The Unacknowledged King

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“Lewis once suggested that literary critics are, and have always been, neglectful of ‘Story considered in itself.’ They have been so focused on themes and images and ideological commitments that they have failed to notice the thing that decisively differentiates stories from articles or treatises. If we then try to consider the seven Narnia stories as a single story, what is that story about? I contend that the best answer is disputed sovereignty. More than any other single thing, the story of Narnia concerns an unacknowledged but true King and the efforts of his loyalists to reclaim or protect his throne from would-be usurpers.” –Alan Jacobs

And what are we? We are partisans for the unacknowledged King. We are exceptions to the total, cosmic treason of mankind. But this is from grace, for people who would be rebels.

St. Francis of Assisi is widely quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel, if necessary use words.” There is debate about whether or not he actually said this, but my beef with it is more than authorship. It’s content.

I understand the intent. Live out your faith, let people see the result of your faith. See the book of James. Yes, yes. Indeed.

But the Gospel is words. It is news, Good News. It is not anything, it is something. It is particular information.

It is not advice. It is not a “How To” book. It is not, as are the religions of the world, a set of things to be accomplished by you and me for a reward. As some one has said, “The religions of the world are ‘do, do, do,” and Christianity is ‘done.’” That is happy news.

The Gospel is the Good News that the battle is won, the king has defeated the enemy, and we are free. True, in a real sense, for now a battle goes on. But this is not the central battle, this is the working out of the result of the central battle. This is chasing the Philistine army after David is holding Goliath’s severed head.

The victory is sealed. The Victor is enthroned.

Yes, for a little while longer the world is put upon by a pretended sovereign. But the Ruler of All is not surprised by anything. He is not, contrary to popular belief, on the edge of his chair, biting his nails.

Our task is faith. If the faith is there, then so too will be the the works. Faith is God’s gift. He is not stingy, so we need not worry, or fear.

“We obsess about the future and we get anxious, because anxiety, after all, is simply living out the future before it gets here. We must renounce our sinful desire to know the future and to be in control.  We are not gods.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  We risk because God does not risk.  We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us but because it is known to God.  And that’s all we need to know.  Worry about the future is not simply a character tic, it is the sin of unbelief, an indication that our hearts are not resting in the promises of God.” –Kevin DeYoung

Preach the Gospel to yourself. Use words. Believe those words. That is faith.

Acknowledge the True King.


55 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sam, good thoughts.

    In George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold, Curate, the atheist, Paul Faber, asks Thomas, the preacher, “Do you really believe one word of all that?” as he gestures toward the church.

    It creates an explosion in Thomas, because for the first time he really asks himself the question. “Do I really believe all that?” And he finds that he is a preacher because it was a career option.

    Each of us has to ask ourselves that question every day when we come to the Word. “Do I really believe this?” It is the contact point between God’s power and our appropriation of it. Jesus asked the question of Martha (and Lo! He used words!)

    It is no good to think “Believing in God” is enough, as if mere acknowledgment of His existence, or even to believe “Jesus paid it all,” is enough. “Do I really believe all that?” We have to ask ourselves that question when Paul says, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” when John says, “He that abides (in Christ) does not sin.” We have to ask it when Paul says we died in Christ, and are now dead to sin, and we rose in Christ, and are now alive to God, when he says we are “new creations in Christ; the new has come, the old has gone.”

    Do I really believe all that?

    My actions, sinful or righteous, daily depend on the answer to that question. Intellectual assent is not faith. Faith trusts, rests, abides.

  2. Shelley

    This reminds me of a mental image my brother once shared with me: that when he shows The Victor his spiritual armor from this life, he doesn’t want it to be polished and perfect, the sword tucked in an embroidered sheath. The “seeing the results” (oh, so shiny). Rather, (perhaps from chasing those defeated enemies as they retreat) he wants his armor to be battered, tarnished, dented, stained from the blood of the wounded that he stopped to help. But above all, his sword keen, and having been wielded on many occasions. And what is The Sword? “The sword of the spirit which is the word of God.” (Eph6:17) So, Amen to words wielded with precision and power.

  3. Dan K

    [I will not quote GK Chesterton, I will not quote GK Chesterton; breathe]

    I had a life changing milestone epiphany a few months ago. I get about 1 hr in roundtrip commute that has been filled with audiobooks for 2 years (thank you librivox.org) and sermons for 6 months (Tim Keller). Somewhere in the mix of these the lightbulb turned on for the true power of the gospel. GK Chesterton & Tim Keller combined to give me moment of “well duh, we’ve been saying it the whole time.” It answers the riddle.
    How is something already, but not yet; law & grace; life & death; completely worthless & completely saved. But it answers with the paradox. Jesus is man & God; you are deserving of death, and made alive & valuable; faith & actions. You are more wretched than you can bear to know, and more loved than you’re able to know.

    I get the “love in all actions, love is a verb,” type of preach the Gospel with actions. These may get people to say “huh, you’re different”, but you need to tell them about the King. Even if they reject the message they will know you are a messenger.

  4. Laura Peterson

    Any hints on who the “someone” is who might have said “The religions of the world are ‘do, do, do’ but Christianity is ‘done'”? I like that.

  5. Dryad

    Sometimes I think we in America miss out on the whole royalty idea. It creates a gap in our national ‘mythology’ (so to speak.)

  6. Dan Foster

    Never been a huge fan of that Assisi phrase, for mainly the reasons you mention. But though I know that the gospel must be preached with words, I found my actions sticking much closer to the Assisi sentiment than my theology would suggest. Because it’s scary to speak the gospel with words, and I, being a scaredy-cat (or more accurately, a sinner), find it much easier to preach the gospel with my actions, which are generally clean and tidy and likeable, but don’t clearly explain how Jesus died for sinners.

  7. Todd Hollback

    “This is chasing the Philistine army after David is holding Goliath’s severed head.” – I love it! Thanks for this perspective – just what I need to hear!

    Dr. Niel Nielson, president of Covenant College, recently discussed the Assisi quote in a blog post. Here’s the relevant passage:

    “In this context Rev. Helm rightly called into question the oft-quoted words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary use words,” a quotation commonly recruited to suggest that our good works “preach” the gospel, whether or not we speak the words of the gospel – a kind of “deeds, not creeds” orientation.

    John will not have this: he will not let us miss the fact that the Jews resolved to kill Jesus, not because he healed the sick and fed the hungry and relieved suffering, but because he claimed to be the Christ and to be one with God his Father. Surely works of compassion and mercy are crucial as demonstrations of gospel love and Kingdom conviction; they are foretastes of the comprehensive renewal of all things for which we wait and hope, and they add credibility to our word-witness. But, apart from proclamation, they never, ever add up to the biblical gospel, and in fact, alone, they almost always turn into sub-biblical moralism and legalism. ”

    You can read the whole thing here:
    http://president.blogs.covenant.edu/2010/04/08/words-and-works/

  8. Jaclyn

    There’s a perpetual sick feeling in my tummy from all the gospel words I don’t speak. Thank you for showing me that I really am far more sinful than I know. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time.

  9. Cory

    Amen and amen!
    For whatever reason, I’ve rested in the St. Francis quote. It has permitted me to hold my tongue when I shouldn’t have.

