Saturday, June 1, 2013

Is the Spirit of truth liberal or conservative? (2)

In pursuit of the question of what John 16:12-14 means I proposed that 'the truth' which the disciples cannot now bear but which the Spirit will guide them into concerns the love of God and the God who is Love. I concluded the previous post:

"In John's Gospel disciples keep falling away from Jesus because his teaching is too tough for them. In 1 John the Christian community of love is torn apart through sectarian division.

No. We need to think a little about the love of God, the truth of which we cannot bear now but the Holy Spirit can guide us into it gently. What is the Spirit of truth telling us about the love of God?"

One of the trickier parts of the John's Gospel to understand is the reaction of some of the disciples to Jesus' teaching on the bread of life. 'When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (6:60). What is tricky to understand is what gives offence. Is it Jesus words about eating his fleshing and drinking his blood? (6:53) Or, is it the differentiation Jesus makes between the manna in the wilderness which sustained God's people and the living bread come down from heaven? (6:48-51) Or, is it the implication that for Jesus' flesh and blood to be heavenly food, he will have to die? Either way, Jesus makes an extraordinary and wonderful promise concerning eternal life. Yet some are not attracted by it. They find it 'difficult'. They cannot 'bear' what Jesus has to say.

Or we might delve into John 8. In the midst of a tense argument there is somewhat surprising information that 'many believed in him' (8:30). To these believers Jesus says,

'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.' (8:31-32)


Except these new believers then appear to walk back on their belief. They react badly to what Jesus has just said, denying they have ever been slaves (8:33) and resorting to counter-argument to Jesus (8:34-59). They cannot bear what Jesus has to say.

In each of the two examples above, Jesus offers a way into a deeper experience of the love of God: eat and drink me, continue in my word, thus receive eternal life and freedom. But this is too difficult for some. Why?

The answer, ultimately, lies in a moment in John's Gospel when what is said intersects precisely with Synoptic Gospels' teaching on discipleship.

'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.' (John 12:23-26a; cf Matt 10:39; Mark 8:3; Luke 9:24; 14:26).
True disciples die to themselves.They crucify their selfish, sinful, ego-centric way of life. Metaphorically (and sometimes literally) they die with Christ on the cross and rise to eternal life. This is demanding, uncompromising, and difficult.

The love of God draw us to God, who is revealed not to have love as an attractive attribute but to be Love itself (or, better, Love himself). But this love is not about us as though God is saying 'Have some love. Your life will then be complete.' That is the way advertisers sell new TVs, holidays in the tropics and beauty enhancing products. God is a little different!

God's love is about God. His love for us is not a gift to us to enhance our lives. His love for us is a gift to himself because it draws us into himself who (it turns out in the fullness of the revelation of God) is  Father Son and Holy Spirit, One in love. Eternal life is inclusion in the Godhead of love through Christ.

This drawing into God involves death to self. 'Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' This is the hardest truth, the reason why the disciples who found Jesus' teaching difficult turned away.

What then does Jesus mean when he says, 'I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now'? These things are about the character of discipleship in relation to the love of God. The gospel is a message which is simultaneously a No and a Yes. A No to self and a Yes to God. It will always be opposed and often rejected, and the disciples with it. A hard road lies ahead for those sent by Jesus as the Father has sent him (John 20:21). The Spirit of truth's revelation of those things which 'you cannot bear now' includes 'the things that are to come' (16:12). The future of discipleship is suffering. Jesus mercifully spares his disciples the details as they struggle to absorb the impact of their master's own impending departure as the grain of wheat which falls to the ground.

In this way the revelation of 'all the truth' which Jesus promises through the Spirit is not a revelation of new truths (as many take it, so we now have new truths about slavery, about women, and, today, about homosexuality) but a revelation of the full extent of the truth already revealed by Jesus.

Indeed John's Gospel itself is a fulfilment of this promise. But let's stop there for today and come back to that matter another day.


Janice said...

The sermon to be preached at my church tomorrow is "Atrocities of the Church". Wanting to refresh my memory of recent research into the Inquisition(s) I googled and came across this quote which, I think, has relevance to the current discussion.

