, or most often, skills we master in order to reduce stress or other intense emotions like guilt or depression. It’s important to note that sometimes coping mechanisms are actually healthy ways in dealing with our problems and at other times, very detrimental. A common example of a coping mechanism would be someone who uses alcohol or sex to alleviate pain in their life. Obviously, both of these are negative coping mechanisms. Interestingly, one can use different aspects of their religion to deal with internal pain no different than a bottle of vodka or a one-night stand. The Bible, in this case, can actually become one of those coping mechanisms. Again, even though in theory, the person caught in this servant stage of faith knows that they cannot earn God’s approval, deep down, they psychologically behave as if they can. This may come in the fashion of many different types of coping mechanisms which are disciplines of their faith. Some others might be: praying regularly, going to church, serving in some capacity, etc. Again, each of these disciplines are good in themselves, but the person stuck in the servant stage of faith uses them to temporarily alleviate pain of some kind, to feel good about themselves, and to try to create the allusion that God is pleased with them because they do these things. These types of aspects are chief to their relationship with God and it keeps the whole house of cards from falling. A little bit later we will discuss another dynamic in what this cycle looks like in a bit more detail.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for spiritual disciplines and guidelines on one level. And of course, the Bible is full of direction and practical guidance for our lives. Francis Schaeffer says this: Doctrinal rightness is important, but only as a starting point to go on into a living relationship—and not as an end in itself. You see these rules that “servants” put together to accomplish the task of feeling good about themselves and excluding others are really simplistic, and on some level not a Christian way of doing things at all. So with this, the Bible becomes the arbiter for these rules and the very manual that needs to be followed and strictly obeyed. For some Christians, the Bible then becomes an idol. What do I mean by that?

Before I begin by discussing that question, I need to declare that I firmly believe that the Bible is one of the cornerstones of our faith. Without it, we would not have the direction that we so desperately need in our lives and this is beautifully brought out in the story of Josiah that we find in its pages (2 Kings 22:1-23:30 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:27). Amazingly, Josiah became king when he was only eight years old. In contrast to other kings before him, the Bible is clear in declaring right from the start that “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Some years later, when Josiah was in his mid-twenties an amazing thing occurred to him and to the nation of Judah. Up to this point, earlier kings had betrayed their faith in God and did many wicked things in how they lived their lives. Josiah was different and he tried to restore his relationship with God. The remarkable part of his story is that up to this point, the Scriptures had been literally lost. Can you imagine that— to not in any way shape or form to have the Bible to rely on and guide you? What would our lives look like today if this happened to us? Up to this point, Josiah was attempting to follow God, but he was doing it in the dark.

So back to the story. Not until Josiah requested that the temple be repaired does one of the priests miraculously find the lost Book. Even though up to this point, Josiah and the nation had been doing their best in following the commands of God, not until they re-discovered the Book of the Law did they fully realize how misled they were living. In the Old Testament, we read this:

When the king heard what was written in the book, God’s Revelation, he ripped his robes in dismay…He ordered them all: “Go and pray to God for me and for this people—for all Judah! Find out what we must do in response to what is written in this book that has just been found! God’s anger must be burning furiously against us—our ancestors haven’t obeyed a thing written in this book, followed none of the instructions directed to us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13)

Astonishingly, Josiah in his reading of these sacred words realizes they have not been keeping to the stories and commands of the Scripture. This story beautifully illustrates the vital nature of having the Bible in our lives and being able to hear its direction for how we are to live. Without a doubt, the Bible is indispensable and desperately needed in our lives. If we ever lose it in our lives, we will be lost.

WHEN THE BIBLE BECOMES A WEAPON

However, for some, the Bible becomes an instrument in which a person can first “use” it against themselves, and then eventually “use” it against others. The end goal then of reading the Bible is that the person who knows the most is the holiest. The Bible then becomes a weapon. Have you ever heard the phrase “knowledge is power?” In this case, this is a power that is corrupted. When one misreads the truth of the Bible, they inevitably corrupt themselves and others. What do I mean by all this? How does a person “use” the Bible against themselves and others in an unhealthy way?

The Bible is not a John Grisham novel. By no means is it an easy read. It is definitely not a book you can just flip through like you would a magazine. It takes great thought and prayer to be able to understand its truth (2 Timothy 2:15). The Bible is a book you must dedicate your whole life to, each and every day. The Bible is so rich and vital that you must create space in your life daily to understand what it is trying to say to you. You cannot always just open up the Scriptures and pick a verse and apply it to your life. How you view God; what you know about the historical context of the passage; how you apply that passage to other passages in the Bible—all of this impacts how you can interpret a passage in the Scriptures. Let me give you an example in terms of how a person might read the Bible and apply their own misconceptions of who God is. Listen to this verse:

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger. (Isaiah 13:13)

When reading a passage like this, if a person already associates God as their dad growing up—the guy who was always yelling and screaming; who physically abused them; who was never around—how do you think they will associate God when reading a passage like this? And if they do it with this passage, they will do it with countless others. And if they do it with countless other passages, the God who they envision is not the God who is merciful, forgiving, loving. The very Person who they imagine God to be, the central character of the Bible then becomes this crooked Person who with each page they turn, they begin to question why they believe in him in the first place. Once a person does this, the whole of the Bible then is impossible to read because the person does not understand the central truths of who God is: merciful, forgiving, loving. Is God other things like just and sometimes gets very angry and is jealous for us? Absolutely. But he is not the God who is always angry. Deep down, for some this is how they view God. He is never happy and always moping around, and at any moment about to blow a gasket. Those who are caught here, only see the God you can never please. And this is a very dangerous place to be. This is why that the person who does not genuinely know grace should probably be very careful in reading the Bible. Too often, they will misread it because of their predispositions and their past.


In: Friend to Jesus