Better Theological Explanations
Good explanations help us understand our world. Conventional Christianity had left me with some problems and questions I could not answer. However, using a theological perspective based on relationships and God's value system has produced better explanations for me than other perspectives. Here are some examples.
- Why is Jesus death effective for me?
- Why does God not forgive us if we are not forgiving to others?
- What actually is the holiness of God?
- Why did Moses hide his face with the veil? What is the glory of God?
- What is spiritual growth and spiritual maturity?
- Why did Jesus choose to die on the cross? How can we love the unlovely?
- Why was Jesus treated so badly at the cross?
- What is blessing and cursing?
- What makes heaven desirable? Why is hell horrible?
- Why are lies so personally painful?
- Why does God seem to not answer our prayers?
Why is Jesus death effective for me?
The Bible says, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23). Why could Jesus' death substitute for mine?
Human laws have many consequences. For infractions, usually there is a fine which anybody can pay. However for crimes that require jail time or a death penalty, only the person that committed the crime can pay the consequences. Why can Jesus take the consequence of death for me and be a just God?
Sin and death are relational terms. Sin is choosing a value system, or being motivated in our actions by a value system that is not God's value system. Death means a separation or breaking of relationship. When we do not have a common value system with God, we cannot have a relationship with him - and that is death.
This explains why Rom 6:23 (quoted above) isn't false. All humans are mortal, whether Christians or not; therefore the verse isn't speaking of mortality. After this life, both those in heaven, and in hell will continue to exist forever, so we can see that life and death is unrelated to continued existence. The key difference between those in heaven and those in hell is whether they have relationship with God. This verse is telling us that the consequence of sin is that I do not and cannot have a relationship with God.
God's plan to solve this problem has two parts for us: we acknowledge Jesus as our king, and adopt his value system. Jesus' death relates to the first part.
We may not be familiar with kings, but we are familiar with the principles of authority/responsibility:
- parents for children
- work-place bosses (& corporate officers) for those that report to them
- military officers for those under their command
In all these cases, the one in authority can be held responsible for the ones under them, including punishment for some crimes. When we are under Jesus' authority in his Kingdom, Jesus has the right to substitute himself for us with regard to the consequences of ungodly values and sin.
On the cross, Jesus did take that consequence; his relationship with God was broken. ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matt 27:46) Jesus, who had never been out of relationship with God before, experienced this death of relationship. Just before his body died, he said two more things: "It is finished." (John 19:29) and "Father, into your hand I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46) These showed that the relationship break was not permanent, and in fact was no more. This makes sense because throughout all of this, Jesus never had a value system that was different than God's. He couldn't remain out of relationship with God!
There is a significant historical precedent that additionally supports this. Up until the time of the kings of Israel, God held individuals responsible for their sins (Josh 7, Judg 2:11-23, 3:12, etc). But from the time of king David, and on, the people were judged according to the behavior of their king:
- for good as with David (1 & 2 Sam) and Josiah (2 Kings 22 & 23)
- or for bad (2 Sam 24:1-25, 1 Kings 11:9-26, 2 Kings 21:2-16)
The king represented the people to God, and God effectively saw the people through their king. So for Christians, Jesus represents us to God, and God sees us through Jesus. Because Jesus is our king, God sees the consequences of our ungodly values having already been paid, and through Jesus, he sees us as having values identical to his.
Note: We can only actually be in Jesus' kingdom if we observe the law of the kingdom. The one rule is that we are to love each other as Jesus loved us [John 15:12] - which is to say, we must adopt his value system.
Further, Jesus can represent us to God because he is also holds the office of priest. Only the priest could offer sacrifices to God for the people. King Saul (before David) tried to do this himself from a lack of faith (1Sam 13:1-14), and God rejected him because he was not priest. King David, loving God deeply, brought the center of worship to his conquered city of Jerusalem. He was very interested in the king as priest, and looked back to the ancient history of his city to a man named Melchizedek who was both king and priest. David then wrote the prophetic Psalm 110 about a coming king who was also priest like Melchizedek. In Heb 4:14-5:10 the writer assigns the Melchizedek priesthood to Jesus, making the point that for this reason, Jesus can represent us better to God than any other.
Finally, life also is a relational term (see Rom 6:23 again). Life is on-going relationship based on a common value system. Jesus, as a free gift, will take responsibility for our relationship problem with God. He brings us into permanent relationship with God when he is our Lord.
Why does God not forgive us if we are not forgiving to others?
Jesus came to generously bring forgiveness for sins for all that would ask. He brings restoration of relationship with God. And he asks us to love as God is loving.
