What interpretative lens are you looking through?

Finished_Cross_LensI want to continue where I left off here about how to properly understand the Bible. As I said before, many Christians, even respected Bible teachers, seem to read the Bible indiscriminately.

What I mean by this is that we don’t read the Bible with our Jesus glasses on–more precisely, we aren’t reading it through the lens of the finished work of the cross.

Before I go further, we need to be honest enough to admit that we ALL have an interpretive lens. To say you just “believe the Bible” is saying nothing at all. We all believe the Bible through our own interpretative lens. Even Bible translators with the purest intent, and safeguards, still translate Scripture through their cultural and religious paradigm (yes, even the King James translators). This is why there are so many different translations and paraphrases. And this is actually a good safeguard against interpretive bias. Only the Holy Spirit has the 100% pure translation of the original text.

Beloved, if we don’t see this, we will never grow up into Christ (Eph.4:13-15) We will stay stuck in yesterday’s revelation, old paradigms–stuck in our own heads. And that doesn’t work in any field of endeavor, let alone the Living Word of God.

I would like your input on this, but before that, I need to lay some groundwork, which includes the other post I mentioned.

Grinding out the right lens…

So how is this finished work of the cross lens ground out for us? Let’s review a few salient points to give this lens clear focus and definition.

– Every jot and tittle of requirements by the Law were nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ and “taken out of the way” (Col.2:14). Jesus is the end of the Law for those who believe (Rom.10:4). This must mean both the ceremonial and moral law (“ministry of death engraved in stones” – 2 Cor.3:7).

– A covenant is not in force until there is a death (Heb.9:16-17), so the New Covenant (Testament) did not start in Matthew chapter one but with Matthew 27:50-51.

– Jesus only offers one sacrifice for sins forever, wiping sin out once and for all. Because of the blood of Jesus, God is no longer counting our sins against us (2 Cor.5:19; Heb.7:27; 9:12; 10:10). This means that Jesus isn’t up in heaven trying to get us pardoned for our sins anymore. He seems to think it’s finished. We should too.

– The New Covenant was cut between the Father and Christ. Since Christ fulfilled the covenant on the Cross, and it wasn’t made by us, we cannot break this covenant. We can only believe it by faith (Gal.3:17; 2 Cor.5:18).

– Christ not only died for us, He died as us. This means that our old Adamic sin nature was nailed to the bloody cross and died with Him. (Rom.6:6 ; Gal.2:20). We’re NO longer a part of the Adam’s family, but Christ’s family! (Eph.3:14-15)

– We were also raised with Christ, so now our life is Christ’s life (Rom6:4, 11: Col.3:3).

– We are made right with God by grace through faith alone (Rom.3:20-25; Eph.2:8). This means we cannot observe anything, do anything, not do anything, to change this.

– We are to live the Christian life, every moment of every day, the same way we were saved–by grace through faith with thanksgiving (Col.2:6-7).

– As a free gift, your righteousness is the same as Jesus’ righteousness, your holiness is the same as Jesus’ holiness (Rom.5:17; 2 Cor.5:21; 1 Pet.2:5, 9).

– As Jesus is, so are we in THIS world. We will do the works of Jesus (healing, miracles, setting the captives free) and even greater works (1 John 4:17; John 14:12; 20:21).

– We are NOW seated with Christ in heaven with God. Since this is true, we are also placed far above ALL principalities and powers (Eph.1:20-23; 2:6; Col.3:1-3).

– And unlike the Old Testament saints, we have total authority over all the the enemy (Luke 10:17). This God-given authority means we don’t beg God to do something He told us to do (Matt.10:7-8). Like Jesus, we command sickness, disease and bondage to go in His name.

– We are a NEW creation (2 Cor.5:17). “New” (kainos) means unique, of a different order. Before Jesus, this was not true. But like Jesus, we are an unprecedented species of God-inhabited men and women on the earth. This doesn’t mean we are Christ, we are literally placed IN Him. And we live both in heaven and on the earth simultaneously (John 3:13; Eph.2:6; Phil.3:20; Col.3:1-3).

