I. “Who Do You Say I Am?” Hermeneutics and Christian Social Activism

I kid you not when I say this will be the title of my dissertation (or, maybe just the theme).

This post is my first in a series in which I attempt to connect the theologian Howard Thurman to the concept of hermeneutics.

Chapter One of Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited concerns this very topic, “Jesus: An Interpretation.” How we interpret who Jesus is and what He stands for affects how we believe we should engage with the world as Christians.

I open this post with Jesus’s words in Matthew 16:13-17:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

Matt. 16:13-17, NRSV

Who do we say that Jesus is?

I believe that this question is not only the foundation of the sermons that we hear (or preach) and the ways that we worship (including hymnody, liturgy, and even the language that we use), but it also deeply influences how we live our lives; specifically, how we interact with other people, how we interpret other people, and how we engage with our societies and communities.

The different between liberal and conservative Christians is based on a fundamental difference in the answer to that question. Even Simon Peter’s (or Peter’s) statement that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” is interpreted differently. (In other translations, Peter says that Jesus is the “Christ”).

First, a word study. On the most basic level, the word Messiah comes from a Hebrew word called Mashiach. This word means “anointed” or “consecrated” (Strong’s Concordance, 4899). Although this word was used generally to refer to those who were anointed, such as kings and priests, beginning in the New Testament, it came to be specifically associated with Jesus.

The alternative word, “Christ,” comes from a Greek word called “Christos”. This word also means “anointed” (Strong’s, 5547).

We have two different words used for the same individual. The word Messiah comes from Hebrew-speaking Judaic culture, and the word Christ comes from the Hellenic/Greek culture.

In addition, Jesus’s actual name, a common Hebrew name “Yeshua,” comes from the Hebrew root formed from the letters yod, shin, and ayin, which would be the equivalent of y, a “sh” sound, and the vowel sound “ah” (though, technically, the ayin is a consonant that can take on the sound of any added vowel, which I will not discuss in detail here).

I mention the root of Jesus’s name (yasha: to deliver) because it is similar to the sound of the word “Mashiach.” Yeshua, and its Greek counterpart, Iesous, means “salvation”, or “deliverance.”

On the most basic level, we can say Jesus is the Son of the living God, who is an anointed deliverer, or an anointed savior. (Except most traditions would probably capitalize the words “Deliverer” and “Savior,” because Jesus shares in the Divine nature of the ‘Father’).

So, who do we say Jesus is? The answer comes down to our idea of what the Messiah is meant to do, what salvation looks like.

Howard Thurman is part of a theological camp that believes that salvation includes delivering people from their current lived conditions, especially if they are poor, marginalized, or victimized for reasons that are outside of their control: those with their “backs against the wall.”

There is another theological camp that would argue that salvation primarily consists of delivering people from sin so that they can live a holy life and go to heaven. (Though, technically, we don’t go to heaven; heaven comes to us.) The evidence of salvation is a “changed” life in which we don’t engage in sinful behaviors anymore.

The problem with this view, although it is the most widely accepted and “orthodox” view, is that it only focuses on a portion of sin: personal sins vs. corporate sin. Personal sin consists of those sins which we commit as individuals, while corporate sins are committed by a group of people.

I think the only time many Christians think of corporate sin as a sin is when their pastors preach on Sodom and Gomorrah….

This misconstrued view of sin results in a misconstrued view of salvation. So it becomes okay to say that Jesus comes to save us from behaviors and attitudes such as lying, jealousy, rage, and rebellion, but the outcomes of economic and social inequality are not for a savior to fix, but for the underprivileged to “pick themselves up by the bootstraps” and attempt to solve their own problems.

What does this have to say to the children of God who are backed up against a wall? Especially when their social position is no fault of their own?

Thurman writes,

“To those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail.”

Thurman, 11

Is it any wonder, then, that Christianity has lost whatever social influence it may have had?

Those who deliver sermons are tasked with speaking God-given messages. Preaching or otherwise communicating a Gospel that emphasizes a transcendent, spiritual, “deny yourself” or “don’t sin” approach while neglecting to address the injustice that is reflected in generational poverty, segregated neighborhoods, and public education systems tied to property taxes, is an act that communicates to a congregation that God is more concerned about our perfection and cleanliness than our ability to live long enough and well enough to do God’s will.

