Transaction or Transformation?
This morning as I picked up the letter from my old friend John, I John, I had not read two verses into this lover’s plea, until I was struck with an awareness, a “Duh!” moment, regarding God’s nature.
John starts off describing the phenomenal experience he has known in seeing with his own eyes, touching with his own hands this Son of God (actually privileged to lay against the chest of Jesus). He knew intimately this One who claimed to be the very image of the Father.
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” In other words, the way I do things is the way God does things. What was God up to in Jesus? He was adjusting the religious cataracts, the spiritual blinders placed on His creation by the transactional nature of this broken race. Religion is viral, captured even in the writings of the most well-meaning prophets.
He goes on to share in verse 2:7(NIV), “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command, but an old one, which you have had since the beginning.” John is treading lightly in love, with the wisdom that only age can bring: “This old command is the message you have heard.” He is not speaking to those ignorant of, or those who might carelessly disregard religion’s well-intended message.
Then verse 8, which could be read as a contradiction, “Yet, I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” That’s the language of transformation, spoken to a religious people still trying to understand the transaction of God’s love.
We are broken and our darkness is obvious to ourselves and others; compounded by the fact, that we often deny our sin, while judging those whose sin is more blatant, in order to justify ourselves. We are complex in our brokenness. We believers even demand that “they” (notice the other-oriented language of religion) understand our transactional approach to redemption, as if it would make sense to a non-believer.
Meanwhile, this transformational God of love, who demands no transaction on his part, still offers one, simply because we need it. We say He needs it, to overcome His wrath toward sin, putting the blame on Him. That’s the old religious commandment John speaks of, necessary to overcome our need for transactional love, but only until God could offer His transformational gift, planned even before the world was created! Our Creator would dare to give us choices, while fully understanding consequences. God’s gift of His Son is like having to cut a deal with a prodigal child who is suffering financially, because they are too stubborn to accept your charity. Jesus even authored a story about this in Luke!
Jesus was the Son of God become flesh. He never required anything of anyone to receive his blessing. The only reason he required the lepers once healed, to go and show themselves to the priests, was so that those “clergy” might escape the religious trap set by the transactional nature of the law.
It was God who went looking for Adam in the garden, not withdrawing because of man’s ridiculous deal with a fallen angel. It was Adam who was hiding; fretting over how he might win back the good graces of God. It is we who demand sacrifice for our sins, for that is the nature of sin; mercy is the nature of love.
Now the sacrifice has been fully made, once and for all; and yet we stand back and “sniff over it” like an animal not quite sure of his food. Some can’t believe it could be true and look for a “better deal”, lashing out at the idea that God would become flesh and die. How could a God die? Then we offer up our own broken responses to sin…numerous religions; each transactional in some way, none truly transformational. Welcome to America, now the last place you can use the name of Jesus with comfort, which I find powerfully convincing of His reality!
Even evangelical Christianity, at times can make God look like the bad guy. He works out a transaction that we can easily buy into and then we re-define His love, with a complex formula that aligns more with Old Testament Law than grace.
Our sinner’s prayers…”repeat after me”…what audacity to think that our instruction rather than God’s love could win a sinner’s heart! We are both foolish and overly religious if we think this the case. We will win people by walking as Jesus did (I Jn, 2:6b). He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and transform our lives, simply for the asking (I Jn1:9); no religious ceremony needed. If there seems to be the need for the latter, it is our transactional nature, not His!
Darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Jesus brought a new day to an old religion. Let’s not make this difficult!