In the middle of all this generosity and love, Jesus says (Matt 6:14-15) that we are required to also forgive others. In fact, if we are unforgiving to others, God will not forgive us! How can God be loving, but hard-edged on this topic at the same time? Is this capriciousness, or a quirky hot-button issue for him?
Jesus came to establish a spiritual Kingdom based on all its citizens sharing his value system. His value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others is his most defining characteristic, and the most clear expression of it was his willing death on the cross for us.
Without God, our native value system and our value system of choice is selfish love for the benefit of me - the value system of the world. This one is in conflict with God's value system, therefore we cannot have relationship with him. We have no common values on which to base the relationship. The only possible result of this is permanent separation from God.
God's solution is to make a new Kingdom with humans under authority of a new King, and at the same time to transform them to have God's value system. The first enables handling issues of the past, and the second enables relationship going forward.
When we become a citizen of God's Kingdom, Jesus is our king, especially with regard to relationship with God. Therefore, in that authority/responsibility relationship he has the right to substitute himself for us with regard to the consequences of ungodly values and sin. On the cross, Jesus lived his values and took the consequences of our previous ungodly value system by experiencing death of relationship with God the Father.
Adopting God's value system is the only way to enter his Kingdom and to have a relationship with him. Forgiveness is the most fundamental evidence of God's value system. Therefore, if we do not forgive each other, that is evidence we never were in God's Kingdom, or have put ourselves out of God's Kingdom. If we are not in Jesus' Kingdom, then he cannot substitute himself for us, therefore he is unable to extend forgiveness to us and we stand responsible for ourselves before God. (See also forgiveness process)
What actually is the holiness of God?
God is very holy. Triple emphasis (Is 6:3, Rev 4:8) indicates his superlative level of holiness. And we are told to be holy because God is holy (Lev 11:44).
Problem I did not know in actuality what this holiness of God was.
The dictionary has several definitions of holy:
- "set apart for the service of God": God will always serve his purposes, so this tells me nothing about God. I understand that he is set apart, but this appears to be true only in part because he continues to have dealings with humans.
- "spiritually pure": This is only a state description because by definition, only God is pure. My question was, "God is pure what?". Our own best efforts at doing good are as filthy rags to God (Is 64:6), so there is no useful meaning here.
- "morally excellent": This only offers a hint of usefulness. Personally, I understand good morality to be whatever definition God has made. But it doesn't explain why God is morally excellent.
By synthesis from the Bible, I didn't have a much better definition either. How in the world can you work toward something you do not know? I knew that following the Old Testament laws were inadequate for attaining holiness. Jesus came to bring something better, but I was still left with a vague explanation on the order of "What Would Jesus Do?".
God's holiness is that he completely free of and separated from the value system of the world.
God's value system is sacrificial love for the benefit of others: this is his moral excellence. He is motivated only by this value system (pure), and is completely uncorrupted by and set apart from the self-centered value system of the world (our native value system). This is why God is completely holy.
We also then become holy when we adopt his value system and separate ourselves from our old selfish value system.
Theologically, since we are under the direct authority of our holy king-representative Jesus, God treats us as holy (positional sanctification). And as we increasingly live God's value system with his help, then we also become holy (progressive sanctification).
Why did Moses hide his face with the veil?
What is the glory of God?
When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai his face was radiant from having been in the presence of God. (Ex 34:29-35) Moses brought with him the (moral & civil) law that God was giving the Hebrews. Several additional times he went into the presence of God to receive more of the law, and each time he returned his face was radiant. Each time after he spoke to the people what God had told him, he covered his face.
Later in 2 Cor (3:7-11), Paul talked about this. The radiant glory the people saw was associated with the Old Testament law that Moses brought the people. However, Paul said the glory of God's new law of love would surpass the old. The glory on Moses face faded like the best glory the old law could produce. However, the new law would have a lasting unfading glory.
More complete explanation
The law that Moses brought to the people enabled them to (only) reflect a part of God's glory as they obeyed it.
The law was like how Moses' face was radiant after being in the presence of God. Moses made his face be seen to the people as he spoke God's words to them. This was because the glory on his face emphasized the glory of the law from God that he was bringing them. But the radiance from his face was not his own radiance - it was only a reflection of God's glory. The words from God communicated values from God. But those words were like Moses' face - they only showed a reflection of God's glory.
The glory of Moses' face faded after he was away from the presence of God because that radiance was not coming personally from himself. In the same way, obedience to the law that Moses brought did not make the people personally glorious like God is glorious.
