Crucifixion and resurrection, dying and rising, are radical images of internal transformation.
~Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan

Bible Study

The “Bible Study” category will provide insights into biblical passages using modern interpretation techniques that focus in on the cultural and historical contexts in which they were written. Click one of these to see topics related to these book of Scripture:

Hebrew Scriptures:
New Testament:
Matthew John

#3 – Most Overlooked in John’s Gospel: Where Are You Staying?

This is the third in a series of undetermined length where I’ll be looking at passages that I feel often get “skipped over” when considering the gospel according to John.  If you haven’t read the previous posts, please, please read at least the first one as this will continue to build off of that one.  You can find previous articles here:

  1. Only Son of God?
  2. Born Again?

Here, we consider:

John 1:  38 When Jesus turned and saw [two of John the Baptizer’s disciples] following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying [literally abiding]?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. (NRSV)

John 6:56  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

John 14:  18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NRSV)

John 15:  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (NRSV)

John 17:  20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.(NRSV)

It sounds like a pretty innocuous question.  It seems that the question is answered pretty innocuously.

“Where are you staying, rabbi?”

“Come and see.”

They saw where he was staying.

I was surprised, then, when biblical scholar Jaime Clark-Soles drew our attention to these verses in the DVD of the Invitation to John
Short Term Disciple Bible Study.  She pointed out what often happens in the attempt to make for “good” or “easy” English when making a translation from Greek: we fail to realize that in this passage is a word that gets used numerous times throughout the rest of the book – abide.  We find the word in 6:56 and multiple times in 15:4-11.  I was really excited.

And yet, it seems like the innocuous question of verse 38 is answered in verse 39.  Is it really significant?

Well, then I began to take notice of how sometimes, when asked a question in the gospel according to John, Jesus either changes the subject or answers a very literal question with a highly metaphorical answer.

For instance, Nicodemus asks in John 3, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  Ever notice that Jesus doesn’t answer his questions of how and can?  He just says you have to.  You have to be born of the Spirit, born from above.  To really get the answer, you have to read the rest of the book.

Likewise, when told about living water in John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well requests, “Where can I get this water?  I’m tired of lugging water back and forth!”  Jesus ignores the request and says, “Go get your husband. . . ”  You have to keep reading.

So, what happens if we consider that maybe the answer the two disciples were looking for, “Where are you staying?” is not really answered by Jesus until later in the gospel?  How does Jesus answer this question, “Where are you abiding?” as they continue on the way, the journey, of faith?

“I abide in God, in God’s love,” says Jesus in 10:38; 14:10-11, 20; 15:10; and 17:21.  We see in 14:10-11 that Jesus says what he says and can do what he does because of this relationship of Jesus being in God and God being in Jesus.

“I abide in you and with you,” says Jesus in 6:56; 14:19, 23; 15:4; and 17:23.

And yet, the Jesus of John does not leave it at that.  “You,” he says, “must abide in me, in my love, as I already abide in you!” (vss. 15:4, 9)

Why?  Why does Christ abide in us and want us to abide in him?  So that we will be Christ’s disciples AND bear fruit (vss. 15:5, 8).

“Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Jesus?  People keep telling me it ain’t what I do but that I believe!”

Jesus’ response in John 14:12 is, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” Believing and doing go hand-in-hand.  What we see here is that we can’t have one without the other – kinda like James 2:26: faith without works is dead.

But, there is an important distinction that we often overlook.  We can only do the same (and greater) works as Jesus if we abide in Christ, for apart from Christ we can do nothing (vs. 15:5).  Just as Jesus only says what God says to say and can only do what he does by God being in him and him in God (vss. 14:10-11), when we are in Christ as Christ is in us, we only say what Jesus says and do what Jesus does by Christ who is in God and God who is in Christ.  If God is in Christ and Christ is in us, God is in us.  If we are in Christ who is in God, we are also in God.  In fact, that is Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 of John, that we be one with God and Christ as they are one with each other – all intermingled.  We are the next step, if we are willing, in the incarnation of God to this hurting world.

Notice all the present-tense-ness of this abiding?  Being in Christ and in God (and them in us) is not something that is supposed to happen later.  The purpose is our bearing fruit, our doing works – our being the incarnation of God as Jesus was – NOW!  It’s not something to wait for God to do by God’s self someday.  It is not something that happens when we die.

