Friday, 22 July 2011

An Interesting Journey

My other blog – “The Room of Grace” has been my attempt to share something of the questioning that has been going on in my own mind over the last 60+ years, and how I eventually came to the conclusion that there is an enormous difference between the Christian RELIGION and the Christian FAITH - that might be described as the difference between knowing ABOUT God, and a RELATIONSHIP with God - something that I only really began to understand about 8 years ago!

I have for a very long time found it frustrating  that many practising Christians are quite unable to answer the question, “What is the purpose of life?” in any meaningful way.  It was around 1965 in an Anglican men’s discussion group that I asked that question.  The immediate response of the Vicar was, “Peter, you can’t ask that, it’s the 64,000 dollar question (a lot of money in those days).  Let’s go on to your next question”.  Although I cannot remember ever doubting the existence of God, with hindsight I guess that was the beginning of my move away from traditional Christianity.

Please bear in mind that I am an ‘uneducated’ Christian – I have had no formal ‘theological’ training.  I was treasurer of an Anglican Church for 8 years in the 1960’s before being drawn away because of what I saw as a lack of ‘radical’ Christianity.  Later I spent some 20 years as a member of the Worldwide Church of God keeping the Sabbath and the biblical Holy Days (rather than Christmas and Easter), before the leadership announced in 1995 that much of their theology was misguided.  At that time I had already been made redundant for the fourth time and I've not had a job since then.  I was forced to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught and I had the time to do it.  I was already using a PC to record my thoughts.  I was using the internet by 1997 and it was in 2003 that I really became aware of what was then being referred to as “the out of church Christians”, and the emerging / emergent / house church movements – and that has been an ongoing journey - but without ever finding a group locally!

Over the last 18 months or so a number of pieces of the jigsaw have been fitting into place, based to a significant degree on what I had come to understand about broken myths - see "The End of Religion".  Let me say at this stage, that I am very conscious of some of the difficulties that can arise if people are asked questions that they are not yet ready to consider.  I have to assume that anyone reading this blog has read something of my other blog and is comfortable with at least some of what I have written.

Apart from having no answer to the question, "What is the purpose of life?", I have long been aware of two other questions that the 'church' in general seems to be unable to answer.  These are, "Why suffering?" and "Did God create evil?".

None of us have been given all the answers and at best we are only seeing part of the overall picture.  Over the last 3-4 years I seem to have been developing a new understanding of the significance of the two trees of Genesis - which was reinforced by the concept of 'broken myths'.

I was struggling to explain my thoughts when I received this note from a friend:
Concerning the "Fall of Adam" I most wholeheartedly agree with you as well. It is a myth, a metaphor, a story told to reveal deeper truth. The "church's" version essentially says that God is TRYING to fix a broken situation, as if He never intended for it to happen.
"The creation was subject to futility, not voluntarily, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in the hope (expectation) that the creation itself would be freed from its bondage to corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Rom. 8:20-21
In my mind, that scripture clearly reveals that it was God's plan all along to subject humanity to futility and corruption (and the lessons that are learned from that experience) in order to free it at a later time and bring us all into the "glorious liberty of the children of God."   There is no "accidental" fall implied here, or one that occurred due to man's supposedly "free" choice. It was GOD'S plan from the beginning.

For me there are partial answers here to "What is the purpose of life?", "Why suffering?" and "Did God create evil?"

It is said that there is a book in each of us.  Instead of writing a book I've developed a couple of blogs.  The story continues in "About this blog" above.

Iron sharpens iron - I'm always interested  in sharing with the thoughts of others.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

God of Surprises

One of the first books I read in 1996 after recognising the need to reconsider just about everything I had ever believed was God of Surprises by Gerard Hughes.  I journalled my thoughts at the time and I've quoted a few of them here - a reflection of where I was on the journey about 15 years ago.

