By Nancy Dobson, P.O .Box 71132, Bethesda, Md 20813
The sweet lie whispered in the Garden of Eden – that we could choose our will over God’s will and not be punished for it – is the same lie that is being drummed into society today.
In the hand washing debate, Jesus complained to the Pharisees and lawyers that they worship God in vain who teach as Law rules made up by men. (Matthew 15:3-9) First the rabbis added to God’s rules. Then they asked God to validate rules they had made up themselves. It was the same error that was made by “Adam and Eve,” and the same error that we continue to make today. We are still insisting on our way over God’s way and piously asking God to validate our choices.
For example, we reject God’s laws for the natural order and create genetically modified plants, then solemnly pray for God to supply our daily bread. We reject God’s laws for sexual behavior and call what is abnormal acceptable, then pray to God for marriage and family stability. We reject God’s laws for finance (the laws against usury (capitalism)) and create social disparities and wars, then pray for God’s support for our economy and peace. We reject God’s dietary laws, eat pork, shellfish, animal fats and other forbidden foods, then pray to God to save us from the cancer, heart disease and viruses those foods can cause. We beg God for forgiveness and mercy again and again, as if begging is sufficient to make it happen. But if we do not keep the lifestyle Jesus taught that enables us to discern and choose God’s will first in our lives we cannot reverse our inveterate sin of self-before-God of which we must be forgiven. (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 24:46-53)
As if our own weaknesses are not enough, there are some who tempt us to judge God. They blame God for the pain and suffering humans cause one another, tempting us to judge and turn away from our Creator. They deny Christ (publicly or privately) and belittle him in the media, then emphasize false “facts” by spurious experts. They misquote the gospels and misinterpret and teach against Jesus’ tough teachings of accountability. They force immorality on society with strategic court cases and biased judges. Jealous of a God-centered people, they create their own preferred reality and use false polls and a vast media controlled by a few to inform people that reality has already changed. (Jeremiah 8:8-9) The snake has become a dragon, and it is attacking our culture.
Jesus warned us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are those who pretend to be Christian the better to change Christianity from within by giving false advice, as well as those who pretend to oppose immoral court decisions so they can learn who else is opposed and target them for interference. Those who believe the wolves who tell them that they don’t have to live by God’s Law fall captive to the Garden of Eden lie. We are the snake. It’s the lie we tell ourselves – that we can choose our will over God’s will and not be punished for it – that keeps us turned away and separated from God. This is the same lie we have been telling ourselves since the beginning of human life on earth.
The “grace alone” mantra – “simultaneously sinful and justified is the only Biblical remedy” – feeds our desire to be assured that we can go to heaven without having to change our lifestyle, reduce our ego and humbly submit to God’s will. These are false teachers who corrupt Christians by leading them to believe that they can do whatever they want and still live eternally in God’s kingdom. “You don’t have to try to be good,” they preach, “you are saved by Jesus’ blood” – and the little snake inside each of us is tempted.
To say that we are saved by Jesus’ blood can be misleading. Jesus didn’t die so we could go to heaven while continuing to sin. As he said, he was facing the cross so the world would see – and remember – that he always did whatever the Father told him to do. (John 14:30-31) He gave his blood to impress us with this crucial message: that we must submit totally to God. As branches from his vine, he expects us to imitate his complete submission to God. Submission to God’s will is the essence of Jesus’ message to us in the crucifixion. It is also the message of his teachings and example.
Since the Jewish leaders had rejected his testimony and had refused to submit to the Son, it was necessary that Jesus demonstrate the truth and power of his message by being killed physically and then returning to his followers by Resurrection. He then told them to go into all the world and teach all the commands he had given, and to teach repentance and remission of sins. (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-53) He never said that his death alone would eliminate our sins. He told us and showed us how to reduce our ego and give our willfulness back to God. This is the only way to repair the trust we continually break with God and to become one in purpose with God and prepare to be reborn into eternal life in God’s kingdom. Humanitarian deeds aren’t enough. Martyrdom isn’t enough. Poverty and abstinence aren’t enough. Our original and continuing sin is selfish willfulness. The only way to repent of that sin is to learn how to perceive and then choose God’s will first in our daily lives. Because of God’s grace, this then remits all of our other sins, because all other sins are committed as a result of ignoring and rebelling against God’s guidance.
