What's Next?

As youngsters in the faith, our instructions for what (and what not) to say and do came from morals and memorized Bible verses. We were confident that was the way to be spiritual.

We thought we had good plans and we followed God’s instructions—but it was akin to playing a board game with rules for rolling dice or drawing cards—and all of our church friends helped us by suggesting what we should do next and speculating on the outcome.

That life was a continual battle with only marginal successes—whether we acknowledged it or not.

From Instructions to Descriptions

When we finally admitted our flesh’s defeat and declared spiritual bankruptcy, God began revealing His grace and unfolding a new understanding of the Bible. It’s not just a travel guide overflowing with instructions for us to follow; even more, it’s a treasure chest filled with descriptions of what He has done. So far I’ve mentioned a few:

  • The two trees in the garden seem like they’re about the fall; but they are a description of leaving death and entering the kingdom of life.
  • Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit appears to have been his failure; but it’s a description of Jesus taking on our sin to make us His bride.
  • The Old Covenant’s law is impossible for us to obey because it’s a description of what Jesus did to make salvation available for all.

Like School Books

The Bible’s transformation is rather similar to what happened after my graduation:

I had a shelf full of books from difficult classes that I considered important, thinking that they held the methods I would need for finding solutions in my future career. As time passed, I found that some were slightly useful; but they only contained elementary examples, nothing comparable to what I encountered in my real world.

More time passed and I discovered that my teachers had actually been using those books to describe a few of the many ways to go about solving problems, how to know if my solutions were correct and to not give up when they weren’t.

In a corresponding way, graduating from justice-and-mercy into grace allows us to discover the breadth of God’s plan to make possible that life of “peace that’s beyond comprehension”—no matter what situations we face here. However, developing these spiritual understandings takes interacting with the Author.

A New Guide

I grew up thinking that prayer was talking to God—that was half right. It’s really a two-way conversation that can go on all day long, every day. Skeptical believers have asked me “What? Are you saying that God talks to you?” My answer is “Yes, He positively does.”

When He put His Spirit within us, He bonded Himself to our spirits—forming permanent connections with our minds (our souls). But it wasn’t just for Him to listen; He listens to everyone, else how could He have heard us cry out for salvation? The Holy Spirit’s intent is to personally express God’s compassion for us in the most intimate of ways.

His words are rarely audible, they are more like your own journal—one that you are writing to record the day’s events and even your ongoing thoughts, like: “What does God want me to do today?” or “What is He trying to convey to me in this passage?” or “I’m drowning in overwhelming circumstances; how can I possibly go on?”

His responses are like turning the page, expecting to write more, and finding the answer to your question right there in plain sight—and it’s surprisingly understandable.

My Own Examples

For years I relied on verses to get me through my troubles. They were typical: family members not getting along, stresses with school and work, car crashes and break-downs, needed house repairs, financial shortfalls, medical issues, and lots of personal things—like we all have.

First came the troubles. If they didn’t resolve on their own, I would apply my best efforts. If they persisted, I would consult with others. And if that didn’t work, I’d remember:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Sometimes after recognizing that the trouble had passed, I would thank God for getting me through it. I knew that only He could have made everything work out so well. My inspiration came from these:

. . .in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (from 1 Thessalonians 5:18)

. . .always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God. (from Ephesians 5:20)

Woven into giving thanks, I would remind myself of what those troubles were for:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

The whole cycle repeated almost routinely, with each occurrence showing me a little bit more how much God cared about me. As rewarding as all of that was, it was also emotionally and physically draining.

Little did I realize that “applying my best efforts” and “consulting with others” was a reliance on my flesh—that part of me that naturally operates without the Spirit. It was supposed to be draining so that I would turn to Him. He was increasingly building my trust and I began resting in His grace.

That is when I saw that those verses were more than instructions. Although I can use them that way, they also describe what happens when I trust Jesus to be my resolution—and let Him determine the best outcome.

Now when I encounter perplexing situations, because He has routinely shown Himself to be trustworthy, I don’t lean on my understanding, not on my training, not on my skills, not on myself at all. Instead I merely thank Him for whatever the situation is—knowing that He is maturing me in His way and His time, for His purpose.

But admittedly, it’s taken a long time to get here. And by most people’s standards, I still need a lot of work.

Instructions are effectively laws that our flesh rebels against—no matter how hard we try or rationalize. But descriptions appeal to our spirits and draw us closer to God—they are about what He has done rather than what we must do.

It’s Time to Close

You have some new thoughts to reckon with:

  • The Old Covenant and its Law formed the Jews’ ministry predicting Jesus; the New Covenants and their laws formed Jewish and non-Jewish ministries that tell who He is and what He’s done.
  • As ambassadors for Christ, we let people know that God isn’t counting anyone’s sins against them; He’s reconciled us all through Jesus’ death and offers everyone a new life through His resurrection.
  • This new life is founded on God’s grace; striving to be good must end before a believer can experience the fullness of His peace and contentment.
  • The allegory of marriage with Adam pursuing Eve and dying depicts Jesus’ selfless love and willingness to die for all of mankind.
  • The flesh is what motivates everyone, even believers when the Holy Spirit isn’t needing our active participation. Ours is to recognize the difference and let Him be in control when He wants.
  • And the New Testament letters were written to two distinct audiences; we can read all of them knowing that both sets are to build faith in Christ. He’s just using different methods to reach Jews and non-Jews.

Since the goal here is to help untangle what you’ve heard and read about the gospel, I’m hoping that you will inwardly resolve each of these based on what the Bible says overall—what it describes—and not be swayed by carefully crafted messages that pluck out a verse here and there to promote anything other than living by grace through faith in Jesus.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

This is the passage that we started with; I urge you to talk to Him often—and listen for His responses. He does speak in various ways and your spirit will recognize His voice.

One Last Thing

What I said in the Introduction stands: If you are already satisfied with your walk, we can both thank God and go on in the directions that He has set. On the other hand, if you would like to understand Him more, send an email to me at “untanglingthegospel@gmail.com” with “Untangling” in the subject. I look forward to hearing from you.