It is our inner life created by the interaction of all our relationships and all the decisions that we have made that affect our perception of the world, and determine our actions and reactions to it.  We need to understand something of our own feelings - many of which are deeply buried!
What is our motivation?  Do we have a vocation and the courage to live out our convictions?

Until we find ourselves, God will remain remote and shadowy - we find God in and through the development of human relationships.  Remember that it is God who finds us and enables us to respond to his calling.

Iron sharpens iron - the need to ask questions!  A real encounter with God and the subsequent potential often requires an earthquake - that can lead to freedom and liberation - a gradual peeling away of some of the layers of the onion.  But this in turn can lead to a lack of security - and the temptation to stop questioning may be strong!  The inner darkness will begin to be illuminated in different ways - some through head knowledge - others through heart awareness!

There is a need for a felt knowledge of God which affects the way we see ourselves, other people and the world around us - freeing us from the ought's and should's which have inhibited the development of our own personalities.  Don't be afraid of negative thoughts and feelings - we can learn so much from them!  Learn to appreciate the world around us - it is amazing!

We were created for God, and our hearts will remain restless until we find him!  Be still and listen - accept the invitation to grow and change!  But remember that there is a time and a place for anger and negative emotions - we can learn from the good and the bad - painful moods and feelings can be very creative.  Learn to appreciate the good feelings and remember them - anchors for times f trouble!  We need humility - a true sense of perspective - so that we can grow!

New Testament Christianity by J B Phillips

This book was written some 50 years ago.  I have a particular affinity to Phillips (an Anglican) whose "The New Testament in Modern English" was published in 1958.  He had begun his work of translation in 1941 and received strong encouragement from C S Lewis.  It was in 1947 that "Letters to Young Churches" was published, followed by "The Gospels in Modern English" five years later.  In 1967 his book "Ring of Truth - A Translator's Testimony" was published.  I use other translations of the New Testament but it is Phillips' that I constantly turn to.

The visited planet – God became one of us – followed by the invasion of the Holy Spirit!

The modern church is rarely making any real impact upon the modern pattern of living – it has lost its vision – reduced to a dreary and unattractive duty / performance!  (And this was written some 50 years ago!).

The things that are not seen are eternal – a missing dimension!  Jesus has the words of eternal life!  The coming of the Messiah – then the resurrection!

Faith has degenerated into a rather dogged holding on to something we believe to be true!
If instead we think of the x-faculty as that which enables us to appreciate this extra dimension, we can see how it has deteriorated over the years and in many people has become almost atrophied – hence the loss of spiritual power.  Without faith it is impossible to please God – because we will be out of harmony with God’s plan and purpose.  Jesus was seen as a Master over unseen forces – but if there was unbelief … a challenge to knock, seek, ask … The essential need to be in touch with the essential resources of God.  Jesus taught that we can live without fear and worry if we recognise that Father is in charge – he who hears and believes (a big difference between belief and trust?) has eternal life now – something quite different from a desperate effort to believe!

The burden of preaching in the book of Acts seems to be on grasping the faith faculty (not on man’s depravity).  Repentance Metanoia – doesn’t necessarily mean being sorry for our sins, but a fundamental change of outlook.  God and his plan were now knowable – people were empowered and transformed by the Spirit.  The Young Church was full of divine energy and wisdom – in line with God’s purpose!  Works as a result of faith!

Faith = grasping a reality – a whole dimension of reality that we cannot see with our fleshly senses.
Justification by faith – belief in the Atonement!  It involves a personal commitment.  Accepting such an action as a fait accompli is only possible by this perceptive faculty of faith (not mere intellectual ascent).  It requires metanoia – a revolution in outlook of both mind and heart – Good News!
Thus justification by faith = acceptance of forgiveness and reconciliation and the total abandonment of efforts at self-justification.

Saved by grace through faith
– a gift of God that should result in joy and certainty – if there is wholehearted acceptance of this grace (instead of wavering hopefulness).
The NT doesn’t dwell on man’s sinfulness (even though it was sometimes necessary to remind people of what they were), but an encouraging looking forward to what they might become through the grace and power of God.

