285. God is Love… BUT

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

God is Love

God is love and that love is unconditional. The ministry entrusted to us is to share the good news of the unconditional love, inclusion and reconciliation that God has already brought about in Jesus! That message will enable people to come into a reality in which they experience that love and grasp the fact that they are already reconciled to God; that God loves them and He holds nothing against them.

Yet much of our preaching of the ‘gospel’, particularly in an evangelical setting, has been the opposite of that. It has been a message of exclusion and very much works-based, in fear of avoiding punishment rather than entering into love.  And what I have understood and experienced is that love can only be unconditional. That means that for God to love you, there are no conditions that you have to fulfil. None.

For a moment, stop and embrace that. If you can just grasp that one truth in an experiential way, it will transform your life as it has transformed mine.

God is unconditional love and therefore He loves all his children equally. No matter what you have done, where you have come from, or what has happened to you, God loves you. He is not angry with you, or disappointed with you. He loves you.

But…

Many people obviously accept that God is love because the Bible says so, but there is always a ‘but’. Why is that ‘but’ there? Because it is too good to be true for an independent, alienated mind to accept – and many of us have been alienated or separated from God within our own minds because of our religious programming.

“Yes, God is love, but He is also holy.” How many times have I heard that? As if His holiness contradicts His love!
“Yes, God is love, but He is also righteous.” As if His righteousness contradicts His love!
“Yes, God is love, but He is also just.” As if His justice contradicts His love!

All these are all religiously-programmed statements that I used to believe, because I had never experienced the contrary. I had never experienced the truth, so that made it easy to believe the lies.

“Yes, God is love, but He is also a judge.” As if that makes Him what? A bad judge? A judge who is going to find us guilty? Love never finds us guilty because love keeps no record of wrongs (I Corinthians 13:5), so how can He find us guilty?

“Yes, God is love, but He cannot look upon sin.” By ‘sin’ they normally mean certain behaviours, but in reality, sin is lost identity. Well, if God cannot look upon sin, if God cannot look at a lost world, how could Jesus ever have come? And God is not just looking at this world, He is engaged within each and every person to bring us all into the reality of our relationship and inclusion in Christ. So the fact is that we have already been reconciled in Christ, we have already been made righteous in Christ, we have already been made holy in Christ. We didn’t need to do anything, He did it all!

Religion always adds a ‘but’, but none of those ‘buts’ contradicts the fact that God is love, other than in the false religious doctrines that create a god who seems to be two-faced, a god who in the Old Testament seems to be angry and needs to be appeased in some way but in the New Testament seems to be loving – though even in the New Testament there seems to be wrath and anger.

In reality, the word translated ‘wrath’ can equally well be rendered as ‘passion.’ God is passionate about anything that hinders our coming into relationship with Him. He is passionate about making available that relationship for us and therefore His wrath is going to be poured out on anything that hinders our coming into relationship; not the kind of ‘wrath’ that we have tended to believe, but rather God passionately outworking His love to bring about change and transformation for our good.

Religion twists

So that religious deception alters and denigrates God’s character and makes love able and willing to punish us – not to discipline or correct us, but to bring retribution upon us. What loving Father would ever eternally punish His children like that! These religious concepts have created a god that people find it difficult to trust, a god who says he loves us and yet threatens to torment us forever if we don’t do things the way he wants us to do them.

None of that is the reality of who God is. Religion twists God’s holiness and righteousness through a wrong understanding of the concepts of judgment and justice. This deception is what creates this false ‘hell’ narrative in which such a god would torture his children eternally. No, God will love His children eternally, and will never stop and never give up until they experience that love. Yes, His love is a purifying, refining fire, a consuming fire: it will consume every hindrance and objection and anything that comes in the way of us entering into the depth of unconditional love.

So holiness, righteousness, judgment and justice do not contradict unconditional love:

Holiness expresses it
Righteousness reveals it
Judgment is its result
And justice enforces it.

Justice brings about the judgment – and the judgment that has been made by God on behalf of the whole of humanity, the whole of mankind, the whole of creation, is…

“Not guilty!”

This series of blog posts on ‘Unconditional Love’ are adapted excerpts from Mike’s teaching in our monthly Patreon Group Zooms. Scroll down to watch the video of the talk it comes from.
Become a patron and join us live for the next one – they are normally on the second Sunday of each month.

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283. Love Wins

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

We saw last time that God’s love to us is unconditional, and that when we are able to truly experience that unconditional love for ourselves, then our love towards other people can also be unconditional.

Should I?

Notice that I do not say that our love ‘should’ be unconditional. On my journey God has really challenged me about that word and I am trying to eliminate it from my vocabulary. I do not want to do things because I ‘should’ do them. Who said I should do them? Did God say I ‘should’ do them? If so, what is the consequence of not doing them? That implies a condition: if I do not do what God wants me to do, then what will He do?

I should go to church; I should pray; I should read my Bible; I should witness: God challenged me over these things. Obedience: should I be obedient? Of course I should! Why would I not want to be obedient to God? But He challenged me on it and showed me that my thinking around that issue was old covenant thinking because obedience implies that there is a ‘law’ of some kind to be obeyed. God does not want us to obey Him, He wants us to have a relationship with Him in which we share heart to heart and in which we cooperate with one another. Then, of course, we only would want to do the things that we see the Father doing, not because we ‘should’ but because it is the desire of our heart to be in relationship with God who loves us in such a wonderful way.

So then do I have an obligation or do I have a duty to do certain things? Am I trying to please God by the way I live? If I am, then again I am operating in an old covenant mindset. That again was something the Father said to me: “Are you trying to please me?” and of course I said “yes” because I was! He said, “Well, you’re already pleasing to Me. Why are you trying to be something you already are?” and I realized how my mind had been conditioned with ‘should’.

God really wants us to be in a deep, intimate relationship in which heart to heart sharing reveals how we can be – and then we can move away from all the doing. Religion revels in doing. Trying to please God, trying to be obedient, trying to love other people and trying to do the things God wants us to do: we get worn out trying. So why not just rest and just be? He is happy to accept us as we are but we are often less happy to think we are acceptable the way we are because we have been conditioned to think we need to change.

Change

Now, I do want to change, because I want to be more like Him. But do I think I have to change to be acceptable to Him? No, because I am loved unconditionally. So my motive for wanting to change is a positive one, not a negative. I love to be like Him who I behold, so if I am face to face with Him, living in the light of His presence, then that will transform me and change me without me trying.

Years ago I was very systematic in how I approached (and taught) things because that is the way I am wired. However, recently I have become much less systematic and much more relational, so that rather than trying to fix myself, or renew my mind, or sort myself out, or deal with my DNA, genetic lines or generational lines, I just let the Father deal with it. He sets the agenda of what He wants to deal with when He wants to deal with it and I just have to agree with Him and cooperate with Him. Most of the time that means just getting out of the way. I remember He shocked me one day when I was questioning some things about changing and He said “I don’t require your help, just your surrender.” That was a huge challenge because I wanted to help. I wanted to do something, but that again is just the programming that makes love conditional: we are programmed to think we have to do something.

Circle of conversation

But if we are ‘living loved’ then we can be fully secure in our identity within the relationship that we have within the perichoresis – the circle of the conversation that Father, Son and Spirit (who are family) are having about us all the time. They are having a conversation about you right now, and that conversation is good. They are smiling and enjoying talking about you; because they are talking about who they know you to be, rather than who you think you are. We tend to think that God may think something about us or know something about us that we would not want anyone else to know; well, He does – He knows everything about us and He loves us unconditionally!

