Hear the Music, Don’t Learn the Steps

Part 5 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

If you are anything like me (let’s hope not), your bent is to read the Bible to get information. You want to mine the peaks and valleys of Scripture for intellectual ascent, to out-wit, out-smart, or out-argue someone else in a theological debate. You want information because filling your brain makes you feel enlightened, special, smart, or just plain better than others.

If you aren’t like me, I’m willing to be you are still a bit like me (too bad) in that you read the Bible for information, yet in a different way–it just might not be for theological prowess. Instead, you might have been raised on the American proverb, “Knowledge is power,” and “power” for you is that little nudge to initiate your self-help gears.  You bring that perspective to your devotional times, and as long as you find that little piece of history to remember or a short verse to memorize, your conscience will be appeased, at least until tomorrow morning.

If you read the Bible simply for information, you will learn the dance steps of Christianity. Anyone can learn dance steps. Even uncoordinated white men can learn the Macarena or the Electric Slide if a pretty girl invites them to the dance floor. It is much harder (impossible?) to hear the music as the writer and composer would without a complete internal transformation.

Isn’t that what we do when it comes to devotions? We look for dance steps. We simply want to know where our feet go. We search for a rule to follow or a sin to avoid. We want to know when to raise our hands in church, when to say “Amen,” and how to talk like church-folk. Sadly, this doesn’t only happen during devotions. At Sunday services, small groups, or Friday night hang-outs, people in the church are just looking for dance steps. Many Christians (and those who think they are) just want to know where their foot goes next.

Dance steps will get you by for a song or two. If you know the steps, you might even be able to fool your dance partner that you know what you are doing. But sooner or later a song will play that doesn’t have programmed moves. You will need to hear the music to show that you know what you are doing. Unfortunately, there are millions of people in America who can do the dance of Christianity, and reading the Bible for information–which is what you probably learned to do growing up–will only teach you steps. You must hear the music.

The Bible teaches this, just not in the same vocabulary.  The author of Hebrews writes, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (4:12-13).

That goes way deeper than simple dance steps.

Dance steps are akin to phony, external religion, but God wants us to hear the music. Dance steps make Christianity about me. Hearing the music makes it about God. Dance steps are a short cut that yield no eternal reward. Hearing the music means we enter into the story of God’s redemptive work and relish the fact that he has graciously broken into our lives to save us from the sin and brokenness we would not otherwise be able to overcome.

This is were true joy lies. Thus the Bible is meant for your spiritual transformation, not mere transfer of information.

Obviously no one can “hear the music of the gospel” unless the Spirit causes them to be born again (John 3:1-8). With that said, we still have responsibility for our spiritual lives. As I wrote last time, whether Christian or not, our greatest need is the gospel. Scriptures main point is to be “a speaker amplifying the music of the gospel.”[1] Here are some questions to help us hear the music when reading Scripture.

  • What is the big idea of this passage?
  • How does this passage fit into the big story of God’s redemptive work throughout the Bible?
  • How does this passage point to Christ (either implicitly or explicitly)?
  • What idols and counterfeit gods does this passage expose?
  • In what ways does this passage expose my unbelief in the gospel?
Answering these questions will not always be easy, but the process will always be worth it. In the end, only by God’s grace, you will be more gospel-sensitive, and less externally religious.

[1] I am indebted to Dr. Keith Johnson for the analogy of “hearing the music of the gospel.” Read his article for a much fuller and more helpful version of what I have written.


What Does Justification Do? (Part 1)

Part 2 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

Justification provides the forgiveness of sins

The first thing that justification does is forgives sin. We cannot be declared righteous or given Christ’s righteousness until our sin has been pardoned. Paul says in Romans 3 that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (v. 23), but that whoever receives Christ by faith is forgiven and “justified by his grace as a gift” (v. 24).

Further, Paul says in Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” In other words, God provides undeserving sinners a pardon for their sin. He does not justify their sinful behavior, thoughts, and motives. Rather, he justifies them so that they might be forgiven of all the wrong they have done.

Christ rose from the grave for our justification (Rom. 4:25). But if Christ remained dead, we would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). Therefore there is a connection between justification and life. Because Christ is alive, all those who are in him are spiritually alive as well. To have your sins forgiven means you are spiritually alive. All those who do not believe to Christ are unforgiven and are still “dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

To be continued.


You Are Weird to God

When you hear the word “alienated,” what comes to mind?  You probably think words like of “strange,” “foreign,” or “different.”

How about “weird”?

If you look up “weird” in the dictionary, you might find something like this: “involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny: a weird sound; weird lights.”  Interesting.  That sounds like they are describing a UFO or an alien.

Well, in Colossians 1:21, Paul writes that we “once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.”  The previous six verses describe the incredible attributes of Jesus — his divinity, supremacy, and preeminence.  Because Jesus is all those things, and we are not, it makes us different than he is.  How do we respond to something that is different  from us (in the negative sense)?  We usually say, “That’s weird!”  When God sees sin, he says, “That’s not right.  That’s not how it’s supposed to be.”

Because of our sin, we do not belong in the same universe as God.  He is so perfect.  We are so sinful.  That’s a huge difference.  Our sin separates us from him; it causes us to not be able to experience relationship with God.  We are estranged.  We are lost.  Simply, in God’s eyes, sin makes us weird.

But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus, the righteous God-man, came to die for us, the unrighteous weirdos.  That’s what Paul tell us in verse 22:

[And you, who were once alienated]…he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

Jesus died that we might be holy and blameless before God.  Jesus’ death takes away alienation and brings on a new nature.  His death reconciles us to God.  His death secures our relationship with God.

Let’s praise God that his criteria for receiving love isn’t that we are like him.  He loves sinners.  He loves weirdos.  And he sent his Son to make us right with him, so that we might become more like Jesus for all eternity.


Sovereignty and Happiness

If God is sovereign, then it follows that he is happy. Sovereignty implies dominion and autonomy, and a sovereign God accomplishes his will because he ordained everything to happen. Such a God is always happy because everything he ordained happened, and he would never do anything to displease himself.

If God is subjugated, then it follows that he is frustrated. Subjugation implies no dominion, no autonomy, and a subjugated God will not always accomplish his will because he did not ordain everything to happen. Such a God will, at times, be frustrated because something he did not ordain happened.

The question then remains: do you serve a sovereign, happy God or a subjugated, frustrated god?