God is glorious because he completely lives out his value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others. The old moral law could bring the appearance of glory when it was carefully obeyed. However, a person could be externally obedient while still being completely unlike God in their personal value system. For example, a person could have murder in his heart toward another person without committing the crime. Their actions might appear to reflect God's values even though their heart was against God. Therefore, any glory to be seen would only be a poor reflection of the actual glory of God's value system.
However, Jesus' new law of love could be obeyed only if the person adopted God's value system as their own and then lived it by God's transforming power. Unlike the old law and unlike Moses' face, when this happened the glory shown by that person came from inside their own being. God had transformed them so that His value system had actually become their own value system. Therefore, the new law of love would produce lasting unfading glory in that person.
What is spiritual growth and spiritual maturity?
I had come to a point where I was unclear on how to continue to grow spiritually. I grew up in a Christian environment and had received good teaching through my life. I had thought I understood Christianity pretty well, but even so it had some mystical things for me. However, I am not a mystic and this was becoming a huge disappointment to me. How did I know if I was growing as a Christian?
- Was it reading the Bible more? No.
- Was it more time praying? No.
- Was it better living of the 10 commandments? No. (Jesus' explicit point!)
- "What Would Jesus Do" anyway? I can read some things he did, but to be honest, he wasn't easy to predict, so how would I know?
I could recognize some people as being mature Christians because of their life that showed they had got there (but I couldn't measure why). I wanted to be a person like them, but I didn't know how. There were lots of good things in Christianity, but it could start to get so complicated that I couldn't keep all those balls in the air all the time.
The measure of spiritual growth is the degree to which we live God's value system - sacrificial love for the benefit of others. By it, I now have a guidance, a direction for how to go about growing.
(It also helps to know that our native value system and our value system of choice is selfish love for the benefit of me - the value system of the world. This comes out in one of three ways: doing something to bring pleasure to my body, doing something to make people like me, doing something to make my own little empire of control.)
We become Christians when we come to God asking him to change us to have his values because we realize that his value system is better than ours. He always answers this request with a "yes"! It is important to continue asking him to transform us, to help us live this love. Again, he always answers these prayers "yes".
The result of God's value system in us is good relationships - first with God, but significantly also with those around us. At the end of life, ultimately what we will treasure the most is our good relationships. Our own (natural) wisdom always fails us here. But God's wisdom (his value system) never fails for good relationships.
Spirituality (generically speaking) is learning about and becoming involved with the Divine. Real spirituality, then, is learning, adopting and doing God's value system because that is what best describes God's character and that is what he has asked us to do. When we do, we are growing spiritually and becoming spiritually mature.
Why did Jesus choose to die on the cross?
How can we love the unlovely?
Jesus came to earth to die for us. However, we were unlovely and his enemies. What motivated him to do this?
Jesus died on the cross primarily because he loved God (and not primarily because he loved us). Jesus' love was first to his Father, then second to all the world. (John 14:31) When Jesus died for us, we were his enemies and were very unworthy of his love. God had existed eternally in perfect relationship. And so because of their (the Trinity's) love in this relationship, Jesus died on the cross as God asked him. Through this, he made it possible for us to be restored to relationship with God.
Jesus has asked us to love as he loved! But, there are so many unlovely people out there! - It may be easy for us to think that they don't deserve our love.
Jesus asked us to love others as he loved us. We can do this because we love him first. We can live God's value system to others because we are doing it first to love Jesus. Then we are doing it to love them. Thinking this way stops us from thinking that there are any people who are unworthy of our love.
Because of our primary love for Jesus, we can love others.
Why was Jesus treated so badly at the cross?
From the time of his betrayal to his death on the cross, Jesus was treated very harshly. Was this needed?
- I had understood the cross as a legally-oriented substitutionary death. It seemed like this could have been accomplished with a simple clean execution, since sacrificial lambs in the old testament temple system were killed without mistreatment.
- I couldn't see how Jesus' passion - his torture and agony - was a necessary part of the mechanism for how God had saved us.
- People would talk about how the cross was glorious, but it is hard to see glory in all that cruelty.
The purpose of Jesus' death was to take the consequence of our rebellious value systems onto himself. This consequence is a broken and dead relationship with God. Jesus experienced this death when he said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46). That was the critical part of the substitutionary death that we talk about - the payment for our sin that breaks our relationship with God.
But also on the cross, Jesus experienced the other consequences of our rebellious value systems. This included betrayal, disbelief, injustice, cruelty, and exploitation. These are primarily relationship evils. We as humans are responsible for all of these things in the world. Jesus experienced them to show us two aspects about value systems: the first being how bad our value systems really are. We can see that our value systems destroy relationships, and on the cross, Jesus received their full effect.