Maturity

The Father said one day, “I’ve laid a true foundation that can carry the weight of all mankind so all can become fully mature sons of God.” That intrigued me.  All mankind can become fully mature sons, not just some, because God is so unconditionally loving that He leaves nobody out of the ‘all’.

Then the Father said, “The ages to come are to be times of wonder and awe, where I will take my sons on an amazing journey of creative discovery”. I believe we are on a journey to discover just how creative we are: we know that we are co-heirs but how much do we know that we are co-creators and what that creative ability will be?

And the Father said, “Knowing the depth, height, breadth and length of my unconditional love multi-dimensionally is what this age is designed to accomplish. There are 12 ages of man and 12 ages within each age: all are opportunities to become mature sons in relationship and responsibility.” I am not going to go into that statement because I have only delved into it a little bit myself. I am aware that God does things in cycles and seasons but it is not that one ends and another begins, they are more overlapping processes which will bring us to a state of maturity as sons. So look out for all the amazing things that are coming!

“The ascent of man is a slow process from a creative perspective, hindered by the false images of me that religion has made.” So we really need to know what God is really like, who He really is: otherwise we are filtering Him through what we think He is like.

Religious veils

“Revealing just how good I AM is has not been easy, as all that I do to unveil the truth of love is being twisted into lies and deception.” Now I have discovered this myself when I have been talking to people who really want to pick an argument. Online, particularly, some people twist what you say; and even if you go back to them with “I didn’t say that, and I didn’t mean that”, they carry on insisting you did, no matter what. In the end I just gave up doing that. Now I discern when someone is genuinely asking a question from those who just want to pick an argument or a fight. The reason they are trying to pick a fight with you in the first place is because of their own understanding of what you might believe. In reality I do not want to be labelled with a one particular set of beliefs because that is so limiting and restricting. God wants to open up a whole different understanding of Him so that we really know how good He is and do not get caught up by deception.

And the Father said, “Religion has placed dark veils over the eyes of so many (even those who don’t believe anything, it’s the same deception) so they can’t see Us as pure love, only wanting to do good by blessing everyone and everything.” So there are people who are religious, and they have a whole load of religious veils, and then there are people who don’t believe in anything and are atheists – and they have a veil as well! But the nature of God is to want to bless everyone and everything and bring about good in their lives. That is how good God is.

Love wins

“Even the attempts to show the extent and power of Our consuming fiery love that reaches beyond the grave has been twisted into a chamber of horrors, the hell illusion and delusion.” So when people experience what they call hell, it is because they are conditioned to think they know what fire means. Between 2005 and 2010 I went into that fiery place about four or five times and each time I described it as ‘hell’ because I had no other reference point. A supernaturally dimensional reality where there is fire and there seem to be a whole lot of people who are unhappy there – what else was I supposed to think?

That conditioning can be really strong: on my journey of enlightenment and deconstruction that was probably one of the hardest things for God to challenge and to break. Although He told me what the nature of that fire was, I really did not believe it until I went there again and He showed me – not only what was going on there, but also what I could do about it – which then totally changed my whole understanding.

The Father said “Son, we will never give up on even one of those who are Our sons as We cannot deny Ourselves.” God cannot deny Himself because He is love. “Love cannot and will not fail as We will never give up and cannot be denied or resisted forever.

“Love wins.”

This series of blog posts on ‘Unconditional Love’ are excerpted from Mike’s teaching in our monthly Patreon Group Zooms. Scroll down to watch the video of the talk it comes from.
Become a patron and join us live for the next one! They are normally hed on the second Sunday of each month.

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If our free or paid resources are a blessing to you, please consider becoming a Patreon patron or making a donation to sow into and support this ministry. Thank you!

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266. A Happy Eschatology

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

The restoration of all things is not a one-off event but a continual process that God does with us, in us and through us as His sons. I believe that as co-heirs we are involved in, and carry responsibility for, the restoration of all things; in particular for the restoration of creation.

What I thought I knew

How the Bible frames our understanding of the future will greatly influence what we believe about our sonship and what is possible in restoration. Our expectations of the future will also determine what we believe about the part we can play in it.

If we believe that God is going to destroy the heavens and the earth with fire, as many do, that will inevitably affect how we see our responsibility to steward the planet and its resources. If we believe in a defeatist, rapture ‘rescue of the church’ into heaven, then there will be little point in looking for the kingdom to fill the earth in victory.

We often have confirmation bias: we already know what the Bible says, so when we read it, it just confirms what we already know. More study will not fix this. Only face-to-face encounters with God Himself can get us free from that biased view. Some of my encounters with God have been traumatic: for about 5 years it seemed like every time I thought I knew something, I would have an encounter with God which totally challenged what I thought I knew.

Religion continues to misrepresent God; but He is looking to undo the damage that religion has done to our perception of Him so that we will see Him as He really is, as Jesus revealed Him to be. Only the lens of love will enable us to see the true nature of God and how that underlies the restoration of all things. God desires restoration, and all His desires are birthed in love. Love causes restoration.

Happy endings?

When we use love as our plumb line it is easier to decide which doctrinal truths and theological positions are aligned with God being love and which are the man-made deceptions of a religious mindset. If we are to participate fully in the restoration of all things and the expansion of God’s kingdom as sons, we will want to embrace an eschatology which allows for creation being set free from corruption within that restoration: this is variously called a happy, realised, fulfilled or covenant eschatology.

Many of the positions people take are paradoxical or even contradictory, but they all use the Bible to prove that they are right. So did I! Now I have to own up and say ‘Sorry, I got it wrong’. Revelation is progressive, and I was only going on the revelation that I had (and of course, others are only going on the revelation they have too). God does not mind that along our journey we may have believed a whole variety of delusions, illusions, lies and deceptions. Still, He wants us to know Him; and in knowing Him He wants us to have the revelation of unveiled truth, so that truth can set us free.

Three streams

In conversation with God, He told me that there are three streams coming together. At present, there are a handful of people who flow with two of those streams, and even fewer who embrace all three. For now, each is mostly blind to the direction that the others are coming from but they will merge in the flow of the restoration of all things.

  • The Christian Universalists are travelling towards both a realised eschatology and an open heaven mystical flow.
  • The mystics are travelling towards a realised eschatology and universal restoration.
  • The realised eschatologists are travelling towards the mystical and the restoration of all things position.

Most eschatological systems have far from happy endings, involving expectations of fearful judgment, doom, gloom, destruction and failure for mankind and the rest of creation. In ‘happy eschatology’, prophecies of doom and gloom, judgment and destruction are seen as already fulfilled, leading to a restorative period in which all things can be restored. The future is positive and filled with possibilities of increase and blessing.

No fear for the future

When looking to our Bibles to see what the future holds, there are a number of factors we need to bear in mind:

  • all the events of the New Testament were future to the Old Testament writers
  • everything Jesus prophesied was future to those He was speaking to at the time, but
  • what was future to Old Testament writers, to Jesus’ first century listeners and to New Testament writers may not be future to us today – it may have already occurred.

There is no fear for the future based on Biblical prophecy when the prophesied events are already in the past for us. All biblical references to the end, the last days, the end times, the last hour and soon to take place refer not to the destruction of the world, but to the end of the old covenant age. This was the ‘end’ that Jesus prophesied would occur in the generation to which He was speaking.