If all this abiding is happening now, don’t we have relationship with God and Christ NOW?  And that, that relationship – that knowing – is what eternal life is.  If you don’t believe me, read John 17:3:

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Maybe, then, when Jesus talks of going to prepare a place for us in God’s house in John 14:1-4, he’s really talking about here and now, not heaven someday in the future.  It says he’ll bring us to him, but isn’t that the invitation of John 15 – abide in me as I abide in you?  And notice the shift in John 14:23.  It isn’t simply that Jesus will draw us to him.  No.  Now it says that God and Jesus will come to dwell with us.

We are drawn to them.  They come to dwell with us.  We are to abide in them as they already abide in us.  Togetherness.  Relationship.  Give and take.  Becoming one.  Journeying together.  Incarnation.

Where am I abiding?  Where are you abiding?  Where are we abiding?  Hopefully in Christ who is in God who is in Christ who is in us.  For if this is the case, we will bear much fruit for God’s kingdom, doing the same and greater works as Jesus.

Here are other verses I plan to cover in this series (though not necessarily in this order):

  • John 4:34 & 10:9
  • John 5:19-20, 14:12, & 15:12-17
  • John 10:38-39, 1:12, 14:12, & 17:20-23
  • John 14:15, 12:49-50, & 13:34
  • John 17:3 & 12:49-50

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Heart, Mind, and Kidneys: Can We Find Balance?

Probe me, O LORD, and try me,
test my kidneys and heart;
for my eyes are on your steadfast love;
I have set my course by it.
Psalm 26:2-3 (TANAKH)


One of my favorite “styles” of worship is that of the black church.  The energy, emotion, and enthusiasm are palpable, and time flies through what would normally be seen as a “long” worship service.  As someone who often stays in his head too much, I enjoy the opportunity to feel for a change.

I vividly remember my first such experience on Palm Sunday of 1998 as I helped chaperon a group of 6th grade confirmands with Rev. Jill Jackson-Sears to St. Luke “Community” United Methodist in Dallas, Texas.   Dr. Zan Holmes was still the Senior Pastor there at the time.  I still remember a major point of his sermon from that day, it was so good. Except for only 3 years, I never failed to return with a confirmation class each year for them to experience such an important legacy within the church.

A few years ago when I took a group, they had a guest preacher.  I don’t remember his name or why he was preaching that day.  I do remember that he was not United Methodist but from a more conservative denomination.  I remember thinking that was kind of odd, but I didn’t concern myself with it other than I hoped he’d preach as well as one of the church’s “staff preachers.”

As usually happens when attending such a service, I was quickly drawn into the impassioned sermon.  As he got going, so did I.  As he got more excited, so did I.  As he got to moving around, so did I.  The guy had me in the palm of his hand, and I was a willing participant in the call and response style preaching.  About 2/3 of the way through the sermon, I finally engaged my brain for the first time.  “What did he just say?” I asked myself incredulously.  I began questioning much of what he had said up to that point, and it was so NOT Methodist nor anything related to my own personal theology.  Yet, my emotions had brought me along for a ride that my mind would have normally said, “No!” to.

For the first time, I felt like I had experienced being a part of the so-called “mob mentality,” and I didn’t like it.  No matter what my “heart” was saying in my receiving of the wacked message in the beginning, it was still WRONG.

As a person too often stuck in my head, I’m left with an uncomfortable tension of how to properly involve my emotions in my life and in my life of faith.


Although it was certainly not my favorite of the Short Term Disciple Bible Studies, studying along with the Invitation to Psalmsstudy at First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas was insightful in a number of ways – especially by using The New Interpreter’s Study Bible and the TANAKH translation of the Psalms.

One such insight can be seen in Psalm 26:2-3, which opened this post.  More than likely, you’ve never seen it translated that way.  You are probably more familiar with something like this:

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.
Psalm 26:2-3 (NRSV)

Yet,the second line is literally “kidneys and heart” – in that order.  Say what?!

For ancient Hebrews, the kidneys were the seat or place of human conscience and emotions.  The heart was not; rather, the heart was the decision making organ, what we would call the mind.  Let’s consider some of the implications for this.

