REPOST Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought, provided by Pastor Barry Kang who heads Symphony Church in Boston, was first posted on March 2, 2014. He is a graduate of Stanford University (BA), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min.).
Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend
“The Relationship Between Theology and Ethics”
1 John 2:6
“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
Even now, one of the most important questions we wrestle within the Church is how our ethics (how we live our life) interacts with our theology (what we believe). As many already know, the apostle John’s primary message was “love one another” (Jn. 13:35). But what does it mean if we don’t actually love one another? Since we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), does that imply that loving others is not required in order to be saved? Is doing what God commands necessary for salvation?
The first letter of John was likely written to the church in Ephesus, a church with an outstanding pedigree. Planted by the apostle Paul, pastored by Timothy and later by the apostle John, the church had a solid foundation of pastoral and theological leadership. Yet, as Jesus had prophesied (Matt. 7), false teachers had begun to influence the church (Acts 20:29-31); and much of their teachings had to do with this interplay between theology and ethics.
In time, from their false teachings would arise a non-Christ centered system of philosophy known as “Gnosticism,” which taught that only those who had received the secret knowledge (i.e., gnosis) would become enlightened and saved. An essential component to Gnosticism was dualism, which taught that the soul was good while flesh was evil. Interestingly, this led to two vastly different ethical applications. Some dualists preached a severe form of asceticism (i.e., a strict lifestyle that avoids physical pleasure) under the premise that wicked flesh needed to be disciplined. Many others promoted licentiousness under the pretext that since the soul will be saved in the end, what was done in the flesh didn’t matter.
In contrast, the gospel writers taught that God did the work of salvation. We play no role in obtaining our salvation because God’s redemptive work is affected neither by our righteousness nor our lack of it; we simply receive this grace through faith. Knowledge (knowing what Jesus did) has a role, but salvation is more than intellectually assenting to that knowledge. For John, faith cannot be separated from one’s ethics, any more than Christ’s humanity can be separated from his divinity. If you believe in Jesus, then you would want to live like him and you can, since the Spirit (a.k.a., the helper) lives in us. Yes, “whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
Evidently, the errors of Gnosticism still affect many of us today. How? We are inclined to listen to the voices that preach knowledge (resulting in accumulating information) over faith. Some emphasize grace so much that all efforts toward holiness are dismissed. For others, imbalanced focus on faithfulness has turned good works into a means to justify ourselves and to judge others. As we read through 1 John, let us ask that God would help us to find the radical middle of grace and faith.
Prayer: Father, thank You for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! Now, despite our imperfections, we can have fellowship with You and even fellowship with other imperfect people. Help me to become a person who proclaims Christ inside and outside the Church, that our joy would become complete! Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Obadiah 1