To us, in the 21st century:

  • The prophesied end is past, not future.
  • The end of the old heavens and earth (i.e. the old covenant system of laws, temple and sacrifice) is past, not future.
  • The new heavens and the new earth (the new covenant) is present, not future.
  • The great tribulation is past, not future (this does not mean that there will never be any tribulation again throughout history, merely that any tribulation experienced will not be a fulfilment of this specific Bible prophecy).
  • The end of the age is past, not future.
  • Judgment and resurrection are past, not future.
  • The lake of fire is past, not future.

Revelation and Daniel

Most of the difficulties people encounter today with the book of Revelation and Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy come from trying to make them fit current (or future) events.

In reality, Revelation is John’s first-hand account of a heavenly encounter. He was shown the events Jesus spoke about, recorded in Luke 21 and Matthew 24, which happened in that generation just as He said they would.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place (Rev 1:1, my emphasis).

Revelation is full of such time references which should clue us in to the immediacy of the time frame:

  • tachus means quickly, all at once, with all speed, without delay.
  • engys means “at hand, near”
  • mello means “about to, on the point or verge of”

Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy also happened in that generation (including the 70th week). Daniel connected the eschatological time of the “end” with events such as the desolation of the temple, the resurrection, the tribulation, the coming of the Son of Man and the arrival of the kingdom. All those events would take place when the city and temple were destroyed or “when the power of the holy people would be completely shattered”; “all these things” (not just some of them) would be fulfilled together (see the consummation scenes in Dan. 12:1-7; Dan. 7:13-14, 18, 27; 9:24-27).

The period of restoration of all things

  • As in the days of Noah’ happened in that generation
  • Believers fled from Jerusalem to the mountains in that generation
  • The judgment and resurrection happened in that generation
  • The kingdom was established in that generation

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:34).

That generation ended in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple and the very end of the old covenant. The period of the restoration of all things began in that generation… and continues in the new covenant age in which we live.

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This post is based in part on Mike’s introduction to ‘Happy Eschatology’ from our intensive ‘The Restoration of All Things held in June 2019. A lively discussion session ensued!

265. Love’s Good News

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

If we are to fulfil our sonship mandate and bring restoration to the earth, we need to mature as sons and take our places enthroned in the heavenly realms. As we mature, we will grow in confidence in our relationship with Father, Son and Spirit so that we come to know each of them intimately and spontaneously recognise their voices and their shared heart. This will be key as we explore and journey beyond our present knowledge and experience.

A journey of discovery

And there is so much more for us to discover. We are walking with God on a relational journey to discover Him and ourselves, and He will guide us through our experiential encounters with Him. The more I have engaged Him, the more He has exploded out of the box that I was unknowingly trying to put Him in. There are many things He has shown me that I do not yet fully understand cognitively but I park them and move on, trusting that the revelation will be uncovered when the time is right. There have been many things that I was convinced were true that I now realise were merely someone else’s opinions masquerading as objective truth.

We do not need to fear being deceived as long as we are not blindly following man’s DIY doctrines but are checking everything out with God ourselves. Please do not believe something just because I say it, or someone else says it. All of us have the Spirit of Truth Himself in us and with us as our guide. We have Jesus the way, truth and life in us and with us to disciple us. We have our loving Father in us and with us to father us into our sonship. If there is a plumb line we measure and test everything against, then that plumb line is not the Bible (as many of us were taught) but Agape Love, the very nature of God.

The Bible narrative

This does not mean that we reject the Bible. Far from it! It is just that we need to go beyond the limitations of sola scriptura. We need the Truth, the living Word of God, Jesus, as our only mediator.

“We came up with the idea of inerrancy because we needed another mediator between God and man other than Jesus.” – T.F. Torrance.

The Bible’s narrative covers God, Creation, Man, the Fall, redemption and restoration. Various writers contribute to the story, using their own perspectives of their encounters with God and with other people. The love story of God’s relationship with mankind is its overarching theme, the big-picture metanarrative which unites all the micronarratives of smaller themes and individual stories. We are all involved, woven into the story like a big tapestry.

Our own micronarratives derive from those things we believe about ourselves and the world, influenced by the metanarratives we adopt. Everything we believe about ourselves is framed by the bigger picture, paradigm or worldview. The gospel reframes all history in a light that directly affects our own stories.

Choices

No one really has free will. We are all influenced by something. What we do all have is choice. Religion of all types is a type of metanarrative that frames people’s lives from the particular viewpoint that they have been exposed to. If we have been around Christians for any length of time, that applies to us, too.

So what is it that influences our choices and frames our lives? A set of values, ideals or principles revealed in a book (that may be called the Bible, Torah, Koran or Veda etc.) or a personal, experiential, love relationship with God? God desires all of us to have a face to face relationship with Him.

Religion hates that idea. It fears subjective, experiential relationship and seeks to impose external checks and balances upon us. Without an objective reference point, it expects that we will fall into skewed DIY behaviour and selfish, man-centred micronarratives. Religion thrives on law and on the identity derived from a set of shared behaviours which line up with that law.

But there is nothing to fear when a love relationship with God gives us a healthy understanding of our true identity.

Just like our Dad

It is our responsibility to discover who we really are, and who God made us to be. We will find our identity, position and authority by beholding God in the mirror of a face to face relationship that fully reveals our sonship. We are called to be restored into that image and to participate in the restoration of all things. Creation is waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay into the freedom of our glory as sons.

“Jesus is God’s mind made up about us” (Francois du Toit, Ephesians 1:4 Mirror Bible). If our thinking does not line up with His, then our thinking needs to be renewed. This is what metanoia (repentance) really means.

When we know our true identity we will express God’s love through our lives in ministering to others. To be a follower of Jesus is to be part of the story by being the good news, not just in our behaviour, in our outward actions, but also in how our story reveals our value and worth as a son of God; in how it reveals just how much we are loved.

Then, much of our story will be that of our restoration from brokenness. The truth of love’s good news will be embedded into the fabric of our being; we will sum up our love stories, not in a superficial “Jesus loves me” kind of way, but in a way that emphasises accepting and embracing our brokenness and fragmentation, retelling our story of receiving ever greater levels of healing and peace in a way that releases hope to others.

God does not expect us to be perfect (and so condemn us to the bondage of continual, repeated failure because we feel obligated to an external standard of perfection). He wants us to mature through an internal desire to be sons who are just like our loving Dad.

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264. Relationship Replaced

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott

A book they didn’t have

If you have spent any time at all in evangelical Christianity, you have probably been taught something like this:

“The Bible is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16). The human authors wrote exactly what God wanted them to write, and the result was the perfect and holy Word of God (Psalm 12:6; 2 Peter 1:21).” [1]

As we saw last time, the Bible makes no such claims for itself. The verses quoted are not talking about ‘the Bible’ at all. Jesus is the Word of God, so to describe the Bible as the ‘Word of God’ (especially with a capital ‘W’) is little short of idolatry. We can all have an intimate face to face relationship with the Living Word of God – Jesus – today. Sadly, for many believers, knowledge of the Bible has replaced that intimate relationship with God Himself.

“It’s difficult to expect the same fruit of the early church when we value a book they didn’t have more than the Holy Spirit they did have.” – Bill Johnson[2]

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit will lead us to Jesus (the Truth and Living Word of God) who leads us to the Father in relationship:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12-13).

