Last week, I was on a trotro (public transport bus) to Osu when we got into traffic. Someone came over distributing some books for free to everyone in the bus through the window. Being the curious person that I am, I eagerly asked for one and found out that it was a devotional called “The Word for Today” from a certain Grace So Amazing Foundation based in Nigeria. It was for the month of February to April 2008.
First of all, I’ll like to state clearly that I don’t believe in devotionals. The worst of them I’ve come across is “Rhapsody of Realities” by our “almighty” Pastor Christ. They are just a waste of time and another contributory factor to the scriptural emptiness of many Christians. If you want to be a part of them that shall share the inheritance of the kingdom with Christ, there is no shortcut way to knowing God and his will except through your own diligent study, guided by the Holy Spirit. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6).
I’ve heard people say to me when I bring this up that “It’s not everyone who can easily understand the word of God the way you do”. Well first of all, I did not start reading the bible yesterday before I came to appreciate what God’s word is. I determined that I was going to know God myself. Thankfully I also learnt from men who I see everyday yearning to know God themselves. But even more importantly, what do we think the Holy Spirit is for? “But the Counsellor, 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” (Jn 14:27) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Judea ….” (Ac 1:8). How do we think Jer 31:34 – “No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” – will be fulfilled amongst us? Someone said the Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood and neglected person in our quest to do the work of God today. I couldn’t agree with him more.
But I still accepted the devotional anyway. Nowadays I’m looking for material that will increase my understanding of the word of God or that will further prepare me to denounce the doctrinal errors of today’s Christianity through a diligent comparison to the “whole will of God” (Ac 20:27). Flipping through it all I could find were stories and references to peoples books, much of it skewed towards today’s “success/prosperity” gospel. That didn’t surprise me much till I got to the very last one – April 30 – titled “Get off the guilt train!”. It had this sub-title: “Those in Christ are not judged guilty – Ro 8:1 NCV”. Now that was the killer.
Here’s are excepts of the devotional: “the strongest among us struggle with areas of weakness. But continually wallowing in guilt we you’re not only punishing yourself, you’re allowing others to punish you too because you think you deserve it. … Even Paul, who had the ‘desire to do good’ admits that sometimes he couldn’t ‘carry it out’ (Ro 7:18). The good news of the Gospel is whenever you are in Christ…[you’re] not judged guilty’ and when you repent and seek forgiveness, God’ is bound to honour His word”.
For the purposes of argument, let me reproduce Ro 8:1 here “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (my emphasis).
This verse of the bible has been a very contentious one. Even my NIV does not include the last section of it in the main text but as a note. According to that note, earlier manuscripts of the book of Romans does not have this appendage and so some bible translators refuse to add it. Granted, but let us look at the context of this passage and find out if it is consistent for “who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” to be part of Ro 8:1. In fact there are so many bible verses which support the argument that the second part of Ro 8:1 is not inconsistent with the rest of Ro 8. But I’ll try not to bring in too much from those verses but focus on what is in the chapter itself on this post.
First of all, the book of Romans was written to Christians in the city of Rome. Ro 8:1-17 talks about living according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. The first point to note here is that it is entirely possible to be a Christian and live according to the flesh or the “sinful nature”. If this wasn’t possible, Paul will not have written v 9 to Christians – “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Why? Because it is by the Spirit that we are given the power to do the work of God (Ac 1:8) and it is by the Spirit that we know the mind of God (1 Co 2:6-16). We cannot please God if we do not work in his power and according to his will. It’ll surprises us to find out on the last day that all we did was total rubbish without the Spirit of God leading us in the power of God to do the will of God. No wonder Paul says “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (v 14). Your work will be judged by whether it was done by the direction of the Spirit and in conformity to the will of God or not. In fact almost every verse of Ro 8:1-17 points out the criticality of the “living according to the Spirit” and to speak on each one will just be a repetition. It suffices to say that “who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” should definitely be part of v 1.
The question then is “What if it wasn’t there? What is the big deal?” It is a big deal, because looking at the way this devotional puts it (and the way I’ve seen and heard it being used before), its absence renders the verse a very strong tool in the hands of those who think that “once saved, forever saved”. Yes I agree that if you truly are in the body of Christ, then you are not condemned anymore. But the barometer to determine your inclusion in that body and therefore exclusion from condemnation must be clearly given in addition. Whenever a promise of God is stated without a mention of the conditions attached to it, the grounds are inadvertently (or otherwise) laid for error. It is one of the reasons I agree that the preaching a “quarter” gospel that we do today will only lead us into condemnation (refer to the post on “The Gospel of the Kingdom”).
Christians reading the bible today must note that most bible translators are theologians whose translation may have a slant towards what their theological beliefs already are, regardless of whether it fits into the “whole will of God” or not. But God will not accept any excuse for ignorance, which is what most Christians are today. We think that it only so called “men of God” who can have insight into the word of God to teach us. But wait! What did Isaiah have to say about that? “For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, ‘Read this, please,’ he will answer, ‘I can’t; it is sealed.’ Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, ‘Read this, please,’ he will answer, ‘I don’t know how to read’ (Is 29:11-12). Note that a sealed thing can only be opened by one with authority. Todays educated Christian thinks that it’s only our “men of God” who have been authorised to teach us. What then shall the illiterate masses on our side of the world say?
How long shall we be children still yearning for milk? We must grow up or stay ignorant! It is the only way we can distinguish between falsehood and the truth of God’s word.
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, still being an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil”. (Heb 5:11-14).
Quotes are from the NIV version of the bible. All mistakes are mine please, not the bible’s :-).