When you undergo deep inner transformation, you begin to awake to the reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ. You begin to sense and see unconditional love of the Father toward humankind, and you begin to flow in his divine power to bring about genuine transformative changes in people, places, and situations. You begin to feel like you’ve finally found the pearl of great price, and you can’t wait to share your findings with those around you.
And here comes the reality check. There might be an array of unexpected reactions coming from those who are supposed to have all the right answers. If that wasn’t your situation, and you had seasoned, mature, secure mentors around who saw you through the process – that is truly wonderful! That’s how its supposed to work. But not all of us were as fortunate.
It’s not at all uncommon to get the kind of advice from spiritual leaders which would actually arrest your transformation, or even roll it back. The worst of it may come when your new insights actually begin to really work for you. Many people are afraid to admit that these types of problems are endemic for a fairly sizable sliver of institutional Christianity for fear of appearing “divisive”. But in my opinion, this is the same as CDC not admitting known facts about serious epidemics for fear of appearing alarmist. This is nothing but “cover my own butt and let everyone else repeat my errors” kind of fearful mentality.
When you come to really believe something, your entire heart buys into that belief. If there are any obstacles to believing something, they need to be impartially looked at, and properly addressed. If the object of your faith is truly trustworthy, and your doubts are removed in a way in which you personally believe, then you enter into a realm of faith where “everything is possible”. Literally, everything is a fluctuating field of quantum possibilities, waiting for you, the observer and the influencer, to enmesh your heart-level beliefs with it. That will invariably produce the intended result.
A subtle yet deadly enemy of faith is mind-level indoctrination. In Western churches, we are often offered a very superficial set of teachings (“doctrines”) to which we are required to intellectually assent. The payoffs of that superficial agreement to a set of metaphysical propositions are: a sense of social belonging with the group, a promise of getting on the good side of God, and avoiding immeasurable pain in the afterlife.
According to Maslow’s theory, this hierarchy reflects our needs and longings as humans. You might ask: where is God in here? The answer is that he’s all throughout all of this. This is who we are as humans. This is a reflected image of God:
God created us in his image. Then we decided to return the favor. What is your image of God?
In a certain society, Johnny robbed and brutally killed an old lady (a la “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoevsky). A most heinous, brutal crime. According to the law of the land, he should be hanged for this. But his 13-year-old nephew Billy (a fully responsible young boy in that society), as sweet and innocent a boy as they come in that age, asks the judge to allow him to take Johnny’s place. An unusual request, to be sure, but the one that was eventually granted and carried out.
It so happens that on the third day after the execution, Billy suddenly comes back to life. Not only that, but his new life essence makes him immortal. Not only that, his body becomes immune to any disease or damage. Sort of like a superhero, with one exception – he doesn’t hold his powers only to himself. Billy has now the power to impart his amazing new life essence to anyone, for the asking.
As Billy explained, the offer, at its core, is this. When you want to have the life essence of Billy, your life essence is taken out from you, and you experience an instantaneous clinical death. However, the life essence of Billy is immediately placed within you, and you are back to life before you know what happened. Now the center of your being shifts from your physical body to the newly acquired life essence, and your new identity becomes that of Billy.
Religion has left us with a very wrong picture of Father God. Let me illustrate using two simple scenarios. Let’s see which one you have been taught, and which one you believe to be the truth.
There’s a certain teenage driver is warned by his Dad that driving drunk would get him killed. The teenage driver disregards the warning, slinks away from his Dad, drives drunk, slams into a lightpost, gets crippled, and dies sometime soon.
There’s a certain teenage driver is warned by his Dad that driving drunk would get him killed. The teenage driver disregards the warning, slinks away from his Dad, and starts driving drunk. Now, his Dad catches on, and says “let’s teach him a lesson”. He gets into his huge Ford F-350, catches up with his son, and drives him off the road. His son slams into a lightpost, gets crippled, and dies sometime soon.