    Once, I was walking through the streets of downtown Houston and a man was asking for money. I asked him if he was hungry and he said he was. I took him to a nearby restaurant but he said that they wouldn’t let him in there – he had tried before. So he told me his order, I went and got it and brought it to him.
    As I was waiting for his meal to be prepared, some of the workers there noticed what was going on and tried to (figuratively) pat me on the back. It was a perfect opportunity to tell them the good news – why I was doing this.

    I missed it.

    I brushed them aside and said something like, “It’s nothing.”
    I gave the man his meal and went on with my life.

    This is a story of failure in telling the story. Yes, I was acting the Gospel, but I failed to tell the Gospel.
    Please learn from my mistake. Use words!

    Thank you brother Smith for these needed thoughts.

  10. Chris Yokel

    “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” (Isaiah 52:7). The “good tidings” or Gospel is indeed that our God reigns, and His name is Jesus, the once and future king.

  11. Dan R.

    Wow, Chris, great verse. Though I must admit my partiality to Mr. Ron Block’s contribution, as that is one of my favorite MacDonald works. Actually, in thinking through how that instance panned out, it feels like that is more an example of all that is lacking about a ‘words alone’ faith. Thinking about what MacDonald had to say about this, as well as your inspiring post, Mr. Smith, it seems to me that the truth lies not in rejecting the statement of St. Francis, but in realizing that its use is limited – that we should use words when necessary, but that that time is all the time. (And what a truth we have to grace our words with!) Does that resonate for anyone else?

  12. S.D. Smith

    Really neat comments. Thank you all for adding value to this post.

    Love the quote, Todd. Laura, not sure. Sorry. So good though, I love it too.

    Martin Loyd Jones has a great piece about this kind of thing.

    Amen, Chris. Agreed, Dryad.

    Dan R -love this… “…realizing that its use is limited – that we should use words when necessary, but that that time is all the time.” Word up, homie.

    Jaclyn– Don’t forget that “wretched sinner” Christianity is but the gateway to infinite Joy. It is Good News that God loves you as you are (yes, absolutely true –a wretched sinner) and you have nothing to add to his work. Belief = Feeling loved.

    Ron: I am with you…the Gospel is news, particular news. But how we believe that news is not with simple intellectual assent…see this from Dan Taylor. Up your alley, I suspect.
    http://www.sdsmith.net/2009/10/12/story-as-partner-to-proposition-2/

    “Like faith, stories engage us as whole persons, not as parts.

    No one believes anything important with the intellect alone. Believing is a whole body, whole life experience. If it doesn’t involve everything, it’s not belief but simply an agreement with an idea. Believing enlists all the aspects of the mind. It involves the will, curiosity, personality, character, our bodies, imagination. You don’t believe anything deeply that isn’t a product of all that you are.

    Reason is a tool that will serve any master, including the most odious. By itself it does not get us where we need to go. We need to use it as well as we can, but we are foolish to think that any single human faculty is sufficient to guide our entire lives. A lot of wrong thoughts about life come from not treating people wholly. Anything that respects only reason, or only will-power or discipline will break down.

    Consider the example of Nathan’s confrontation of David, after he had slept with Bathsheba and murdered her husband (2 Samuel 12). He tells a story to David, and he tells it masterfully, using timing and irony and pathos. David becomes enraged by the actions of the rich man in Nathan’s story and declares that he deserves to die.

    Notice that David’s intellect, emotion, sense of justice, and body are involved. He responds as a whole person, which is exactly the response Nathan must have desired. And then the prophet says most powerfully, “You are that man!,” bringing the full force of the message home to David and leading him to repentance. —Dan Taylor

  13. Chris

    Francis probably did not say this in this way. He really didn’t write much down for us at all. The closest scholars can come to being sure is this quote…

    “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

    In saying this, St. Francis was not excusing silence but encouraging integrity. His mode of ministry was to simply walk into town and go to the square and preach the gospel. And he would share his food and shelter with the poor. This man walked to the Muslim world during the crusades to preach the gospel to a king there. I believe this quote is mirroring the Biblical idea (yes, in James) to not say to the hungry and cold, “be warmed and well fed” and send them on their way. But to actually let people enter your life. Yes, of course talking to them and sharing a meal or shelter with them if they’re in need.

    I know there’s a time to preach the message. I know there’s a time to give out merciful, practical expressions of help and grace to people. But talking to a friend about the King while sharing together a meal fit for one is where it can all come together.

  14. Carl Clark

    Having followed your posts the last week on your blog I was wanting for more; not to be disappointed, this tied it all together so very nicely. Thanks for your words, especially since actions don’t speak well in writing.

  15. David Axberg

    The Action of Love, is our lives lived out as God has intended. Those actions of Love, are what makes us worth listening to. The words we speak had then better be His words of Life. With all that said if a brother (sister) in hiding steps forward in Faith, then all Glory goes back to the Trinity in the wonderful work of Salvation, and they place that all glorious name on His redeemed “Christian”. God Bless you all and thanks for the quote by Kevin what a blessing to the Church.

  16. Judith

    I appreciate your thoughtful words and your desire for a clear articulation of the story of Jesus’ victorious sacrifice. I would, however, invite you to think about your definition of the Gospel when you said: “But the Gospel is words. It is news, Good News. It is not anything, it is something. It is particular information.” Honestly, I find such a definition reductionistic, making, by extension, linguistic proclamation the best and most legitimate expression of this “information.” I’m reminded that Todd Hunter once defined the Gospel as the form of our participation in what God is doing in and through the world–I like that. I see the Gospel not as words per se (although articulation comes alongside) but as something embodied–the Gospel, at base, is a person–Jesus Christ. For me, this vision changes everything, sweeping me up into story, relationship, mission, mystery, and love. Food for thought. Thanks for helping me to think more about this important topic.

  17. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Judith, thanks for the kindly put words. I appreciate your honest reaction and am glad you feel free to go beyond agreement and say, “Hey, wait a second.” A very welcome notion. My words need a lot of challenging. (And they are mine, I have no certainty that the staff and management would take my part on this one, or not.) I will try to answer your ideas with equal honesty and, I hope, love.

    You are right to say that my definition would necessarily lead to an emphasis on linguistic proclamation as pertains to the Gospel and could be a reduction from a disembodied idea of Jesus as Gospel. This is intentional. When Paul teaches what the Gospel is in 1 Cor 15, he is very specific.

    If the Gospel is “Our participation in what God is doing in and through the world” then it almost is “everything” and very much not “something.” I see that as a dramatic alteration of the Good News that the NT presents and the OT prefigures. 1 Cor 15 does not emphasize our work. Rather the opposite. Romans 3,4 are clear on this as well (and so many passages). I can imagine Paul speaking of Abraham and presenting justification by a combination of faith and circumcision, “what we’re doing together.” This is, of course, not what he does. The point of the NT teaching on justification is that it is accomplished by Christ alone. This is the Good News.

    I see that the Gospel presented in Scripture has a lot less to do with what we are doing (along with God) and with the real work of Jesus in space and time accomplishing the satisfaction of God’s rightful wrath against sinners.

    Of course in ordinary language it is a kind of good news when we bring water to someone thirsty in Jesus’ name. When we adopt a child. When we forgive. When we follow through on the commands and example of Jesus to live lives of mercy. But it is not The Gospel, in my view.

