Monday, October 15, 2007

Edward's Religious Affections Entry 4: A Venti-sized catalog of what may or may not be God at work.

Jonathan Edwards is nothing if not meticulous. Wrestling to define what true religious affections are, he first covers an enormous range of possibilities as to what may or may not be evidence of a genuine working of God in a person's life. He points out that the following may or may not be indications of true religious affections: voluminous display of physical and emotional phenomena; the fervor with which feelings are expressed; that such displays are accompanied by quoting of scripture; that they are accompanied by expressions of love; that they are varied in their presentation; that joy results; that religious experiences occur in a certain order; that religious experiences don’t occur in a certain order; zealous religious behavior; attention to religious duty; expression of praise; confidence; and finally, affecting testimonies.

Any of the above, he asserts, may accompany true religious affections, or they may not. In other words they are none of them determinative. I found this section tough going, because in each instance, as these markers were dismissed as being possibly, but not certainly indicative of a real work of God in a person’s life, I felt as if I was gaining no ground toward the understanding of what a true work of grace would look like. Looking back, however, I realize there is great practical benefit in knowing that these various manifestations are not conclusive evidence of God at work, but remain possible indicators. As a pastor working at helping people toward maturity in their Christian faith, I frequently find it necessary to first ascertain if the person I am dealing with is in fact a Christian in the first place. Though I don’t think it possible to make a certain determination, it is helpful to have a plausible assumption in order to fashion a place at which to begin. This is where Edward’s parsing should prove helpful. This section of The Religious Affections provides a matrix by which an initial evaluation of an individual’s spiritual standing can be formed. Though I may not achieve certainty in my assessment, getting within the ballpark is a step in the right direction toward becoming truly helpful.

Upon further reflection, I also realize Edward's observations have value as a checklist for the condition of my own heart. Am I considering some of the above mentioned behaviors as evidence for my own standing in Christ? As Edward's might say, these affections are no certain signs of having within me the nature of true religion.

Religious Affections Entry #1
Religious Affections Entry #2
Religious Affections Entry #3

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cleaning one another's feet

This morning I was listening to a popular Bible teacher on the radio, and he used the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet in John 13 as an illustration for a message on Christian service. Now I’ve heard this passage taught that way many times, and I have no desire to disparage the particular teacher I was listening to (lest someone Google the date and topic and somehow figure out who I’m talking about.) However, I wonder if we’re missing a very particular point Jesus was making in this passage. Was Jesus simply teaching his disciples the necessity of serving one another—which is certainly true—or was he teaching them a very specific act of service using the washing of feet as a metaphor?

To me, it’s almost certain his purpose was not merely teaching his disciples to clean each other’s feet. Throughout John’s gospel, when Jesus does a physical act, such as give sight to the blind, or raise someone from the dead, his material acts represent spiritual truths. Sight to the blind, for example, represents spiritual illumination (John 9:41) and raising the dead (John 11) represents Jesus’ power to give eternal life. So what does washing the feet represent?

I think the major clue is when Peter asks that Jesus go ahead and wash his head and hands as well, Jesus replies, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." (John 13:10, NASB) When Jesus says, “you are clean” is he referring to bodily hygiene? No, I think he’s referring to their spiritual state. Looking at it this way makes sense then of the comparison between Judas (“not every one of you”) and the others. Surely Judas wasn’t unique because he hadn’t bathed.

If he’s equating physical cleaning with spiritual cleansing, then what are we to make of washing the feet versus washing the entire body? I believe he’s teaching the need for his followers to cleanse the everyday spiritual dirt—sin, that is—which regularly occurs in the life of the disciple. Our “whole body is clean” in the sense that Jesus performed the sacrifice that once and for all makes our scarlet sins white as snow. But as 1 John 1:8 tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” So then, even though we have been entirely cleansed, each day we pick up spiritual grime that needs removal.

I was helped to see this because this very morning in my daily Bible reading I came to this passage: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) I believe what Paul is teaching here is exactly what Jesus is illustrating by exhorting his disciples to wash each other’s feet.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Led by the Spirit

Thanks to Smart Christian, I was led to this exceptional post by Eric Jones who wields a vivid metaphor to describe how to be led by the Spirit. Not only does Eric have a site name that generates a little covetousness on my part, but he possesses insights and writing skills I can only pray for. Check him out.