– Jesus is the full expression of God (Col.2:9; Heb.1:1-3). Whenever we view God differently than Jesus, even in the Old Testament, we have a distorted image of Him.

Again, you can see more comparisons between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant here. If you haven’t read that post, I suggest you do so before continuing.

Doesn’t this change anything?

So, how should this change how we read the Psalms? Job? The prophets? And, certainly, the books of the Law?

The reason I ask this is that, surprisingly, most Christians are being told to drink from some strange bewitching brew whose fruit comes from the wrong tree. As I said in the other post, this strange brew is a mixture of the “old wine” in with “new wine.” They DON’T mix at all. Actually, JESUS said that first! (Mark 2:22).

And this intoxicating mixture is so alluring because we still haven’t stopped trying to save ourselves.

So when I read how most Christians apply passages in the Old Testament (including commentators), even in the Gospels, I often don’t see this discriminating view. It’s very puzzling to me.

For instance…

– We read the Law like we’re still under some of it, that God’s approval is ever conditional and our right standing with Him is somehow based on our behavior and/or performance. No, it’s based on believing–period (Heb.11:6).

– We read the cries of the Old Testament saints for God to forgive them, like Jesus hasn’t already forgiven us–once and for all. Doing this is actually praying prayers of unbelief, even though they were appropriate under the Old Covenant.

– We read Job like we don’t have a choice when the enemy afflicts us. Worse, we say it’s from God! (That’s another subject)

– We read Elijah and the prophets, even John the Baptist, like we should judge people and nations the way that they did.

– We read the Old Testament cries to “rend the heavens and come down” when we are living under an open heaven 24/7 NOW, actually IN Christ at this very moment.

– We treat nations like Israel treated enemy nations instead of seeing them as people Christ died for, and that now our ministry is about reconciliation (2 Cor.5:18-19).

– We wait for heaven and wonder what it’ll be like when we’re finally there. Finally there? What??? We’re there already! We sound like the elder brother (Luke 15:31), living in a place we never avail ourselves to.

Do you see what I mean?


While we were sleeping…

So what happened? As Paul asked, who has bewitched us and enslaved us and put us in this dark dungeon? (Gal.3:1). Who has lulled you into eating this toxic fruit, Sleeping Beauty? (That’s you and me, by the way!)

We’ve inherited a cloudy, judgmental, Old Covenant Christianity “lens.” One that sees people with the proverbial jaundice eye–as “sinners in the hands of an angry God”–like that’s even scriptural.

But our heavenly Father demonstrated that He radically LOVES these “sinners” so much He was willing to pay the ultimate price for them–His Son (John 3:16). He has already made it right for them–PAST tense–forever! He’s not angry! Hello???

He’s the prodigal’s Father, not some angry sociopath! Didn’t we get this memo from Jesus? Weren’t we listening?

So will we please let Jesus–our Prince–kiss us awake again?

What do you think?

First, thanks for hanging with me on this long post. I would really like to know what you think about these things. How does the finished work of the Cross affect your interpretative lens?

With the understanding that we’ve inherited a very deeply entrenched, stainless steel legal Roman jurisprudence-based paradigm of how we relate to God that has prevailed for the last 1,600 years (Since Constantine). But cultural longevity does not determine truth, and this lens we’ve been looking through is NOT necessarily a clear lens of the New Covenant.

I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.  🙂

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 42 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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19 Responses to What interpretative lens are you looking through?

  1. dcummuta says:

    The paradigm shift invites people into the loving relationship with God who would turn away because of the impossible requirements of religion.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen. Well said. I think the mixture we’ve believed in the past actually keeps so many people away from intimacy with God, from knowing His heart. We’re consuming so much of our time and energy trying to please God, trying not to disappoint Him, to appease Him, rather than believe Him and be embraced by Him. Religion separates us from Him, love connects us to Him. All because God is love, and that means relationship, first and foremost.