The Shema says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NRSV)

What we literally have in that third line is “with all your decision making organ, and with all your very being, and with all your strength / energy.”  Yet, how often do we sentimentalize the word “heart” into our emotions when the functionality of the word is mind.  It’s fascinating to see that Jesus, in quoting the Shema, adds “mind” to the list (or does he add heart?) – see Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37 (which replaces might with mind), and Luke 10:27.  Either way, he wants both, no just one.

Consider the proclamation of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (NRSV)

What we see here, again, is that God in the New Covenant will write the law on their “decision making organs” – in functionality, their minds – the place of memory.  The law won’t be written on their conscience or emotions as the passage is often interpreted.

Consider, also, Deuteronomy 10:16:

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. (NRSV)

You guessed it, “Circumcise . . . the foreskin of  your decision making organ,” is what is really meant here.


So what am I getting at?  What is my point?

I think part of my concern is that I think that often our decisions to do this or that is based more out of emotion than rational thought – or better, a balance of the two.  So much of the rhetoric of this politically charged time of life in the USA, if you really think about it, is emotionally charged.

Recently, I had an interchange with a “friend” on Facebook.  The individual had posted a picture with text discrediting a certain political candidate.  It sounded a bit hokey, so I researched it and discovered the info was false.  So, I posted that.  In the “discussion” that followed, I discovered that the person “felt” that it was okay to spread lies about people that this person thought would make bad decisions about our country.  Really?!  Defaming someone’s character is okay so long as I feel it’s okay?!

That is decision-making based solely in emotion, not rational thought – at least in my estimation (but maybe I’m wrong).


So what can we do?

One of the best bits of pastoral care advice I ever got was from my mentor, Rev. John Mollet.  He said sometimes, when a person has had a traumatic experience, they may respond with hysterics, which are usually based in emotion.  Obviously, the person needs to deal with what has happened but sometimes this can be debilitating, so John recommended asking the person questions that engage their minds.  What actually happened?  How many people were involved?  What time did it happen?  Notice these are all seeking “factual” answers, but they take the focus off of emotion.

Some will respond on the other extreme and not “feel” anything, which is not healthy either.  John recommended asking questions that get at the persons emotions.  How did it feel when that happened?  What do you feel was taken away from you in that event?  These are seeking “emotional” answers to help someone experience needed emotion.


I’m reminded of a story told by Tex Sample of his friend Jimmy Hope Smith and his Daddy who is “unredeemed in some very serious ways.”  The thing that draws the Smith family together each day is the TV; everything they do in the house happens in front of that set.

One day, while watching TV together, Rev. Jesse Jackson came on the screen.  Jimmy Hope’s Daddy said, “Someone oughta shoot him!  They oughta just shoot him!”

He’s stuck in emotion.

Jimmy Hope responded, “Daddy, you think someone really oughta shoot Jesse Jackson?”

“Yeah, I do!  They oughta just shoot him!”

“Well, Daddy, if you think someone oughta shoot Jesse Jackson, I think you oughta go to church on Sunday and pray that someone will shoot Jesse Jackson.”

“Boy!  Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout?  You know Jesus ain’t gonna put up with that shit!”

Jimmy Hope made his Daddy really think about what he was saying, and in the end, emotion was still there along with the working of the mind.

Balance.  Something we all need.

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#2 – Most Overlooked Passages In John’s Gospel: Born Again?

This is the second in a series of undetermined length where I’ll be looking at passages that I feel often get “skipped over” when considering the gospel according to John.  If you haven’t read the first one, please, do so before reading this one as this will build off of that one.  You can find it here: Only Son of God?

Today, we consider two more passages, both from John 3:

2 Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

Go to the bottom for more passages to be considered in the future!

Retha hates the phrase.  Well, maybe hate is too strong a word, but she certainly has little use for it.  I don’t know how much time at how many study sessions (a lot) at First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas we spent hearing her complain about the phrase.  For her, there are several problems with it.  One, I interpreted, is that it has been overused to the point of losing real significance.  On top of that, it has become more of a title than anything denoting a real change.  Plus, the phrase never fit her experience.  She didn’t feel any different after receiving the phrase for herself.

The phrase?  Born again.

For Retha, she could never remember a time that she didn’t think – or KNOW – that she was a Christian.  She, like so many others, walked the aisle during a song (probably “Just As I Am”) because everyone else her age was doing it.  She felt it was something you had to do.  She finally came around to believing that she never had to be “born again,” at least not in the way the word was usually used.