Jesus promised that more revelation would come through the Holy Spirit. There is no end to that revelation, no caveat that says ‘until the Bible is complete’. Is it possible that God never intended to limit revelation of who He is to the books of what we call the Old and New Testaments? Should the Bible ever ‘be complete’? Was that God’s intention? Did He even intend for us to have a Bible? Is it possible that insights today can be progressively added by the Holy Spirit?

Questions

I began to ask some questions of myself. I encourage you to do the same.

  • How much of what I believe came through direct face to face encounter with God Himself?
  • How much of what I currently believe has come through other people’s teaching and preaching?
  • How much of what I currently believe has come through my own study, leaning on my own understanding, and therefore comes through the confirmation-biased filter of my pre-existing knowledge?
  • How many things that I currently believe are different from the understanding that I have previously held? What are those things?
  • What do I now believe that contradicts something I strongly believed in the past?
  • How much of what I currently believe may change in the future if God continues to renew my mind?

Replacements

In my own conversations with the Father, He made some statements to me about some of the replacements we have made. His intention was to challenge any religious mindset in me. I offer them here so that if any of these statements resonate with you, or if they arouse anger, indignation or some other strong emotional response, you can take them back to the Father, ask Him why and ask Him to reveal the truth of His heart.

Relationship has been replaced by religion
The Spirit has been replaced by a book
The Living Word has been replaced by the written word
The Truth as a person has been replaced by theological and doctrinal belief systems
Hearing My voice has been replaced by studying a book

The truth of the cross that has reconciled creation has been distorted into a lie that has excluded creation
The perfect picture of love has been twisted to express penal, retributive punishment and torment
The love so perfectly displayed for My children and My creation in the self-sacrifice and offering of My Son has been distorted into a disgusting image of cosmic child abuse
Love that brings life has been perverted into hateful punishment that brings death

The correction and refining that purifies in fire has been replaced by eternal conscious torment
The Perichoresis of a relational loving God has been replaced by Augustinian theology of an angry God
Loving, substitutionary atonement has been replaced by penal, retributive atonement

Restoration has been replaced by punishment
Testing has been replaced by torment
Repentance has become re-penance instead of the renewal of the mind.
The wages of sin have become eternal punishment instead of death
The cross has become penal instead of restorative

Love has been replaced by anger
The grave has been replaced by Hell
The Spirit has been replaced by the letter
The torn veil of the temple has been replaced by the mediatorial coverings of men

Heaven and earth have been separated
An open heaven has been deceptively made a closed heaven
The literal truth of an open heaven has been replaced by analogy and metaphor
Access to heaven through the Way, Truth and Life of Jesus, the Door, has been replaced by access through death
The new covenant of life has been replaced by the old covenant of death

Grace has been replaced by the law
The faith of Jesus has been replaced by faith in Jesus
Salvation by grace has been replaced by the salvation of works
The heavenly priesthood of Melchizedek has been replaced by the earthly Aaronic priesthood

Future fulfilment has replaced past fulfilment
The end of the old covenant has been replaced by the end of the world
The celebration and joy of love have been replaced by the tribulation of fear
Victory has been replaced by rescue
The restoration of all things has been replaced by the destruction of all things

The new heavens and new earth, representing a new temple wineskin, has been replaced by the literal destruction of the world
Parousia of presence has been replaced by parousia of coming
Inclusion has been replaced by exclusion
Reconciliation has been replaced by separation

Preaching the good news of Jesus in people has been replaced by preaching the bad news of exclusion among people
The priesthood of all believers has been replaced by the priesthood of one believer

The bride has replaced the wife: the marriage has been made future not past
The present New Jerusalem on earth has been replaced by a future New Jerusalem coming out of heaven
The past resurrection has been replaced with a future resurrection
The past judgment of the cross declaring that all are innocent has been replaced with a future judgment of only the guilty

‘All are made alive in Christ’ [inclusive] has been replaced by ‘only those in Christ are made alive’ [exclusive]
‘All will confess Jesus as Lord’ has been replaced by ‘some will confess Jesus as Lord’
Being ‘born from above’ has been replaced with being ‘born again’
Being ‘born from above’ through the resurrection has been replaced by being ‘born again’ by praying a prayer of salvation

Salvation of all by grace through the gift of Jesus’ faith has been replaced by the salvation of some by their own faith

Take it back to Him

I am not asking you whether you agree or disagree. Whatever your response as you read through that list, I encourage you to take it back to the Father.

Ask the Living Word of God, Jesus, to give you a true revelation of Himself as the Truth and to deconstruct any pillar of sola scriptura from your mind.

Invite the Truth, Jesus, to deconstruct any lies you believe about the Bible, God, others and yourself.

[1] source: www . gotquestions.org
[2]When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson, Destiny Image Publishers 2013.

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263. The Word of God

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

God spoke

“…the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:21).

In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter tells his audience that God has already spoken about the restoration of all things in the past. So who were those prophets He spoke through, what did He say and when did He say it? And if these things were spoken, were they also written down, and if so, where?

  • In the 39 books which we call the Old Testament? Or the 24 books of the Hebrew Tanakh? Or the Talmud or Rabbinical writings?
  • Is it only the Bible that records what God spoke by His holy prophets? Are there other written records of what the prophets said?
  • What about the Apocryphal books which were once included in our Bible? What about other Jewish mystical writings such as the Talmud, Targum, Midrash and Zohar?

Those are the kinds of questions which go through my mind when I read something like that.

In His Son

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son… (Heb 1:1-2).

That is where we are. We actually do not need a prophet to speak to us anymore, because we have Jesus to speak to us. The Father can speak to us. The Holy Spirit can speak to us. And they can speak to us directly, they do not need a prophet to be a mediator.

When He spoke to prophets who lived 3000 years or so ago, He spoke to them in the context of their own society and way of life. If we simply read what they wrote, it might not mean the same to us (especially if we don’t speak their language). We need God the Holy Spirit to speak to us so that, whether we have it in writing or not, He can say it in a way appropriate for us and apply it to our situation today.

If we will learn to hear God’s voice and discern what He is saying, we may find He has much more to say than we ever thought. He speaks to me in all kinds of ways, not just through scripture. If He speaks to me through a sci-fi film, is that less valid than Him speaking to me through the Bible?

Truth and opinion

I often find I have more questions than answers! That is because I now recognise that many things I thought I knew were only assumptions, or other people’s opinions. My understanding was framed by what I was taught about how God spoke and what the Bible meant. But in the process of God renewing my mind, He began to challenge me on some of these things.

Jesus is the Truth. So wherever there is truth, it must be from Jesus. Whether it is in a movie, or a book, or music, or some other creative work, it must be Jesus. The conclusions people draw, or the way they interpret that truth, that is not necessarily Jesus. We cannot assume that just because one part within it rings true, that everything in it is true. The Holy Spirit will give us that discernment. We can find truth in many things, truth that we might miss if we believe the only way we can receive truth is through the Bible.

The Bible

So where does the Bible (and other ‘scripture’) fit into the picture of what will be restored? Where does the Bible fit into our lives? Is it a manual for living or an introduction to a living, loving relationship with Jesus, the Living Word? Is everything that is recorded in the Bible inspired by God? What do we mean by ‘inspired’? Is all of the Bible inerrant and infallible as we may have been told?

I understand that posing such questions risks causing offence. I am not setting out to deliberately offend but I do want to challenge our view of the Bible as the ‘word of God’. Everything God has ever said, through anyone or anything, is the word of God. But it is not a book. Nowhere in the Bible does it call itself ‘the word of God’ but it does call Jesus Himself the Word:

In the beginning was the Word [Gk: logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).