At Bethany, when Jesus was anointed by an unnamed woman, some who were present complained that the ointment she used was wasted on Jesus when it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus responded:

…”Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me.

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.”

Mark 14:6-7, NRSV

Jesus spoke these words before his death. At that time, no one knew that he would be resurrected after his death, or even that he would send his own Spirit to be with us after he ascended to heaven. However, now we can say that Jesus is with us. If the Spirit of God is in this world, Jesus is with us.

Therefore, if Jesus is with us, we now have the time to show kindness to the poor. In fact, it is Jesus himself who gives us the desire and ability to do so.

I don’t believe the poor are suddenly going to miraculously go away. I don’t believe that injustice is going to miraculously go away. I do believe that it is our responsibility to faithfully continue to remedy that through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just because we always have the poor with us, it does not mean that we should find excuses for society to stay that way. And I believe that the duty falls upon all of us to contribute to this work. This means not just missionaries and churches and charity organizations, but also legislators and political representatives. Those who have the power to help should do so.

When I was in college, I was part of an organization that existed to produce Christian leaders in America. They would say things like, “America’s leaders should be shaped by Christian values.”

However, Christian values are as diverse as the members of that organization. They don’t only include the preservation of life from the womb and traditional family units, but they also ensure that once born, the child can thrive, no matter what type of household they are born into. They ensure that health insurance and other benefits are not limited to those who have the privilege of being legally married. They ensure that generations of poverty and the inability to acquire wealth are remedied by equal access to affordable higher education and employment opportunities.

Our answer to Jesus’s question, “Who do you say I am?” is reflected in our engagement with these issues.

Last scripture:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-36, 40

I am glad that I attend a church where our leadership encourages us to love others as Jesus does and to stand up for people who either cannot stand up for themselves or are ignored and spoken over when they do. I am also glad that I live in a country that has the resources to solve many of the above issues. I only wish their budgetary allocation was in line with what their values allegedly are.

Imagine if instead of it being the church’s responsibility to do charity and food drives, laws were passed that made sure that every household had access to enough income to be able to ensure that each member could eat well, have a roof over their heads, electricity and running water, clean clothes, and maybe even cable? Imagine if insurance companies couldn’t overcharge on premiums or doctors couldn’t charge exorbitant prices for potentially life-saving procedures like MRIs, CAT scans, and surgeries? Imagine if, more than just visiting people in prison, we made it possible for them to live fulfilling lives when they got out and solved the issue that made them go to prison in the first place?

What a wonderful world it would be!

Photo by Levent Simsek on Pexels.com

Introduction: Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” and the Subjective Nature of the Human Hermeneutic

Hello dear ones

Dear friends

Hi again,

(One day I will come up with an appropriate greeting for potential readers. Alas, today is not that day.)

I must have been out of school for far too long, because I have assigned myself a book report…

As an academic person, my research interest has always been Hermeneutics–the interpretation of the Bible–and how it influences the everyday manifestations of the Christian faith in life and worship. (I.e. the connection between Hermeneutics, Practical Theology, and Social Behavior).

I am going to begin a series on a book called “Jesus and the Disinherited,” written by an African-American theologian named Howard Thurman. In this book, Thurman seeks to answer the question, “What benefit does Christianity offer to people who are oppressed?” In his words? How does Christianity help people who have their “backs against the wall” (Thurman, 11)? How does the message of Christianity resonate with people who are poor or who experience discrimination?

When I was in seminary, many of the books I studied were by White men like Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas, and Friedrich Schleiermacher. These men wrote eloquently, persuasively, and one might argue, “truthfully,” about the nature of God. They addressed concepts such as pneumatology (the person and work of the Holy Spirit), and soteriology (the work of salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection). I learned that there were multiple theories of what Jesus was meant to accomplish. Was He a blood sacrifice meant to atone for our sins? Was He the substitute, killed and punished in our place? Or was He the recipient of God’s wrath against sin, which again, should have been unleashed upon us?