And you know what? His value system handled all the terrible results of our value systems in a way that was pleasing to God, and brought God glory. The stresses and suffering of Jesus on the cross was horrific! And still, God's value system did not fail.
The cross is embarrassing, gross, and ugly. Its not something to talk about in mixed company. And yet it is success and glory of the highest kind. By the cross, God implemented his plan to restore relationships with any who will trust in him. To do this, Jesus went through both God's hell, and human hell and still came out intact. By doing this, he so showed us the second thing: that God's value system which is better than ours will be victorious.
Jesus' awful experience as a human starting from his betrayal to his experience on the cross wasn't the part that was the payment for our sin. That experience of Jesus was to encourage us that no matter what we might experience through life, God's value system is strong enough to get us through life while also preserving what is most valuable - our relationships with God and with people.
What is blessing and cursing?
We tend to think that when we get what we consider to be good things, that we are being blessed. Historically, God promised for the nation of Israel that one of the signs of his blessing was material wealth.
Is either of these ideas true for Christians? What does it mean to be blessed by God?
Material wealth was a sign historically to the Israelites of blessing from God, but it was not the only sign. The blessing God told the priests to say regularly to the people was, "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace." (Num 6:24)
The priestly blessing was that God would turn his face toward his people (and not turn away); it was that God would shine his face toward the Israelites and be gracious to them. These are images of favor in relationship. (In contrast, a face turned away is an image of rejection of relationship.) God being gracious toward them is God living his values of sacrificial love toward them.
Finally, the blessing was that God would give them peace. The context where God gave them the blessing was not about war (avoiding war). The context was the establishment of their religious setting; it was of God's relationship to the people. Peace in relationship is when there isn't conflict. Conflict in relationship always comes from conflict in values. So this blessing was that God would give his values to the people, so that they would be shared values, so that they and God would be at peace with each other.
As Christians today, we have a new covenant with God. The old covenant does not apply to us, and neither do those promises of material wealth as a sign of God's blessing. We are citizens of God's Kingdom which is non-physical, and non-earthly; material things have no direct value in God's Kingdom.
God's goal in his Kingdom is his people living his value system. Material wealth can get in the way of that goal. So do other distractions of this world, as well as our old values. God blesses us as he guides us to adopt his value system into our life, so that we can have deeper relationship with him. Sometimes God takes away the other distractions from us so that we can learn a lesson from him that he is teaching. As he does that to us, he is still blessing us.
Those that are cursed by God do not have relationship with him. In the time of the Israelites, the people were cursed when they rejected God by their disobedience to his laws. We were never under that religious/political system of laws, however we cannot avoid God's curse if we reject his value system (which is the law of his Kingdom). The final example of being cursed by God will be hell because it is a place of isolation from his presence.
However, our God is kind and generous. When Jesus came, he took God's curse for us when God cut off relationship with Jesus on the cross. Our God is not cruel: he loves us deeply, so we do not need to fear what might come to us in this life because love casts out fear. And God's great blessing to us that we have relationship with him through Christ.
What makes heaven desirable?
Why is hell horrible?
All those who believe in an existence after this earthly life desire that it be a good one. Heaven is our concept of that good existence, and hell is its opposite. Why would we desire heaven? And what makes hell so undesirable?
All relationships are built on common value systems. A perfect relationship would require perfect agreement in value systems. Improved relationships come from growing together in value systems.
God's value system is sacrificial love for the benefit of others, and our native value system is selfish love for the benefit of me. Since all conflict in relationship is conflict over value systems, this puts us in conflict with God. It also puts us in conflict with all others because the object of everyone's love is different.
There is only one God, but he has three persons. And each one of them has the exact same value system. Therefore God is an inherently relational being and exists continuously in perfect relationship. Heaven is the place where God exists and where only his values are lived. (Matt 6:10)
Heaven is not a physical place like this earth. We know this because God is a spiritual being and his Kingdom is not a physical kingdom. We don't have much information about hell, but there is no indication that hell is a physical place either.
Earth is a physical place, and (Biblical and practical) evidence is that the physical realm distracts us from the spiritual realm. This distraction is strong enough that many people completely misplace their need for the spiritual, and even for good relationships.
Relationships are a spiritual issue because of their basis in value systems. This physical world distracts us from the critical importance of good relationships because it can anesthetize our loneliness with its interesting distractions. However, when we pass out of this physical world, those distractions will be gone and the full effects of loneliness will be able to be felt.
There is only one place after this physical life where good relationships exist, and that is heaven. Good relationships banish loneliness, and in heaven where God's value system is the only value system, loneliness does not exist. For social beings, this is the most desirable place.
