Theology made simple
Jesus repeated Hebrew law when he taught to love your neighbor. He took it further in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) when he said to also love your enemy.
Saint Paul, for all he’s accused of being full of law and of not being Jesus summed up Jesus whole teaching in one verse:
Galatians 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
One of my favorite passages in the epistles is from Saint John:
1 John 4: 16-21 NIV
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Keep that in mind, “God is love.”
Now let’s try a little thought experiment. First let’s take Paul’s famous “Love chapter,” read at a lot of weddings and on Christian Valentine’s Day cards. It’s so well known, lots of non Christians are familiar with it. Only let’s replace the word “love” every time it occurs with the word “God.” This will tell us about God’s character and personality.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV 4 God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. 5 God does not dishonor others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. 6 God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Interesting, huh? I know, it may be easier to use the name Jesus instead of God because many of us imagine Gad the Father as stern and just and someone who enforces law. But remember, Jesus teaches that God’s greatest commandment is to love, even to pray for those that persecute us. And of course John says that God IS love and Paul says that love is patient, kind, doesn’t envy, etc. So….
Okay, one more. There’s a big movement going around in fundamentalist, or at least Evangelical, Christian-nationalist circles that says that we’re supposed to fight a big culture war for God and thereby dominate everyone else (non Evangelicals). They even talk about seven areas to “take dominion” and compare them to the seven hills around the city of Rome: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government.
First off, as a devout follower of Jesus who’s studied the Bible for many years, I could’ve sworn that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus, not to me or us. In fact, in Philippians chapter 2, Paul makes it pretty clear that in spite of being entitled to all authority, Jesus instead chooses humility and that we should follow that example. In other words, Christianity is supposed to be love, not power, kindness, not control. Mercy should triumph over judgment (James 2:13).
If you don’t get that love is supreme, I’m not sure you really get Jesus.
One last thought experiment. Let’s take a passage that the dominionists like to use, only where we replaced the word love in 1 Corinthians 13, let’s replace the word “God” in 2 Corinthians 10, after all love isn’t just God’s name, it’s really who God is.
2 Corinthians 10:5-8 NIV5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of love, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to love. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.7 You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to love, they should consider again that we belong to love just as much as they do. 8 So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the love gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, plenty of people claim to believe in Jesus, but do they believe what Jesus believes? I for one believe in love.
Jesus & Growth Mindset
My morning devotions this year consist of reading a thru-the-New Testament-in-a-Year Bible. Which means that since Summer, I’ve been re-reading Paul’s letters to the Romans, the Corinthians (both letters) and now to the Galatians.
Most people know Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles (thus all these letters to people not in Jerusalem). Most Christians are familiar with the story of Paul’s (formerly known as Saul’s) conversion in Acts 9.
Something dawned on me recently about Saul’s conversion. Most people seem to think that it was from non-believer to believer, but that’s not really it.
Saul was already a believer, just not in Jesus as the promised Messiah. Saul believed in God. “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” Philippians 3:4b-6
Saul was a zealous believer. He believed that it was his duty to defend his faith and to enforce God’s laws. But once Saul became Paul, once he had “seen the light” (literally, Acts 9:3), he realized that God doesn’t need defending, that Jesus Himself was the only one to ever completely fulfill God’s laws and that faith wasn’t something handed down by bloodline that needs to be protected or enforced, but a gift from God’s Spirit.
Saul was about law. Paul was about Gospel. Saul was about anger and hate and fear. Paul was about service and sacrifice. Saul was about condemnation and exclusion. Paul was about consolation and inclusion. Saul was about circumcision. Paul was about faith.
Instead of seeing himself proudly as God’s enforcer, he realized with humility that God’s “…grace is sufficient for you, for [God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
In other words- It’s not about Saul/Paul. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about us. It’s about God’s love. His grace. Jesus’ work on the cross. Not our work. Not Christianity’s work. Him. Not us. It was never about us. It was only FOR us.
Paul didn’t get converted from non-believer to believer. I prefer not to think of it as from Jew to “Christian” either. I kinda think he was converted from fixed mindset to growth mindset. From enforcer to disciple. From religion to relationship.
According to Carol Dweck’s bestseller, ‘Growth Mindset,’ those with a “fixed mindset” are certain that they either know it all and don’t need to learn anymore, or are certain that they can’t learn, grow or succeed and are therefore hopeless. Whereas those with a “growth mindset” are humble enough to know that there is always more to learn.
Similarly, eminent psychologist William Glasser in, his choice theory or reality theory, believed that there are two kinds of behaviors; controlling and connecting. Like fixed mindset people, those who spend their energy controlling others tend to blame, accuse and condemn. These people look only toward their own self interests.
Whereas those who work toward connecting with others take on responsibilities even when they aren’t obligated to (Christ-like, kinda like Philippians 2:1-18).
It’s not about right and wrong. It’s not about good and bad. It’s not about relative and absolute. It’s about faith, hope, and love. Grace, mercy, and peace. Forgiveness, compassion and fellowship. Mostly, it’s about love.
Jesus said that you can tell a tree by it’s fruit. John said that you can tell Christians by their love. I’m no Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I think that you can tell the difference between a religious person and a disciple by their mindset.
If you think God needs you to to expand his kingdom by writing His law into legislation or by preserving traditions or protecting His plans. If you think you need to control or maintain power over this sinful world for His sake… You’re religious.
If you know that God’s power is made perfect in your weakness. If you recognize that there’s nothing you can do, but instead that there’s nothing God can’t do through you. If you understand that true leadership is only accomplished through servant-hood… you’re on the road to discipleship.
We’re saved only by God’s amazing GRACE, though faith in Him- so no one can brag or boast or be proud about what they’ve done for God. They can only be humbled, amazed, grateful and maybe flabbergasted by everything He uses us to accomplish with, through, for and in spite of us! (Ephesians 6:8-10)