Tag Archives: choice

Only two possibilities?

Christians are sometimes accused of trying to make a simple – even a simplistic – choice out of life’s endless moral dilemmas. It is complained that preachers unfairly make the spectrum of goodness and evil into a false two way split. But scripture does this too. There are many different metaphors which have in common a refusal to allow the hearer to sit on the fence. Think for example of Jesus parable about the two men, one building his house on sand, and one on rock. In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy several times urges a choice of direction: blessing and curse 11:26f, compare 30:15. Psalm 1 pictures two trees, one by the waterside, not a forest or even a copse. In today’s reading of Romans 8:14-17, Paul offers some explanation.

Of course, on the Day of Pentecost, named for its 50 day interval after Passover (Easter), we tend to focus on the dramatic story of the coming of the Holy Spirit, told in Acts 2. But for us who live a long time after those events, how does the Spirit make a difference?

Paul has spoken in Romans 7:14-23 of the way good intentions are not enough to overcome sin, experienced as selfishness, desire, addiction and many other things. In Romans 8 he explains that it is the Holy Spirit that breaks the monopoly of human sin. It is not that the Christian becomes perfect, or even loses the many temptations to fall back into a self-centred, desire directed, life. But the Christian can be “led by the Spirit of God” – directed by a greater force, though always responsible, never coerced. This is a life that pleases God, and is seen as good and constructive by those around. This is the way to become the person God intended, filling the place in the community (both the Christian congregation and the wider local community) that is properly theirs.

It is a strange balance. We do not lose control of our lives, yet what is good in them is given, not achieved. The choice has to be made each day, and even more often, yet going the way of God’s Spirit we have confidence in our direction, even when it is not obvious. We still sin, and need repentance and forgiveness, but the stranglehold of a sin-dominated life is broken, and wonderful opportunities are glimpsed.

Christians do believe in a division into two. Only God is able to give a final, accurate judgement, but scripture again and again speaks of a two way choice, not a range of assessments of good and bad.

This is reinforced by the role of the Holy Spirit in making us God’s adopted children and heirs. Again, the division – those who receive the inheritance, and those who do not. Adoption is a gift, yet a gift in which we may have confidence, and for which we may always be grateful.

The story of the birth of the church that Pentecost is striking, and still of great importance. The Holy Spirit, working in Christian believers, leads them to the life God intends, and gives a new position as adopted children.

So now – Choose!

It’s the end of a long chapter – today we read John 6:59-69, completing several weeks working through John 6.  There have been arguments about what God wants, who Jesus is, and how to find life.  When it comes down to it, there is – what?

Some will leave to assess the campaign, polish their arguments, and work out the next step, sure they are right and must win.  Others will go back to the everyday, refusing to take any decision, or wanting to believe that it doesn’t really matter.  John wants us to understand that we make a choice.  Even deciding to think about it another time is a choice – to avoid the issue.

Jesus never hustled people.  He never used his position to threaten.  But he did make clear that the way to life was to follow him through life, questions, difficulties and everything.  Not “when I get around to it”, not “when I have sorted myself out”, but starting her and now.  The disciples understand.  They may not be having a good day, hearing the conflict, fearing the outcome, but Peter has the line, ” “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Surely John knew that it was not only on that occasion that people had argued and prevaricated.  His Christian community knew only too well those who were “interested, but . .”.  And, no matter how committed we like to think we are, we also know how easily we put off – well, what’s your current “when I get around to it”?