On legalism, Bible versions and the Will of God

Basic Theology

I wrapped up a recent Ask Anything Monday that inspired me to go back to my AMA-styled blogposts. When I do these types of AMAs, I’m trying to do my best to steward a few of the amazing questions that came in on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes, to continue the fun, I pull twelve or so more of those questions to mete out in the newsletter over the next four weeks!
After how you all enjoyed last week’s “AAM” style newsletter, I think we will stick with that “short and sweet” model going forward.
Without further ado, let’s look at these questions.
Moving where Christianity is widespread but legalism abounds. Thoughts on preparation?
First, I love that this person is thinking about preparation… how often do we move to a new city, a new area, a new street, without ever considering the spiritual state of it? One of my dear friends/mentors once said each city has a “spirit”, or spiritual idol, and you can tell the idol by the priorities of the community. As we went around the room, we shared what we thought the “idol” of our area was. Some from the American PNW said “health and food”. Some from the U.S. capitol said “success and influence”. I said: “the good life”. Because that’s why people move here, to the great white north. To escape. To hide from their troubles. But if you can’t hide from the trouble in your heart, what then? If the good life isn’t that good… where do you go?
It was a useful exercise, and I love that this question points to it as well. Because in areas of the U.S. (and world) there are vestiges of Christianity that aren’t true Christianity at all. And those are the hardest, in some ways, to reach because they know everything already. They say “Lord, Lord” but do not know Him (Matt. 7:22).
I want to reiterate what I feel like I’ve said a lot lately: Remember that legalistic Christians are baby Christians, no matter how long they’ve been in the faith (or think they are in the faith). Because they depend on rules, law, or bottle-fed spirituality, they never grow up into mature believers who can discern what is true on their own. They’ll often use over-simplistic explanations for sin (“The devil is after me” rather than an understanding of the flesh, Spirit-led life, how to walk in Christian identity). They may read their Bibles, but this is treated as a check list item rather than intimacy with God. The focus is outward, on God’s judgment or human opinion, rather than inward on intimacy with and transformation by Christ.
Knowing this, I would prepare in three ways:
  • Pray. Pray over the city you’re moving to, pray over the church you’ll be in (even if you aren’t in one yet), and pray for your own heart and eyes to be open, wise, and sensitive to how God will use you in this place! I would pray specifically for discerning eyes, a heart of self control and wisdom, and for words fitting for the occasion.
  • Learn the history. If possible, learn the history of the area. What people and church traditions settled it? What denominations have the predominant influence, and what do those believe? I really think some church history helps to understand how people develop spiritually the way they do.
  • Practice hospitality. I say practice because… it takes repetition! Life on life discipleship is the best way to show people authentic faith. Unapologetically live your faith alongside others. And honestly, your deep, intimate, REAL faith in God will be compelling all on its own. To meet someone who follows Jesus not from fear, or law, or boredom, or societal expectation? That is the best shock in the world.
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What version of the Bible do you recommend?
Bible translations are generally divided into two types: word for word and thought for thought. In between those is what’s called “dynamic equivalence”, which seeks to capture the benefits of both translation goals. Word for word translations seek to preserve the exact word from Hebrew or Greek even if the sentence doesn’t make much sense in English. Thought for thought tries to capture the truest expression of a sentence. Dynamic equivalence attempts to combine those goals.
I suggest reading from multiple versions if you can. Paraphrases, by the way, are not actual versions/translations; e.g. The Message (the Passion has so many linguistic problems I do not count it as a paraphrase, and scholars don’t either). My favorites to read are NASB, ESV, and CSB.
More on English translations in this episode or in my book How the Bible Came to Be.
Is there Scripture I should consider when deciding where to relocate?
I think this question connect nicely to the first, and really, it’s a question about discerning God’s will. Before I make suggestions on Scripture, I want to note that your view of God’s sovereignty (and the interaction of sovereignty and human will) plays a big role in this. Funny how theology works its way into everything! I have a big section about sovereignty and will in my new theology book (coming Feb 28th!) but for now: a determinist approach would say God has a specific area you are destined to live, and you must find it. He will guide you and tell you, but ultimately will direct you into the place he has planned/decreed.
A more libertarian approach would say God may have a specific place for you, or perhaps He will give you the opportunity to choose between several good options. You also have the opportunity to make a poor decision (perhaps based on fear of what people think, or lack of trust in His provision and love). The determinist approach is the simplest. But as a Wesleyan, I believe God granted humanity the sublime ability to walk WITH Him in the decisions we make. Which means He may have a “best” place for us, and if so, He will make that clear; but He also might leave that decision in our own hands and use it to His glory either way.
So how do we know what to choose? I saw this list of questions to ask for praying through God’s leading/will, and I think it’s a great guide:
  • Scriptural test: Has God already spoken about this in His word? (2 Tim. 3:16)
  • Secrecy test: Would it bother me if everyone knew this was my choice? (Prov. 11:3)
  • Survey test: What if everyone followed my example? (1 Tim. 4:12)
  • Spiritual test: Am I being people-pressured or Spirit-led? (Gal. 1:10)
  • Stumbling test: Could this cause another person to stumble? (Rom. 14:21)
  • Serenity test: Have I prayed and received peace about this decision? (Phil. 4:6-7)
  • Sanctification test: Will this keep me from growing in the character of Christ? (2 Cor. 3:18)
  • Supreme test: Does this glorify God – does it exalt His goodness? (1 Cor. 10:13
What God asks you to do will not contradict His revealed Word (He is not going to prompt you to live with your boyfriend to “try things out before marriage”; He will not ask you to lie to your parents about your grades; He will not invite you to harbor malice and bitterness toward others; etc.). But He also opens His hands and leads you with LOVE.
I remember a time when Josh and I were at a crossroads. We lived in Pennsylvania at the time and Josh needed a new job. He had interviews in PA and MI. We made a pro and con list. We prayed. And we felt no clear direction either way; peace about both, if you will. So, we decided. And while we miss our PA friends and church to this day, that move has been blessed by God. But I also think, if we had stayed in PA, we would have been blessed there, too.
Sometimes the path is clear and I promise you, friend: God doesn’t play games. He will guide you. But He will also train you to listen – to shut off the noise and hear His voice. And sometimes He is quiet because He is inviting you to walk the path with Him, to let Him continue to guide and redeem everything that’s on it, even when you’re the one who makes the choice.
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