Thursday, December 13, 2012

Developing Godly Family Life: Avoiding Moralism in Interpreting and Teaching God’s Word

In our last installment on godly family life we discussed the ways to effectively weave the Word of God into the fabric of our home.  One big issue that we touched on but did not unpack was this:  How do we see and savor and teach Jesus and his saving work on the cross from everywhere in the Bible?  An example shows us the challenge that we will face. 

Take the story of David and Goliath.  If your experience is similar to mine, you heard the application of this story go something like this: “We all have giants in our lives.  And just as David through his faith conquered his giant, so you too can trust God to conquer them in your life.”  What’s the problem with that interpretation?  Well, to use a phrase: right truth, wrong text.  Is it true that God can give us the faith to conquer the struggles in our life?  Yes.  How we do that is another discussion.  But is that the point of David and Goliath, or is there something more profound, more significant?  Is it not more significant that David was the representative of his people, and fought the battle of God’s people on their behalf against the representative of God’s enemies?  Is it not a microcosm of the same story that’s been going on since Genesis 3:15 - that there would be war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent?  It’s amazing to see the parallel between the prophecy – that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan– and that David literally did this to Goliath!  Is not David showing us what Jesus would come and accomplish  - the war we could not win that David’s greater Son would win on our behalf?  Now, given all that, it is still true that David’s faith was great, coming to the giant in the name of the Lord of Israel, and insofar as he shows us his greater Son, we too are to trust in God as David did.   You might hear that interpretation and think, “that’s great David, but it sounds like you’re saying that I shouldn’t make very specific applications of these stories to my life.  Nothing could be further from my point.  The question is not whether we specifically apply God’s Word, but how we effectively apply it.   To simply say that we too can slay our own giants is moralism: a good bit of wisdom or tip for living (which we could hear in any Jewish synagogue because it makes no mention of Jesus!), but it is both profoundly shortsighted AND does not give us the Gospel – the power of God both to save us and to truly build us up in faith through Jesus’ work on the cross.  The moralistic way provides only empty hope for change.  But specifically applying God’s Word through the lens of the cross holds out the hope for true transformation.  So how do we avoid the pothole of moralism in applying the Bible?  At the heart of it is this:

Know that Jesus IS in every part of Scripture, because he is both the author and the subject of the Bible.  Jesus himself declares this on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection:

Luke 24:25-27  25 And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus gives them a lesson on how to interpret their Old Testament!  And what is the lesson?  He says “The things concerning himself.”  But what things?  Peter tells us that the Old Testament testifies to the fact that Jesus would come to suffer for sin and rise from the dead:

1 Peter 1:10-11  10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,  11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

So what should we be asking when we teach any Bible story (Old OR New Testament)?  We should ask: How does this urge us to love and grasp more deeply the Gospel and its implications in my life?  Back to our example of David and Goliath.  How does this story drive us to the cross?  We know that David was a man after God’s heart, but he was still a sinner like all of us.  To hold David up as an example without a recognition of his sin is to say this:  “David was faithful.  So be like David.”  There are two problems with this.  First, is David really the one with whom we should find our direct connection in the story?  Aren’t we actually much less like David (who stood in the gap for His people) and much more like the rest of Israel who were weak and frozen with fear?  If we’re honest, we are the struggling soldiers who need a deliverer.  Second, we don’t want to say categorically that we should be like David, because David was an adulterer and a murderer and he needed a redeemer also!  David is held up as an historical picture (sometimes called a type) of Christ and his work, and God recorded these events from redemptive history to show us aspects of Jesus who would represent us and save us.  As David stood in the gap for Israel, so Jesus would take on the world, the flesh and the devil (our great enemies).  As David defeated the giant and won freedom from the prospect of slavery to the Philistines, so Jesus set us free from the law of sin and death.  In this way the Bible is primarily about Jesus, not David and not us.   We can have true freedom from sin not just from seeking to be faithful like David was, but by running to the cross where freedom was actually accomplished for us. 

            But don’t think that the lives of the ancients have no particular application to us in terms of how we live.  It’s not that we don’t learn from David’s faithfulness.  The New Testament tells us to follow their example, both negatively:

1 Corinthians 10:6-11   6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."  8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

And positively, on the heels of the hall of faith in Hebrews 11:

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us….

So not only can we learn from the faith of David, we must. You may say, “David didn’t you just contradict yourself?”  I’ve been known to do that, but in this case I don’t think so.   It’s one thing to say “David was faithful, just be like David.”  But it’s quite another to see how David’s life points us to the only One who was truly faithful where we failed.  Thus by the power of God’s forgiveness through Christ alone we can be “Imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).  Then our strength to obey comes from Jesus’ finished work, not because of the bare example of David.  David’s strength to obey came as he grasped the mercy of God for his own forgiveness.  We learn from and imitate David insofar as we seek mercy from God as David did.  Anything else is an anvil on our back, trying and working in the power of the flesh. 

Let me conclude by saying this: The Bible is the revelation of a glorious person:  the Lord Jesus.  Let me encourage you as you study the Bible and teach it in your home to seek Jesus in Scriptures at every turn, and let every story, every truth cause us to run to the cross to be washed from sin and strengthened for life.  May God bless our study of His Book!

Pastor David