How have we learned Christ? It ought to be a startling thought, that we may have learned him wrong. That must be far worse than not to have learned him at all: his place is occupied by a false Christ, hard to exorcise! Have we learned Christ as he taught himself, or as men have taught him who did not understand him? Have we learned Christ in false statements and corrupted lessons about him, or have we learned himself? And is only our brain full of things concerning him, whether true or false, or does he himself dwell in our hearts, a learnt, and ever being learnt lesson, the power of our life? Consider the following utterance, from one in the front rank of those skeptical of Christianity: “The visiting on Adam’s descendants through hundreds of generations of dreadful penalties for a small transgression which they did not commit; the damning of all men who do not avail themselves of an alleged mode of obtaining forgiveness, which most men have never heard of; and the effecting of reconciliation by sacrificing a son who was perfectly innocent, are actions which, ascribed to a human ruler, would call forth expressions of abhorrence; and the ascription of them to the Ultimate Cause of things must become impossible.” I do not quote the passage with the design of opposing it, for I entirely agree with it; the system it assails is a false one, and I have never heard a word from skeptics such as this writer which even touched anything I hold; yet the beliefs that he attacks are, alas, those held by many so-called Christians.
How Have We Learned Christ?
by Stephen Carney
“How have we learned Christ? It ought to be a startling thought, that we may have learned him wrong.” So writes MacDonald and it is a statement that should give us pause. We attend classes, Bible Studies, seminary lectures and read countless books all supposing to inform us on what Jesus is really like. Everyone has a twist on Jesus, and yet no man can preach, write, lecture, or lead a Bible Study without in the end telling us more about him- or herself than about Jesus. As Phillips Brooks alluded to, preaching is truth poured through personality. But one must be careful that the personality does not overtake the truth. One can only share what we have seen and heard concerning the Word of Life. We only know how we have encountered Jesus, if indeed we have. We look at the world through our own paradigms and our biases color what we see. Even a scientist who only believes in “observable fact,” must admit his bias or his observations cannot be reliable. We cannot easily shake loose of our preconceived notions, and they are our Achilles heel. We are stuck with William Blake's poem “The Everlasting Gospel” in which he reminds us that one might see “black where another sees white.”
I have often told couples getting ready for marriage, that if there was one gift I could give them it would be this: “Never take what the other person says personally. For they are telling you more about themselves than they are about you.” If your wife says, “I don't feel like you love me,” she is not saying whether or not you love her, but rather stating the fact that she doesn't feel like you love her. When a man replies, ignorantly, “I don't think you should feel that way,” he is telling her what he thinks and is telling her little about herself. This does not mean that we cannot get it right, nor that our words never hit the mark. Many times they do, but even then they are still telling us a great deal about ourselves, and to whatever degree we are self-aware, we will increase our ability to see others clearly. We must remember the words of Jesus, “Before you try to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye, remove the log that is in your own.” Often times, the speck we see in our brother's eye is just the reflection of the log in our eye. Now all this may seem disconcerting, but it is really the path to learning. We must get ourselves ready to so learn Christ, if we are to learn him at all.
MacDonald is preaching from Ephesians 4:20-22. “But ye did not so learn Christ; if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lust of deceit.” There are a few things to note in this passage. First, we are to learn Christ. Not learn about him, but learn him. Jesus said in Matthew's Gospel, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Again Jesus says, “Learn from me.” Not learn about me, but “from Me.” What truth have you received from Christ? How have you learned gentleness and humility from our Lord?
I think one of the greatest impediments to spiritual growth is that we have conducted Bible studies about Jesus, but have learned little from him. I think it is because we misunderstood the passage where Paul says to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved..” I think we are trying to get God's approval by diligent study that is based more on secular methods of learning than the ancient form of discipleship. We dissect the Scripture, tearing apart each Greek verb, looking at sentence structure, examining every detail as a botanist would a plant. But like the botanist we know all the parts but have forgotten to look at what all of it together means. We must not forget that the plant is only useful and purposeful when it is whole, and so it is with Scripture and especially the person of Jesus Christ. The quest for the historical Jesus only served as an attempt to break Jesus down. Separate him from his divine purpose. But you cannot separate Jesus' humanity from his divinity, otherwise you will misunderstand him. Fortunately, Jesus says, “Come to me..” and not go to a scholar.
But that is the second thing, “if so be that ye heard him,..” Do we hear him? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice..” (John 19) We must learn to hear him speak to our hearts, through the Scripture, yes, but also in our time alone with him. But then we must learn to pray the Scriptures, which is what the Bible means when it says to meditate upon the word. We must learn to hear what Christ wishes to teach us as we read. The ancients called this Lectio Divina. They would read a passage three times, and each time ask the Spirit of Truth to guide their thoughts. Madame Jeanne Guyon in “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ” begins her book with instructions in these matters. It would do us we to begin here, letting Christ be our guide. Asking, “Master, what truth do I need to know and what action must I take on your behalf this day?”
Finally, we must ask him to show us where the “old man” still lives within us. We must cast him off if we are to get far in following Christ. If we wish to know him better, the lusts of the flesh will stand in our way. So we must be a little introspective, asking the Lord to search our hearts and show where we are petty and mean-spirited still. We must become horrified enough at our old selves to abandon him or her altogether, so that we will jump onto the road with Jesus, running after him and not looking back!