These are all important questions, and they are the reason I loved seminary so much. If my degree program allowed me to have majors or concentrations, they would have been Systematic Theology and Practical Theology, specifically Worship and Liturgy. I enjoy wrestling with these questions.

However, the issue with these concerns is that they are primarily lofty and transcendent, aloof from the everyday concerns of the average person. The individual whom Thurman depicts as having their “back against the wall” is less concerned with the very specific task, whether atonement or substitution, accomplished by Jesus, and more concerned with what God has to say about their inability to feed their children, the discrimination they experience, or the fact that they are one paycheck away from homelessness.

The truth is that the gentlemen I named above are situated in a very specific position of privilege that allows them to spend their time asking these abstract theological questions. Over time, these questions and those asked generations before them have become a theological standard, resulting in the application of creeds and statements of faith, which in some cases do determine whether one is an adherent of the “true” faith.

We now have the divisions of “High”, “Middle”, and “Low” Christologies, which skew quite clearly against these people who have their “backs against the wall.” For the higher the Christology, the more it attests to Jesus’s salvation as a lofty spiritual event worthy of divine intercession, while the lower the Christology, the more “earthly” it is; the closer it is to the human experience. Thus, people like Howard Thurman or Gustavo Gutierrez would be cast under the light of theological suspicion, whereas a Timothy Keller or John Piper would pass with flying colors.

In some cases, I consider myself a moderate. I believe it is most likely that each group has 50% of the message. The transcendent nature of God and the immanent nature of God need to be married in a way that shows that even though God is divine, heavenly, holy, and mysterious, God also deeply cares about our suffering and is not just with us in a type of spiritual sympathy. As someone who came to earth enfleshed in Jesus Christ, as a social minority (a poor Jew within the Roman social majority), how can God not have answers to the questions of the oppressed?

Next up:

“Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15

My theory is that an individual’s response to this question varies depending on how they have seen–or how they believe they have seen–Jesus intervene in their life.

Also, what does the apostle Paul have in common with what the mainstream media calls the “White Evangelical”?

Christ, Class, and Coffee is now H. Rebekah Keazer, M.Div

What’s up? So long, no write!

I decided to change this blog’s settings so that the content automatically posts to my professional/theological Facebook page, which I normally wouldn’t post about, except it will result in a significant departure from the content I usually post.

My hope has always been to write more in-depth theological posts, less like devotions and more like serious answers/responses to real-life questions.

So from now on, this will be a page that grapples with the question of the Gospel’s response to issues and phenomena such as feminism, racial justice, and theodicy (i.e. why bad things happen to good people, which we’ll probably never have an exact answer to, but it doesn’t mean I can’t theorise about it).

I am trained as a sociologist and my interests lie at the intersection of sociology, history, and theology. Hopefully, as I explore my true interests and connect them to the Gospel, I will have more regular content, because I’ll have more ideas and inspiration.

I’m excited about the new direction this blog is about to take.

Acts 26:14 – “My Way’s Cloudy”

Acts 26:14b, NLT – “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.”

In Acts 26, Paul faces King Herod Agrippa II, Festus (the procurator of Judea), and a host of Roman and Jewish nobility for a trial before he finally defends himself before Caesar’s court. Paul recounts the transformative encounter he had with Jesus on his way to Damascus, Syria, in which Jesus told him, “It is useless for you to fight against my will.”

(First of all, I’m glad for the New Living Translation, because the first time I read this, they were talking about “goads” in the New King James Version).

But also, how can we fight against God’s will when we rarely even know what it is? I know there are levels to this. So a Christian can argue that God’s will for all Christians is to spread the Gospel, and that was God’s will for Paul. It would have been useless for Paul to avoid that. (Though, at the time, Paul was a Pharisee who was pretty much blindsided into Christianity, so, even then, he had no idea what God’s will was until God revealed it to him.)

I think a lot of times, we put too much pressure and focus on God’s will for our lives. If we take this verse and interpret it in a deterministic manner, then, it doesn’t matter what we do; God’s will will come to pass anyway.

