(excerpted from Ten Words That Will Change Everything You Know About God)
We tend to understand God in a way that justifies our intentions!
There are two unique situations where people came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” One of these occasions prompted Jesus to share the parable of the Good Samaritan, which has been elo– quently preached for centuries. Many wonderful life lessons have come from this parable, but there are three factors seldom discussed: 1) What was the question that caused Jesus to launch into this story? 2) Why did the man ask the question? 3) What can I learn from these two questions?
“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25-26). Jesus did something we should all do when asked a question, especially a spiritual question: be sure we understand the question! Words are the basis of nearly all com- munication. Even that which is communicated by images and pictures will eventually be understood and explained in words.
A naïve tendency is to think that because we speak the same language, using the same words, we must share the same definitions… right? Not only is that nearly never true, but there are few places where it will be more untrue than when discussing the Bible.
Redefining words is one of the most subtle tactics for twisting the truth. Once a person accepts or assumes a specific definition for a word, every time that word is heard, it evokes those specific thoughts, emotions, and concepts. I have seen violent arguments erupt because one person, rather than asking for clarification, erupted into violence because of the interpretation of what was said, based on an incorrect meaning of words.
All words have a different history with every individual. I grew up in Tennessee in the 1950s–1960s. We all called one another “boys.” Then, in the ‘60s, at the height of the racial conflicts, we moved to Birmingham, Alabama, a hotbed of racism and riots.
I didn’t grow up in racism, knew very little about racial conflict; I was entirely ignorant and naïve about all things racial until I referred to a group of guys on the playground as “boys.” Even though there were whites in the group, the black boys became angry and hostile. I had no idea what was happen– ing. I didn’t know what that term meant to them. All their lives they had seen their fathers and grandfathers referred to as “boys,” which meant they were never seen as men. It was incredibly insulting!
Rather than assuming what the expert in the law meant, Jesus asked him an amazing question, “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself ” (vs. 27).
This is the answer that any good Jew would have given, which begs two questions, “If you knew the answer, why did you ask the question?” and “If you knew the answer, what was your real intention?” We know from the Scripture that this man wasn’t looking for answers; he was testing Jesus. Despite the man’s duplicitous motive, Jesus did what God always does, “No matter why you’re here, I’m going to turn this into an opportunity to help you!”
Jesus replies in verse 28, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” Remember Jesus’ original question, “What does the Bible say, and how do you read it?” He was asking this man how he was interpreting what he was reading.
This religious legalist is just like every fool who wants to argue. They think they’re right, but inwardly they know something is missing. If they had a deep sense of wholeness, they wouldn’t need to argue. If their hearts were at peace, they wouldn’t be troublemakers; they’d be peacemakers! So, he asks one more question that reveals his need, “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (vs. 29).
Operating through what many would call a “word of knowledge,” Jesus followed the Holy Spirit into the perfect life-lesson to help this man. As I’ve discovered in ministry, over nearly half-a-century: the truth with the most potential to set you free is the truth with the most potential to offend you. Why? When we experience lack in any area, it’s always due to an aspect of God’s Word we don’t know or don’t want to know! When challenged by the truth, we either resist or repent.
This lawyer was a racist—a “spiritual-elitist.” He had a “black hole” in his heart that made it impossible to love his neighbor as himself, especially if a Samaritan was his neighbor. Up until this moment, he was able to read the scripture commanding him to love his neighbor as himself and interpret it in a way that exempted him from loving a Samaritan.
The Apostle Paul made an insightful statement about his ministry to the Corinthians. He explained, “… God made us ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). At first glance, this seems to be a simple comparison between the Old and New Covenants, but it goes much deeper!”
The Scriptures from which the apostles preached is what we call The Old Testament. The truth is, there’s no such thing as The Old Testament, as it relates to the Scripture. This is one of those places where religious leaders redefined words in an attempt to alienate Christians from Scriptures that revealed God’s true character and nature. I’m thankful for what the apostles wrote, but they’d be appalled to know their teaching had been used to bring about the rejection of the very Words spoken by God Himself!
