I am currently going slowly through the book of John to grasp what it really means to believe. It is starting to make more sense all the time and this morning many of the pieces began coming together even more clearly as I was reading the devotional for today.
At first the language used in the devotional seemed like legalese that triggers a strong reaction in me given my upbringing. But I have been seeking for some time to reconcile the legal language of religious talk with a greater view of truth that I have been discovering over the past few years. Because of this it is becoming easier to discern the deeper meaning of legal references and translate them into language that makes more sense in the higher view of the universal controversy taking place and the background of a proper view of God's character.
This reading referred to Adam and Eve's sin in eating the fruit as a terrible consequence. This already is in stark contrast to the assumption by many that death was a punishment rather than a natural consequence. But this sin was in the context of violating the immutable law of God. At first this seems to be locked in the legal interpretation exclusively until one brings all the correct definitions to bear on each term. When enough definitions have been corrected and their deeper meanings are applied to the sentences, suddenly new insights can be seen and a whole different set of understandings can be exposed. The truth starts to become much simpler and clear rather than being a large and complex set of theories as is too often presented.
I am also starting to perceive that many words are simply slight nuances on the same concept. I have been studying what real belief is and how to experience it. In the Greek language words were simpler than in English, and in the Hebrew language they were simpler yet. The English words faith, trust and belief all are translated from the same word in Greek. Therefore, it would actually be accurate to replace the word faith with trust which many times would remove confusion in some places. Likewise, exchanging the word unbelief or little faith with distrust might also help to make more sense.
Today it started to become clearer that this simplification could go much farther. The real issue that caused the terrible consequences from Adam and Eve's choice was not rooted so much in an action they took but was in the attitude they chose that resulted in the outward action. This is always where the real problem of sin lies rather than with the issue of behavior. Our external actions are results of what we have chosen to believe and think about God internally. As a result, sin can be defined quite simply as distrusting God in any way and obedience can be defined as implicitly trusting God with our heart.
From this perspective it is now easier for me to link many other things into this concept more readily. Sin is the same as distrust or unbelief. Thus sin naturally results in pain and death. On the other hand eternal life is always experienced through a trust of God's heart and can be entered into presently, not sometime off in the distant future. Jesus stated plainly that eternal life is knowing God and the Son that He sent to us in order to reveal Himself. It is impossible to know God in the way described here without trusting Him. But to not trust Him is to choose to live in sin apart from God. Sin is simply not trusting God which keeps me experiencing eternal life. Obedience is trusting God implicitly while growing in my awareness of why that is important and what He is really like. Obedience/ trust allows God to grow me up in maturity while unbelief/ distrust makes me more shallow, irrational, confused and immature.
How does the law fit into all of this? The law is simply a term or description of an abstract description of who God is. The law is rather like studying a shadow to discern what the person looks like that is outlined by the shadow. It may give one a vague impression of what the original could look like to some extent, but only by looking at the source that is creating the shadow can one begin to appreciate the far greater revelation of the essence of that person in more dimensions than a shadow can ever convey.
As this all begins to coalesce for me I find it compelling to react by seeking to know God better as the only effective solution for sinful behavior and attitudes in my life. Rather than trying to work on symptoms or becoming obsessed with focusing more on the shadows of what God is like in vague outlines, I find that if I spend more time investing in various ways of coming to know God better my faith (trust) naturally begins to deepen and my desires to act sinfully dissipate and fade away. This is because sin always originates in the heart so the heart is what has to change. It is in the heart also that faith or trust take place which is why true religion has to start deep in the heart before it can make a genuine difference in the life.
No amount of religious exercises or pious activity has any effect on impressing God to save me. Salvation means the salvaging of my life in being restored back to its original intent and design. God has already saved the whole world in the sense of revealing that everyone is already forgiven as far as God's heart is concerned. However, everyone who resists believing this fact cannot experience the transformation of forgiveness and will find themselves living in the confusion and darkness of unbelief. Because they resist His internal work in their hearts they cannot benefit from the power of the gospel to dispel their misconceptions about God and benefit from His salvation.
As long as we cling to any lies about God and how He feels about us in our hearts we are going to continue to have distorted ideas about Him, about salvation, about religion and about reality in general. All of this confusion reinforces distrust of Him, for our hearts cannot trust a God like the typical views taught about Him for much of our lives. Not until we are willing to seriously challenge our present perceptions of who God is and what He is really like and how He feels about us will we come into a position where He can begin to introduce us to the real truth about Himself in Scripture. It is extremely dangerous to assume that we or our church have it figured out and all we have to do is convince other people that we have it all together. The Jews made this same assumption yet they ended up hating and finally killing the very God they claimed to love and obey. We are no different than they were and are just as blind as they unless we are willing to humble ourselves and let Him reintroduce Himself to us personally and become willing to question everything we have assumed we knew about God.