Let’s consider this example. I believe that if it is God’s will for me to continue my education, it will happen. In that sense, I can trust God and seek God’s wisdom as I do research, make my decisions, and wait patiently while opportunities open up.

On the other hand, if God’s will is for me to become a preacher, then that is also something against which it would be useless for me to fight. I didn’t like public speaking for a portion of my life and my career path was nowhere near preaching, or even pastoring–God forbid! (Actually, maybe I should take that last part back, you never know…) But God guided me into that. In that sense, it was useless for me to fight.

I love this, because now it brings up the question of, “Do humans have free will?” And I still think there are a plethora of ways to answer that question. For instance, I don’t believe it is “God’s will” that I wear a particular outfit on a particular day or change my hairstyle. Those things are left to chance and free will. But I do believe that God’s will plays a part in our ultimate purpose, whether it is what we do, why we do it, or how we do it. And I think that looking back on our stories and how everything is connected gives us a clue as to where God’s hand was and where we were a little more free to make our own decisions.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9, New International Version


Heart: reminds me of a person’s desires

“devises (their) way”: to devise means to think, dream, design, concoct, plan, etc.

The LORD: reminds me of authority and wisdom

“directs (their) steps”: basically shows us where to go

Passages like Proverbs 16:9 make so much more sense now. As a child, my heart desired to serve God through music. I dreamed of all the different ways I could accomplish that. Many of the decisions I made were in an attempt to achieve that desire. But the LORD–the wisdom and authority of God–ended up directing me and showing me where to go (literally). It was not a direct, linear path, and I developed other skills and gifts along the way. So my next step is to keep the desire in my heart, but see what steps the Lord leads me to take.

*”My Way’s Cloudy” is a lyric from a song (and the title) by the cast of Langston Hughes’ musical “Black Nativity.” I use this as the title for this post because it reminds me that even if we can’t see our way, we can trust God to guide our steps so that we get where we’re going safely.

Photo by Vidyagauri Jadhav on Pexels.com

Saved by Grace Through Faith in Jesus Christ – Acts 15

Acts 15:10-11: “So then, why do you now want to put God to the test by laying a load on the backs of the believers which neither our ancestors nor we ourselves were able to carry? No! We believe and are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.”

Peter says this to the Jewish believers who were Pharisees when they got saved. (Remember, there were lots of different sects in Judaism at the time. The Pharisees are the ones who preached about obeying the Torah–the Law of Moses).

These Pharisees wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. The problem with that, Peter noted, is that we “are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus,” not by our works, or what we do.

I see a theme of inclusion in the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit levels the field between Jews and Gentiles, so that all are equal before God. Not only that, but it shows that we had nothing to do with this to begin with, so why would we have to do something in order to keep it, or to belong?

God is pleased simply by our faith. On the most basic level, faith is all God requires of us. And I believe that it is our faith in God’s story, the Gospel, that will make everything follow–the hope, the love, the obedience, etc.

Fasting, Prayer, and Discernment: “Seek the Lord for Wisdom”, Pt. 2

Hello readers!

I promise I didn’t mean to make this another series. But fasting, prayer, and discernment seem to be a theme in the book of Acts. Here are some verses:

Acts 13:2-3: “As they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.”

Acts 14:21-23: “After they had preached the gospel in that town (Derbe) and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’ When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”

This theme of fasting reminds me of the post I wrote about Joshua and the Gibeonites. As leader of the Israelites, Joshua did not seek God before accepting the Gibeonites into his camp, which resulted in their not knowing the Gibeonites’ true identity. In Acts 13, the apostles prayed and fasted–“worshipped” and fasted–to ensure that they were hearing from God before they sent Barnabas and Saul out on a mission. Similarly, in Acts 14, it was after prayer and fasting that the apostles were able to confidently appoint elders to the churches.

Fasting and prayer are essential to the discernment process. This is what I’m learning. Prayer is communication with God. We can’t–or, we shouldn’t–make decisions without discussing them with God first, because God can help us see whether or not we are about to make a good decision, or a decision that is aligned with God’s will for us.

