Theologically or Functionally?

Theologically or Functionally?
By Steve Smith

First off, allow me to give credit where credit is due: The thought for this article was spurred by thoughts from an article I read by Jon Bloom a Christian writer at desiringgod.org. You can read it here.

Second, let’s define the words in the title. Theologically simply means as it pertains to the truths of God’s Word. Functionally is how something operates or relates to its purpose.

Consider this simple analogy to get us started on the right track. We know that what it means when we see a sign that says: Speed Limit 45mph. The law is to not go over the limit. We see it and we acknowledge that it is true. What do we do after that? We may understand and acknowledge it but do we do what it says? If you are anything like me, not nearly as often as I should.

Well, fasten your spiritual safety belt then as we look at how many times we may be theological without being functional. When the Bible says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, do we treat it the same way as the speed limit when it comes to loving the unlovable or being persecuted?

When the Bible says, “Do not return evil for evil but return evil with good”, do we treat it the same way as the speed limit when it comes to being wronged?

Theologically, we know these things are true, right and in accordance with God’s plan and will for how we should act as followers of Jesus. But are we actually doing them? 

It has been about 25 years now where there has been a shift that we as Christians think we have our rights like everyone else. I’m not sure where that came from but it is not in the pages of the New Testament. I’ve searched, and I encourage you to do the same but I cannot find any retaliation on the part of believers anywhere for anything! The only rights we have are God given rights as Christians. Yes we live in America, but all national rights are secondary to Kingdom rights.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying there are not injustices in the world around us, or that we should not have a righteous anger against evil, I’m simply putting forward what happened even in the face of these things in the first century. 

Jesus did not retaliate when they arrested him, beat him and crucified him. None of his followers in the New Testament retaliated when they were imprisoned, beaten, goods confiscated, families taken, homes burned and trashed.

Here is a quick example in Hebrews 10 and how the believers responded and what their hope was in: 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Do you see a significant gap here between the believers in the pages of the New Testament and ourselves as the believers living today? Be honest, wouldn’t the first thing most or all of us do in a situation like this is to sue or have some of them arrested? 

And here’s the real kicker, the kingdom of God was growing like wild fire in those early days. Why? In one word, grace!

Grace means getting what we don’t deserve. God forgives the unforgivable in us. Grace from us to others means the same, forgiving the unforgivable in them. This is where theological and practical are combined in action.

At the cross Jesus died to forgive all of our sins, just like the Apostles and early Christians. At an empty tomb the news spread, Jesus is alive! For them it was not simply theological, it was practical, and they were willing to take whatever risk there was to make it so, knowing even if they lost their lives there was something better after death. Jesus had proven that to them.

Are we willing for our lives to be both theological and practical? It’s the Jesus way. The kingdom will not grow any other way than the way the King has prescribed it to. And it may well be that under persecution and returning good for evil where the followers of Jesus show grace, the kingdom grows. It did then. I suspect it would now.

How are we doing with the speed limit? How many fewer accidents do you think there would be if the speed limit was not just seen and understood but obeyed? 

How are we doing with taking the theological and making it practical? How many more lives would we see God change if we took these theological truths and applied them practically? Are we willing to try by the enabling of God’s Spirit to find out?

BlogMatthew Schuler