    These good works are a result of the Gospel, an implication, a reaction, a necessary consequence. They are no less emphasized as good (they are part of the whole point, as poems –works–we are prepared in advance for -eph 2) when they are not included in the term “Gospel of Jesus Christ,” but the emphasis is off of us and where the NT teachers put it, on the work of Christ alone.

    This, as Paul teaches in Romans, eliminates boasting. Whereas, what feels like a vague “the Gospel is our participation with whatever God is doing in the world” idea seems like a formula for Moralistic boasting.

    As Paul teaches in 1 Cor 11, if we are the kinds of people who receive this mercy and then get drunk while some one is thirsty, or overeat while others are hungry, then we need to examine ourselves. God kills people about that.

    The Gospel ought to issue in stupendous acts of mercy (many unseen, as the Lord taught). But I would call it a result of the grace of God, maintaining, I believe, the distinction we have in the apostolic teaching in God’s Word.

    Peace to you.

  18. Dryad

    Woudn’t it make sense, though, if the Gospel is primarily words?
    After all, isn’t the center of the Gospel THE WORD, Jesus Christ?
    (To be taken with a grain of salt, as it comes from an amateur philologist.)

  19. Craig Good

    I love these ideas. The paragraph about being free is very much where my heart has been lately. The battle is won. George MacDonald wrote in Phantastes about a man in a prison tower. He is lead by the singing of a women to come out of his prison. He has never tried the door before and when he does he finds it open. He was free, but did not realize it. So many times I live my life in this same light. Christ has set me free, but I continue living as if I am imprisoned.

  20. Don Smith

    “God kills people about that”
    My favourite part of your comment thread.
    Doesn’t sound like the contemporary God of much of Christianity.

  21. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    I like this a lot. Seems to fit the conversation.

    “The secret of the gospel is that we actually do more when we hear less about all we need to do for God and hear more about all that God has already done for us.” Kevin DeYoung

  22. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sam, good quote.

    Law-preaching (what we need to do for God) produces the opposite effect the preacher intends. It binds the people up in sin – it stirs us up to rebel.

    Preaching who Christ is, what He accomplished at the cross, and His power in the heart of the believer prompts faith in that indwelling power. It prompts gratefulness, thanksgiving, praise. It brings freedom from rebellion and sin, because there is nothing to rebel against. Why rebel against such a loving Father and elder Brother?

    That’s Paul’s line of reasoning, easily seen in his letters, esp Colossians and Ephesians. The first half of each letter begins with who God is, what Christ has done, and who we now are in Him, and that He lives in us. The second half of each letter is saying, “Ok, now here’s what this Christ-in-you will look like in your actions if you abide.”

    Most of us run to those “commands” as Law. “Just tell me what to do.” But we cannot do those things at all without the right faith-spirit. To take burdens of Law upon our human selves is to chain ourselves in a pit. Better to magnify who God is, what He has done, and who Christ is within us, and then step out in faith that He will accomplish those things through us, as if it were us doing them.

    The Gospel is power and not merely an intellectual idea. I see where people preach “use words if you must” as an overreaction against Christianity as intellectual assent to ideas about God. George MacDonald fought against the same tendency – mere intellectual acceptance of certain doctrines rather than faith which bets the farm on Christ and hangs the body on that bet daily. The Good News is a divine implant that will explode with life-changing power in us and through us if we really take it in a spirit of faith.

  23. Adam

    I think Chris is on the right track, and though you may have a beef with the quote offered by St. Francis you should not confuse it with having a beef with Francis himself. First of all, you have to read the quote in its proper context, and what that implies is that Francis, himself, was a preacher. Akin to this would be your pastor on Sunday morning saying, “It’s what happens the other 6 days of the week that matters.” Obviously your pastor does not undervalue Sunday worship, and, in fact, it is because he is a pastor that his words have relevance. Though some may use St. Fancis’ words to negate the need for “using words,” he did not.

  24. Paul Hutchinson

    There’s a lot of food for thought here, but I think I share some of Judith’s concerns – that you’re emphasizing linguistic proclamation of the “information” that is the good news.

    To me, this tendency is anti-incarnational, and hence in at least some senses anti-Gospel. John tells us that the Word became Flesh, and without this enfleshment, there is no redemption and no Gospel (particular, generalised, or otherwise).

    I think you make a reasonable complaint about the quote attributed to St Francis – “preach the gospel at all times, use words if you must” is hyperbole, and it’s right to complain if the maxim is being stretched too far. But I think the point of the hyperbole is to challenge a Christianity that is enthusiastic about talking the talk, but indifferent about walking the walk. Such expressions of Christianity do abound, and they do need to be challenged. To refer back to Todd Hollback’s reference to Dr Niel Nielson (“Apart from proclamation… they almost always turn into sub-biblical moralism and legalism”) – I have to say that the overwhelming majority of sub-biblical moralism and legalism I have encountered in life has come from people who have put words and theologies first, rather than the “actions speak louder” crowd.

    As Dan R said in his earlier post, we should use words when necessary – and they turn out to be necessary all the time.

    I really like the metaphor from Narnia that it is the story of the Unacknowledged King. But to me, the Narnia stories are also suggestive of the King who, by his grace, enlists ordinary people in his ultimate (and specific) cause of establishing his kingdom forever.

  25. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Adam –I have no beef with St Francis, but, as I said, with the content of this attributed quotation. The misuse of which is multiplied in our day. Frankly, I blame you because of what you did in the garden. What were you thinking? 🙂

    Paul –You raise some good points, a form of which I reacted to after Judith’s thoughtful comment.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that spiritual realities ought to manifest, I made an effort to say that clearly in my response to Judith.

    You said, “John tells us that the Word became flesh.” And he did tell us. But how? With words, of course. If we didn’t have those words, we might make up another Gospel, or add some of our own good works into it, but we have this testimony of what Christ did and we have it in words. John wrote, we read, repeat, and so the story goes on.

    Some of this is the old “pendulum swinging” argument.

    Dude A; “I think that verbal proclamation is overemphasized.”

    Dude B: “I think the actions are emphasized to the neglect of teaching.”

    That’s all right with me, let’s have a good tension there and neglect nothing.

    But my main concern is that we will be duped into a self-righteous Moralism, trusting in our own efforts, if we do not make a clear distinction that our work cannot add anything to the work of Christ.

    The work of Christ is received by us (miraculously) because we hear a message of words, believe this specific message by faith (all a gift), the Holy Spirit regenerates us in a miracle. We are accepted by the Father by the power of the Spirit based on the work of the Son (PLUS NOTHING).

    And so the Christian must live by faith, continue in the Spirit, never believing that suddenly he is justified by how much good he does. (This is the constant peril of Moralism, see Luke 18:9-14 for real, beautiful clarity on this). He does the good. He very much does do the good, because he cannot help it. But he doesn’t call what he does The Gospel. The Gospel is what is his Savior did for him, and he will never forget the story and will keep on telling it and telling it to people he is loving and serving and walking with. He will overflow in mercy because mercy has overflowed to him.

    This emphasizes not so much the superiority of horses, but that they ought to go before carts. Nothing at all against carts.

