Sunday, April 30, 2017

Test the Spirits (1 John 4:1-6)

This is an important passage in my life. It is a reminder that we walk a dangerous path when we try to communicate God’s truth to the world in a way that it can be heard. All the attempts to be cross-cultural, contextual, relevant, or any other trendy way of talking about communication are in danger of becoming “lost in translation.” Ultimately, we bring a message that stands on its own. The Bible message is clear. It says what it says, and attempts to find clever or “new” messages in its pages is a recipe for error. It is clear but understood in faith, so trying to make it “more” understandable carries a risk of dropping the message altogether in favor of something simply more “acceptable.”

That is not to say that we shouldn’t try to find connection points between the conversations going on in culture and the truth of scripture. We have an excellent example of this in Scripture when Paul communicates the Gospel to the Athenians. And, after all, our context in Western Culture is much more Athenian than God-fearing. So, we need to find those connection points to get to the Gospel. Where we tend to lose our way is when we fail to get to the Gospel.

Too often we find the “unknown god” in cultures and then call people to embrace that god. We make it into as close a version of our idea of Jesus as we can and call it culturally appropriate. Instead, we need to use the hints of truth in culture as jumping off point to get to the Gospel. After all the Gospel is outside of all cultures. It transforms cultures; it is never transformed by culture.

All of this is, again, a warning against worldliness. Whenever you find that your understanding of the Gospel has become acceptable to your culture, you need to see that as a warning sign. The Gospel at its core is offensive to the world. We do not like to be reminded that we are in rebellion against divine authority; that we are pathetic, helpless, broken people; that God had to allow His Son to die in our place; that we must surrender our will to His.

We communicate with human culture because God loves all people and wants to restore our relationship with Him, but the only means for these relationships to be restored is through an ultimately uncomfortable, harsh, truth that cannot be watered down and still work.

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