Do we allow Jesus to live in us?  In the NT people are sometimes suddenly and sometimes step-by-step transformed.  God is prepared to live within the personalities of those who use their faculty of faith toward Him (Col 1.26-27).  In Paul’s writings we do not read of Jesus as an example who died and must be followed and imitated – but that he is ready to enter and transform those who believe.  And if modern Christians refuse to believe this inward miracle it is not surprising that the Christian life becomes a dreary drudge.  Real faith involves the bold exploration of God’s resources, knowing that we are not in our permanent home.  The need to fight the good fight of faith (any assault by spiritual enemies will be on the faculty of faith) – it will not always be easy to believe.

How do we begin to really use the faculty of faith?

  • A neglected capacity to believe, to reach out to appropriate His resources.  Are we really attuned to unseen realities?
  • Be still and listen – a minimum of 15 minutes a day – essential for spiritual health – preferably in fellowship
  • Study of the NT
  • Knock, Seek, Ask – it is up to us to make use of what is made available to us – lay up treasure in heaven
  • Walk by faith and not by sight – it won’t always be easy.

Living without hope – many people conditioned by all that goes on around them, live without hope.  This is so different to the optimism around 1900 especially in Britain – that was soon to be shattered.  The realities of life don’t give much hope – beware of wishful thinking – are we prepared to face realities?  Nothing could quench the hope of the Young Church despite the societies in which they lived – they knew that death was a defeated enemy (for Christian martyrs, death was not a disaster).

Only comparatively recently has the centre of our faith become more earthbound – concerned for all the social problems!  Many problems remain unresolved.  There are serious limitations that result from our free will!  What place optimistic humanism?  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1Cor 15.19).  [There is no place for corporate Christianity?].
We can’t avoid the painful tension throughout our earthly life.
There seems to be no evidence in the NT that the end of this earthly experiment that we call life, will result in worldwide acceptance of Christ and the universal establishment of His kingdom.
Some use “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2.14) – but is this really a prophecy of the universal acceptance of Christ?
Some use Rev 11.15 – The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord – but what about v18?

The Young Church (Paul in particular) expected the Second Coming in his lifetime – the hope may have been deferred but was always implicit in their thinking.
The world is a temporary stage … life as a preparation … (something we understand when we are aligned with the purpose of life – at one with the timeless life of the universe).  But even the Christian for all this satisfying and hopeful conviction does not know the meaning of the mystery of life – and if he is wise he doesn’t pretend to.  There are many gaps – one day we will understand!
In the NT the coming of Christ is a blessed hope of intervention, not a personal appearance at a Utopian celebration.
Beware of putting God back in the past – life has moved on – the journey continues
We have moved beyond the monastic quiet and the simplicity of a pastoral generation.  God is either a present help or He is not much help at all.

Love – God is love – a concept that was unknown before the coming of the gospel.  The love of God in the OT was usually conditional.  Jesus gave love a new and deeper meaning.  For the Young Church nothing could separate them from the love of God.  Some theology will not allow us to enjoy this beautiful simplicity – a love that is both universal and vulnerable – open hearted – generous self-giving – without conditions!  [Fear = a lack of love?].
[How often do evangelists arouse feelings of guilt and fear – then having got them miserable about their sins, point them to the Saviour using texts from the OT taken out of context?].
The Young Church proclaimed Good News – that reconciliation had been completed – the conquest of death – the possibility of becoming God’s sons and daughters!
It is when we love, even a little, that we sense a kinship with the nature of things.
Consider those who love the almost unlovable!
The bitterest enemies of Jesus were the respectably religious whose god was their own righteousness – and who never learned to love.
The touching of reality, accidentally as it were by the normal giving of the human heart, can remain no more than a passing feeling – it’s significance can be easily missed.
Unless a man is prepared to use the faculty of faith and grasp the fact that God is love, he will never rise above the level of being an ‘unconscious Christian’ – the garbled version of evangelism prevents them from associating that love with God!