  26. Paul Hutchinson

    Sorry Sam, I may be taking you up wrong.

    When you responded to Judith with “You are right to say that my definition would necessarily lead to an emphasis on linguistic proclamation… this is intentional”, I took you to mean “words with no actions = good” or “yes, a purely words-based gospel is very much The Gospel”. But I take it from your later post that this is not what you mean, and that you do recognise the tension and the different sides of the pendulum.

    I like to remember that it was ultimately Christ’s actions that brought about our salvation, rather than his teaching. Calvary and the empty tomb achieved for us what the Sermon on the Mount could not. And neither human action nor human preaching will ever add anything at all to that.

    (But yes, I know that in Jewish thought, God’s actions are accomplished by God’s Word – God speaks and it was so. And no, I have no wish to imply that Jesus’ teaching is anything less than vital!!)

    I completely agree with you that faith is foundational, and transformed behaviour comes as a consequence of it – actually, as a consequence of God’s grace! But verbal witnessing or preaching is not the same thing as faith. The following horse/cart arrangement still seems sound to me (in the spirit of the St Francis quote):
    Faith -> Transformed Behaviour -> Verbal Witness

    (And yes, of course, faith generally isn’t able to come about without someone else’s verbal witness :-))

    Does this help to unpack the discussion at all, or are we going round in circles?
    Peace

  27. Dan K

    My inner Chesterton is hulking out: “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

    Lately for me so many of the “either/or’s”, or “where’s the balance” of Christian ethical wrestlings has fallen away with trying to hold the usual balance. Holding red & white side by side & not turning to pink. Also not being tied to holding one and never touching the other. Holding two blazing virtues and holding the contradiction too.

    With a new understanding you are free to fast and to feast; mourn & celebrate; wash feet & have your feet washed.

    See that you were worthless and have been made valuable, “the crown of creation and the chief of all sinners.”

    Orthodoxy – Chapter 6 is all over this.
    Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposite. Of course they were not really inconsistent; but they were such that it was hard to hold simultaneously.

    So it is also, of course, with the contradictory charges of the anti-Christians about submission and slaughter. It IS true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it IS true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be SOME good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be SOME good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. The Tolstoyans, having all the scruples of monks, simply became monks……The real problem is—Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved.

  28. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    The problem is we think Christianity is a paradox between “Believing in what Jesus has accomplished on my behalf” and “doing good works.” And it is, in a sense. But only in a qualified sense.

    It would all be very well if we would stay out of a Law-based, Old Covenant paradigm of “I am working for God, trying to do good and advance His Kingdom.” But most of us don’t. In fact, we use the wrong paradox – faith + my works – and then we slip easily to the works side of this unbalanced contradiction. In other words, we go right back into the Old Covenant.

    The paradox to balance is between faith in what Christ has done on my behalf (I died and rose in Him, and now He lives within me) and seeing the manifestation of that Spirit come through us.

    In order to do that we have to use words, even with ourselves; really, there is no way around it. Words help hook our faith up to the right object.

    All faith, even natural faith, or wrongly placed faith, produces action; it gets us in gear. In that sense there is no such thing as no-faith. Misplaced faith may even look good; going to church every Sunday, helping the poor. Or it might be (and look) bad: drunkenness, debauchery, and such – or drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. Misplaced faith.

    Words are what give faith a ‘handle.’ With words, we have something to hang onto. God saves those who believe by the foolishness of preaching – and by preaching Paul meant “proclamation”: words.

    Words look like foolishness to us. We always want to act. “Just tell me what I have to do.” Give me the short version. Give me 10 steps to improving myself, in easy-to-read bullet point fashion.

    But words have power. God spoke words, and nothing became everything. Jesus spoke, “Lazarus, come forth” and a dead man rose. He said, “It is finished,” and it was. When we use words, we commit; when we use words, we command. That’s how God commits; that’s how God commands nothing to become everything. Words.

    The Gospel, when it is truly preached, is powerful. When it is mixed with Law, that is, with human self-effort, the power is mitigated or sometimes altogether washed out. The Gospel that Jesus died for me, and I died in Him, that He rose, and I rose in Him, that I am now dead to sin and Law, no longer under the schoolmaster of self-effort – that I am now whole, holy, loved, complete in Christ, and accepted by God, and am indwelt and kept by the Spirit – these truths liberate us, truly free us to be our real selves. Any mitigation by Law lessens the beauty and impact, and shoves us right back into the stress and fear of the Old Covenant: “Do this and you’ll be blessed; fail and you’ll be cursed.”

    Words are crucial. Preach the Gospel. Use words because we must. Rely on that divine Word within us to express His life through us.

    Real faith in the words of the Gospel translates to real, Christ-driven action.

  29. Paul Hutchinson

    “Words are crucial. Preach the Gospel. Use words because we must. Rely on that divine Word within us to express His life through us.

    Real faith in the words of the Gospel translates to real, Christ-driven action.”

    Fair enough Ron – no disputing this at all.

    But I think it’s still okay to affirm with St Francis(*) that “actions speak louder than words”, without being somehow guilty of claiming that either my words or my actions (my feeding of the poor, my radio preaching ministry, or even my careful recital of the sinners prayer) justify me before God.

    Only God’s grace justifies me before God, accepted through faith.

    (n.b. * = allegedly!)

  30. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Paul, yes. Only Grace justifies us. I know you aren’t saying works justify.

    My words are on a different tack – not justification, but holy living, love-for-God-and-others. Divine manifestation. The Word makes us holy channels of His life. That’s what I’m getting at. The Word, eaten by us, produces life change, so that we become manifestations of divine energy. It is not our human energy that does this. It is God. Paul, in Col 1, after speaking of “the mystery which has been hid from ages…Christ in you, the hope of glory…” says, “Whom we preach, admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect, complete, in Christ Jesus. For this cause I also labor, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily.”

    That last phrase, after speaking of Christ-in-you, is this:
    “For this reason I toil, labor, agonizing or contending as in the Olympic games according to His energy, which energizes me like dynamite.”

    kopiao – toil, labor
    agonizomai -agonize or contend
    energeo – energy, power.
    energeia – verb form – to empower, energize.
    dunamis – power, might, strength – from which we get “dynamite.”

    So what I am getting at is not justification – God being satisfied and through Christ seeing us as “just like God,” “Not guilty.” I am speaking more of the active faith which produces fruit. It is reliance on this inner Power that produces the holy life God desires – not our striving and trying on our own steam to be holy. We’re to look in the mirror and see what God sees – Christ in us, the hope of glory. When I do that, my actions change accordingly, not due to anything I’m trying to do, but simply because I have then connected to who Christ is in me, and who I really am in Him. This unified life is what God is after; it is the whole purpose of Jesus coming, dying, rising. God wants union with us, not just conceptually, but actually.

    And – He does this through dropping His powerful words into our consciousness, and opening our inner eyes to really see their meaning. We think of words as an intellectual exercise, but they’re not. Words are powerful.

    To wrap up, if the words we are hearing preached are not changing our lives through Christ – if they are condemning us, or making us feel not-as-good-as – if they are bringing a hard yoke and a heavy burden – if they are pulling us down rather than satisfying us with God’s complete satisfaction with us in Christ – if they are not building us up so that we see Christ in the mirror – flee. Find God’s words, and not the words of men or devils. God’s words bring powerful inner motivation and life change, an easy yoke and a light burden.