The Inquisition is classic proof that the Church includes sinners who do sinful things, and that good people can make wrong decisions. It is also a classic example of what happens when those who represent the Church are caught up in the norms and ethics of the society in which they live. They can far too easily judge the Gospel with the eyes of culture, rather than the culture by the Gospel.

Father Ron Smith said...

The Inquisition, of course, was an attempt by the Church to demonise those who did not agree with its singular understanding of doctrine.

The Crusades, too, were an attempt by the Church to wipe out those who did not subscribe to its current 'orthodoxy' (all 'in the Name of Christ'!

Inquisitions and crusades are, sadly, still being waged by the
self-anointed 'Orthodox', today!

"Where charity and love are - there is God!

"Come, Holy Spirit, renew the hearts of your faithful and kindle within us the fire of your LOVE; through Christ, our Redeemer."

Anonymous said...

The Crusades were a military response to Islam's war against Christian civilization, not an attempt to "wipe out" those who did not agree with Orthodoxy. It was Islam which attacked Christian lands and forced people to convert, and they did so repeatedly until both Martel's God given victory at Tours and the Crusades took the wind temporarily out of it's sails.

Terrible things were done in the name of the crusades, but let us not dishonor our ancestors by pretending that they were anything other than a response to Islamic Jihad, and let us not buy into any Liberal/Marxist revisionism which excuses Islam's thousand year war against the West.

Anonymous said...

Yes, hundreds, probably thousands of Christians have been either convicted in extra-judicial "human rights" courts for opposing pro-homosexual orthodoxy, or had their jobs and careers threatened or attacked by the pro-homosexual inquisition.

Anonymous said...

Shawn is correct: the Crusades were a complex series of events that cannot be reduced to a sound bite over the centuries, often involving regional politics and shameful episodes, but originating in the desire to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land being attacked and enslaved by Muslims. The term was later extended to include the Albigensian crusade and the Teutonic knights in the Baltics. Sadly, very few people under 50 or so in the west know any history today, such is the cultural and historical amnesia induced by modern "education".

Until very recently the word 'crusade' carried a generally positive sense in popular culture but the word has become toxic thanks to the gradual Islamification of the west and the ignorification of the young.

Martin de Bouologne

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. You make a distinction between the fuller truth of Jesus, of the love of God, and the new truth of slavery, women in leadership etc. I can't see the basis for such a distinction. The 'new' truth that Christians are not to own slaves is a fuller expression of the truth of Jesus that the love of God means that we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It is even a fuller expression of the even older truth that our God liberates slaves, not only from Egypt. So it is in both your categories. The classic Biblical example and authoritative paradigm is the 'new' truth that some of God's people can eat pork. This is a fuller expression of the love of God for humanity, as well as of Jesus saying that what goes into the mouth does not defile. Also fitting well into both your categories. I hope you will include a consideration of the Council of Jerusalem etc. as an important part of what it means for us to be Spirit-led into all truth, including truth we could not bear before now.
Yes, Christians, have made terrible mistakes by not distinguishing between the spirit of the age and the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that we give up on being led by the Spirit and fall back to living under Law, Torah.

carl jacobs said...


That does not mean that we give up on being led by the Spirit and fall back to living under Law, Torah.

Being free of the law does not mean that we should sin freely that grace may abound. Even so, I will ask you what I have asked others. Understand I have never received an answer?

By what authority do you discern the leading of the Spirit from the spirit of the age?


Anonymous said...

Thanks Carl,

Yes indeed, we are not under Law, nor living according to the flesh. We are led by the Holy Spirit, who is indeed Holy.

How we discern the leading of the Spirit is a crucial and difficult question. The Biblical example and paradigm is the Council of Jerusalem, who concluded 'It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us...' We are to follow their example.

They operated in unity, drawing all together in prayer and discussion, in expectation and respect for the Holy Spirit speaking in prophecy, dreams and visions, especially to recognised leaders such as Peter, in noting the gift-giving presence of the Holy Spirit in those who had been considered too unholy, in logical development of the words of Jesus particularly. We are reasonably good at the last of these only...

I have written in more detail, particularly about gay marriage, on See the page 'Listening to the Holy Spirit' The whole site is also relevant