  • Beware of imitating love for those we really don’t like – those who get on our nerves or rub us up the wrong way – the need for prayer to change the situation.
  • The need to give ourselves despite the risk of being hurt or misunderstood.
  • Beware of the temptation to hate self (this hate is so easily projected onto others).  We have been called to love our neighbours as ourselves – the need to make allowances for each other – voluntary self-giving, but not self-contempt!
  • God doesn’t wait for our perfection before He can use us – growth and transformation take a lifetime.
  • Better to laugh at ourselves as self-important little idiots, than despise ourselves as sinners.
  • Beware of separating love of God from the love of people (who are often difficult to love).
  • The final judgment (Matt 25.31-46) – the way we treat others is a reflection of the way we treat Christ.
  • The parable of the two debtors (Matt 18.23-35) – makes it very clear that God will not forgive us our sins unless we are prepared to forgive others (see Mark 11.26; Matt 6.14-15).
  • The love of God must go hand in hand with the love of fellow men.
  • Beware of thinking that people are not worth loving – are we worth loving?  Do we have a sense of first being loved and then being willing to give ourselves in love?  How many are willing to go into the messy places of human life to bring the light and order of Christ?

The love deficiency love casts out fear but fear casts out love so much goodwill has been driven out.  The best of human schemes fails through sheer lack of love to implement them.  The need for real fellowship!  People can only be loved into the kingdom of God.
Without love there can be no worthwhile success and certainly no real security.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you – an inner tranquillity and stability – not just the absence of strife or conflict, nor a lack of sensitivity or complacent self-satisfaction – but life now is so much more of a rush!  Peace as a positive gift – not something we can achieve – but we do need some self-examination.

  • Beware of selfishness and self-centredness – it’s something we only learn gradually as a result of willing cooperation
  • God’s concern is harmony and inner healing
  • Do we allow the love of God to penetrate every corner of our being
  • Accept our own limitations and look out for the resources that God supplies – and don’t look too far ahead
  • Remember that being aligned to God’s plan is part of a dynamic process – are we doing what Father wants us to do?

Christian maintenance 24/7
Be still and listen – daily!  Remember that Father loves us
Forgiveness … worship … prayer … Creation is incredible … don’t forget to show appreciation … be positive!  What place intercession?  What can I do for others?
The church as a fellowship of those who are being transformed.

Christian service – the early Christians were pioneers of a new way of life – there was nothing inward looking or any sense of self-satisfaction.  Where is the sense of vocation – instruments of God’s purpose – as ambassadors of a different way of life?
Busyness in church affairs is not the answer!

Some conclusions
There is a willingness among young people to give themselves sacrificially.
A refreshed fellowship would be an effective witness to a largely despairing world.
A divided Christendom is a major barrier.
The modern evangelistic technique of arousing sin and guilt … leads to many problems – it’s like another religion!
The need to be saved from materialism and hopelessness rather than from the sins the evangelists denounce.  Most people are not so much sinful as bewildered.  They need to be shown Christ as He really is.  If they attempt to follow they will soon realise that there is much in their lives that needs to be forgiven and that without the Spirit the new life remains an unattainable ideal i.e. they will find that they are sinners!
But I am quite certain that it is a profound mistake psychologically, spiritually and in every other sort of way to begin by telling people about their sins …
What a difference it would make if all those who are called to caring professions could be aware that they were doing this work, not merely in obedience to a vague ideal, but for the love of Christ and in the fellowship of his church.
Perhaps the time is not too far distant when the bankruptcy of scientific achievement to solve human problems will become increasingly obvious.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Gospel Message - a personal view

A personal view that may leave more questions than answers!

Something like half of the gospel narratives are taken up by the last week of Jesus' life.  My summary of the gospel message (using John's gospel) concentrates on what preceded the 'last supper'.

