Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
When I was a kid, there was an awesome game for the computer called Age of Empires. As awesome as it was though, something wasn’t quite enough, something was missing. Then it came out; the greatest (and only) expansion pack of my young life: Age of Empires-Rise of Rome. Of course! What is controlling ancient civilizations through expansion and wars without the granddaddy of them all, Rome? But there was more, since apparently they had similar architecture, the game added Palmyra, Macedonia, and Carthage too. And all of these new people groups had new missions attached to them and an updated tech tree that included the ability to produce war elephants. It was an awesome upgrade to the original Age of Empires and certainly proved to be the highlight of one of my summers. A lot of people think that coming to Christ is like that, an awesome upgrade to our original lives. However, my friend, it is so much more!
When you come to the realization that Jesus was a real person, and that real person really died a horrible death after really living a sinless life in order to make you become clean before God and you decide to trust in that real Jesus Christ from Nazareth, then everything changes. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Rather than adding a new part onto the game, Jesus throws the old game away and you start your new life with him. We’re told that we should shed as much of our old life as possible. Added content? No way! Check this out,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We’re supposed to throw off everything from our old lives that used to trip us up. You’ll find that when God is involved, he’ll start calling out things you used to really enjoy and make them feel not so fun anymore; the Lord says to dump that stuff. Not only that, but through Christ our goals are supposed to be changed as well…to Christ. Since a believer is heaven-bound, there’s nothing left for us to achieve on earth, as everything here horribly pales in comparison to what we’ll be able to achieve in heaven. Therefore, we’re called not to expand our lives here on earth, but to solely focus our lives on Christ and on building up the Kingdom of Heaven (while of course taking care of our already existing responsibilities during life on earth). Paul actually wrote on this, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This is what the Christian life should be like. In our earthly lives what is the goal: fame, fortune, being remembered? When you live in Jesus and Jesus in you, you’re going to spend eternity in bliss after this mortal coil falls away. Suddenly, in the frame of hanging out with God and never being sad or lonely or angry again, the earthly wins just don’t seem all that important any more.
Now, here’s something that many people stumble on: sin. Before Christ shows up we are knee-deep in sin. We’ve got original sin (an inborn bent away from God passed down through generation to generation), and everyone’s got their own backlog of sins they’ve built up in their lives. David wrote about God,
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
And his ears are attentive to their cry;
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
To cut off the memory of them from the earth (Psalms 34:15-16).
The thing is though, before Christ comes into our lives, there’s no way for us to be righteous before God. Without the Temple, the sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus doesn’t work (not that the blood of animals really can take away sin), and the Lord has no sort of works-based system for us to fish ourselves out of hell with. Therefore God came down in the form of his Son, Jesus Christ and submitted his life to the will of the Lord that he would be the God-sized sacrifice to save infinitely. (Yes, God fulfilled his own mission to forgive us) Paul writes about Jesus’ obedience in comparison to the first man’s disobedience that gave us original sin:
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many where made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).
When we come to Christ, his sacrifice wipes our slate clean and continues to keep us clean, since the sacrifice of God spans across space, time, and numbers (as the Lord is an infinite being therefore the sacrifice can cover all). We are made clean in God’s eyes, even when we mess up later down the road. This is where stuff gets tricky for Christians. If we’ve been made perma-clean by Jesus, then we can keep on sinning, right? …Technically, yes. However, consider this: “’Everything is permissible’- but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Sure, as a saved person in Christ you can continue drinking, carousing, being abusive or whatever- but it’s probably not a good idea. Will you go to hell? If you’re truly saved, no. However, that doesn’t mean that the Lord can’t bring upon you any one of the earthly-based curses from the Word of God to get you into order. Keep in mind that when you accept Christ into your heart, you come under the close watch of God, and he’s not gonna let you just run around hurting yourself and his testimony. The Lord will do what it takes to get you back on track. And there’s more. By coming to a faith in Christ we’re given the Holy Spirit- and he’s not gonna let you hear the end of it until you shape up. Jesus noted,
All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:25-26).
Can you still sin? Yes, but you won’t be able to enjoy it at nearly the level you did before. Heck, I can’t even enjoy a lot of my rock songs as much anymore because their lyrics don’t agree with my new life. It is for this reason that Paul exhorts us,
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:12-14).
Wrap yourself in your new life in Christ and throw off your old ways. Embrace the new life you’ve been given and look intently toward your future home.
Expansion pack? Ha! If anything, accepting Jesus messes up your earthly life beyond recognition. You’re motivated to leave sin, your goals and future changes dramatically, and if all goes well you’ll find yourself being more and more rejected by the life you once lived. Wait, what? Oh yeah, since you’re embracing Jesus and all the holy things that comes with (love, patience, acceptance, peace, righteousness) then you’re going to make enemies of the world. Jesus noted,
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19).
A follower of Christ should expect people to reject them based on their beliefs. I mean, come on; we’re called to cut everything sinful, negative, and encumbering from our lives. We’re not chasing money like the world, we’re not running after our desires like the world, and we’re living like the world any more. At the very least, people will think you’re weird. Think of vegans, they’re weird, right (sorry if you’re a vegan)? Yeah, Christians are like life vegans. We’ve cut out all the delicious parts and are feasting on the greens of God all the time. For a non-believer, that’s pretty weird. Jesus even tells us,
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).
The people of God are gonna get teased. So be ready. As followers of Christ, we have to remember that we are no longer part of this world; but as changed people, we’re now citizens of heaven currently roaming through the world. We’re like nomads. Of the fathers of faith it is written,
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Aliens and strangers on the earth: this is what we, as followers of Christ, are longing to become. But rejoice, for the Lord has a place ready for you. Jesus told his disciples (and us), “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). By accepting Christ’s forgiveness, it all changes. Life in Christ isn’t “Life +” it’s something totally different.
“But I don’t feel different.” I’ve heard people say this when confronted by the changing power of the Lord. Sure you don’t. You still wake up, go to work, live in the same place and all the rest. Heck, you might still be caught in the sins you had before coming to Christ. Give it time, the Holy Spirit and God will work together to change your life. I will say this though: by being willing and obedient to the Spirit and the Word of God, it will help things to move a bit quicker, and you’ll be able feel the changes occurring in your life. But don’t worry if it doesn’t happen overnight. Paul wrote,
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
Even Paul, the most famous apostle, didn’t feel 100% different. But he pushed on in the life he had been called to for Christ. Jesus Christ doesn’t upgrade your life; he radically changes it and molds it to be something righteous and holy. So enjoy the ride, Christians, and be excited for soon you’ll be with the Lord. And those without Christ, I implore you, accept him into your heart and shed off this hollow life for the one new one he has promised.