Fasting is the act of denying yourself of the things that you would normally depend on (like food), or, in modern times, be distracted by (like social media). I know that fasting is also supposed to help us hear God more clearly, because there is nothing to take up our time, so we can spend that extra time in prayer.

I can think of a couple things I need to seek the Lord about. What about you?

I wonder if fasting might help.

If you have never fasted before and are interested, here is one resource that I have found useful:

  1. “Fasting Guidelines and Information,” International House of Prayer, Kansas City (IHOP KC), https://www.ihopkc.org/about/fasting-guidelines-and-information/

I know there are many more, but I would only share something that I have actually used or read.

[And, of course, here’s the legal disclaimer that I’m not a doctor and I can’t give any medical advice about fasting.]

Another disclaimer: I’m not the type of person who says “Promotion of X is not a statement of agreement with X.” I’d rather not get entangled with all of that. I will only post and share content from ministries and organizations that I trust theologically and ethically (unless later, self-directed research proves otherwise).


Acts 11/Joel 2: Pouring Out the Spirit

Joel 2:28-29: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”

Acts 11:15-18: “‘And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life’.”

In Acts 11, Peter tells the Jewish believers about how the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentile Cornelius and his family. The Jewish believers were surprised, and said, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Later in the chapter, the church in Antioch was formed by persecuted believers who escaped after Stephen was killed. The Gentiles who were with them–“men of Cyprus and Cyrene”–decided to preach the Gospel to the Greeks as well–the “Hellenists” (Acts 11:20). Cyprus is a highly-populated island nation in the Middle East today, located to the south of Turkey, and Cyrene is an ancient Libyan city that was controlled by both Greeks and Romans at different times.

At a time when the Jewish apostles and believers were only spreading the Gospel to other Jews, maybe these Gentile men felt it their responsibility to include the Gentiles in that number. After all, someone converted them; shouldn’t they, too, convert others? Thanks to the work of these men, many Greeks were converted, and the believers in Jerusalem commended their faith. Antioch was also the first place where Jesus-followers were called Christians.

Through this, I see that God intended to reach the whole world. God never intended to save just one people group. After all, in Genesis 22:18, God promised Abraham that through his descendants, the whole world would be blessed. But we never knew the specifications of that blessing until now. It is through the spread of the Gospel and the faith of the Israelites–later “Jews”–that the rest of the world gained access to this blessing. God used the Jews to reach the Gentiles and everyone continued to spread the news about Jesus everywhere. And God continued to pour out the Holy Spirit on all people. That way, everyone had “the repentance that leads to life.” The favor that the Israelites were shown in the very beginning, i.e. Torah times, was for this purpose. Now God has revealed that His favor extends to all without bias–that God is not a “respecter of persons.”

I am glad that this Gospel and the Holy Spirit are available to everyone.

Joshua 9 – Seek the Lord for Wisdom

Joshua 9:14 – “So the leaders partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the LORD.”

Just for a little background, my church is doing a study on Joshua and Acts right now, which is why most of the reflections I write will be from either of these two books. I’m just writing what I think about/wherever my brain takes me during my reading.

In Joshua 9, after the Israelites had won the battle at Ai, many of the kings united to fight against the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, but the Gibeonites decided to be deceptive so that the Israelites would not kill them. They made their clothing, shoes, and food appear much older and more worn-out than they really were, pretending to be from a far away country, and asked the Israelites to make a treaty with them. The leaders of Israel, including Joshua, agreed without consulting God first. Later, they found out that the people were actually Gibeonites and that they lived on the land with them as their neighbors. However, because of the treaty, the leaders of Israel had to keep their word to the Gibeonites and not harm them. Instead they allowed the Gibeonites to be their servants in the temple.

The leaders of Israel agreed to the treaty proposed by the Gibeonites (and “partook of their provisions”) without consulting God first.

My first question is, why would the Israelites partake in moldy food? My second question is, did they not notice while eating it that it was actually pretty fresh, and doctored to look moldy? Were they not suspicious?

Okay, but my actual question is, how often do we do the same thing? Rush into making a decision without seeking direction from the Lord? Without praying about it? How can we be sure to make wise decisions when we aren’t consulting the God of wisdom?