Interestingly, the phrase “born again” is not actually in the gospel according to John – at least not in the original Greek.  Actually, as noted in the NRSV translations above, it is “born from above.”  In John 3:31-36, we hear on the lips of John the Baptizer about the one who “comes from above,” who speaks the words from God by the Spirit that is given without measure.  Thus, he is testifying to one whom he says is greater than himself.

What I find amazing, though, is John 3:2-8.  Nicodemus comes, piling it on thick, about how great Jesus must be.  Yet, Jesus responds, not by talking about himself or accepting the compliment but by talking about what others must do:

  • Be born from above as seen in 3:3 and 3:7
    (see the parallel with Jesus who comes from above in 3:31); and
  • Be born of the Spirit that blows where it will, making sounds along the way as seen in 3:5-6, 8
    (see the parallel with Jesus who speaks what God wants by the Spirit given freely in 3:34).

Nicodemus and John the Baptizer make it all about Jesus.  Jesus makes it all about the rest of us who will follow in his footsteps – in his way.  Nicodemus and John the Baptizer want to talk about where Jesus is from.  Jesus wants to talk about where the rest of us should be coming from.  They want to talk about what Jesus will do.  Jesus wants to know what we will do – hopefully things greater than himself.

The great thing is that when we are born from above, we have, by power beyond ourselves, become children of God (see John 1:12). As children of God (as Jesus is son of God), we can do the same works as Jesus and even greater than these (see John 14:12).


Retha would never say that she’s done greater works than Jesus (or even close), but those of us who know her think she’s done about as much as any one person can.  Now well into her 80s and nearing the end of her life, she has only recently slowed down – and not because she wanted to (just ask her kids).  Her body has gotten in the way.

For the 8 years I was at that church, she attended almost every class I offered.  Even if two groups were studying the same thing, she’d often attend both as she wanted to hear other insights.  For a number of years that I was there, she was the one who took our aluminum can recycling to the local food bank for them to sell (the recycling was the idea of much younger and healthier people who were unwilling to take them!).  She volunteered with study groups and her Sunday School class to pack weekend food for at-risk children.  She diligently brought beans to the monthly meal for the homeless when it was her class’ turn to provide the meal.  For most of these years, she has done this while using a walker to help her get around (of course, many would say that walker sped her up!).

I can’t begin to tell you all that she did before I knew her, but I know she has three great kids.  I know she has been a staple at that church since she joined with her husband back in the 80s.  Prior to that I know she taught public school and children’s Sunday school at another church who preached a lot about being “born again” (she once told me she taught the kids there so she could shield herself from the conservative theology!).

The thing that I know is that Retha may not have been “born again,” but she was certainly “born from above.”  Thanks be to God for Retha.

Click here to read the next installment:
Where Are You Staying?

Here are other verses I plan to cover in this series (though not necessarily in this order):

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#1 – Most Overlooked Passages in John’s Gospel: Only Son of God?

This is the first in a series of undetermined length where I’ll be looking at passages that I feel often get “skipped over” when considering the gospel according to John.  Today we consider two:

John 1:12 – But to all who received him [the Word or LOGOS / Light], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.

John 14:12 – Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

Go to the bottom for more passages to be considered in the future!

What was the first Bible verse you memorized?  For many of us, it was John 3:16 – usually in the King James Version.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

If we were lucky, we got to learn it in a slight modernized English without the “-eth:”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (NRSV)

As we consider the idea we find in John 1:12, that the Word (or LOGOS) or Light from God gives us the power to become children of God, how in the world can we be God’s children if Jesus is somehow God’s ONLY son?  “Only” precludes the rest of us from being included, right?

Translation, translation, translation!  When the gospel of John (originally written in Greek) was translated into Latin, John 3:16 (see also John 1:14) was mis-translated, and the King James Version followed the Latin, not the original Greek.  “Only begotten” or “only” is a mis-translation of the Greek word MONOGENES, which means “unique” or “the only one of its kind.” 1

So who cares?  What difference does it make?

I think this is a hugely important distinction on many levels, but let me focus only on two.  First, by realizing that we also are children of God, we realize the value and abilities each of us truly has as unique creations of God.  We aren’t less than; rather, we are brothers and sisters of Jesus!  WOW!

