the Word and the Way

I’ve been writing a paper the use of the doctrine of creation in Christian ethics this week, and while I sort of already posted about this here , consider this a more personal reflection.

Growing up, I fully had it in my head that my relationship with God was based on personal effort. There was a definite prefabricated set of guidelines set out before me of what I needed to do in order to be a good Christian. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t gamble. Don’t do drugs. I was charged with the responsibility to “uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought, word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral.” These guidelines, in an of themselves, are obviously not bad. But, and I’ve used this analogy before, it was as if every time I willed myself not to sin, I moved up a rung on a ladder towards Him, and every misstep bumped me down right to the bottom, only to have to pick my dejected self up again and start all over.

Thankfully, I was able to move away from this destructive way of looking at my relationship with God, and come to understand more about the nature of grace. Lately, however, I have come to the realization that, in some ways, those prefabricated guidelines have seeped into what I think it means to be a good Christian at this, the later 20s stage of life. To be a good Christian you must live in a poor part of town, buy only fair trade products, attend a church with a catchy name, read all the right books and on and on. Again, these things in and of themselves are not bad, and there is certainly a need to provide an alternative to the dominant ways of culture and to modes of church that are immersed in that culture. But it becomes problematic when it’s a matter of set guidelines on what it means to follow Jesus.

Which brings me to my current look at the doctrine of creation. The second creation account as found in Genesis 2 tells us that God spoke this command to Adam: “You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Here, God clearly speaks a Word to Adam, offering him a continuous opportunity to respond in obedience to the Word. For Luther, it was at this place that the church was created, the place where humankind was intended to respond in obedience through worship, trusting in and adhering to the true Word of God that had been spoken to Adam. God’s Word calls Creation into existence, and, soon after, humanity is called into communion with Him through a direct command, which demands a trusting and obedient response.

Then, of course, have the story of Eve and the serpent. Again, it’s not about the apple. As Luther puts it, “the chief temptation was to listen to another word and to depart from the one which God had previously spoken.” As Eve is caused to doubt the validity of the command of God by the serpent, her decision-making process revolves not around whether or not she should eat of the tree, but rather whether or not she will take God at his Word and trust that what He has said is good and right and true. While Eve clearly made the wrong choice, it is Jesus who later hears the Word, and “follows it in perfect obedience.” Jesus’ obedience led him to death on the cross, and through his resurrection the connection that was disrupted at the foot of the tree in Eden is re-established. Our hearing of the Word and the obedience required of us in response to it is now and forever reframed by the justifying and reconciling work of Christ on the cross.

They key feature of Christian decision-making as portrayed in this story, then, is devotion to God as the One who has already spoken the good and right Word to us. The emphasis must always be on this vertical relationship as we, whom His Word continually calls out, hear it and respond in trusting obedience. The point is that we have been justified through the work of Christ on the cross, and humanity, as in the Garden, has been given the freedom to respond in worship to the true Word of God. There is no burden of prefabricated and set guidelines in order to be a good Christian; everything that we do is already seen as good and right according to the Word of God, in Christ, which continually guides and shapes who we are as his creatures.

Yes, a response is demanded of us, but it’s one of worship and trust, believing that Christ has already gone before us and fulfilled the obedience required of the Word of God on our behalf. We are constantly bombarded with the ongoing question “Did God really say … ?”, and our response must be a continual, trusting and active “yes” as we go about our day-to-day lives.

Let me finish with a quote from Eugene Peterson’s book, The Jesus Way:

The way of Jesus cannot be imposed or mapped – it requires an active participation in following Jesus as he leads us through sometimes strange and unfamiliar territory, in circumstances that become clear only in the hesitations and questionings, in the pauses and reflections where we engage in prayerful conversation with one another and with him.

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  1. Nice post Ian. Sounds as if you’re learning some good stuff. Although something didn’t sit quite right with me when you said, “There is no burden of prefabricated and set guidelines in order to be a good Christian; everything that we do is already seen as good and right according to the Word of God, in Christ, which continually guides and shapes who we are as his creatures.”

    I’m not sure if it’s true to say “there is no burden” when it comes to following Christ. Certainly the life of someone in the Way has demands made of it and doesn’t look entirely like the life of one who is not in the Way. No? When I read the gospels I get the feeling that Christ makes real-life demands of his followers.

    Also, I’m not sure I agree that *everything* that we do is already seen as good and right. Christ’s righteousness covers us, for certain. But the fact that we need Christ’s righteousness to cover us seems to suggest that everything we do *isn’t* good and right?

    What do you think?

  2. JT, thanks for the response. You’ve given me much to think about. I would say though that I think there is a difference between demands and burdens. For sure Christ calls us out to embody alternative ways of being human, and to follow Him requires a clear break from the old into the new. But, in light of the cross, the travel along the Way in freedom, as those who have been justified and set right with God. Burden, to me, smells of earning, things we have to do to be good and right with God. Christ’s righteousness covers us, and we desperately need it. Of course we do things that are inherently bad and wrong, but maybe Christ no longer sees us in that light. That’s what I was trying to get at. We are able follow Jesus in freedom, because he followed the command of God perfectly on our behalf. Maybe I’m off base here. Thanks for offering some challenging thoughts.

  3. I thought that was what you were getting at I just wasn’t sure. Thanks for the clarification!

    ps – Any word on whether we’ll be classmates in the near future?

  4. Right now, it looks like I’ll be applying to enter a PhD program at U of T in Sept. ’10.

  1. April 7th, 2009

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