If Joshua and the other leaders of Israel had sought God, they would have known that the Gibeonites were being deceptive and not to trust them. This applies to almost everything. How many poor decisions could we have avoided if we had sought God for ourselves? I would even add that in addition to relying on the prayers and advice of other people, we need to seek God for ourselves so we are sure that God is speaking a consistent message. But when we go into these situations without godly counsel, we end up unprepared.

The leaders of Israel couldn’t go back on their word to the Gibeonites; it was too late. It’s so important to seek God so that we don’t make decisions we regret later on. I believe that God can redeem our mistakes and get us back on the right track, but what if we just listened to Him to begin with?

Think About These Things – Part 5

Acts 10:9-16, focus on vv. 11-16: “He (Peter) saw the heavens opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures, reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken to heaven.”

The background of this passage is that Peter went up on a roof to pray, but then he got hungry. God used the opportunity to show him an image of a banquet feast of animals, many of which were not kosher/clean. Peter thinks God is telling him to eat the unclean animals, and he’s confused, because he knows that God would never contradict anything in God’s word, so why is God telling him that He has made these animals clean, and that Peter should not call them unclean or profane?

We know from past readings/study that this refers to the gentile Cornelius, whom God used to pour out the Holy Spirit on gentiles. But in this moment, Peter did not know that. It was only revealed to him later.

Though it is an interesting image, especially when read next to 1 Corinthians 7:17-20, which states:

“…let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”

Circumcision and uncircumcision are usually used as metaphors for Jew and Gentile. Normally, because of the law, Jews are circumcised. Gentiles are not, because they don’t have that law. So what Paul is saying here is that if you are an observant Jew who believes in Jesus, you don’t need to change anything you’ve been doing except to obey God’s commandments, especially as revealed in Christ. (Remember Jesus’s debates with the Pharisees, who were adding to and interpreting God’s laws in ways that God never said). The same goes for Gentiles. They don’t need to become circumcised. Just obey God.

This reminds me of the different Christian groups who believe they have to live exactly like the early Jewish believers in order to be righteous/in order to obey God. That is so not the point. We have the freedom to follow these laws, sure. It’s not going to affect our righteousness, though. God’s commandments in Christ are simple. Love God and love your neighbor. What you eat and drink, whether you are circumcised, ultimately means nothing.

I was born into an observant Jewish family, but since following Jesus (and being old enough to make my own decisions–because I believed in Jesus when I was still really little–it’s a long story), I know that I can continue to follow those extra laws if I wish or I can choose not to. As long as I am following the simple commandment to love God and others, which I also believe is reflected in the distribution of the Ten Commandments, I’m fine.

We are not justified by our works, but by our faith. The extent to which our works justify us is if we are obedient to what God tells us to do. God doesn’t need extra fancy sacrifices, but a pure and obedient heart.

Featured image: “Biblical illustration of Acts of the Apostles Chapter 10.” 1984. Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0. Jim Padgett.

Think About These Things – Pt. 4

You know what? I think I’ll keep this series going until Pentecost Sunday.

We are finally all caught up, and here is this morning’s post:

“Acts 9:4-5: ‘He (Saul) fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” He (Saul) asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” ‘

Saul is a devout Jew who is persecuting the Jews who believe in Jesus, because they have departed from the true faith. However, on his way to Damascus, a Syrian city with many believers, he has an encounter that Jesus that knocks him off of his bestial mode of transportation and blinds him with a bright light. Jesus asks, ‘Why are you persecuting ME?’

Clearly, Saul isn’t actually persecuting Jesus, but by persecuting those who believe in Him, he is. I believe this is the first allusion to the body of Christ in the Bible–that is, of believers being the body of Christ. This is why by persecuting the believers, Saul can be persecuting Jesus.

On another level, this can also be a continuation of Matthew 23:37 (Luke 13:34), where Jesus says, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.’

What if those early believers were God’s prophetic messengers? They had to be, especially if the Great Commission were to be fulfilled–to go throughout the world and make disciples of all nations. By persecuting the believers, Saul is continuing the tradition of killing those sent to speak God’s truth into the world.”