Whatever other option (other than heaven) that exists after this physical life is a place of utter loneliness, and that option is a hell. Hell always continues to be hell because the only value systems that exist there cause deep conflict between people. Therefore, there will be no friends in hell. And since our physical world with its distractions is also missing in hell, there is nothing to help anyone forget their loneliness.
The curious thing is that since heaven and hell are non-physical places, they can also exist on this earth. Therefore for those who are in God's Kingdom, they have already entered heaven and all others are still in hell. The effects are greatly muted by the distractions of the physical realm, but for us heaven and hell are both present and future.
Why are lies so personally painful?
If we find out that we have been lied to, we often experience great personal pain. Why?
You lie to someone to deceive them so they believe they share a relationship based on common values with you, so that you might gain the benefits of relationship with them. However, reality is that you don't share that common value system.
When we lie to someone, we are intentionally exploiting them with this deception. This is why lying is so horrid. We knew the values weren't shared all along. And so lying is any thing we intentionally do or don't say so as to lead others to believe we are like them when really we are not. Exploitation by lies prepares a collection of wounds for the heart of the person being deceived.
This is why we feel so betrayed when we find that someone has been lying to us. Real relationships are built on common value systems. If we find that a relationship we valued was false and never existed as we thought, the pain is very significant.
We can also see why people are so slow to trust us after we have lied to them. It was about the deception of who we were to them, it was never was about the words. Even if we change to be what we claimed we were, now they have to be sure. The only thing they trust is a long term change in actions.
To avoid lies, Jesus calls us to adopt his value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others. And so also then, when we all share Jesus' value system, our relationships can heal and grow.
Why does God seem to not answer our prayers?
In certain places in the gospels, Jesus appears to make wide ranging promises to grant any request we make of him. Why does it appear that he does not keep these promises?
The short answer is that we misunderstand what Jesus is promising. When we understand what he is promising, we will recognize that every time he does answer our request in line with the promise. God keeps his promises, but we must understand what he has promised.
- In Matt 17:20, Jesus promised that if we had faith, we could move mountains into the sea with our prayers. Nothing would be impossible for us.
The context for the statement was about preparing the hearts of people for their King. This was the ministry of John the Baptist. That is why Jesus was alluding to Isaiah 40:3-4, the passage John also quoted about himself. "A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." The part Jesus alludes to is where it continues: "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low..."
John the Baptist never worked on physical road making. In the same way, this promise is not about moving any physical objects, and is not even a generalized promise. It is a promise that when we ask God to remove obstacles in the hearts of people to prepare them for the King, he will do it. When we ask him, God will change impossible hearts to advance his Kingdom.
- In John 14:14, Jesus told us to ask for anything in his name and he would do it for us. (also 15:7)
The context of these statements is the last teaching Jesus was giving his disciples before his death. He was guiding them to think of being sacrificial lovers - just as Jesus would soon ultimately do on the cross. In 14:12 he said, "I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do". One of Jesus' primary tasks was to show us what God was like, to show us his value system of sacrificial love. Immediately following in 14:15 he says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." which he clarifies in 15:12 with "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Clearly this whole section is on sacrificial love, so the promise is one to further Jesus' purpose.
Jesus' goal is to transform us into sacrificial lovers having the same value system as God. It is the purpose of the Kingdom he established. This is why he gave us the command to us to love each other like he does. He tells us to ask in his name, so why should he want us to ask for anything other than his stated goal? In fact, what he is promising is that when we make any request of him for help to be a sacrificial lover, he will be certain to give us his help.
- Ultimate prayer
The ultimate expression of prayer was by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before the cross. Jesus didn't particularly want to have the experience of the cross, but he completely wanted what God desired. (Matt 26:39) In the end, he was able to obtain strength to love us through his sacrifice by the energy, joy (Heb 12:2) and confidence he received from God through prayer.
So, prayer isn't about getting what we want from God; it is primarily about enabling us to change to have God's values. It is about gaining strength for sacrificial living.
Praying requests like this of God is a very scary thing for us. But our God is gentle, and loves us and will always answer us when we pray for what he has promised.
(See also God's Value System, chapter 29: Prayer and Sacrificial Love.)
- Secondary purpose
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus also poured out his heart to God about his anguish over what was about to happen. When we look in the Psalms we see the writers often talking to God about their struggles and troubles. So this is a big secondary purpose of prayer: it is a safe place where we can express our frustrations, doubts, pains, and hopes. God will listen graciously. We can't surprise him and he will continue to love us.
The ideas on this page are based on the work of Darren Twa, author of several books including God's Value System. He is pastor at Life Fellowship. His audio messages teach the biblical and practical basis of God's Value System.