People today don’t give Paul (or Jesus or the Bible) enough credit for “forward thinking”. We like to think that modern man has pulled himself (and herself) up by the bootstraps, a notion that emerges from our modern view of ourselves, of beings that have made ourselves after a long, doggedly determined climb out of the primordial slime.
Paul is often called patriarchal and even misogynist. He is blamed for the “backward thinking” that prevails in some areas of the church. Bronze age ideas and norms, they say, enslave the church in primitive thinking that quashes the rights of more sophisticated modern people.
There are dozens of examples in Scripture that this isn’t true. When we read the Scripture through a modern lens and don’t understand or appreciate the context of the time when it was written, we fail to appreciate the radical nature of Scripture.
I have written on these things many times in the past, but my attention is drawn to one example today. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:
“[I]n Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:26-4:7)
Let’s unpack this a bit, and I think you will see what I am talking about. First, we need to consider the context of the time in which this letter was written. Then we need to look closely at what Paul is saying.
John the Apostle, a Hebrew from a remote province in the Roman Empire, lived a long life. The other apostles died premature deaths, but John, a typical Hebrew, lived long enough to be elevated out of his provincial Jewish world by the God who created it. His writing, as much as any of the New Testament authors, has a strong philosophical theme, but that philosophical theme is no abstract intellectual construct.
John the one-time fisherman became familiar with the greater Greco-Roman world by which the Palestinian province of his birth was governed and influenced. That familiarity is reflected in the Gospel that bears his name.
His gospel begins philosophically: “In the beginning was the Word”, the Logos. (John 1:1) The word, logos, carried poignant philosophical meaning in the Greco-Roman world. John’s use of that word to open his account of the life and message of Jesus shows that John, the provincial Hebrew, familiarized himself with that world and its thought.
This is in keeping with the instruction from Jesus to his followers to go into all the world explaining the message Jesus gave them. To go into the world, we have to become familiar with it and conversant with the thought that predominates in the world to which we go.
Though John’s Gospel begins philosophically, focusing on the loaded word, logos, he didn’t have the abstract notions of philosophy in mind. John’s use of that word pointed outside the Greco-Roman world and transcended it.
Tim Keller says there are no more important words in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray then the first two words, Our Father. The importance of these words is underscored by the way we reference The Lord’s Prayer. We sometimes call it “the Our Father”.
Why are these words so important?
Tim Keller says that these words frame our orientation toward God. He suggests that people either have a transactional orientation toward God or a family orientation. Most of us operate on a transactional orientation toward God and others at times in our lives. Some of us live there. Beginning a prayer by calling God, “Our Father”, orientates us the right way.
A transactional orientation is focused on what we must do in order to have a relationship, a connection, with other people. A transactional orientation focuses on what people (and God) can do for us. A transactional orientation is characterized by offering consideration in order to get something in return.
When we have a transactional orientation toward God, we approach Him completely differently than the way Jesus taught us to pray. We come to Him looking for something for ourselves. We are focused on what we need and want. We feel like we have to offer Him something in order to get what we are seeking. A transactional orientation toward God turns prayer into bargaining.
When we have a transactional orientation toward God, we are not seeking God. We are seeking something from God.
“But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”
These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.
I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right tobecome children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage. I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!
“When you have two tuning forks in a room and one begins to vibrate the other will also begin to vibrate if it’s tuned to the same frequency. They resonate. They abide in each other’s frequency.” (Ted Dekker from the Forgotten Way)
If we are tuned to God’s frequency, we will resonate with Him and abide in Him. When we are tuned to God’s frequency, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
God’s Spirit and our spirit are like the tuning forks. When we are on the same frequency with God, we resonate with God.
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