The outcome is exactly the same. It’s the father’s role that’s different. The first scenario gives us God the Father. The second one gives us the Godfather.
It’s popular to draw parallels between ancient Israel and modern Western religious organizations. In many sermons that seem to capture popular thinking of the Sunday-morning masses, Israel is likened to church, priests to pastors, Levites to worship teams, pulpits to altars, Sabbaths to Sundays, and tithes to money collections. Certainly, we can draw some parallels, but as with any comparisons, we need to see where the comparison holds, and where it does not.
Here’s how Israel is (superficially) similar to Western religious organizations:
- Both Israel and church worship the same God
- Both priests and modern religious leaders, such as pastors, have leadership roles
- Levites and worship teams sing religious-themed songs
- Both Israel and church had buildings used for various religious purposes
- Pulpits and altars are central points of religious gatherings
- Both Sabbaths and Sundays can be thought of as days of rest
- Both tithes and money collections are used to sponsored various activities
Well, at this point I should say that I would like to switch our focus from Western religious organizations to the one invisible universal New Covenant church that Jesus Christ has created and that he personally heads. The church of Jesus Christ can be locally expressed through a religious organization, but the two aren’t really the same thing.
And so, the church of Jesus Christ is quite different from Israel, even if you take into account modern Western religious particulars.
Here’s how Israel is fundamentally different from the church:
The verb “to save” and the noun “salvation” mean “to save” or “to rescue” in the original Greek. That’s all it means. Semantically, the notion of rescue requires an indirect object (“saved from what?”), supplied either explicitly in the text, or understood from the context. The words “save / salvation”, however, became religiously loaded terms that it the minds of a lot of people, they are synonymous with most or all of the above:
- new birth
- receiving eternal life
- obtaining righteousness
- becoming justified
- becoming sanctified
- becoming glorified
- going to heaven
- going to paradise (whatever that means – paradise is simply “park” or “garden” in Greek (G3857 – παράδεισος / paradeisos))
- not going to hell (meaning either sheol / hades, or gehenna, or lake of fire, or some combination thereof, etc.)
- having a different relationship with death (whatever “death” means for the one speaking – loss of life, separation, going to hell, etc.)
- receiving eternal rewards
Incidentally, all of the above can’t possibly mean the same thing, since then why use all those different terms if they have the same meaning? Those are different concepts, and failure to study them out for yourself will simply leave you intellectually confused. You don’t want to be lifting proof verses out of context to prop up whatever doctrine may be popular it whatever circles while ignoring the rest.
Fortunately, there’s a better way of Scripture study – a contextual study, or the concordant method, as pertaining to vocabulary. This is how you acquire your vocabulary as a child. It requires more work on your part. In this study, I’ve done a lot of the work for you.
A fitting passage that describes grace is this:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
Here it says that grace is something by which salvation is effected. If you study the verb “save” in Greek, it means “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction”. It often times used to refer to healing, deliverance, etc. throughout the Gospels. Grace, then, is something that God gives, and that we appropriate by faith (as the passage points out) which results in being safe and sound from any type of destruction (in spirit, soul, or body). Grace can be thought of as God’s supply that’s been given nearly 2000 years ago through the finished work of Christ, and we appropriate and use it by placing active trust in it.
One way remember what NT grace stands for is this acrostic: GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Also, throughout Paul’s writings grace (that which is given as a gift, outside of our merits) is often juxtaposed with works of the law (self-effort exerted in order to earn things from God). If we try to earn something from God in our own strength, it would give a reason to boast, since it would be an earned blessing. Grace leaves no room for boasting in self – only in Christ. The above-quoted passage from Ephesians also points to that.
Some Biblical ideas have implied links in the causal chain of reasoning that you have to explicitly reconstruct in order to properly understand the meaning. For instance, this teaching (elaborating on Exodus 20:12):
2 “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: 3 “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
Notice that there is a gap of reasoning between honoring father and mother (cause) and “that it may be well with you …” (effect).