  31. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Before any action, a faith-word is spoken. (I’m not talking distortions of this truth, Corvettes and designer clothes for Jesus, so let’s let that go).

    A faith-word is spoken. “I will go to Canada in July.” We commit by the word spoken. We act.

    Word comes first; the word, held to, causes action. We speak in faith. “I will go to Canada in July.” We act; we buy the plane tickets.

    Before Christ did anything, the Godhead committed to the Plan. God spoke. “We will do such and such.” We see echoes of it in Genesis. The Seed of the Serpent will bruise the heel of the Seed of the Woman; the Seed of the Woman will crush the Serpent’s head. But God committed by word to this plan before the foundation of the world; He chose us in Christ before it all.

    Desire/idea; word; action.

    Dorothy Sayers wrote a great book on this called The Mind of the Maker, about the creative act of the artist in light of the Trinity. The Father-Idea, the Son is the speaker and outworking of the Idea, and the Spirit is the response that comes as a result of the Son’s outworked Idea.

  32. S.D. Smith

    I hear you, Paul. I think we are cool. The part you quoted left out the clue to what I meant, but it may have been a little hazy.

    “…and could be a reduction from a disembodied idea of Jesus as Gospel…”

    That was intentional. “Disembodied” is the key word there. I meant the loosey-goosey idea of “Just love Jesus,” and “Deeds, not Creeds” nonsense that attaches us exactly nowhere and enthrones each silly individual to do what seems right to them with no accountability, no connection to God-ordained authority.

    There’s a lot of “Well, what this MEANS TO ME…” stuff, which is a popular, profound absurdity.

    I am arguing for, as Ron said, the attachment and clarity of Words. The “whatever we and God are doing in the world” gospel is not really much good news to me. And the popular “Doubt as Creed” fad has a kind of apparent humility, but is really very proud in its dismissive attitude toward clear teaching in the Bible.

    A humble, submissive orthodoxy is needed, in my view. We don’t need a thousand petty tyrants giving us their religion. We need careful, humble teachers who place themselves under the authority of the Word of God and proclaim with clarity the Good News.

  33. Chris Barrett

    To a certain degree I believe how we are to share the Gospel depends on our relationship to the person we encounter. Will we have an ongoing relationship with them or is this the moment God has ordained for someone? Although we can’t predict what life will bring, the old evangelical threat of imminent death is not a useful tool. We preach the Good News, not the threat of bad news.

    I agree that our relationship with Christ should be so primary that talk of Him should not be a task to be executed, but the overflow of the love, wonder and joy we find in Him and He in us. If it is agenda rather than overflow, Jesus understands and works through it and in spite of it. I always admire those whose sharing of their faith is seamless. I suspect that speaks to their integrity and transparency. It is who they are. I also believe that our view should be informed by Scripture, but also by experience. Jesus and Paul spoke to their relationship with God. Their Scriptural arguments flowed from that.

    I’ve heard someone talk about how often we evangelize people into “inadequate births into the Kingdom.” In our efforts to do God’s work, we forget He is already at work in the lives of those we encounter. Who of us had our faith hinge on one encounter? Very few, I presume. I know for me it was the words, lives and prayers of many that won my heart. When the Holy Spirit does inspire an encounter, we should speak boldly and proclaim the Good News.

    I suspect that many of us in our new Christian zealousness alienated family and friends with our desire to preach the Good News. Between our bumbling and their unwillingness to believe we were changed (and often, we weren’t too different), their eyes and ears were not opened. In the process of being healed from our past and living into the promise that we are new creations, we were a part of winning their hearts.

    A story that still makes me smile is one of my sister sharing her struggles in her marriage with me. It had been a particularly difficult patch for her and she called often to vent. I always tried to “fix” what was broken, something that was not helpful to her. On one occasion, she called just as I had returned from a youth group camping trip. I’d had no sleep and I took the phone into my room and laid down as she spoke. Twenty minutes later I awoke to her saying, “Thanks, that was the best talk we’ve had in a long time.” All she needed at the moment was to be heard. Over time, she has continued to move closer to Christ. I just needed to get out of the way.

  34. David H

    I have to disagree that the Gospel is words. That would be the same as insisting the Kingdom of God is simply a geographical location with a storybook castle or a nation or a political party/system. Worse it would be like proclaiming that The Word that was with God before the beginning of time is, in fact, the same as an actual word or words that can be printed on paper, stitched together, bound within a cover and placed upon a shelf.

    Maybe, just maybe, God’s concept of WORD is more like a metaphor. Perhaps a mind so profound that it could think a living universe refers to what we call words because that is all our little brains can comprehend?

    And, as someone who regularly talks to non-Christians about what I believe, I can attest that many of them see Christianity as being way too much about words. Moreover, to those outsiders it seems that many Christians can’t always agree on what those words are, much less what they mean.

    From talking with numerous people who call themselves Christians, I can’t be sure that all (or even most) desire “a humble, submissive orthodoxy” much less have any idea how to find that in the cacophonous clamor of competing “Christian” doctrines.

    “We don’t need a thousand petty tyrants giving us their religion. We need careful, humble teachers who place themselves under the authority of the Word of God and proclaim with clarity the Good News.”

    Absolutely. So how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? How do we get everyone on the same page? How do you or I prove that our words are the real Good News?

    Jesus used fruit as a metaphor in explaining to his disciples how to accomplish such discernment. That would seem to indicate something more than just words and/or deeds. But even that concept can be confusing.

    I personally know a number of Christians who are able to tell me exactly what they believe, especially when it comes to how I should live my life, and verify it (beyond “the Bible says so”) by pointing to the blessings of bank account or their place of birth. Many in this nation can’t separate the oil of American culture from the living water. But that doesn’t dissuade their belief they KNOW the gospel truth.

    Which begs the question: Even if you are absolutely sure you are absolutely right, would it be better to remain silent? Or should all who are convinced say what they want and let the spirit sort it out?

    Yes, accountability and God-ordained authority are important, but given the mess that constitutes the various so-called orthodox Christianties I am far more comfortable with people who are humbly trying to ACT like they love Jesus (no matter how nebulous or loosey-goosey their belief system) than with the many absolutely confident Christians telling everyone how they should ACT.

    Perhaps such unguided attempts at good works don’t mean much to the righteous, but they can be darn useful (and considerably less tiresome) to those in need.

    Please, forgive me if I come off a little harsh on this subject. I really do agree with the core concept of talking about Jesus as the fulcrum for my life. But I find much here that is judgmental and dismissive of those who may be trying to do right for good reasons despite an uncertain faith. Quite frankly, if REAL Christians were doing a better job of living like Christ there might not be so much of that squishy stuff going around.

    Let me explain.

    As a child growing up in and around fundamentalist churches I can remember hearing people admonished to do good even if they didn’t feel like it because if they did good (even for the wrong reasons) then, eventually, the proper feelings would follow.

    The result I witnessed was not just self-righteous people acting in order to win human praise, but also real servants who got used up and burned out.

