Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living in Tension


My church and I are going through Acts for a Wednesday night Bible study. The first four chapters of Acts give this incredible retelling of the earliest life of the church. God is at work, and he is healing people in the temple, tongues of fire are coming down, and the church is completely unified and are taking care of each others needs. God's mission is evident to everybody who comes into contact with it, and it is having a powerful effect on all those who it comes into contact with. I love those four chapters. God is at work. His church is being the church and are participating in what God is up to. But then comes chapter five. I could live in chapters 1-4. Tell me to be a witness. Tell me to heal the lame. Tell me to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Tell me to be as one mind with those in my church. Don't tell me about Ananias and Sapphira. Don't tell me about the human struggles and the consequences that come with them. Don't tell me that there were those in the early church were selfish. Keep me in chapters 1-4. Don't tell me about God judging quickly these two just like Achan. There is this tension in this new community, a tension that exists today. A tension between holiness and grace. The tension is there when I read Jesus. Richard Buridge writes about the tension in his book Imitating Jesus. He writes that the ethics that Jesus taught were incredibly conservative and radical for that day. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us. He teaches us that divorce is unacceptable (except for marital infedelity). Yet at the same time, Jesus is the friend of sinners. When everyone else was going to condemn a woman caught in adultry, Jesus doesn't. When no one else would talk to the Samaritan Woman with five husbands at the well, Jesus does. He heals the blind, the lame, and sets the prisoner free. Jesus not only lived the tension, he is the tension. The question I asked my church last night, and the question that I am still wrestling is how do we live the tension?

4 comments:

Tremonti said...

Ray,
I haven't thought of reading Acts with the 'tension' in mind. I think this is great that you brought this up. When i think in regards of this tension (holiness and grace), my reflection is that we live in at extreme ends, either embracing full fledged holiness or full fledged just grace Christianity.

On the first extreme, people get too narrow on stuff. My setting here is that anything that is identified with the 'world' is simply unchristian and it means a person is flirting with the world or in bondage. examples to what i mentioned are dress codes, music, movies, appearance, dancing (prohibited during wedding parties) . I call this an extreme case in holiness only with the wrong perspective in mind.

the second tension is on grace, radical grace as some call it. On this side people have an understanding that even in whatever we do God still accepts us. This understanding actually tries to disown our human responsibility to live changed lives because the idea that come to mind is we cannot please God, we cannot earn our right standing with God but simply believing Jesus translates this acceptance, of being righteous because of Jesus. This view makes ethics seem like work and whatever is work is not of God. A changed life is only seen as gratitude. It misses the mark.

How do we live in this tension then, getting back to your question. For now I guess we have to avoid these two tensions. No concrete thought.

Tremonti said...

oh yes i meant to ask about the book you mentioned...would you recommend it?

Kurt said...

Great insight. I am always finding the same tension between holiness and grace. Jesus was the tension who could do both perfectly. Acts 5 does bother me quite a bit. I have a difficult time seeing grace in that section. God knows what is best but i think there a several christians today that cheat God in worse ways than ananias and Saphira. What keeps them from being struck down? Anyway, i think the lesson you draw out is excellent about the tension... i may have to borrow that sometime in the future!

Ray said...

Tremonti,

Thanks for you comments and willingness to struggle with the tensions. I do not have a concrete answer either and was hoping for some help from you guys :). I would definitely recommend the Buridge book. It is heavy reading, but well worth it.