The Unity of the Faith

What binds us together as saints? What should comprise the glue of spiritual community and fellowship? (Ep 4:3)

BuffaloYNPBonding through doctrinal alignment may seem reasonable, but this hinders honest questioning for fear we’ll be shunned or disciplined. Believers afraid to disagree can’t challenge each other, or encourage critical thinking and intellectual integrity, core virtues in any godly walk. But having no common beliefs at all makes fellowship impractical. Where’s the balance?

Identifying the core doctrines enabling healthy fellowship, while acknowledging that we’re all at different places in our journey, seems like quite a challenge; yet the biblical criteria are quite simply stated: basic agreement on the nature and work of Christ (2Jn 1:9-10), and a general willingness to follow and obey Him. (1Jn 3:10) Fleshing this out in our complicated world is non-trivial, but at least the guidelines are clear.

Let’s not fear walking alone, yet also seek out godly community and humbly leverage honest differences to edify one another. Let’s pursue thoughtful like-mindedness (1Co 1:10), not cobbling together a superficial shallowness out of coerced doctrinal agreement, but bonding in our common passion to pursue the living God, and helping each other do the same, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph 4:13)

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Be Found Faithful

When we say we’re going to do something, but then life happens and we’d rather not, what are the rules? When is it OK to change our mind?

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

Firstly, if no one’s affected then who cares? But anyone counting on us must approve or be compensated. It’s the golden rule in action; evidently, even God changes His mind like this from time to time. (Jon 3:10)

Simply stating our intent (“I will”) is not necessarily unconditional commitment; it’s not always a solemn promise … it’s not a vow. Most of the time there’s an unstated sense that we’re making a conditional promise, and that’s OK; life’s uncertain and we’re free to change our minds within reason.

Vows are different; we’re expected to think them through very carefully and only make those we intend before God to keep at all costs. (Nu 30:2) They imply a different level of commitment and thoroughness, one that’s not inconsistent with but enables the more flexible types of agreements that facilitate honest cooperation in an uncertain world.

Keeping our word is both a matter of love and a matter of dignity. God expects us to say what we mean and mean what we say. (Ja 5:12) This shouldn’t make us inflexible, but like Old Faithful, we must be dependable. (1Co 4:1-2)

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Presumptuous Sin

As there are degrees of sin, there’s also more than one kind; the Psalmist asks God to keep him from presumptuous sin. (Ps 19:13) There’s mercy for sins of ignorance (Nu 15:28); God overlooks them (Ac 17:30), but not lives of willful (He 10:26-27) presumption. (Nu 15:30)

Presumption is unwarranted intrusive or impertinent boldness; inexcusable forwardness; a readiness to presume; knowingly thinking, saying and/or doing things without right or permission. (De 18:20) Sin is the violation of God’s Law, Torah. (1Jn 3:4) 

Presumptuous sin then is to willfully break God’s laws, or to be careless or neglectful in keeping them (Ps 119:4); it is to despise YHWH Himself (Lk 10:16), and it’s the worst kind of sin. (Ps 19:13)

Yet even if we’re not deliberately breaking specific Torah commands, inappropriate boldness, assertiveness or confidence may be presumptuous. For example, asserting our subjective opinion as verifiable fact is problematic unless we have legitimate evidence: only objective concepts are truly verifiable. Teaching our private interpretation of scripture as ultimate truth, thereby setting ourselves up as having apostolic authority (Re 2:2), unless we are divinely inspired and ordained by God Himself to do so (Ja 3:1), is evidently equivalent to being a false prophet, deserving of the death penalty. (De 18:20)

Like the Psalmist, let’s run from presumptuous sin! As it dominates us we become slaves to darkness (2Ti 2:25-26); God’s children don’t live like this. (1Jn 3:6-8).

And while we’re running from presumption let’s acknowledge that only God Himself can restrain us and keep us back from it; if God doesn’t help us here we’re all hopelessly wicked. (Is 64:6) But God is faithful (2Th 3:3) to help us become poor in spirit.

As we find ourselves becoming free of presumptuous sin, transformed, elect unto obedience and humility, this is the gift and grace of God (Ro 5:17): we’ve nothing to boast of (Ro 3:27) or take credit for (1Co 4:7), nothing to be proud of, nothing to glory in. (1Co 1:29) Let’s rejoice … and only in God Himself. (Je 9:23-24)

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