    At the same time I heard a lot about proclaiming the name of Jesus. What I saw were countless cases of people bartering charitable acts for ears. The offer was essentially that you pay for my charity by listening to me talk about the free gift of salvation. It might be humorously ironic if it wasn’t so sadly wrong.

    My sister has actually told me that there is no value in simply doing good for someone if they don’t know you are doing it for Jesus. I don’t just find that disagreeable, I find it un-Christ-like.

    Jesus, in one difficult passage, promises an eternal reward to anyone — even if they are unaware — who gives a gift to the least of his followers. And he assures damnation to those who believe themselves righteous who don’t do likewise. The goats aren’t condemned for their lack of words but their lack of works. What the sheep receive doesn’t seem to require that they ever hear, much less believe, words of the gospel. They are rewarded for living something they may not understand.

    Finally, I learned through my biological father that both the right words and good deeds can be used for evil. It wasn’t what he said or did, but why.

    My dad was a consummate preacher and he was always leading the missionary charge. Most who know him still consider him a living saint. His wife and children came to realize that he was a wolf with angel wings. Appearing righteous helped him exploit the vulnerable and camouflage his real intent from everyone else.

    It isn’t just what you say or what you do. Intent also plays a major role.

    But the issue isn’t balance, as if there can be a proper equilibrium between those things. I believe the key ingredient is abandon.

    A few days back I posted something on this site about first kisses, first loves and the like.

    I asked how people acted toward that first true love of their life. Did they remain silent? Did they tell some people but not really do anything? Or did that love bubble out of them unstoppably in words and deeds, thoughts and actions? Did their sense of love and devotion push logic right out the window, putting heart in charge of what they said and did?

    The real issue is not to suss out how many teaspoons of tongue and how many dashes of do along with just the right brand of purpose are in the recipe for the perfect Christian life. The question to me is why can’t I hold on to the desire to act like a new lover would? If I could hold onto that sense of overwhelming love — Jesus for me and me for him — then how I act and what I say would naturally find the proper measure.

    Love, I would argue, is the pre-requisite for everything. God loved us, so he sent his son. His son loved us, so he sacrificed himself. If we love him, then we will act and speak accordingly. Love leads to trust/faith and then, finally, to life.

    Did God give us leeway because of love? Did he cut human beings a break? Did he provide an escape clause from Old Testament orthodoxy? Would that be one way to describe grace?

    If so, then perhaps the first focus of Christian faith should not be proclamation. Maybe its initial tenant is not to preach the proper gospel.

    Possibly the foundation for everything, the kernel of the Gospel, is love others as God loves me. If I could do that, it might clarify everything for me and everyone I meet.

  35. Paul Hutchinson

    Hiya Sam

    I don’t disagree with what you’re saying here. But there was a reason I skipped over your use of the word “disembodied” – to me, it confused the issue somewhat. I can see now that you are using it in a (rather counter-intuitive) sense of meaning “deeds without creeds”.

    To me, the more intuitive meaning of the word “disembodied” is actually “creeds without deeds” – that is the kind of approach which I do encounter quite a lot, and I do take objection to it as being anti-incarnational. But since that’s not what you yourself are arguing for, I have no problem that you object to “deeds without creeds”. (Maybe another word is required for this – “disnarratived” perhaps? :-))

    Hi Ron

    Thankyou for your thoughtful and inspiring post.

    We are agreed that it is Grace that justifies us.
    We are agreed that it is God’s transforming Word that sets us free and enables us to live holy lives.
    (Although I would also submit that this is brought about by God’s holy action through the Son and the Spirit)

    My main point, returning to the St Francis quote – “Preach the gospel at all times, use words if you must” – is to ask this: In this holy life that God calls us to, equips us for, and enables within us, what is the more basic part of this calling – Walking the Walk, or Talking the Talk?

    (I do take David H’s point, though, that splitting the two apart may be misleading. David – thanks so much for your thoroughly incisive post :-))

  36. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Paul,

    We cannot walk the walk without talking the talk. They go hand in hand, as you alluded to concerning David H’s point. But Word comes first. We have to preach the Word, in season, out of season, even to ourselves. Otherwise we are beset by world-think; performance-based acceptance, conditional love, and every kind of deceptive, sinful thought pattern that will hinder the growth of the living Word within us.

    There are those who talk the talk without the walk. This is not faith; it is merely intellectual acceptance of ideas about God. To faithe is to “bet the farm.” God said it; I believe it and say it, too – I say it with Him, in agreement that what He says is the only Reality. This first happens with initial salvation: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

    This initial faith-ing and verbal confession is just the beginning. Then we are called to continually speak out God’s promises, and God’s statements of Reality. We are called continually to go against the seen realm, the world of the senses, of circumstance, of what other people say, and even of inner thoughts and feelings. Against all this we set the Word of God; we faithe in it, we speak out its Reality; the Word is a Rock; mixed with faith, it will smash all earth-bound patterns of thought in us; it literally recreates our thoughts, attitudes, and actions by this pattern of “I believe, therefore I speak.”

    This pattern is the foundation of all righteous action. We faithe, we speak, we go forward and act.

    The two, faith and the resulting action, cannot be separated.

    The problem is we want to “do.” “Just tell me what to do.” “Just tell me the rules.” So we set about doing good works. “I give to the poor and help at the soup kitchen and…” Those are good things. But if they are prompted by a sense of guilt, or a desire to be admired by others, or any of a number of other flesh-motives, these good works are going to burn. The only thing that counts is faith which expresses itself through love.

    So we can’t separate faith and action; they are inseparable. Real Word-birthed faith always results in action. Intellectual assent to ideas about God, about Christ, do not.

    Faith without works is merely this intellectual assent, and as such is dead faith. It is a paralyzed Body because faith, reliance, trust – betting the farm – are what connect us to the Head.

    But works without faith are damnable. It is a Body completely ignoring the Head.

  37. Paul Hutchinson

    Hi Ron

    I can’t help but feel that our conversation is going round in circles – in which case, I should probably back off from the discussion.

    You keep coming back to asserting that God’s Word, and the words of our faith will always precede human action.

    I completely agree. THOSE words must undoubtedly come first. (Although once again I’d like to point out that God’s Action, whilst issuing from his Word, also necessarily precedes our words of faith).

    But the words that I’m speaking of (and the words that St Francis is allegedly speaking of) are the words where we address other human beings – where we preach and exhort to others. With St Francis, I would say that such words can only have credibility and meaning coming from the context of a life that demonstrates God’s love and transforming power; a life where we make God’s love known, not in order to win converts, but in order to share the love that his been given freely to us, and to stand against the injustice that is an offense to God’s kingdom.

    But every time I say this, you come back to me and say that God’s Word and our human words of faith come first.

    And yes they do.

    But those simply aren’t the type of words I’m speaking of…

    Am I making any sense at all, or should I give up at this point?

  38. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Paul, no, I do understand you.

    I think, to a degree, we are making a similar point in part. And yes, God’s action of prompting our faith does come first – He does it through the Word most often.

    What I am trying to say is that a Christian life which is mostly just intellectual assent to ideas about God will not change other lives, no matter how much we preach at people.

    Conversely, a life which is merely human flesh action trying to do good will not change the lives of others in an eternal sense, either.

