Those devoted to Jesus might choose to remember the circumstances that crucified the Saviour; the carnal Jew, the deep-read Scribe, the learned Rabbi, and the religious Pharisee—those who ought to have known better—not only did not receive Jesus, they crucified him:
“They desired no change of their own nature, no inward destruction of their own natural tempers, no deliverance from the love of themselves and the enjoyments of their passions...”
~William Law (1686–1761)
Their conflicting devotions crucified him. They were supposed to be devoted to God, but in fact they were devoted to religious practice, selfishness, power, etc.
Could it be that we, too, are manipulated by conflicting devotions—so many even, in Jesus’ name? Is it not so that many of our chosen allegiances, in the name of God, require us to take on a Pharisaic method in order to ‘fight the good fight’?
This is where the ethical debate, on a number of fronts, becomes confounding; how might we fight, yet honour God to that same end? Here we can appreciate that dishonouring God is a blasphemy. And upon blasphemies we ought to repent.
Regarding this issue, the rights and wrongs of common life in the midst of believers and non-believers alike, there are many situations where no absolutes exist. To think in ‘golden absolutes’ is to become, in a flash, a Pharisee. But there’s one cure for all untenable situations in the heart of the true believer: to repent; to draw back in within the Presence of God; to relate one-on-one with our Lord. Only God can show the way.
Tests From God?
Could it be that our grandest test of faith is how we treat each person and each situation at love—holding to the Greatest Commandment? (Matthew 22:37-39) If we were true to this test we may quickly shun many of the things we instinctively say or do or give approval to; where divisions are caused—in ‘the name of God’, no less.
The moment we become aware that divisions are occurring is the moment we might seek the heart of God in these very circumstances. That’s what God wants to see; our preparedness to repent when confounding relational circumstances rise up as they often do within ethical debates. It’s not about what we say or what we don’t say; it’s about where our heart’s situated—about our proximity to and congruence with the Lord.
Beware The Unwillingness To Repent
A strikingly familiar pose taken by the scribes and Pharisees was their inability to repent. Are there contemporary similarities?
It’s much more difficult to discern a focus for repentance in the evangelical church, nowadays, than it is to discern flavours for intolerance within difficult ethical landscapes, for instance, interfaith solutions, sexual orientation issues, or even abortion. Whilst the biblical position is clear, what’s less clear (and perhaps never clear) is how to deal with or combat practices not meeting the biblical position without failing to love.
The only thing we can do correctly in such situations is to continually seek the Lord—to repent. Doing this necessitates we love others. Accountable to God, we love.
Repentance is not as popular as doctrines on prosperity, grace or resurrection. But it’s central to the experience of salvation. We cannot live the life of faith unless we practice repentance—to draw near to God. Only by repentance can we live in harmony with God and all humankind.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.