Late night comedian, David Lettermen, has made a living off the popularity of Top Ten lists. I offer the following "Top Ten Experiential Truths That Shape My Teaching" in order to highlight a few things I find essential to faithfully following Christ. (By the way, the doctrinal content I find essential is summarized in the Ecumenical Creeds of the Church.)
10. Salvation is a process, and not merely a decision. We are "saved" (Eph. 2:8), "being saved" (1 Cor. 1:18) and "will be saved" (Matt. 24:13; 1 Cor. 3:15). To focus on only the past-tense aspect of salvation is to mistake the door for the mansion, the gate for the way. In reality, salvation actually involves innumerable decisions, made daily. We must not make the mistake of assuming that justification is all there is to salvation!
9. The Christian life is a lengthy pilgrimage. We are aliens and strangers in this world, citizens of another Kingdom. As aliens, we should long for our heavenly home. Until we arrive, we should not get too comfortable here.
8. Perseverance is necessary to reach our goal. Ignoring this leads to presumption, apathy, and laziness. God has promised to always be faithful to us, but that is no guarantee that we will always be faithful to him. The Scripture clearly teaches that "if we deny him, he also will deny us" (2 Tim. 2:12). "Falling away" is a clear possibility for every Christian and not merely a hypothetical oddity in Scripture. Sadly, because this truth is ignored, many Christians see no need to "take heed, lest [they] fall" or to "work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling." Perseverance is necessary, therefore, to keep from falling away. We must never allow our theological systems to blind us to the urgent warnings of Scripture.
7. The work of the Spirit is primarily to comfort us that we are children of God–not primarily to condemn us. The chief work of the Spirit is to arouse our hearts to cry, "Abba Father." God disciplines us as sons, love us as sons, directs us as sons, provides for and protects us as sons. The work of the Spirit is to allow us to know and enjoy this relationship. Our greatest identity is found in the phrase "Teknon Theou"–child of God!
6. Sanctification is the process of becoming authentically human, not odd or weird. We must never forget that original goodness preceded original sin. In redemption, Christ restores and perfects all that Adam ruined in the Fall. In other words, Christ’s work returns things to the former state of original goodness (and then some). Thus, in salvation, Christ transforms us into his likeness–the likeness of the perfect Man. To be fully human is our goal.
5. Suffering is not evidence that God is far off or angry with you, nor is suffering evidence that your faith is too small. God’s people have always suffered. Indeed, God’s most beloved saints are often the ones who suffer most–Job, Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus. The way of the cross is the way of death, suffering, betrayal, rejection, and loss. It is hardly a "road of prosperity"–unless you consider your greatest prosperity to be your possession of God.
4. God is primarily known in the ordinary, not primarily in the ecstatic or miraculous. Most of our lives consist of normal, routine, daily duties. We must find God here, or we won’t find him at all. The ecstatic moments, the purpose-filled moments, the climactic moments, the miraculous moments of our lives are few and far-between. It is the common circumstances of our lives that provide the greatest opportunity to know and enjoy God. If we miss God in the ordinary, God will be absent from most of our lives, since most of life is ordinary.
3. The goal of Bible study is personal knowledge of God, not greater knowledge of the Bible. The Scripture teaches that "knowledge puffs up, but love edifies others." We don’t read the Scriptures in order to have "the answers," we read Scripture in order to know God–with or without "the answers." Reading Scripture is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. We must never forget that the Devil knows the Bible very well–and it does him no good whatsoever!
2. Mystery pervades all and is to be embraced, not explained away. Every significant doctrine of Christianity is shrouded in mystery. Pastors are called to "be servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1). We do this by proclaiming the mysteries and by preserving the mysteries. Many parishioners want pastors to have all the answers to every question–to explain things to the point that all mystery is removed. But to do this would be to eliminate the vast mystery that surrounds the Christian faith. This reductionism would result, not in a better understanding of Christianity, but in the very loss of the Christian faith. Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be experienced. God is not doctrinal statement to understand, but the Mystery of mysteries who has called us to participate in his fullness.
1. Love is the goal of all things–not being "right." According to Jesus, the message of love to God and others is the summary of the Old Testament. According to Paul, one can do many great things, but without love, they amount to nothing in the end. Because of this, I believe it is better to love than to be "right". Your view of God impacts how you treat others. Does God demand that you be right–crossing every "t" and dotting every "i" correctly–before he will bless you? Or does God call us to trust and love him, even when we haven’t got things all figured out? And what do you demand of others before you will love them?
© Richard J. Vincent, May 13, 2002