What’s wrong with religion today is that it isn’t practiced. Those who don’t apply the principles of the Bible to their lives are easily deceived. When we apply Biblical principles we experience God’s presence and guidance. Jesus said that God’s wrath stays on those who do not submit to the son – i.e., who do not do what Jesus taught. (John 3:36) We must do what Jesus taught, he explained, in order to build our spiritual house on rock. When we live according to Jesus’ teachings we build on the firm foundation of experiencing God’s presence, power and intimate concern. Those who praise Jesus but don’t live according to Jesus’ teachings build their spiritual house on sand. When trouble comes, they cave right in. (Luke 6:46-49)
There are some simple ways by which anyone can experience God’s intimate, powerful presence. One is to live by the Ten Commandments the way Jesus taught. If we will live by the Ten Commandments according to their intentions we will experience God’s presence and guidance and be able to begin to reverse our self-before-God habits.
The first rule is to worship the One God completely, to have nothing in our lives that is more important than God. Besides telling us that God is One and that we must worship God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, Jesus told us to begin our prayers by saying, “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” In the ancient world, to call upon the name of one in the spiritual realm was to ask for their presence. Like prophets before him who taught that God is present everywhere (Isaiah 6:1-3; Jeremiah 23:23-24, 2:22; Psalm 139:1-12; Proverbs 15:3) Jesus was telling us to acknowledge and revere God’s constant presence. When we say, “Hallowed be Thy name,” we should be thinking, “I respect and reverence Thy constant Presence with me.” To live being constantly aware of God’s presence is a way to worship God. God commands us to seek communication with Him and to heed His specific guidance to us. (Deuteronomy 27:9-10, 13:1-5, 26:16-19; Exodus 33:7, 19:3-6; Genesis 26:4-5; Isaiah 30:1, 65:12; Jeremiah 3:25, 7:22-28, 9:12-15) When we acknowledge God’s presence we can talk with Him about all our joys and concerns and then listen for His guidance concerning each day’s decisions.
It is difficult even today for some to think of God — the Power that designed, created the laws and materials for and brought into being the spiritual realm and material universe and all that is in them — as a Living Spirit that is everywhere. Some try to cut Him down to human size. But we should put aside the blasphemy that was institutionalized in the fourth century by Constantine when, for political reasons, he created the concept that Jesus is God. Historians agree that until the time of Constantine Christianity was “emphatically monotheistic.” Jesus spoke of himself as separate from God over 30 times in the gospels, referred to himself as the Messiah and never spoke of himself as a deity. The importance of this is that we can then accept Jesus’ teachings that we are each accountable before God and that, since Jesus is our human role model, we are capable of doing what God asks us to do. Jesus promised (and, by his baptism and repentance in the Jordan and his subsequent Resurrection after the crucifixion, showed) that repentance – i.e., confession and a changed life (a life changed to be submissive to God) — is what is needed for our sins to be remitted and to prepare us to return to eternal life in God’s kingdom.
Keeping the Sabbath the way God requests is a way to worship God. At this time we should set aside our material concerns and acknowledge and give our attention to God. God said that keeping the Sabbath as a complete day of rest is a signal between us and God that we are ready to be obedient to God’s rules. (Exodus 31:12-13, 17) The Sabbath should be kept from sundown to a little past the next sundown. We should prepare food in advance. We shouldn’t do any chores (or ask others to work, except in an emergency) or have distractions such as TV or Internet. We may worship God by attending a religious service, reading the Bible, singing and meditating, but also by RESTING – opening ourselves up to receive God’s communications. This is a signal to our own soul as well as to God that we seek to reverse our self-before-God attitude and return to being God’s obedient children. If you are already keeping the rest of the Ten Commandments, try keeping the Sabbath the way God requests as an experiment for just four weeks; you will be surprised at the results. Keep a journal and re-read it at the end. You could also keep the Biblical law against eating pork during this time and evaluate how that affects your perceptions of God’s presence and guidance. To do this half way is still choosing your will over God’s will. It takes courage to dare to be engaged with the spiritual realm and experience God’s living presence. If you can muster the courage, then keep the Sabbath God’s way.
We are God’s servants while we are on earth. In the Ten Commandments we are told to work for six days. We aren’t here to waste our lives in self-indulgence. If you do not know what service God wants of you, then just ask Him in prayer and wait for the response. Being God’s willing servant on earth is another way to worship God.
Honoring parents means more than giving financial support, as Jesus pointed out. It also means living life as a credit to our parents, discussing our plans with them, seeking their advice and including them in special events.