Perhaps we have been taught that the Greek word logos means the written word, the Bible, and the Greek word rhema means the spoken words of Jesus, recorded in the Bible, or the words the Holy Spirit speaks to you when you read the Bible. Logos and rhema do not mean that. They were the normal, everyday terms for written word and spoken word and that is all.

The early believers did not even have a Bible when those words were used. The books contained in our Bible were not originally part of a collection of writings at all. They were letters, or books of history, prophecy, or poetry and so on. And some of the books that were included in the first ‘canon of scripture’ have since been discarded.

Evangelicalism

No one lives without influence. Everyone’s mind is framed by their belief systems. In the process of the deconstruction and renewal of my mind, God showed me that one of the pillars of so-called ‘truth’ that framed my beliefs was evangelicalism.

This is a belief system which teaches that the Bible does not merely contain the word of God, but that every word of it is the word of God. Scripture therefore carries the full authority of God: every single statement of the Bible calls for instant, unqualified and unrestricted acceptance. In fact many evangelical churches hold to the doctrine of Sola scriptura (Latin: by scripture alone): the Christian scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.

Ironically, you will not find any of that in the Bible. It is not there because it is a man-made doctrine. Not only does the Bible never call itself ‘the word of God’, it does not claim to be inerrant, infallible or the only authoritative guide for us either. The emphasis on following the Bible only arose because no one taught us that we really could have an intimate face-to-face relationship with Jesus in which He could speak to us personally. Jesus is the One we are supposed to listen to and follow, not a book.

In reality, not everything in the Bible applies to us.

Much of the Old Testament and law only applied to Jewish people and converts, or to the specific people being addressed, not to us in the new covenant. Much of the New Testament was written to address the events of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the end of the old covenant system. Paul wrote letters to certain churches in circumstances we do not face today. Some passages only make sense in their own cultural context – though I was brought up in a church which had a stock of head coverings at the door for women thoughtless enough to come without one (1 Cor: 11:5-8).

The Living Word

Jesus never promised a book, but a relationship with Himself, with His Father and with the Holy Spirit of Truth. Everything we read in the Bible needs to be interpreted by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. There is some universal truth within it which is awesome, revealing the loving nature and character of the Father. The Holy Spirit will show us that universal truth and how it is to be applied to our lives.

The Living Word, Jesus, can interpret whatever has been written, speak directly to us daily and bring truth to us even if it is completely out of the context it was originally written in. He did that when He came – and we can read about it in the Bible! How many times in the Sermon on the Mount did He say “You have heard it said… but I say…”? He still does it today.

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For interest: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978):
“Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word.”

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262. Life and Immortality

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

In this series of posts about the ‘Restoration of All Things’, we have seen that restoration deals with the sin that occurred at the fall when mankind lost their identity, and with the death which came as a result. In fact, Jesus’ death and resurrection dealt with everything that happened because we chose the DIY path.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus… For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Rom 6 8-11, 14).

…our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:10).

Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades for all ages to come (see Rev 1:17-18), and He uses them to free everyone, not lock them up!

Death and resurrection

“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power” (Rev 20:6).

There are several questions to consider here:

  • What is the second death?
  • What is the first death?
  • Who has a part in the first resurrection?

The second death

Some see the ‘second death’ as eternal separation from God. They believe either that when the unsaved physically die they will go to eternal conscious torment in hell or that when they die physically they will cease to exist (annihilation).

Neither of these views allow for ‘the restoration of all things’, nor do they accurately reflect the merciful, just, loving nature of God.

The Bible itself tells us what the second death actually is:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire (Rev 20:14).

The lake of fire is not ‘hell’. In fact, if you insist on translating the Greek word Hades as ‘hell’ then it is where ‘hell’ ends up! It is the death of death itself, the destruction of all that prevents us experiencing fullness of life.  In the first death, Christ died the death of all men, receiving the ‘wages of sin’ on our behalf. The second death is the death of death itself. The second death cannot mean some kind of endless death, because Jesus destroyed death and “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).

We are not subject to the second death if we have experienced the first death (being co-crucified with Jesus) and the first resurrection (being made alive together with Him). Death is defeated. It will not triumph over billions of people forever by consigning them to a ‘lost eternity’. Jesus’ resurrection life brings an end to death, either through water (baptism) in this life or through fire (the consuming fire of God’s love) after this life is over. In place of death, He has given us life:

The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is age-enduring life, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23).

We can voluntarily embrace being buried and resurrected with Jesus (which we acknowledge and identify with in baptism) or through fire. God Himself is that consuming fire. If we have died to self in this life, the second death has no jurisdiction over us.

Consuming fire

But many people are blind to the truth, and are unnecessarily living in their own DIY mindsets of lostness. They continue to live separated from God, although He has done everything necessary for their reconciliation, so they continue to experience the resultant sin and death. So what happens to them when they die physically and end up in the consuming fire of God’s love?

What is the purpose of fire? Fire refines and makes pure. The dross in their lives will be burned away until each person chooses life through Jesus and receives their new name which was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. What has been stolen from them is restored to them. How long it takes is dependent on each individual’s resistance to the working of that consuming fire.

The end of choice?

…then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it (Eccl 12:7).

The physical body of everyone who dies returns to the earth, and everyone’s spirit returns to God. But what happens to the soul, our conscious understanding of who we are?

If people do not choose life through Jesus in this life, there is not an automatic ‘free pass’ to relationship with God in the next. But I cannot find even one Bible verse which indicates that physical death is the end of choice. I have asked others, especially those who contend that unbelievers go straight to the eternal conscious torment of hell when they die, and none of them can only come up with anything except a verse taken entirely out of context:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment… (Heb 9:27).

In context, the ‘once’ is the death of Jesus with which we identify. The word ‘judgment’ is not a synonym for ‘punishment’, it means ‘reaching a verdict’; and the verdict is ‘blamelessly innocent‘. The only death that everyone needs to experience is inclusion in Jesus’ death.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Bible verses which speak of God rescuing people from the grave.

The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Sam 2:6).

For the Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion according to His abundant loving kindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men (Lam 3:31-33).

For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from him (2 Sam 14:14).

Jesus went into Hades, preached there and led captivity captive: see Eph 4:8,9; Psalm 68:18; 1 Peter 3:18-20. Death is not the end of God’s power or desire to save. I have testimony of this myself, which I have posted about before.

A covenant with death

Jesus has restored what death robbed us of: access into God’s loving presence to experience restored face-to-face relationship.

Religion, meanwhile, has a covenant with death. To enter heaven and experience eternity, it teaches, you have to die. So even believers are expecting to have to die before they go to heaven.

Heaven is open now because we already died with Christ! The covenant with death needs to be broken so that we can live the abundant life that God intends. If you have a covenant with death, go ahead and break it! Do not agree that you have to die.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal [lit: age-enduring] life. I am the bread of life.Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever [lit: to the age]; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:47-51).

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244. The Hell Delusion

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott

Pagan myths repackaged

The original publication of our previous post caused quite a stir. The quotations in the header image of this post are from published articles sent to us in reaction to it. Please excuse us for not linking to those articles. If you really want to find them, you can google the phrases.

It is factually inaccurate to claim that Jesus was ‘the great theologian of hell’ or that He spoke more about hell than about any other single subject. He absolutely did not. The whole Bible is completely silent about ‘hell’. For the first five centuries, few Christians held a doctrine of eternal torment either for the wicked or for unbelievers. But over time, pagan myths about the afterlife were repackaged and passed off as Christian.