Second, if we think Jesus was God’s only son, we think he can do things that we cannot.  We may even go so far as to say that Jesus does things (like sacrificing himself) so we don’t have to.  Yet, we see Jesus saying in John 14:12 that if we believe (i.e. trust him), we WILL DO the SAME things and GREATER things than him!  When we realize that we, too, are God’s children, like Jesus, we can acknowledge that God is calling us to live a life like Jesus.  Since we are given the power to be God’s children, we are given the power to live like Jesus if we are willing.  Since Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself, we need to be willing to do likewise:

John 15:   12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

All too often, I think we think of the gospel according to John as being all about Jesus.  What I hope to do in this ongoing series is to show that what John is doing is showing us the example of Jesus for us to follow.  It isn’t only about Jesus; it’s about all God’s unique sons and daughters.

Click here to read the next installment:
Born Again?

Here are other verses I plan to cover in this series (though not necessarily in this order):

  • John 1:38-39, 14:20, 23, & 17:20-23
  • John 3:2-8, 31-36
  • John 4:34 & 10:9
  • John 5:19-20, 14:12, & 15:12-17
  • John 10:38-39, 1:12, 14:12, & 17:20-23
  • John 14:15, 12:49-50, & 13:34
  • John 17:3 & 12:49-50

1.  For more on the translation of MONOGENES as “unique” instead of only, see:

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In A Perfect World?

You’ve heard the same shtick, I’m sure. In the beginning, God made everything perfect, then us humans came along and messed everything up. There’s been distress and turmoil ever since, and it is all our fault. Had that “first sin” not come along, we’d still be living in a perfect paradise and all would be well.

Here’s the problem. The Bible never says that God created a world that was perfect. (more…)

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The Sermon on the Mount – 3: You’re Accepted. Do Something.

CLICK HERE to read all of Matthew 5 before beginning this session.

CLICK HERE to read basic assumptions about studying the Sermon on the Mount before beginning this session.

CLICK HERE to read the previous section in this series on the Sermon on the Mount before beginning this session.

There were two dominant battle-cries of the Protestant Reformation:  1) sola Scriptura (only Scripture, which we will discuss in our next segment); and 2) sola fides (only faith).  The basic idea of sola fides is that one finds salvation (a topic to be more fully defined at another time) only by faith, not by works.  Passages like Galatians 2:16 were used as support for this idea.  This has morphed into the idea that if I have or accept the correct doctrine I have salvation (usually oversimplified to mean going to heaven) – I have been accepted by God.  Thus, I find salvation and acceptance with God through what I believe or think about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc.  Therefore, I don’t have to do anything to be Christian; I just have to cognitively accept a particular doctrine.  Very early on, I believe the author of the book of James saw the danger of this concept leading that person to write, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17; 26)

Part of the problem is that people forget that Paul didn’t say one is not justified by “works” but “works of the law.”  Just reading Philippians 2 or 1 Corinthians 12-13 ought to make us see that Paul thinks we should do works.  As we begin to see now in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is clear that we are to be about works.

In the Congratulations (aka Beatitudes) that begin the Sermon on the Mount, I think we hear Jesus say, “Guess what!  Those of you who don’t think God accepts you just as you are: hear the good news.  You area already accepted!  You have the kingdom, comfort, the earth, mercy, etc!”  Then in verses 13-16, Jesus says, “Now that you know you are accepted, do something that shows you are!”

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)

In talking of salt, we shouldn’t think that the idea is that somehow there is a miraculous, chemical change of the salt into something that is not salty.  Rather, the point is likely about salt becoming diluted with impurities.  If you accidentally pour pepper into your salt shaker at home, are you really going to take the time to separate each grain of salt from pepper, or will you toss it all out and start over?

Thus the point of this aphorism is similar to Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart [those with a single-minded devotion to God], for they will see God.”  If our purpose, calling, or very being becomes diluted to the point that we lose our understanding of our identity – our acceptedness by God – what good are we in the Kingdom?

Verses 14-16 are very clear.  Unlike the words attributed to Jesus in John 8:12 where he is noted as say, “I am the light of the world. . . ,” here we see Jesus say, “YOU are the light of the world.  You have a responsibility to share your light with others – THROUGH YOUR GOOD WORKS!”  When we share our good works by doing them out in the open – being the people God created us to be and doing what God created us to do – we shed our light on others who hopefully realize they can – and have the responsibility – to share their light, their good works for the good of others and God’s kingdom!

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