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by Jacob Ninan
The truths of God are manifold, and several of them are needed to be taken hold of in order to bring balance to any situation. ‘Faith’ is balanced by ‘works,’ and ‘righteousness’ by ‘mercy.’ When we lose sight of the balance we latch on to some truth at the expense of another. This may happen because we are not aware of the lack of balance, or because we are so gripped with one truth that everything else fades away in comparison. But the result is that like an airplane with only one side engine working we tend to deviate from the true path, and find ourselves having to make too many corrections along the way if we determine to reach the destination.
Teachers are the ones who have the responsibility of bringing Biblical truths to the church. But sometimes they tend to teach what appeals to them most (these subjects may vary from time to time according to their special fascination), not always trying to see if people are able to find a balanced approach to life. Some other teachers speak on what the hearers like to hear, and miss out on what people need to hear (2Ti.4:3). It takes teachers with prophetic vision to keep watching over the flock to understand and provide what they need from time to time (Lk.12:42).
By ‘one shot remedies’ I mean the overarching emphasis some people place on some truth, exhorting people to take action according to that truth as if that is all that they need to do. Let us look at some of the common ones.
Faith And Works
‘Only believe’ is a very common call among Christians. It is well-meant but many times misplaced. The impression one gets is that all one needs to do at any time is to believe. The fact is that many times this is the right thing to do, when we know that God has said He would do something and we don’t see Him do anything. Taking this position helps us to fight the tendency to doubt or to take some action on our own. We remember the problem Abraham faced when he took his own action to fulfil God’s promise for a son by taking Hagar for a wife. Sometimes we just need to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
But this is just one side of the truth. We would go totally wrong if we ‘only believe’ when we are in a place where we need to do something. A lot of spiritual laziness can be covered up by this call to only believe. James had to confront this error by saying that faith that does not produce appropriate works is dead—just a delusion. Many times the mark of true faith is the action we take based on what we believe. But the usual (misplaced) cry that arises is that salvation is by faith and not works!
Grace And Repentence
Since the Reformation more and more people have understood and preach that salvation is by grace through faith. Martin Luther and others emphasised this so much to combat the error of thinking that one can earn one’s salvation by good works. This emphasis is needed even now. However, does that mean that just ‘faith’ will lead us to salvation when that faith does not involve recognition of our sinful condition and the judgment we deserve, and the consequent turning away from sin to the Saviour? But repentance is considered to be too harsh to mention to poor sinners, and hell and eternal damnation too gross to talk about! Some people go so far as to call repentance as works that are done to earn salvation! They claim that a call to repent will take away the value of grace. But the result is an incomplete salvation, if at all there is an element of salvation.
Mercy And Righteousness
Mercy has a great appeal to all people, especially those who know they need it. People may not be quick to show mercy to others who have done them wrong, but they would like to spread mercy around where it does not cost them anything. Criminals should be treated with mercy, capital punishment should be banned, grace marks should be extended to students who have not done well in the examinations, promotions in jobs should be generous and not based on merit, etc. If anyone points out sin, up comes the cry, “Judge not!”
But of course life cannot run without righteousness, impartiality, justice, and such virtues also. Action based on just ‘mercy’ gives rise to proliferation of indiscipline and lawlessness and absence of order and fair-play.
Praise The Lord!
With the coming of the charismatic movement came the call to praise the Lord at all times. Many Bible examples were mentioned about how praise brought forth miraculous results, changing impossible situations around. The implication was that praise was the panacea for all problems. One major aberration I noticed among some people was praising God not in but for all situations as if He was responsible for every situation (e.g. praising God for the son who was a drug addict). This was an example of following some action without thinking of or understanding the meaning.
Certainly praising God as an expression of our trust in Him even in the midst of impossible situations is good. This is an attitude of heart (rather than the words) that glorifies God. But is this all that is needed in all situations? Can there be something else also that God would want us to do to deal with different situations?
Of course more things are wrought by prayer than the world knows about. Many times the reason why things do not go well is that we do not pray. Many times people don’t pray because they don’t believe it can do any good. We need to pray more, and we also need to pray in faith and according to the will of God. We need to pray not only when we are at our wit’s end, but also we must learn how to acknowledge God in every part of our lives (Prov.3:6). But is it only prayer that God asks us to do? Can long prayers or mass prayers make up for lack of obedience, repentance, or bold action? Can prayer not become an excuse for our laziness to take action?
For some groups of Christians this is what is required in all situations, to submit to the authorities—children to parents, wives to husbands, believers to the church leaders, and people to the authorities in the country. Some demand unquestioning submission to authorities, which can actually be rendered only to God and not to any man. This type of ‘one shot remedies’ leaves out the possibility of discussions, questioning of wrongs, and the consequent learning process and maintenance of equitable growth.
Of course Jesus emphasised the need for denying of ourselves with respect to doing the will of God in relationship to Him and other people. But is it the single thing we have to do—keep denying ourselves—in all circumstances, especially in relation to others? Then we will have to assume that the other person is always right, God will bless us (even if we are being foolish) if we let the others have their way, or something like that! What about the special contributions God has given us to give to the world by being different from the others?
The proposed action is to avoid stating any negative words and keep speaking ‘positive’ words so that things will work out well for us. The truth is that if we keep saying negative things it indicates our unbelief in God, and when we say what God has said we are expressing our faith in Him. But can we accomplish anything if we speak out what God has not said in His word or spoken to us in our heart, just because we wish for something? Can confessing something with our mouth become a substitute for not having a true faith in God that leaves everything to His sovereign will?
This is a modern one shot remedy that wants us to plant a ‘seed’ in faith (usually a contribution to some ministry!) whenever we have a problem to deal with, hoping that this would cause God to produce the fruit—whatever we need in relation to that problem. If a marriage has problems, instead of identifying what all has gone wrong and what all need to be done now, all we need to do is to plant a seed! This will avoid the pain of facing up to the truth, and it will also avoid getting positive results except for these ministries!
Truth has many sides to it, and also, life’s issues are not usually amenable to simplistic solutions. Christian growth involves a well-rounded development in different aspects of life, and there cannot be short cuts or bypass roads. We have looked at some typical examples of how we people tend to avoid the long and arduous paths in favour of an easy way out. But the result may be similar to going to some medical quacks instead of to the rigorous path of investigations and remedies.
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, April 2010
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