The gospels were written many years after the events. Each of the gospels was written from a different perspective. Mark seems to have been written for non-Jewish readers – probably in Rome. Luke wrote ‘an orderly account’ that would have appealed to Greek minds. The emphasis of Matthew is on Jesus as the Messiah (written primarily for Jews). The emphasis of John is on the deity of Jesus – an emphasis on what Jesus said rather than what he did.

Jesus gave a great many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and that in that faith you may have life through his name. (John 20.31 - J.B. Phillips). (John had been selective).
[Believe in English is a bit weak.  Maybe trust would be more appropriate - when trust is seen as the fruit of a friendship].

In the beginning . . . (John 1.1on)
There is none of the mounting tension of the other gospels – Jesus is recognised as the Messiah.
Then the village wedding and the confrontation with the moneychangers in the Temple – "Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days".
Nicodemus and the need to be born again!

The Son of Man must be lifted above the heads of men – as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert – so that any man who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost, but should have eternal life. God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it – through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment – that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. Everybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But everybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God. (John 3.14-21 J.B.Phillips).

I find that this one passage raises a lot of questions - that need to be considered separately

The Son of man had to be lifted up - the Saviour - just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
The love of God. Light entered the world - but men prefer darkness because their deeds are evil (John 3.19) - the light of the world.
Those who believe Jesus have eternal life (John 3.36) - but some refuse to believe [unable to trust?].
The precepts of men are useless - the legalism of the Pharisees was being replaced by the love of God (how much legalism has since been re-instated?)
We must worship God in the way that he desires (what is worship?)
Those who listen and trust in the one whom God sent have already passed from death to life - Jesus was the true witness!
The work of God is to believe in the one whom he has sent to you.
The bread of God which comes down from heaven gives life to the world (John 6.33).
I am the bread of life . . . (John 6.35on)
The will of God is that everyone who sees Jesus and trusts him shall have eternal life
John 6.44 &65 - those who hear and learn are drawn by God.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven - unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6.53)
It is the Spirit which gives life. The flesh will not help you. The things which I have told you are spiritual and are life (John 6.63)

Many drew back - but Peter knew that Jesus had the words of eternal life (John 6.69)
The world hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil (John 7.7).

The need to consider the real meaning of sin and repentance.
We are all slaves of sin - slaves have no permanent place in a household - but children do!
Those who are faithful will know the truth - and the truth will set us free! [Adoption!]
We live in a sinful world that is so very selfish and self-centred!
There surely has to be a purpose for life - only those who hear the words of God can begin to understand - the significance of parables! How well do we understand them and how often are they misinterpreted?

John 11.45 on - the raising of Lazarus led to deadly hostility. The Pharisees were concerned about their own position - political expediency! The comments of Caiaphas - "a good thing for us if one man should die for the sake of the people" - can be taken two ways!
How significant is it that people in positions of authority are always vulnerable, and almost always want to hang on to power?

It was six days before the Passover that Jesus came to Bethany – the expensive perfume – many Jews knew where Jesus was and met him with branches of palm on his way to Jerusalem – ‘your king is coming sitting on an ass’s colt’ (Zech 9.9) – something else that the disciples didn’t understand until later.
Jesus told them, "The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain of wheat; but if it dies, it brings a good harvest. The man who loves his own life will destroy it, and the man who hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. If a man wants to enter my service, he must follow my way; and where I am, my servant will also be. And my Father will honour every man who enters my service.
Now comes my hour of heartbreak, and what can I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very purpose that I came to this hour. ‘Father, honour your own name!’"
At this there came a voice from heaven, ‘I have honoured it and I will honour it again!’
Then Jesus said, "That voice came for your sake, not for mine. Now is the time for the judgment of the world to begin, and now will the spirit that rules the world [selfishness and self-centredness] be driven out. As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." (12.23-32).

