And that is where it all focuses: on God, the Three-In-One, Himself. He is the center of Scripture and without Jesus Christ all that is written in that magnificent book is null and void. If you don’t know Jesus then your exegesis will be flawed, because as much as the Bible is the written Word of God, Jesus Christ is the spoken Word of God, the living Word of God. Knowing Him is all and truly knowing Him will affect our whole being, right down to our faith matrix!
Now, note that this knowledge is not merely in our head. This is where the weakness of the English language becomes apparent, because we have no term to directly convey the Hebrew concept of yadah, that deep, experiential knowledge that describes even the deepest, most intimate relationship between a husband and wife. This knowledge encompasses every part of our being, from our mind, will and emotions to our physical self. It supremely impacts our faith matrix, filling it with love, facts, and experience of Christ Himself, and so it will impact our theological system in a way that we could never even dream possible.
It is precisely our relationship to Him and our respect and love for Him that will cause us to act differently towards those who don’t see everything the same way we do. We will learn to love our fellow Christians in such a way that we can allow opinions to remain opinions and we will not force them on others. We will learn to gently, lovingly pass on the Truth. This may still hurt our brothers and sisters sometimes, but that can be also necessary.
As knowing the center is a whole-being thing, it is immensely practical, especially when dealing with those who do not believe everything just the way we do. There are basically two things that you can do to know the center better. First, you protect yourself and, second, you practice love toward your brother or sister in Christ.
A. Protect Yourself
Solomon put it best in Proverbs 4:23 (NIV): “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Guarding one’s heart is a constant occupation, watching what we put into it so that what comes out of it is good, too. The old computer term GIGO (Garbage In – Garbage Out) applies quite well here.
How do we guard our hearts? First of all we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. There are too many people out there who believe things because their pastor said so and/or because they liked the way something sounded to them. More often than not these people know the what, but not the why. Learning the why takes time and it can sometimes end up being rather upsetting, because it might turn up some major flaws within our thinking and may have to cause us to substantially revise our system.
One thing must be stressed here: There are certain aspects to true Christian theology that must not be compromised. There is only One God, who is also Three. This God became an historical man, Jesus of Nazereth, called the Christ. He lived an exemplary life on this earth, died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father. Anyone who accepts that Jesus died for their sins and rose again and confesses this (whether in prayer or otherwise) is saved19 and this salvation will show itself through a life that is pleasing to the principles God set forth in His Word20, which is the ultimate measure of Truth on this earth. Every true Christian should be able to agree with these core values. Other things can be debated.
As said above our number one tool in all of this is the Word of God, all 66 books of the Bible. It is not our logic, not our training, but the Ancient Words past down to us through the Ages. It is very clear in II Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Anyone who brings any knowledge beyond what is contained within the Word of God and anyone who tries to limit it are not to be trusted, regardless of what tools they use to justify their positions. Paul has a lot to say about such teachers and most of what he says is much more harsh than any of us would dare to say nowadays, but in the end he always comes back to the same thing. Take Philippians 3:2-3 as an example:
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.
After using some very strong terms for those who did not teach in accordance with what he taught, Paul points us to what is important, where our confidence must lie: in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, not in our earthly being, of which our logic is a part. There is much more at stake here than simply having wrong teachings though, as he warns the Colossians:
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. (Colossians 2:18-1)
Having wrong teachings keeps us from attaining what God wants us to reach, which is becoming more like Christ. It is interesting that Paul points out the “fleshly mind” here as something that needs to be avoided. This includes a logic that is not constantly infused with the Truth as found in the Word of God and which espouses worldly systems of thought to explain what is beyond the grasp of one who lives in this mortal realm.21
Another highly important quality of self-protection is the humility of mind that comes from constantly being in the presence of God and knowing that we can’t understand it all. We must be drawing our worth from who we are in Christ and not from the ideas that form in our heads. That way if they’re shot down we won’t react angrily, but will simply pick up the pieces and try to find what we need to change to be more in line with Scripture. If we simply and honestly hold to this point of view, then we have already won half the battle.
B. Practice Love
Once we are secure in our knowledge of who we are, what we believe, and why we believe it, we can turn outward to those around us and fulfill Christ’s greatest commandment to us: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Many years later the Apostle John expounds on this in his first letter.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (I John 3:14-18)
Laying down our lives for our brothers, includes putting ourselves in a vulnerable position that can often result in our Christian siblings severely wounding our pride and sense of self-worth when it comes time to point out the error of their ways. No one ever said that loving someone would be easy. As a matter of fact it’s a whole lot harder than simply tolerating them,
Living on the net is much harder than living in a rigid structure and those who don’t dare to hold to the Word and the Word alone often can’t understand what makes those of us who live on the net so secure. We need to help them come out of their little constructs and see the true freedom that there is in a flexible system of theology that puts God above the system. True freedom is scary and I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to attempt it. But if we truly love our brothers and sisters, we’ll sacrifice time, energy, money, self-worth, and everything else to help set them free.
This will often involve confronting that person and Paul gives guidelines for that in the book of Galatians.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
There are two key thoughts here: first of all is the spirit in which we must approach the situation and that is one of gentleness. We may want to ram the point home, because we are right and we know it! However, a gentle word is more often received than a harsh one, even by someone who doesn’t quite see things their own way. So we must learn to temper the way we present the Truth to those who are partially blinded from it by their own logic and concrete walls.
The second thing is what I mentioned in the previous point. Remember that we are fallible and that even our understanding of the Truth is incomplete. It is easy to be tempted by the relative security of a solid theological structure over the sometimes disconcerting movement of the net. As a matter of fact we sometimes think we’re living and operating on the net, but are really now living in our little concrete structure on one of the eyelets. Our personal response to Truths that come along that differ from our understanding of Scripture can help us gauge where we’re at.
Paul gives a very good example of this when he confronts fellow Apostle Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. While visiting with Paul, Peter began to exhibit some un-Christian attitudes and actions towards the Gentile believers when other Jewish believers showed up. Peter’s actions arose from a human teaching not arising from Scripture, but from the extensions to Scripture that certain Christians who had come from the sect of the Pharisees had introduced into the Church. It took Paul standing up publicly and denouncing Peter’s actions to bring things back on track. From what we know of Peter, I believe that he was duly chastised and changed his ways, but it is interesting how pernicious such teachings can be especially if we try to bow to the “weaker brother” and make him feel comfortable. If it’s true, it’s true regardless of how it offends someone who doesn’t want to accept it. We don’t have to apologize for the Truth, we just have to present it as a surgeon wielding a scalpel rather than a warrior swinging a sword. And this takes practice – lots of practice.
- 19. See here the Apostle Paul’s masterful summary of what it takes to be saved in Romans 10:8-10.
- 20. See Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:14-26
- 21. One example might be the various attempts of the Source Criticism Movement in trying to determine who wrote certain books of the Bible, not believing the plain reading of the text because there is no such thing as prophecy (since the supernatural doesn’t exist), and thus the writer must have lived after the events, only using a more famous pseudonym to sell their books more easily.