We Become What We Believe In
I was meeting with a friend this morning. As we ate breakfast we were talking about how we become who God wants us to be. We had been reading through Colossians and we came to the end of chapter three. That is where Paul says this.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17, ESV)
In verses 12-13 we find the attributes of who we are supposed to be. We cannot just do these things. Something has to change inside of us so that we can become people who live like this. But in the next four verses we find that there are at least four things that can do, that God will use to transform us so we more closely reflect Christ. We have to “put on love,” “be thankful,” “let the word of Christ dwell in [me] richly,” “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” If we do these things, God promises that we will see a change within us.
Now, that is wonderful news.
But, then we switched the topic of conversation to the reason this happens is because we allow the truth of God’s word to work its way in and through us. So I asked my friend, “What is the danger here?” What is the danger in determining what “the truth” is? He answered that the danger is making the truth what you wanted it to be. When the truth conforms to our values and our morals we run the risk of distorting the very thing we desire to have. The truth is powerful, only when we do not attempt to transform it into what we want it to be.
That’s when this passage came to mind. It is found in 1 Corinthians where Paul is describing the reactions of the Jews and the Greeks.
A Stumbling Block and Foolishness
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Corinthians 1:21-25, NIV-1984)
As I quoted this small phrase something just clicked inside my spirit. The two questions that will destroy a persons faith formed in my mind. They are connected to the two extremes that we tend towards in our lives when we think about God and about ourselves. It has to do with the tendency that we have to make sure God does not appear to be a monster and the tendency for us to see ourselves in a better light. Ravi Zacharias, one of my favorite authors and apologists of our time, said the following. He was attempting to explain how Jesus satisfies the longings of the human heart and experience. It is a commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:6.
The pursuit of the Hebrews was idealized and symbolized by light. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” “The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light.” “This is the light that lighteth every man that comes into the world.” The pursuit of the Greeks was symbolized by knowledge. That’s why the Biblical writers say, “These things are written that you might know that you have eternal life.” For the Hebrews, it was light. For the Greeks, it was knowledge. For the Romans, it was glory. For the Romans, it was glory, the glory of the city of Rome, the glory of the city that wasn’t built in a day. And here we have it. The apostle Paul, a Hebrew by birth, a citizen of Rome, living in a Greek city, had to give to them the ideal of his ethic. And he says this: “God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness, has caused His light to shine in our hearts, to give to us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus our Lord.” For the apostle Paul, the ultimate ethic was not an abstraction, not symbolized merely by light, not merely by knowledge, not merely by glory, but in the very face of our Lord. “God who caused the light to shine out of darkness has caused his light to shine in our hearts to give to us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus our Lord. Source: “Unplugging Truth in a Morally Suicidal Culture” [Source]
Just take some time to really think what God was doing in sending Jesus. God was not merely interested in the redemption of human souls. God was interested in redeeming every single thing that has ever been created or conceived. There is nothing that escapes the grace and salvific reach of God.
The Two Questions
The first question is the stumbling block question. The question from the Jewish perspective, the spiritual question. Jesus was a stumbling block because they could not understand why God would allow the messiah to be cursed by hanging from a tree (Galatians 3:13). You see, they asked themselves, “Why would God do that?” The answer they devised was that he would not. Therefore, they could not accept it as something from God. It was not that the Jews were not looking for a messiah. They just could not deal with a messiah that was cursed by God!
What the Jews failed to realize was that the curse that fell on Jesus belonged to them. This first question is a question of self-righteousness. We know what God would do in such and such a situation. We know what God is like. We know who God would accept and receive. We know… We know… We…
This is why people stumble over Jesus. They just cannot handle a God who works and operates in ways that are so contrary to what they expect (Isaiah 55:8). In essence this first question reveals our disappointment with God. He has not lived up to our expectations. He has let us down.
The second question, the Gentile question, comes at the same issue from a different perspective. The Gentiles feared their God’s, but they also envied them. In the Gentile mind being a God was the ultimate desire. The reason they saw the teaching about Jesus as foolish was because they could not understand why a God would want to be like us–frail and weak humans. The question that the Gentiles asked was this: “If I were a god, why would I surrender what I had?” This is not a self-righteous question it is a carnal one. This question reveals the depravity of the human heart.
The Gentile’s desire was not to become God for the benefit of those in need. No, the desire to ascend into deity was to no longer be at the mercy and whims of those more powerful than us, including the gods. It just did not make sense for a god to surrender their position in the heavens and then subjugate themselves to the affairs of men.
If we are not careful we can easily begin to think that we have the answers to these two questions. We do not. Both of these questions take us out of proper relationship with God. The first because we think that we are more compassionate than God; the second because we think we are smarter than God. Either question robs us of our fellowship with God and sets us on a path of destruction.
I pray that we would be careful not to fall in to the trap that Paul revealed to the Corinthian church.