We looked briefly last time at the four Bible words traditionally translated ‘hell’. In this post we will go into them in more detail. Let’s be prepared for the Spirit to reveal the truth to us and not get stuck in tradition.

Sheol (Hebrew)

Strong’s Concordance says:

Sheol (H7585) she’ôl From H7592; hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranean retreat), including its accessories and inmates: – grave, pit, hell.

All good, right up to the last word: ‘hell’ has been added there, only because the compiler has already decided that some scriptures where this word is used are talking about ‘hell’. The true meanings of the word, ‘grave’ or ‘pit’ have no context of punishment at all. Most modern Bible versions now translate this word accurately.

Hades (Greek)

Hades (G86) hadēs From G1 and G1492; properly unseen, that is, “Hades” or the place (state) of departed souls: – grave, hell.

‘Hades’ is used only 11 times in the New Testament, including 4 times by Jesus (and some of those are the same story in different gospels). It does not relate to punishment. It is the Greek equivalent of ‘Sheol’ and has been ascribed the added meaning of ‘hell’ in exactly the same way.

In these Bible verses we will use Young’s Literal Translation, which is not easy to read but uses ‘hades’, the actual word in the original texts, and not the invented word ‘hell’.

  • And you, Capernaum, which unto the heaven was exalted, unto hades you shall be brought down (Matt 11:23, Luke 10:15). “Capernaum, you think you’re so great but soon you’ll be nothing.” There is no context of punishment.
  • And I also say to you, that you are a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly [ekklesia], and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). We, the ekklesia, are going to overcome the grave. We do not need to be fearful of death.
  • There are 2 uses of hades in Acts, both quoting a single OT reference to Sheol, that the Messiah’s soul was not left to hades, nor did His flesh see corruption (Acts 2:27, 31).
  • Breaking the power of death: Where, O Death, thy sting? Where, O Hades, thy victory? (1 Cor 15:55).
  • 4 times in Revelation
    • and he who is living, and I did become dead, and, lo, I am living to the ages of the ages. Amen! And I have the keys of the hades and of the death (Rev 1:18). Jesus has the keys of death and the grave – to set people free, not to lock them up!
    • and I saw, and lo, a pale horse, and he who is sitting upon him – his name is Death, and Hades doth follow with him (Rev 6:8). A personification of ‘the grave’, or perhaps the Greek god who, in that mythology, rules over the place of the dead.
    • and the sea did give up those dead in it, and the death and the hades did give up the dead in them, and they were judged, each one according to their works (Rev 20:13). Again, simply ‘the grave’ (and according to this verse, judgment comes after the dead come out of it, not before).
    • and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire – this [is] the second death (Revelation 20:14). Death and the grave are not the end. They are to be put somewhere else, and we will look at this ‘lake of fire’ in a future post.

None of these references relates to torment or punishment. The only use of ‘hades’ which may appear to do so is in Luke 16:23, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

  • and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

There are several things to say about this passage:

  • This whole story may not be original to Jesus. Its roots can be traced back to the Hebrew traditional text Gemara Babylonicum, which dates from Israel’s captivity in Babylon.
  • The primary characters in the story are not distinguished from one another by righteousness or wickedness but by wealth and social standing.
  • This whole section in Luke’s gospel is a series of lessons about trusting in riches and failing to help the poor, directed primarily at the religious leaders and their supporters. Jesus’ purpose in (re)telling the story was not to give a literal account of what the afterlife looks like.

We will look at this parable again later in this series. Meanwhile, there are links to articles on the subject at the foot of this post.

Tartarus (Greek)

Tartarus (G5020) tartaroō From Tartaros̄ (the deepest abyss of Hades); Greek mythology the place where the Titans were incarcerated. To incarcerate in eternal torment: – cast down to hell.

This last sentence in the definition was a total invention of the compiler.

‘Tartarus’ is only mentioned once in the New Testament:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).

If they were ‘reserved for judgment’ then they had not yet been judged and it would have been unjust to subject them to punishment. This is not ‘to incarcerate in eternal torment’.

Gehenna (Greek)

Gehenna (G1067) of Hebrew origin ([H1516] and [H2011]); valley of (the son of) Hinnom; gehenna (or Ge-Hinnom), a valley of Jerusalem.

Gehenna is the Greek word for the Valley of Hinnom, a literal geographical feature outside the gates of Jerusalem. It was an evil and dark place, used for a variety of evil acts (including child sacrifice to Molech); literally a place of perpetual fire, a rubbish dump filled with so much trash (including dead bodies during the time of Isaiah) that the fires never went out and worms would never die from lack of food.

Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter (Jeremiah 19:6).

Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, when dead bodies were literally thrown into Gehenna during the siege by the Roman army. Rather than eternal ‘hell’, Gehenna was a physical place for dead bodies.

Jesus used the word ‘Gehenna’ in 11 instances. In all of them He was talking about kingdom life here and now, not about the afterlife (whether ‘going to heaven’ or ‘going to hell’).

Here are all those references:

  1. Matthew 5:29
  2. Matthew 5:30
  3. Matthew 18:9
  4. Mark 9:43
  5. Mark 9:45
  6. Mark 9:47

#1-6 are all the same concept: Jesus is using the imagery of the most disgusting location in Jerusalem to illustrate how destructive sin is (see also #12).

  1. Matthew 10:28
  2. Luke 12:5

#7 and 8 are the same passage in different gospels: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Suppose this is referring to God (and there are plenty of other possibilities), it does not say ‘punishes’ or ‘torments’, nor mention ‘eternal’, but only says ‘ is able to destroy’. Perhaps this might be a good proof-text for annihilationists, but not for those who believe in eternal conscious torment in ’hell’.

  1. Matthew 5:22

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery Gehenna”.

So the difference between saying (1) ‘You good-for-nothing’ and (2) ‘You fool’ is enough to make the difference between (1) being sentenced to death by stoning and (2) being tortured for all eternity without hope of reprieve? That seems like an unreasonable escalation in punishment between two offences most of us would struggle to distinguish.

In reality, Jesus is raising the standard of behaviour to include thoughts and emotions, emphasising how powerful our thoughts and words are. He is demonstrating how little it takes to negatively affect us, how just a bit of unresolved anger pollutes our lives and how unforgiveness lands us in a torture chamber of our own making.

  1. Matthew 23:15

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves”.

The Pharisees were all about perceived righteousness. They obsessively followed every directive of the Law and made a show of their piety. They were self-righteous DIY-ers. Jesus was telling them that their own “righteousness” was like dung. They were proud of being ‘children of Abraham’ but He called them children of the refuse heap and compared them to those who sacrificed to idols.

  1. Matthew 23:33

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of Gehenna?

They were going to end up outside the covenant. Some of those listening may actually have had their dead bodies dumped over the city walls into Gehenna during the Roman siege of AD70.

  1. James 3:6

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by Gehenna.

Evil from one body part corrupts the whole body.

Fear and love

Religion uses the fear of an angry God and the fear of hell to keep us in order.

But God calls us to simply love Him, ourselves and each other: no religious rules, nothing complicated about it. He is not angry with us, He is always the same: loving, faithful and full of grace and mercy. He has never changed. He has shown us how to love: He loves us so much that He was prepared to come in the flesh and die for us, even when we saw ourselves as His enemies. If we loved like that, the world would be a different place.