You must believe in the light while you have the light, that you may become the sons of light (12.36). But although Jesus had given so many signs the people (who were and still are blind and with hardened hearts) did not believe (Isa 53.1; 6.10) – nevertheless many even of the authorities did believe in him but would not admit it for fear of the Pharisees, in case they were excommunicated. They were more concerned to have the approval of men than to have the approval of God.
Later Jesus cried aloud, "Every man who believes in me, is believing in the one who sent me; and every man who sees me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that no one who trusts in me need remain in the dark. Yet, if anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him – for I did not come to judge the world but to save it. Every man who rejects me and will not accept my sayings has a judge – at the last day, the very words that I have spoken, will be his judge (this suggests to me that this is only referring to those who have heard the truth and rejected it - I would also want to question when that judgment takes place). For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and what to speak. And I know that what he commands means eternal life. All that I say I speak only in accordance with what the Father has told me" (12.44-50).
Before the festival of the Passover began, Jesus realised that the time had come for him to leave this world and return to the Father. He had loved those who were his own in this world and he loved them to the end (13.1).

Then comes the "last Supper" and all that followed.
At this point it might be appropriate to pick up a few points from the other gospels:

Jesus taught in parables such that their minds could take in; everything explained to the disciples; some would see and hear and not understand (compare this with Romans 1).
Consider the parable of the sower!
Sheep without a shepherd! Beware of the traditions of men. What is our role?
Healing is from the inside out! We need God's perspective.
Are we prepared to take up the cross and follow - and aim to glorify God in all that we do?.
Listen to Jesus! Don't disturb the faith of others!
The importance of marriage (Mark 10)
Jesus came to serve - the servant of all - we have to accept like a child.
Jesus would expose the secret thoughts of many - not welcome!
The prophesied redeemer who would baptise with the fire of the Holy Spirit - separating the wheat from the chaff and burning the chaff - liberty and release for the captives.
We have an example to follow - the need to be building on a proper foundation - unless we realise our own desperate and helpless position without Jesus we will not be much good to others. Once we put our hand to the plough we cannot look back.
Lambs amongst wolves - a great harvest but only a few are working in it. The need to count the cost.
Remember Mary and Martha
Allow God's Spirit to guide what we say when opportunities arise, but be prepared for persecution.
Life does not depend on material possessions - but as stewards we need to be responsible for what we have been given to look after (the parable of the pounds). Are we preparing for the banquet?
The parable of the lost sheep - what about those who have fallen away? The Challenge!
The kingdom of God never comes by watching for it - the kingdom of God is inside you!
When Jesus returns life will be as it was in the days of Noah - the example of Sodom and Lot - all will be destroyed - no time to turn back - whoever tries to preserve his life will lose it.
The parable of the vineyard - to be handed over to others - directed at the Pharisees - but then what happens to the dry bones?
The warnings of what would happen before Jesus returns!
From Matthew: Jesus as the prophesied Messiah - the virgin birth - John the Baptist - the voice in the wilderness - Satan's challenge - 'Man shall not live by bread alone''.
There is so much in Matt 5, 6 and 7 (a separate consideration!)
Beware of preaching to those who do not appreciate it - the need for a sure foundation. Jesus had authority and compassion - sheep without a shepherd - the harvest is there but the reapers are few - the need for a living sacrifice - Jesus didn't come to bring peace but a sword.
Come to me all who are weary and overburdened and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke!
It is when we are struggling - maybe depressed and discouraged - that we are invited to 'rest' and told that the yoke is easy - a time when perhaps we are open to God's Spirit.
We are what we think - out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Beware of careless words!
Part of the family if we follow obediently.
The parables of Matt 13 - it could be that only those who continue to be defiant will be thrown into the blazing furnace - with tears of bitter regret as they realise what is happening? but then destroyed?
Old and new wine - knowledge of the old and new covenants?
The parable of the lost sheep - it is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish.
The importance of praying together.
The labourers in the vineyard.
The landowner who planted a vineyard - the need for proper fruit.
Invitations to the wedding feast!
Beware of those who 'lead' - we only have one leader - Jesus!
The importance of humility. Beware of blind guides.
There will be many false teachers.
A time of tribulation when many will fall away - love will grow cold.
The separation of the sheep from the goats when Jesus returns. 

