March 10, 2010

Common Sense

2007 1524 page14 capS WE CONSIDER PASSAGES FROM THE Bible, we can come to faulty conclusions if we view each text in isolation from the rest of Scripture. And faulty conclusions can lead to wrong actions. It’s even possible to distort the Scriptures to our own destruction (see 2 Peter 3:16).
Or we can use the “sound mind” Paul talks about (2 Tim. 1:7, NKJV),* the common sense the Lord has given us, to see biblical truth in its wholeness, and receive a blessing and be a blessing to others.
In the five passages that follow, I want to give examples of how this works:
2007 1524 page14 cap1After creating all the things His earthly children could enjoy seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling--and giving us all the senses needed to enjoy them—“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1: 31).
A faulty conclusion: We are to focus our attention on this world, and not on heaven. I’ll sing “This Is My Father’s World,” “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and “Morning Has Broken.” But I can’t relate to “I’m But a Stranger Here.” I want none of this “I’m a Pilgrim.” None of this “In the Sweet By and By.” I’m going to enjoy this world. Now. Didn’t Solomon tell us that “a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry”? (Eccl. 8:15, NKJV).
COMMONSENSE APPROACH: Yes, there are many wonderful things about this world. There is so much beauty and so much goodness and so much interdependence that we can see God’s love written in every flower and on every blade of grass. Before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, it was especially easy to focus attention on enjoying the world if we had satisfying and well-paying jobs, happy homes, good health, plenty of food, and were living in a neighborhood relatively free from crime and violence. But now all must face the fact that the world has problems.
Terrorist attacks are not the only problem. Fifty percent of the world’s population are malnourished. A million people have such poor health they will not survive this week. More than 500 million people have experienced the danger of war, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, the pangs of starvation. Three billion people in the world cannot attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death.
Even those of us blessed with freedom and prosperity have but a limited future on this earth. I read somewhere that one in 35,000 will be killed by lightning; one in 380 will die in a fall; one in 42 will die in a car accident. Some will die from a heart attack, and all of us will die from some cause, unless we live to be translated when Jesus comes.
Something has happened to the world God described at the end of Creation week as “very good.” An enemy has come. There is a battle between good and evil. Much is now wrong in the world. We are to make the best of it. We are to help those less fortunate than we are. And we can enjoy the beauty and goodness we find in the world. But we need to think often of heaven so that we will not become discouraged when things are difficult for us. Or become enamored by the world when things are going well for us.
The rich fool in Jesus’ parable quoted Solomon: “I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you’” (Luke 12:19, 20).

Solomon’s closing advice in the book of Ecclesiastes was different from his words cited above: ÒNow all has been heard;” he said, “here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole
duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13, 14).
2007 1524 page14 cap2The Bible says that before the Second Coming “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (Dan. 12:1, NKJV).
A faulty conclusion: Since we are in the last days, and the time of trouble might come in my lifetime, I will lie awake nights worrying about it. I will prepare for it. How? By purchasing a gas mask. By stocking a supply of anti-
biotics to counter anthrax. By moving to a sparsely populated area. By learning how to survive in the wilderness. By stocking a large supply of provisions.
COMMONSENSE APPROACH: The time of trouble, in a sense, has already come for many. Thousands of New Yorkers feel they went through a time of trouble when the World Trade Center was destroyed September 11, 2001. The Nazi holocaust was a time of trouble for millions. Nothing could be much worse than what went on in Rwanda, Cambodia, Kosovo, and East Timor. We cannot possibly know enough of the details of the time of trouble we each may experience to make adequate physical preparation, and we certainly are not to worry about it. “Do not worry about tomorrow,” said Jesus, “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).
Our best preparation is to daily study the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and cultivate a relationship with Him through prayer, meditation, and serving others. Out of that relationship will come a love that will cast out all fear and a trust that will carry us through the worst of troubles. We can know for a certainty as did Daniel’s companions before they were thrown into the fiery furnace that God is able to deliver us if He so decides (Dan. 3:17). We can also have the assurance that if God chooses not to deliver us from the temporary troubles of this life, by His grace and power we can still maintain our loyalty to Him (Dan. 3:18) and ultimately triumph.
2007 1524 page14 cap3In answer to the question “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus told the rich young ruler: “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments” (Matt. 19:16, 17).
A faulty conclusion: I will resist temptation by using my will power, and eventually learn how to keep the Ten Commandments and overcome sin through my own effort. Then I will be able to come to God. He will then accept me and save me in His eternal kingdom.
COMMONSENSE APPROACH: We are born with a self-centered, sinful nature. Just as the leopard cannot change its spots, we who are accustomed to do evil cannot do good (Jer. 13:23). We are bad trees and therefore cannot produce good fruit by anything we do apart from God. We must, therefore, come to God first. Then He will work His miracle of grace upon us and replant us as trees of righteousness (Isa. 61:3). As good trees, we will then bear good fruit. God will create in us a new heart so that we will be able to walk in His statutes (Eze. 11:19, 20). Genuine obedience will in time come naturally after we have come to Christ and continue to abide in Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). But through Him we can do everything (Phil. 4:13).
2007 1524 page14 cap4“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).
A faulty conclusion: We don’t have to keep the commandments. Commandment keeping is Old Testament religion that was nailed to the cross. We can do whatever we want. We are saved by grace, not by works. It doesn’t matter what we do.
COMMONSENSE APPROACH: There are at least two parts to salvation. One is the forgiveness of past sins. We come to Jesus. Then we abide in Him. Obedience comes as a result of salvation. It is not the means of salvation, but it is important. Life is better for us and for those around us when we obey God. And what kind of heaven would there be if inhabited by sinful people who did not want to obey God? Lawbreakers would mar the harmony of heaven. They'd not be happy there.
The Old Testament not only stresses the importance of obeying God’s law, but also indicates that God must change the heart before genuine obedience is possible. The New Testament, as well as the Old Testament, calls for commandment keeping and good works. Jesus does that again and again. The apostle Paul, who again and again teaches that salvation comes by grace through faith rather than by works, nevertheless gives as many commandments for Christians as the Mishna does for Jews.
For starters, read Romans 12, 1 Thessalonians 5, and Galatians 6. At first, those who are saved don’t always want to do God’s will. But they want to want to. They want to do good to others--not to earn salvation, but to show their gratitude to God and their love for others. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” writes James. “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:17, 18).
2007 1524 page14 cap5“The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
A faulty conclusion: There is no hope for me. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I surrender, I still disobey His commandments. At times I am impatient with others, at times filled with lust, at times have hate in my heart for those who get in my way and do stupid things. I keep discovering how self-centered I am. I might as well give up on religion.

COMMONSENSE APPROACH: The closer we come to Christ, the more clearly we see our imperfections. Christ is not through with us yet. Forgiveness may be instantaneous, but the re-creation of the heart is the work of a lifetime.

What counts is a daily walk with Jesus--a daily surrender to Him. We should read the Gospels again and again. Our knowledge of Jesus is now only partial. The more we get to know Him, the more we will love Him, and the more we will desire to keep His commandments. Perhaps we do not yet fully know Him. That is why we do not yet fully keep His commandments. But by the time He has finished the good work He has begun in us, we will be able to say with Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

Thus we should examine all the truths of God’s Word, praying that the Holy Spirit will give us a sound mind, will give us the common sense needed to keep us from distorting the Scriptures. The common sense needed to delight in God’s Word, to delight in God, and rejoice in His salvation.

*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

R. Lynn Sauls is a retired journalism professor who lives in Naples, Florida.