One of the significant changes from the Old Covenant to the New Cov- enant was the mode of communication between God and man. The truth of God’s Word didn’t change. Everything Jesus and the apostles taught was based on the Old Testament; the difference was that it was modeled and taught from God’s original intention when He spoke those words.
He uses the story of Moses covering his face, after coming down from the mountain with God, to emphasize an important fact. Moses asked to see God’s glory. Amazingly, God didn’t express His unlimited power; He didn’t move a mountain or create signs in the heavens. He revealed His goodness to Moses. While there is more to this than I’m writing, the root Hebrew Word glory is spelled Kaf ** Bet ** Dalet **. This reveals that Moses wanted to see what would happen when a human being emptied his heart and allowed God to fill it so he could enter through the portal into God’s love and presence.
This is why God showed His goodness. The Hebrew indicates that God revealed the incredible, beautiful pleasure we can experience when we har– monize our heart with His. Moses is so engulfed in how good God is, that it shows on his face. He rushes to the bottom of the mountain to share what he had just experienced, but the Israelites refused to see.
Many of the Israelites, and especially the mixed multitudes, clung to their pagan concepts of the gods of Egypt, which they projected onto God. Based on all their other responses to God, I’m sure they would have seen this brilliance as life-threatening. They couldn’t look upon it, because, re– member, these were the same people who said, “We don’t want to talk to God; you talk to Him for us.”
Get the picture here: Moses saw something that was virtually unexplainable in words. God couldn’t even explain it to him; he had to perceive it. It’s important to understand that God didn’t explain His goodness to Moses; He caused him to see and experience it. Moses is attempting to put into words that which could not be spoken and comprehended. Then, to add rejection to unbelief, the people didn’t even want to see the effect it had on Moses, after which had to cover his face with a veil.
Moses experienced the difficulty of attempting to put into words what he had experienced in his heart. The people, then, interpreted those words based on their perception of God. So, God showed it to Moses. Moses, in turn, attempted to put an unexplainable experience into words, and the people interpreted His words based on their beliefs and limited under– standing. You can be sure what they held in their intellectual mind wasn’t even close to what Moses experienced with God.
Paul uses this scenario to help us understand the problem with any attempt to perceive God through an intellectual transmission of information, “But their minds were blinded: for until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament (contract).” (2 Cor. 3:14). No-tice that the problem is not with the Old Testament; the problem is with the reading of the Old Testament.
Remember when Jesus asked, “What does the Scripture say, and how do you read it?” The problem is never with the Word of God. The problem is how we interpret the Word of God and what we try to make it say. Maybe we’re like the lawyer who needed to justify himself based on his interpretation of “who is my neighbor?”
The veil that makes us twist the word is our opinions that come through cultural development, education, family tradition, denominational training, and, more times than not… the need to justify or excuse ungodly behavior. The weakness of the written Word is that it is subject to our interpretation. We can make it almost anything we want it to say.
The Old and New Covenants have many distinctions but shouldn’t be confused with the Old and New Testaments. In the New Covenant, through the new birth, the Holy Spirit comes into our heart, bringing all of God’s Word and all it implies,
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Heb. 8:10)
Before the new birth, God spoke to us through angels, prophets, and various other means, but in this covenant, He speaks to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2)! This verse tells us many important things, but the most significant is this: He reveals everything to us through Jesus: His life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection. The second most important thing is that He does so through the Holy Spirit, in our heart, not through our “reading of it (interpretation),” but by the Great Teacher, i.e., the Holy Spirit.
Reading the word renews our mind; it gives us the information we need. Then, we interpret everything God has ever said through what we see in Jesus life, teaching, and the cross. The Holy Spirit personally guides us through how to apply the word to our life. The writer of Hebrews is clear: no one can teach you to experience God, because experiencing God occurs through personal involvement, “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Heb 8:11).
Only God can teach us what we need, but to perceive His teaching, we must remove the veil that distorts how we see and interpret Him.