Maybe it’s my imagination but it seems that the strife and conflict in our society grows by the day. And even where there’s not outright conflict, there are nagging tensions that just never seem to go away.
Today it is hard to imagine our world without tension. But it was exactly that way in the beginning.
The story of creation tells us that in the beginning there was perfect harmony and fellowship between God and humanity. And with perfect harmony and fellowship, there was no tension. But humanity chose an act of rebellion against God and that perfect harmony and fellowship was broken.
But because God loved humanity so much and desired a restoration of that perfect harmony and fellowship, He gave us Jesus as the avenue to that restoration. And at some point in the future, Jesus will return, and that restoration will be complete. And all tensions will cease.
But in the meantime, you and I find ourselves in that period of human history where we still see rebellion against Jesus. And just like in the beginning, rebellion prevents that perfect harmony and fellowship that Jesus came to establish. And without perfect harmony and fellowship, there will always be tensions.
Even within the Christian community and churches.
But just because tensions are inevitable, that doesn’t mean we have a license to manufacture those that should not exist.
But I believe we do manufacture tensions that should not exist. And it is harming our calling to advance the kingdom of God in our generation.
1. Bible Based vs. Spirit Led
For some reason, there are churches and Christians that have gravitated to one side of the spectrum on this almost to the point of minimizing the other. But I’m pretty sure Jesus never intended for there to be any tension between the two. I think guidance from the Holy Spirit is necessary for meaningful use of the Bible. And the Bible clearly points us to the Holy Spirit. So why would there be any hint of tension or competition between the two?
2. Self-improvement vs. Godly Transformation
There’s no competition here. God can transform things in our lives that we can’t improve on our own. But there are plenty of areas where we can improve on our own. And God expects us to do that. It’s not an either/or proposition. Again, it seems that we have manufactured a tension that doesn’t exist. I think God expects us to steward our lives by doing the best we can and depend on Him to do the rest.
3. Positive Thinking vs. Dependence on God
There should be no doubt about the power and benefits of positive thinking. But there also should be no doubt about its limits. Somehow we have created a tension between the two concepts instead of practicing them in harmony. Apparently Paul had no such problem:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
4. Prayer vs. Action
There are people who pray earnestly about situations and issues then never take any action. That is neither the teaching nor the model of Jesus. He prayed but he also accomplished things. Then there are those who do lots of good stuff but never pray about any of it. That is also not the method or model of Jesus. Again, it’s not an either/or situation. There should not be a tension between the concept of praying and doing. The key is to pray about what to do and then do it!
5. Faith vs. Works
Of all the spiritual tensions, I suppose this must be the most profound. I really shouldn’t call it a manufactured tension as it does involve real theological differences. But the evidence seems clear to me that salvation only comes by the grace that is activated solely by faith in Jesus. My best example of this is the thief on the cross next to Jesus. His last-minute salvation was clearly only activated by his newfound faith. There were no works on his part. There was only a moment of coming to faith. And that was enough.
But unless we die immediately upon our salvation experience like that guy did, works should follow. If our faith is genuine, we will be transformed in a way that causes us to want to do good. We may fail many times but there will be a desire to do what is right. So works is definitely evidence of our faith and is an integral part of our Christian life.
Despite our differences on the subject, maybe we could tamp down the tensions just a bit and unite even more strongly around our common belief in Jesus.
6. Obedience vs. Grace
Again this is one of those profound tensions that really is deeply rooted. But should there even be any tension between the two concepts? After all, grace is activated by faith. Likewise, obedience is activated because of faith. We obviously benefit from grace. But we also benefit from obedience as God knows what is best for us. Both are integral parts of our Christian life.
So why should there be any tension between accepting grace but still striving to be obedient? I don’t think Jesus ever intended any tension between the two.
7. Consumer vs. Contributor
It has become common in recent years to classify those in churches as either consumers or contributors. And it has become equally common to be critical of what we see as consumerism while heaping adulation on what we see as contribution. And I fully understand the biblical basis for that.
But I think there is a danger. I think that tension can easily cross the line into condemnation. And condemnation always serves to separate people from Christ.
And we do not have the ability to see what is in a person’s heart.
A person that we see as a consumer may be earnestly seeking to draw closer to Jesus and may be doing exactly what God wants them to do in a particular season of life. And they don’t deserve any judgement or criticism from us.
Likewise, it is also possible for those that we see as major contributors to be more committed to the act of serving than they are to their Savior. And when that happens, we have crossed the line into idolatry. You may totally object to that statement. But I lived that experience personally. It does happen.
I think God is in a better position to judge the hearts of both the consumers and the contributors than we are. It seems to me that we need to be very careful as we navigate this tension.
So what’s the bottom line?
The bottom line is to consider what could happen if we worked to lessen these tensions within our Christian communities.
I encourage you to take one more look at each of these seven tensions. And imagine what power and transformation could be unleashed if the two points of each actually became compatible in cooperation with God instead of being considered somehow as in tension with one another.
Could that get us just a tad closer to that perfect harmony and fellowship that existed in the beginning,
Could it move us a little closer to “on earth as it is in heaven”?
Seems to me to be worth a try.