Speaking Against Sin At All Levels
This is the third part of my post on application. For the first post and linked headings, go here.
The next theological ‘plank’ that is relevant to the subject of application is this:
b. God’s Word speaks against human sinfulness at all levels
The Word of God doesn’t come in a vacuum. God’s revelation of himself and his works comes in the context of a rebellious and fallen world, and he therefore speaks in order to save and reconcile the entire cosmos to himself. The Holy Spirit’s work, according to Jesus in John 16:8, is to ‘convict the world in regard to sin, righteousness and judgement’. Therefore when we teach and preach the Word faithfully, we must see it as engaging, impacting and challenging our human rebellion at all levels. However, I reckon it’s the little qualifier ‘at all levels’ that we tend to miss when it comes to application.
When it comes to considering the scope of impact for God’s Word, we must widen it beyond the levels that we’re used to, or even just the areas in which our hearers are ‘itching’. If sin causes not only fracture and fallenness in humanity but also our culture, our environment and our world (Romans 8:20-22), then God’s Word must be brought to bear on all of these levels. So here’s where I reckon our application must hit:
The Bible is more than a random collection of tales, historial narratives and morals. The Bible is a coherent worldview that answers questions such as: What is ultimate reality? Who are we as human beings? What is our meaning and purpose? Where are we going? How does this affect the way we live?
Therefore when we read and teach the Bible, we must point out the levels in which its worldview will clash with our worldviews, whether our worldviews be nihilistic or naturalistic or new age or postmodern.
A culture is a set of shared norms and meanings for a group of people. It can be based on nationality, ethnicity, socio-economics, or even hobbies and careers. We belong to many different cultures and sub-cultures as human beings. It’s how we derive meaning and significance in this world.
The Bible doesn’t create a single ‘mono-culture’ (e.g. Christendom). The picture in Revelation 7 is that many people from different cultures and languages are united around the throne of God. However, though the Bible doesn’t advocate one culture above others, it does critique every human culture at some point, because all human culture since the Fall has its idols and blindspots. And the plan of God is to one day sanctify many diverse cultures so that they are enhanced and purified for his glory.
How often do we, in our teaching of the Bible, see how the Word impacts our cultures and sub-cultures? How often do we critique our own cultural blindspots and idols as well as those of other cultures and sub-cultures? To bring it home a little more, it’s asking questions such as: ‘What God have to say about our Western individualism? Our greed and materialism? Our hedonism?’ Or alternatively: ‘What does God have to say about the Eastern love of ‘face’? The value it places on family honour? Its unconditional piety to parents?’
In many ways, your family is your little ‘sub-culture’. And yet because it’s a sub-culture that we are situated in from birth, it’s one in which the assumptions and ‘idols’ tend are least reflected upon.
The Word of God will speak against human sinfulness on this level as well. For so many people (and especially those from Asian cultures), our families are our biggest blindspots. What we assume is normal and right may not be right at all when measured against the standard of God’s Word – e.g. the role of a father or mother in the home; the expectation of children; when children are considered as ‘adults’ and what that looks like; the appropriate expression of love and affection in the home, etc.
And of course, the Word of God will address us as individuals as well. But here, it is helpful to see at what levels the individual should be addressed, for we know that sin affects us from the inside out. Therefore the Word’s impact on a person should, at the very least, be targeted at these three levels:
I’ve heard it said: ‘What the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.’ God’s Word addresses sinfulness in the way we think, in what we feel and desire, and in our choices. Application so often just aims for the ‘will’ – i.e. ‘do this’, ‘don’t do that’. But what that does (as we’ll see in the next post) is it leads to legalism and ultimately powerlessness to change. Effective teaching of God’s Word will see the person as an interaction of mind, affections and will and aim not only for the ‘dos and don’ts’ but for the thoughts, attitudes and desires.