I wrote this some years ago.  If I was writing it now I would have made a few adjustments. 

John 3.14-21

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes [trusts?] in him should not perish but have eternal life.
For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God
. (John 3.14-21 – RSV – the KJV is very similar)

This passage for me raises a number of questions.  Jesus didn't come to judge but to save!  Sinners need a Saviour but what happens when people are unaware of their need for a Saviour?  I feel that there is a need to understand the real meaning of sin and what it means to be adopted.
and condemned come from the same Greek words that are related to judgment. Consider for a moment your own children or grandchildren. Would you damn or condemn them forever if they didn’t ‘toe the line’, or would you judge them and hope that they would change?

I frequently use the J B Phillips translation – for these verses there are some differences:
The Son of Man must be lifted above the heads of men – as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert – so that any man who believes in him may have eternal life.
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost, but should have eternal life.
God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it – through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment – that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. Everybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But everybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God.
(John 3.14-21).

For perish Strong’s suggests destroy fully or lose.
In the RSV and KJV the words condemn or condemned are used three times. According to Strong’s there are several different meanings for condemn including to distinguish, try, condemn, punish, determine, judge, call in question, sentence to, think – an implication of justice.
The word save has meanings of save, deliver or protect.
The word damned appears only three times in the NT. Damned and condemned come from the same Greek words that are related to judgment.

We have all sinned and fallen short, whether we realise it or not (it's worth considering that the Orthodox Church belief is that sin is a sickness). Those who believe will inherit eternal life. It is not clear from scripture what happens when we die, but there seems to me to be the possibility that between death and judgment there will be a chance to repent and believe.

[Consider John 3.36 – wrath of God – Phillips uses anger of God – could be translated as God’s displeasure rather than anger or indignation?].

What is SIN?

This is a question that had puzzled me for many years.
If Jesus was without sin, does this mean that Jesus was never a ‘naughty little boy’?
How do we explain 1John 3.9:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

The following quote from an Internet forum would I feel, sum up the beliefs of many:
Repentance will involve confessing my actions, words or thoughts to God as nothing less than disobedience and asking His forgiveness, and might include having to approach someone I have harmed with a similar attitude.  After this humbling experience, I must do all I can to change my ways, to ‘put sin to death’, to remove temptation from my path, knowing that He will meet that effort with the enabling of His Holy Spirit.  God is faithful to forgive sins on this basis.  (This does not mean final victory over sin in a particular area, but it is a necessary and progressive step in the process of sanctification, of being transformed into His image and set apart for Him alone).

A few years ago I attended a meeting organised by a well known Reformed Charismatic church where I was told that Jesus had died because we had all sinned.  I asked for their definition of sin.  This caused some consternation and the suggestion that if I really knew my Bible I wouldn’t be asking such a question.  Later in a one-to-one conversation I was surprised at the vehemence with which I was told that I needed to recognise that God is offended with us.

Anyone who has read “Follow me”, “The Battle over Hell” and “The Story of Life – possible scenarios” will know that I cannot accept this view of Christianity.  

So what is sin?  There have been so many conflicting attempts to define it!
This was written by Bob Harkema and seems to sum up so much of my own understanding:
What we typically call sin are things like sex, drugs, rock'n roll etc, but they are really the fruits of sin (that I tend to think of as ' missing the mark of what God created us to be).  Just like the evidence of love, joy, peace, kindness, etc are the fruits of the Spirit whose source is the tree of life (Jesus), so the evidence of hate, evil, selfishness, etc are the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (sin).  Some refer to it as living in Christ consciousness or living in sin consciousness.  Since Jesus conquered both sin and spiritual death for us 2000 years ago we can live in Christ consciousness now.