I am not saying

I am not saying you should believe what I believe. I am offering you the opportunity to lay aside common misconceptions of what the Bible says so that you can read what it does say and engage with God for yourself to find out what He is really like.

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These publications and websites raise issues we believe God is drawing to our attention today. The fact that they are listed here should not be taken to imply that we agree with all the doctrinal positions, conclusions or opinions of the authors.

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242. Enjoy The Ride!

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott

God is Love. He really is! Having a relationship with Him does not involve trying to please or appease Him. He loves us unconditionally, and there is nothing we can do that would cause Him to love us more (or less). He is Love.

Our view of God has become so distorted that many people, not only outside the church but even within it, believe He is angry with us and only keeps us in line through fear. They are getting Him confused with some other god. Love that is forced, coerced or demanded is not love at all.

“Heresy!”

Ironically, this deep truth that God is love is often seen as heretical by members of the religious institution because they hold to a warped theological image. If anyone dares to challenge doctrinal assumptions and presumptions it always provokes accusation. I have been told myself that I am ‘on the slippery slope away from orthodoxy’ as if that is something I should avoid at all costs. The implication is that backsliding and a complete loss of faith are the inevitable result.

I am not so sure. I believe that God is challenging our preconceived, pre-programmed ideas about Him. Those preconceptions and programming are largely a consequence of our place (and century) of birth, our family traditions and other sociological factors. In another time or place the received truth about God passed along to us would have been different anyway.

All roads lead to…?

God does not want our knowledge of Him to be conditional upon when or where we were born, or the religious tradition we were first introduced to. I do not believe He wants something so important to be based on that sort of accident. Regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack of them) He is reaching out, looking to engage every single one of us in a personal relationship. To that end He pours out His Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17).

‘Does that mean,’ said Mack, ‘that all roads lead to you?’
‘Not at all.’ Jesus smiled as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.’ (William Paul YoungThe Shack).

Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is an interesting concept in itself. The word is defined as ‘an authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine or practice’. With our 20000+ denominations you can easily see how rare ‘generally accepted’ might be! So whose orthodoxy is it that we are in danger of slipping away from? Roman Catholic orthodoxy? Anglican or Presbyterian orthodoxy? Reformed, evangelical or charismatic orthodoxy? Or even Orthodox orthodoxy (take your choice of Greek or Russian)? We cannot slip away from most of those since we never actually subscribed to them in the first place.

Almost all of us, if we are honest, believe something different today to what we believed 10, 20, or 50 years ago. God never changes, but through fresh revelation He is continually unveiling aspects of Himself we have never seen before. We call this ‘progressive revelation’. Any ‘orthodoxy’ can only be a snapshot of someone’s view of God at a particular point in time, which perhaps explains how many versions of it there are.

But The Bible Clearly Says…

Every scripture we read today is a translation into English (or one of dozens of other modern languages) and they all reflect the translator’s particular viewpoint or understanding (those compiled by committee no less than those by individuals).

The Passion Translation and Mirror Bible state their viewpoints front and centre. The translators of the King James version had to adhere to a set of rules drawn up on the King’s behalf by the soon-to-be Archbishop, Richard Bancroft. For example, they were explicitly prohibited from translating ‘ekklesia’ (church) as ‘community’, ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’, most likely in case people realised it was supposed to have a legislative, governmental role. There is no such thing as an objective, definitive translation (even if you do call it ‘Authorised’).

Those who are able to read the original languages fare little better. We do not have complete manuscripts and where more than one version exists it is clear that alterations to the text have occurred.

Canon of Scripture

Proponents of protestant evangelical orthodoxy would have us believe it is very different from its Roman Catholic counterpart, but in reality much of its theology stems directly from the councils, doctrines and creeds established by the early Roman Catholic and Latin Church.

The very concept of a ‘canon of scripture’ was only introduced in 397 AD at the Council of Carthage. Carthage was the one school (out of six) in the ancient Christian world which held to an angry, retributive view of God, possibly because it was also the only one where Latin, not Greek, was the language in common use. Augustine was from Carthage, and he had no understanding of the Greek in which the gospels and letters were written; if he had, he would never have developed such a distorted view of God.

The Council delegates bartered over what books were to be included. Perhaps they forgot that Jesus warned His disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, of political and religious spirits, but their eventual selection was more politically than divinely motivated. So although all scripture is ‘God-inspired’ (1 Tim 3:16), we may well have differing views about what Paul meant not only by the word translated ‘inspired’ but also by ‘scripture’.

Fear and control

The Emperor Constantine united church and state for his own political ends. Almost 1300 years later King James directed the Bible translators to translate in a way that would ensure there was no conflict between church and state and would maintain his control over all sections of society. In fact, much of the history of the Western church can be summarised as the exercise of fear in order to control people, and the notion of ‘orthodoxy’ is still being used in the same way today, to defend and protect entrenched positions and to suppress valid questions and ideas.

Fairy tales

It is very healthy to doubt what you believe, rather than just accepting it as the truth. There is far more to God than any theology or doctrine can contain. I agree with this statement I heard quoted by Brad Jersak “When doubts appear in me it means that I have outgrown my incomplete idea of God, my imperfect knowledge of Him” (Metropolitan Anthony Bloom: Doubts).

It is only through experience that the nature of God can be known. It can only be subjective, and that is not a bad thing. People will warn us that without something objective to rely on (usually they mean the Bible) we will end up believing fairy tales. Well, I suggest we have been believing fairy tales already and God now wants us to come to the knowledge of the Truth (a person, not a doctrine). Love will always be our plumb line.

Mind-quakes

Many of my experiences have revealed God’s love at a new level I would never have believed possible. They have challenged and unravelled most of my theology and doctrine and I am not looking for new ones; nor am I asking you to do anything but to be open to engage God’s love for yourself and see where that takes you. Where it has taken me is into an experiential relationship in which heaven has opened up.  I have come to know ‘the breadth and length and height and depth’ of that love (Eph 3:18) and how ardently He desires everyone to experience it for themselves. Even death is not enough to stop Him loving us.

My encounters with God created cognitive dissonance within me (that is, they caused me mental stress and discomfort as I tried to hold on to two or more mutually exclusive and contradictory views, ideas or values). I had a choice: I could fight to hold on to what I had thought to be true or I could allow the Truth – Jesus – to renew my mind. I chose the second, and it was not easy. It wobbled my head. It felt like ‘mind-quakes’. Explosions of truth shook loose the belief systems I had.

Conversation

God spoke to me a lot during the process. He told me, “Reveal the Truth, unveil for people your testimony of who I am… Son, reveal Me, the true Me. Let the Joshua generation know the true Me unfettered by the old orders of the theology of intellectual information”.

One day, God said, “Let me show you My mind”. I am not going to describe it visually, but it was like being in the midst of a conversation between Father, Son and Spirit that is continual and is all ‘now’.  I got just a brief glimpse of God’s reality, and saw that He was connected to everyone that had ever lived, is living or will live, all at once (that is 108 billion and counting). He was connected to everyone in the ‘now’, knowing every choice and every decision made every microsecond. His loving desire was to bring good out of every choice, to redeem even the most stupid decisions of every person (and we all make them). This love is not limited to a select group of people but is extended to everyone at all times and in all places.

It was a living experience of what Paul described in Romans 8:28, that ‘the love of God causes everything to mutually contribute to our advantage’ (Mirror Bible). Our view of God influences how we see ourselves and the world that we live in, and this experience changed that for me. Our view of everything has to be aligned with Love. His love won’t relent. God desires us to know Him (Love) by personal experience so we can know ourselves as His children and bring His kingdom of love to the world.