Yet another aspect of worshipping God means having nothing in our lives that is first in importance before God. This means that our money should not be more important than God. Among the rules concerning money is the prohibition of charging or receiving interest (usury). Murder and theft are side effects of the capitalist (usury) economic system. The money to pay the interest on stocks, bonds and savings accounts comes from those too poor to own stocks or bonds or to have savings accounts. In order to pay stock holder dividends companies have to charge extra money for their products. This extra money is paid by the poor. Bonds are just a way to tax the poor to subsidize the rich. The money governments raise to pay the principle and interest on bonds comes from taxes. The projects funded by bonds could be funded by taxes directly. Because of the rules of the game – the laws of the country — the rich can hide money in various ways to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. What they don’t pay is paid by the middle class and the poor. This is theft. In addition, tragically, there is ample evidence that shows that capitalism requires wars in order to infuse vast sums of money into the system, which the rich have depleted.
Those churches that invest in the stock market show that they prefer money over God. They have become businesses and social clubs instead of soul savers. They justify usurious investments by claiming that some of the profit is used for humanitarian purposes. But a spiritual leader cannot break God’s Law and still perceive God’s guidance sufficiently to provide spiritual food and social guidance to a congregation. (Ezekiel 34:1-16) To keep the laws against murder and theft — and to keep religion as a power that provides spiritual food to individuals and moral structure to society — we have to reject capitalism personally and institutionally and choose a sustainable economic system.
We must be honest with ourselves in order to perceive and accept God’s specific daily guidance to us. If we are dishonest with ourselves we cannot accurately discern God’s guidance. And we must never give false testimony about someone else. If we are unfair concerning someone else, we are unfair to God, Who loves us all. This type of dishonesty, obviously, creates a barrier to perceiving God’s guidance.
The more accurate translation of the word rendered as “covet” is, “do not set your heart on,” which means we must not scheme to take what doesn’t belong to us. If you see something someone has that you like, work to acquire a similar thing. Don’t “set your heart on” and scheme to take what isn’t yours. This also speaks to the issue of adultery. Each person should put a fence around their imagination and should not desire someone who is committed to someone else.
When we break the laws God created to govern free will entities we are testing God – we are testing His patience. It’s like a child who deliberately throws a glass of milk to the floor to see if his parents will punish him. But when we keep the laws we are testing ourselves. Like lifting weights helps us develop physical strength, the tension of law keeping helps us develop spiritual strengths. When we live by the Ten Commandments we are choosing God’s will over our own willfulness – the first step of obedience necessary to learning how to discern and choose God’s daily guidance, which Jesus came to teach us. When we add more of the Bible’s laws to our lifestyle we open our spiritual senses even more and deeply experience the presence, power and intimate communication of the Creator of the universe.
If instead we choose to live by the advice of the false prophets, then we lead ourselves step by step into punishments – such as weakened immune systems, cancer, earthquakes, a collapsing ecological system, social degradation, wars and more.
It pains us to hear the truth when we are invested in a lie. To acknowledge the truth makes us feel guilt and shame. This is painful — so we try to say the lie is true. We may repeat it often, as if that would make it true. We may refuse to hear the truth, as if that would exonerate us. But if we can face the pain of honesty, we can begin the process of extricating ourselves from the sticky side effects of our original and continuing lie and relish the peace that comes from deep spiritual growth.
Because God is eternally faithful He has always chosen every soul. He just waits for us to choose Him back. We have an open invitation from the Creator of the spiritual and material realms to repent – that is, to acknowledge our errors and return to love, obedience and submission to God – any time we want. What are we waiting for? God has offered us eternal life in His wondrous kingdom where there is no pain or sorrow, hunger or thirst – but we are still choosing material lures and threats and refusing to humble ourselves and employ the techniques Jesus gave for how to discern and then submit to God’s daily guidance. Jesus asked, “What would it profit you to win the whole world and lose your soul?” (Matthew 16:24-27) We should keep that question before us. God is still waiting.
God is like the father of the Prodigal Son. He loves every soul and is delighted to accept us back as soon as we apologize and change from being arrogant rebels to being loving and submissive children. Jesus tells us and shows us how to repent for the remission of our sins – that is, how to develop the spiritual sensitivity to perceive and choose God’s will first in our lives which makes it possible for us — no matter what our sins — to be, by the grace of God, reborn into eternal life in God’s kingdom. It is each person’s decision whether to learn and live by Jesus’ teachings and example.
Books by Nancy Dobson: The Torah Conscious Christian, Biblical Law by subject, paraphrased, with commentary; The Torah Conscious Christian’s GUIDE TO HOLY DAYS; The Gospel’s Message Within The Message; and Firming Up Your Flabby Spirit. All are in print from Amazon, and all except the Holy Days book are e-books on Kindle. SOUL Question, a fiction book, is also available from Amazon and Kindle.
BLOG: firstname.lastname@example.org has some essays from the e-book If You Ask Me….