So sin now results in the illusion that causes us to think that God does not love us, that he has separated himself from us, that he loves us less because of some action we took.  Once we believe that lie we begin acting and reacting inappropriately.  We then adopt actions and attitudes in a vain attempt to fill a void that in reality doesn't even exist.  We walk blindly into the darkness of delusion, convinced that we must be unlovable, unsavable and unworthy.  It becomes all too easy to stay in the darkness (shadow); the rejection is just too painful to risk again.

It is only when we reject the lie, that we turn into the light of the truth that we are loved beyond measure that we once again turn from sorrow to joy.  Accepting the truth that God is always with us, that he always loves us, that he will never leave us, will transform us from death to life, from sorrow to joy, from tears to smiles.

God does not separate himself from us because of sin, we separate ourselves from him (or at least we think we do) because we think we are not worthy to be in his presence.  We suffer from shame.  Once we realise that he always, always loves us and we can live in his affection and seek him, that is what repentance is, we changed our mind about how much God loves us.

Change your mind about God.  He has always loved you.  He has always been with you.  Don't believe the lie that you are rejected, unacceptable, unloved!  You are worthy!  Nothing can separate you from his love.  And if you are worthy of his love, then you are worthy of your families love, your children's love, your spouses love, your neighbours love.  And even your worst enemy is worthy of your love!

When we live in the light of that truth we are regenerated and transformed.  It changes the way we relate to God and people.  When we doubt that truth we live in shadow and darkness and stumble along in life running into things that damage ourselves and others.


Many Christians think of repentance as abandoning an old way of life, ceasing to sin and ‘turning around and going the other way’.  Many set out with the best of intentions to change their ways.
In some churches there seems to be a constant message of, “You could do better”.  Some people feel that there is a vicious circle of commitment, failure and despair.  The frustration and despair deepens, and they find themselves wondering if they could have ever really repented, or whether their repentance was ‘deep enough’ or ‘heart-felt enough’ or ‘true’ enough, and even whether they really have God’s Spirit and whether they have really been saved.  Some just seem to throw in the towel and walk away!

How many people are subject to weekly ‘guilt trips’?  Does this fit with a God of love who has already redeemed the world?  Do we really have to choose between heaven and hell?
Do we really have to beat ourselves up because of sin or is it the stuff that hinders a closer relationship with God?
Surely repentance toward God is simply not about a new and improved you!  There is no way that we can put sin out of our lives.  Repentance is a change of the way we think.  It is a change of perspective, from seeing our own importance to seeing God as the centre of the universe and trusting our life to him.  But we can only do this when we recognise that we can do nothing worthwhile in our own strength.

When we realise that God has simply decided to write off our lifetime of selfish arrogance, all our lies, all our cruelty, all our pride, lust, betrayals and meanness – all of our evil thoughts, deeds and plans, we have a choice to make.  We can praise God and thank him for his indescribable love, or we can continue in the ‘rat-race’ of life!
Consider that the lost sheep did not find itself – the shepherd went looking for it!
Consider the Prodigal son – forgiven, redeemed and fully accepted purely on the basis of his father’s lavish grace!

It is the law that shows us we are sinners (Rom 7.7) – it shows us where we fall short – slaves to sin and its consequences – we cannot clean ourselves up (1Peter 5.10-11).  Sin hurts and destroys us and everyone around us.  It springs from unbelief and selfish rebellion – it saps us of true life and imprisons us in darkness – sin hurts like hell!
We have been given the gift of freedom and empowerment.  We can still make mistakes but we will continue to be welcome at the banquet – as long as we don’t try to wear our own clothes.

It’s probably worth considering what our reactions would be to our own rebellious children!  Nothing can separate us from the love of God!

The following quote must be true for many Christians "When I was converted this self interest never received the fatal blow that would have come through deep repentance - and consequently building on a shaky foundation led to years of inner conflict".