The real slippery slope

I love Chuck Crisco’s acronym for ‘heretic’ (I have tweaked it just a little):

Happy Enlightened Righteous Exploring Truth In Christ.

On those terms, I’m willing to be called one. So for myself, I have joyfully stepped off the slippery slope that for 1800 years has been taking us away from a relational, loving God towards a false image of Him horribly distorted by religion.

I encourage you to do the same: to discover for yourself the true nature and character of God who is Love.

I joyfully jump onto the slope that goes from the pinnacle of modern theology and doctrine back to the beliefs of the apostles and early church fathers who were relationally discipled by Jesus and His disciples in love.

I encourage you to jump onto the same slope – and enjoy the ride!

Soundtrack: You Won’t Relent (Jesus Culture) via YouTube

This blog post is adapted from Mike’s teaching in the ‘Engaging God‘ subscription programme. Find out more…

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240. Loving Instruction and Correction

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

Love, the very essence of His Being

If we continually engage with God in a relational way we will continually find new things. We certainly cannot contain Him in a box – or even in a book. We need a relationship with Him and then, just as in any relationship, we will gradually (or sometimes in a flash of revelation) get to know what He is really like.

As the Joshua Generation, we are called to engage our inheritance, to cross over into the realms of heaven. In that, whether we are engaging God in the realms of heaven or engaging Him in our own heart, or in the spirit, or outside of time and space in the heart of God Himself, God is revealing His precepts, His character and His nature. When we meet God face to face, it begins to change our view of Him, and for the better. You can take it from me: we honestly have no idea just how good He is!

When I have engaged face to face with Him, what I have found is that God is Love. That is not only His predominant characteristic, but the very essence of His being. That Love poses a challenge to many of the ways we have thought about God because of our religious upbringing or traditions. If we are to live as the sons of God we truly are, if we are to love one another and to love the world as He does, then we need to have an authentic experience and testimony of God as a loving Father. After all, we are His representatives, His ambassadors, and we are to play our part in bringing the whole of creation back into a relationship with Him, to be reconciled to Him. Notice that it is not that He needs to be reconciled to us, the world or creation: He has chosen to maintain relationship with us from eternity past and unambiguously demonstrated that once and for all through the cross.

Father, Son and Spirit

The word ‘God’ has all kinds of different meanings to different people. When I write or speak about ‘God’, what I mean is Father, Son and Spirit; there is a relationship there, eternally expressed between the members of the Trinity, and this is the relationship into which we are now invited. As we experience the true reality of who God is, false doctrines and theologies will be exposed as lies, distortions and misrepresentations when compared with the Truth (the person, Jesus, rather than an impersonal set of beliefs, tenets or ideas).

Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. He said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father”. We may think we ‘know’ this, but right there is a potential bombshell of cognitive dissonance waiting to explode. What do I mean by that? When we read the Old Testament and the New Testament, there is a danger that we see two different ‘Gods’. The New Testament ‘God’ looks like Jesus, whilst the Old Testament ‘God’ is vengeful, vindictive, unpredictable, and downright scary. It should be no surprise if we struggle to hold these two incompatible views of God in our minds at the same time, yet that is exactly what many of us have done ever since we became Christians. We have looked at this through our own filters and through our own preconceived ideas. If we will look through the lens of Jesus we will realise that any dichotomy is not real, it is just a perception.

Not God at all

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17).

“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

Everything that is good in our lives has come from God. Conversely, we can know that everything that is bad has not come from Him. He is, has been, and will always be the same. And His unchangeableness is the reason we are not consumed, and do not have to fear being consumed. It is because He is Love, that perfect Love who drives out all fear. He is good, all the time.

God (who is Father, Son and Spirit) is always smiling at us and is always in a good mood with us; always, even when we mess up. His countenance does not change. He does not get angry with us. Everything He does towards us is for our good, not to harm or punish us. And every time I have used the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ in this paragraph, that does not only include Christians: God so loved ‘the world’ [Greek: kosmos] that He gave… but we will pick up that particular hot potato another time.

The reason we might find it hard to trust God is because the god we have been taught to trust is not God at all. That “GOD” is an imaginary construct of DIY religion, a distant, angry disciplinarian, a two-faced deity with a dark side which is to be feared. That anger, or perhaps you may have heard it called ‘wrath’, could be poured out in extreme punishment on anyone at any time.

That was who Adam and Eve wanted to avoid by hiding in the bushes. But God did not come lashing out at them in anger, roaring “What have you done?” He came seeking them out in love, asking, “Where are you?”. He was saddened by the loss of relationship (and was ready to restore it, if only they were willing).

Discipline, not punishment

Last time we saw that the cross had nothing to do with ‘penal substitution’, nothing to do with God punishing Jesus. But that whole doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement has so perverted our view of God that we often try to avoid His discipline because of fear of punishment (because if He would punish Jesus, for sure He would punish us). Can we really trust a god who would punish his own son so cruelly? It is very difficult to see how anyone could trust in a god like that. The world does not, and votes with its feet.

However, God’s discipline has nothing to do with punishment:

Embrace correction. His instruction confirms your true sonship, just as a father would take natural responsibility for the education of his children. Discipline is not punishment but loving instruction and correction to bring out the best in us (Heb 12:7 Mirror Bible).

God disciplines us to bring us back to the image He created us in. The Greek word translated ‘discipline’ is paideia, which means ‘the training and education of children’ or ‘instruction that trains someone to reach full development (maturity)’. That is what God does with us. But we have a tendency to read into the word all kinds of experiences we may have had in our own childhood and customs and practices we may have adopted in bringing up our own children or observed in others. But God’s discipline is not flawed like ours. If His discipline seems harsh at the time, it is often because we do not like being caught out, or do not like the learning process necessary to get us back on track.

The perception of an angry, punishing, retributive “GOD” is reflected in our society. Western civilisation may be built on a Judeo-Christian ethical foundation, but if the Judeo-Christian understanding of the nature and character of God is flawed, then so too will be the society built on that foundation. The evidence is clear: angry, punishing parenting styles, support for corporal and even capital punishment, wars, jihads and crusades. This kind of institutionalised violence and retaliation has not solved the problems the world faces and it never will. Only love will solve the problem. Only relationship with God will deal with these issues. Our DIY methods only make things worse.

Spare the rod and spoil the child?

Many of us were told (and have believed ourselves) that corporal punishment is clearly taught in scripture. Christians in some countries have fought for the right to smack their children when their governments have sought to bring in laws to forbid the practice. Here is the scripture which is often quoted:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently

(Prov 13:24).

Does this mean that we should beat our children to discipline them? It does not. When you understand what the rod is, you realise it is not a cane to beat someone with.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Ps 23:4)

The shepherd uses his rod to guide, to keep the sheep from stepping off the correct path, not to punish them.

God does not beat us. He corrects us, He puts us back on the right path in a loving way. His discipline is not an angry parent taking out their frustration on their child, as sometimes happens in human society. His discipline is parental love in action and nothing else. Nothing that harms and nothing that maims, shames or blames: only a love that empowers us to fulfil our destiny, a love that strengthens us to know our true identity and to express who we really are.

That is why we can embrace His correction, understanding that it demonstrates how much He loves us and that He cares deeply about us.

This blog post is adapted from Mike’s teaching in the ‘Engaging God‘ subscription programme. Find out more…

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