    In order to change other lives we have to co-create our new life with God on an ongoing basis. We do this by the process of “saying with God.” We renew our minds to Biblical reality (Actual Reality) and so find our lives being transformed.

    As this is happening, we catch fire. We eat the Truth by faith, and what we take by faith ends up taking us. The flame grows. And this inner fire begins to spread to others. Christianity is caught by good infection, as Lewis said.

    This is done both by words and actions. Sometimes there is a time for just action and no words. Other times it is words and no actions. Everything, words and actions, must come out of this Fire. And I don’t mean merely human feelings of passion. I mean an inner fire that burns as we eat the Word. “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” It is this heart-burning, this love, that is awakened through hearing the Word and having faith flame up.

    Without this faith-flame everything we do will be dry bones, done from Law, flesh-effort, the desire for approval from men, guilt, or other motives.

    That’s what I’m getting at. All in all I would say we preach the Gospel with words (and God-words have power), and underscore the words with action.

    But again, none of this will have any effect without us first preaching the Gospel – with words – to ourselves, having faith rise up, and burning with that holy unction.

    We can do good actions for people and just have them thinking we are “nice.”

    We can preach words to them and have them think we are sanctimonious humbugs.

    But if we burn with that holy passion that comes from that prayer-closet preaching the Gospel to ourselves, both our words and our actions will point others to Christ. And that’s the point of the whole matter.

  39. Paul Hutchinson

    Hey Ron

    Yes, I do see what you’re getting at – that it all comes from a real encounter with God’s Truth, not from guilt or from human self-effort. And I am really quite impressed with the quality of your prose in each of the emails that lay out your proposal. 🙂

    I am frustrated because I agree with absolutely everything you say. It’s just that I don’t see where any of it really stands in contradiction with the following maxim, which is my own proposal (but which you really seem to be shying away from engaging with):

    “When people encounter the transforming love of God, and they are changed from the inside out, before preaching TO OTHER PEOPLE of the reality of God’s love and truth, it’s good that the transforming effect of this love is known in their own life and behaviour, not just because of the credibility and influence it lends to their preaching to others, but because living by God’s love is an inherently good thing.”

    Yes? No?

  40. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Paul: Absolutely.

    The reason I’ve seemed to shy away from the maxim is that I am pointing to the only way to do that – faith in Christ Himself, and reliant, trusting, resting abiding in Him, which can come only from contact with His statements on Reality and, through that, contact with Him.

    If we get that contact, all systems are go. We will be a light to others, not just by our words but by our attitudes and actions. There is no way to come in contact with Christ, real relationship, and not love others. To abide is to love others; one flows from the other spontaneously.

    And you are correct; without living that transformed life, our words to people in most cases will be just words, and not paradigm-exploding, Spirit-filled smart bombs that enter the consciousness and wait for an opportune moment. Without a reality of love coming through us that people can see, all we can offer them is words they won’t accept. What people are looking for are faith, hope, and love. If we’re constantly showing the world around us fear, hopelessness, and hatred, we’d better start reading 1John again.

    I think the reason I continually point to first principles is that I have seen in my own life and in the lives of other people the tendency to jump to doing rather than being, to frenetic outer activity that is born of human effort rather than the action which springs from inner rest. We are so easily engaged by the world, by getting identity, security, worth, meaning from it, because we can see it. Better to make sure we are seeing the One we can’t see – and everything explodes outward from there, like Big Bang theory.

    Real inner strength gives gracefulness to activity. Figure skaters and ballet dancers are incredibly strong; it takes a lot of strength to display that kind of grace. I think the world is looking for God’s people to have that kind of gracefulness, that ease, freedom, spontaneity, and cheer that is the hallmark of someone relying on the inner source of Christ, our life, our strength.

  41. David H

    “But works without faith are damnable.”

    Can’t help but point once again to Matt 25 and say I can’t entirely agree with this. Maybe you mean for self-proclaimed Christians?

    I sweep the floor at home and wash the dishes not because of faith or love of God, but because those are jobs that need to be done. Having spent quite a bit of time talking to atheists, I know that many of them are quite altruistic. When they care for the sick and the poor it often isn’t for recognition or guilt or some other self-serving reason. It is a job to be done. Somebody has to do it.

    Frankly, some of those folks do their “good” works with less strings than many Christian organizations. It sort of seems like intent remains important whether you are serving God or simply serving your fellow man. However, for the self-proclaimed Christian the WHY may be more critical and — if wrong — could erase any spiritual value to doing right.

    As for the Word (which often is prefixed with transforming), I have heard that term used in all sorts of contexts in my 50 years. More importantly, I have heard it used to justify all sorts of things. I’m not disagreeing with its importance just a) insisting it isn’t The Bible, b) maintaining that if it does not have a transcendental quality (i.e. something that goes beyond simply words) then it isn’t much, and c) suggesting that since the uses, purposes and definitions of The Word have been made so malleable by “Christians” that maybe preaching it — whatever IT is — is not be where I would start.

    I consider that last part critical because Christianity as a (fractured) institution and Christians as forgiven (but often still lost) individuals seem to have little cohesiveness on what they are preaching to themselves, much less others.

    It seems to me that relationship comes first — both God to me and, then, me to others. I need to accept that my faith walk begins and never ends with the work of embracing and understanding the true nature of that relationship. Some of that, I believe, goes beyond words.

    IF I am doing anything for God IN ORDER TO store up treasures in heaven, then I don’t understand and am not living the proper relationship. If there is any transactional nature — he did something for me, now I MUST do something for him — then the relationship dynamics are wrong. There is no quid pro quo here. God gave me something I didn’t ask for, certainly didn’t expect, given his purported nature, and can’t ever earn or repay. I can feel guilty about that or accept that he gave me a gift freely and that any gifts I give him are not a form of recompense, just a way of saying: “I LOVE YOU, too.”
    Children provide an apt example of what I mean in their giving gifts of little or no physical value at Christmas, birthdays, parents days, etc. They are not trying to pay us back for our parentage (the food, the clothing, the trips to wherever); they are not trying to give us something of commensurate monetary value to the gadgets and gewgaws exchanged by adults. They are giving something that has value to them simply to demonstrate their love.

    This is important because it establishes the template for my relationships with others. I believe such relationships are good and necessary precursors to preaching the Gospel. But beyond that, I believe that they are a part of the Gospel that is not simply words.

    The Word is Jesus — nothing more and nothing less. We learn about the Word through a number of means, including The Bible, but relationship is the most critical component to that learning. Not simply my relationship to Jesus, but also to those people and things through which I am coming to know him.

    Putting relationship first and foremost then serves to help focus preaching the Gospel, to myself and others, on what it is truly about and away from those human things that have served to corrupt and confuse the Good News since shortly after Jesus ascended.

    Unfortunately, even with Christians, relationships with each other and even institutions like churches are based on human templates. They are about identity, security, (self) worth, etc. We force our relationship with God and his son into that same twisted box and then, not surprisingly, find that cramps and twists the Gospel we preach.

    The world likely would respond to people walking and talking the grace of God. But that begins with those people of God embracing and exporting the inhuman relationship at the heart of grace.

  42. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    David,

    When I say “works without faith are damnable” I mean just that. I don’t mean believers who do works without faith are damned. I mean the works themselves will be burned up as per 1Cor 3. We build with the same building materials with which the foundation is built – as Paul asks, “Did you receive Christ by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith” and then goes on to say, “As you began in the Spirit, so walk in Him.” We walk the same way we started – by faith.

    Most of the rest of your post I agree with. Relationship is first. After responding to Paul earlier today I read this for May 27 in Cowman’s Springs in the Valley, written by the great missionary George Mueller, well worth reading:

    “The first thing to be concerned about (daily) is not how much I might serve the Lord; but how I might get my soul in a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord and not being strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in the right spirit. Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing to give myself to prayer after having dressed myself in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditate on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, and encouraged, warmed, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.”

    “I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were every verse to get a blessing out of it, not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching upon what I had meditated upon, but for obtaining food for my own soul.”

    “The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to supplication; so that, though I did not as it were give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all as I go on into prayer for myself or others as the Word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation.”

    “Formerly I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour on my knees, before being conscious of having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etcetera and often, after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began to really pray. I scarcely ever suffer now in this way; for my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with God, I speak to my Father and to my Friend about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word. It often now astonishes me that I did not sooner see this point.”

  43. David H

    Damnable:
    1. worthy of condemnation.
    2. detestable, abominable, or outrageous.

    I got your intent and purpose. I grew up around that word and its variations. I have found it to be a word that, unsurprisingly, can block some relationships from growing or even forming in the first place. As a result, I tend to think very carefully about proper usage.

  44. Paul Hutchinson

    Hey Ron

    “I think the reason I continually point to first principles is that I have seen in my own life and in the lives of other people the tendency to jump to doing rather than being, to frenetic outer activity that is born of human effort rather than the action which springs from inner rest”.

    Okay, peace. I can see you’re not disagreeing with the substance of my point, you just have something else you fundamentally need to emphasize. (Something which I am taking for granted). If I commend good works, then it is part of your makeup to shift the terms of the discussion, and insist on where the motivation and source for where such good work can only come from.

    I’m guessing you’re Lutheran. Am I right? 🙂

    I could say two things:

    1) Preach the gospel at all times, mainly by the way you live your life
    or
    2) Preach the gospel at all times, mainly by the things you say

    The 1st proposal might be in danger of encouraging human self effort – but the 2nd proposal is not one bit in any less danger. Preachers and orators are no less in danger of the snares of legalism than humanitarians are.

    If however by the word “gospel” we mean “the good news of the Lord who loves us unconditionally and sent his Son in order for us to be free, and sends his Spirit in order for us to be free to love”, then we are set free to preach this good news by the way we live, and by the things we say. But since all communication is something like 80% non-verbal, the freely inspired preaching that people will listen to most is the preaching of the way you live your life.

  45. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Paul,

    Every age has its particular emphases. In our age I find more of us going over one side or the other.

    I would change the quote.

    “Preach the Gospel, that our sins are forgiven, that we died and resurrected in Christ, that we are new creations in Christ; the old has gone, the new has come! Preach the Good News, that Christ now lives in us and is our power source to love others. And preach this primarily to yourself every day. Then go out and love others, and use words where necessary.”

    I’ve never been Lutheran. I was raised Baptist and had my Baptist framework very nearly completely shattered in the mid-nineties. I retained the basic tenets of the faith – but how to live the Christian life was totally up for grabs. I finally came to the Bible as a child instead of always seeing it through the filter of my theological framework (“This means this and that means that”); I no longer put things into categories of “Yes, but.” I began taking the Bible seriously – that is, in most cases, literally. When it says I am dead to sin, I believe it. When it says I am no longer under the Law – self-effort based holiness – I believe it. When it says I am dead, and now Christ lives in me as my life – I rely on that, without adding a bunch of qualifying “buts.”

    My wife was raised Pentacostal. I went to a Presby church for ten years. So I call myself a Baptacostalyterian. But of course I also read widely – Lewis and MacDonald, Spurgeon, A.B. Simpson, Norman Grubb, Tozer, and many others, and get food where I may.

    We are all in danger of going off one side or the other – making conversion merely an intellectual assent to ideas about God, or making our relationship with God conditional based upon what works we do. The real root problem is an entrenched idea that we are separate from God, rather than recognizing the union reality that actually exists between a regenerated human and Christ. Entrenching that idea of separation in the human mind has been Satan’s idea from the beginning – to have us trying to be like God by our human effort rather than having God dwell in us and be the source of all virtue and power.

    Every day, and in every temptation moment, we make that choice – am I an indwelt, kept, safe self, full of ability, power, and virtue in Christ? Or am I a miserable sinner, saved by grace, barely able to limp along until Heaven?

    So – my ability to preach the Gospel to others, whether by how I live or by words, is completely dependent on that inner choice I make every day, and sometimes every moment. Everything else flows from that.

    You may already know these things and take them as “given.” But I’m always aware when I write on these public discussion areas that there may be those reading who don’t, so I make my comments a little wide at times. If we were speaking or writing one-on-one I’d probably take a different tack.

  46. Chris Barrett

    Ron B & Paul H,

    Thank you both for finding the grace to clarify and listen to each other. In so many settings we shut each other down at one point or another. You have both shown great patience and respect for one another in this discussion. That is such a sign of God’s grace and both your desires for unity.

  47. Paul Hutchinson

    Fair enough Ron, I can sign up to your modified version of the quote.

    I see that I guessed wrong about your denominational background – its just that “the verses you have underlined in your Bible” seem to be the same ones that the Lutherans usually underline (or so I’m told) 🙂
    (I’ve borrowed this image of different denominations underlining different verses in their Bibles from the late Rich Mullins, of course…)

    (And I grew up Baptist myself, currently (Irish) Presbyterian, also reading fairly widely).

    I recognise what you’re saying about aiming your comments about a wide readership. But even so, I think that there are a multitude of ways that what we say can be open to misinterpretation. Saying that words are more important than actions is one potential pitfall. David may have highlighted another in saying that works without faith are damnable. Possibly true in a technical sense, but potentially aggressive towards all those irreligious folk who chose to spend time and energy looking after the people on the margins of society, putting us followers of Christ to shame.

    But nonetheless, I get what you’re saying. Blessings 🙂

  48. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Chris, I think unity comes from seeing Christ in the other guy.

    Paul, yes, using the word “damnable” was technically correct but not well-considered. I don’t do much editing when I write these posts due to time constraints; I type pretty fast, read it over once, and hit send, so sometimes a few details escape me.

    I have several different Bibles, each representing different periods in my life. The verses underlined are radically different. There has been a movement from “Do this and that” verses to “This is who you are” verses, with the resulting effect being that when I am relying on who I am in Christ, I do the this-es and thats. Relying on the indwelling Spirit results in loving my wife and not being harsh, loving my children and not discouraging them, doing good work, loving and forgiving enemies, and all that. And of course, when I step back into living in Romans 7 temporarily, life is a living hell.

  49. Dryad

    The Baptists have to hide their books in the closet…for fear of being banished from the potlucks.
    It’s sad, but true.

  50. Paul Hutchinson

    Not the Baptists I gre up with, Dryad. They were conservative, but not close-minded.
    Thanks to Chris for his comment 🙂

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