  2. Cindy Powell says:

    Amen. Again. I so love how you manage to speak to the heart while still enticing the mind and intellect to come along. This is one of the reasons I love your blog so much. You provide a solid and concise biblical framework for many things that should be simple but have become so dang convoluted over time by those wrong lenses we wear. I think I look at scripture very much the same as you, but I tend to write more devotionally (sort of from the heart, to the heart) and as a result, I will never engage many of the people you engage. You manage to add enough theological “cred” to give those who NEED to have greater intellectual understanding something to chew on WITHOUT losing the heart of the message. Not only that, you do it with much grace and humility. Not so many can do that — so please keep at it. Still waiting for that book someday! I will be first in line 🙂 Blessings!
    (P.S, in the process of writing a post on the fact that intimacy with God is NOT based on performance–think I’ll link to this for those who may want more of the scriptural foundation for what I’m saying. )

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Cindy. I really appreciate that. I guess it’s the “Bible geek in love” in me. 🙂 But, seriously, God is amazingly and profoundly stimulating to the mind…that is, AFTER you’ve opened your heart like a little child. Love does have language that needs expression for the mind to comprehend. But heart comes first, head comes second. Everything in the Kingdom comes by spiritual revelation, not head knowledge. We’ve had this backwards, stuck in our Greek philosophical mindset for so long. And that’s part of this major paradigm shift we’re seeing in the body of Christ today. And you articulate that shift so well yourself. 🙂 I look forward to hearing what you have to say about intimacy. Blessings.

  3. Pingback: Things I’ve Learned, pt 2 – Intimacy with God | Deeper Waters

  4. jeffrossman says:

    I’m sorry to be a dissenting voice here, but you hinted at something VERY dangerous, and I’m finding it to be gaining more and more momentum in the church. It is the idea that what Jesus taught while He walked the earth was for the Jews under the Old Covenant, and that only the epistles really give us the true Gospel.

    You hinted at this when you said, “…the New Covenant (Testament) did not start in Matthew chapter one but with Matthew 27:50-51.”

    Obviously the price for sin was not paid until Jesus’ hung on the cross, but everything He taught while on earth was New Covenant truth (i.e. The Kingdom of God). We cannot lump the words of Jesus with the other words of the Old Covenant as being non-binding on the Christian. Jesus Himself was clear about this. He said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached…”

    The Law and Prophets were UNTIL JOHN. That is, the authority of the Law & Prophets ended after John, and Jesus began teaching the Kingdom – that which would be authoritative and binding for the rest of time. All of Jesus’ teachings are New Covenant teachings. To deny this is to deny the authority of our Lord! This includes passages like the Sermon on the Mount.

    • Mel Wild says:

      No problems with your dissenting, Jeff! We need to wrestle through these things. Actually, you bring out a point I am not making, so I really appreciate your comments. 🙂 That’s the trouble with mentioning things briefly on a blog. You don’t get to explain what you don’t mean, but is also why an interactive blog is so good for this. We can clarify.

      Since my blog is mainly about the major transformation that took place in me from Jesus’ discourse in John 14-17, you can believe that I LOVE the teachings of Jesus!

      I am aware of what you’re saying about this trend of dumping the Old Testament and Gospels, but I am NOT saying that at all. My comment about Matthew was more of establishing the historical context so we can see through the right lens. So, technically, John the Baptist ministered under the Old Covenant. But I LOVE reading the Kingdom truths taught by Jesus. His teaching on the Kingdom and His Father, our new relationship with Him. As you said, all New Covenant truths before the historical fact of His death and resurrection. Amen.

      But, still, we must read even Jesus’ teachings in the context of His finished work of the Cross and the resurrection. Otherwise, we get a convoluted understanding. In fact, Jesus changed many things about how we related to God and others under the Old Covenant when He taught (“You have heard it said, but I say…”) He rebuked the disciples for trying to act like Elijah in Luke 9, etc. But He’s also telling us about our relationship with His Father, which was unprecedented. Paul, and the NT writer’s teachings, were commentary on Jesus’ teachings and His resurrection.

      We have to understand that Jesus was accomplishing two things in His teaching. Burying us under the Old, so He could establish the New. For instance, He tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that if we don’t forgive others, we’re not forgiven by God. Certainly, we cannot say that this is salvation by grace through faith! The context is in our trying to be righteous by “every jot and tittle” of the Law. But we are only forgiven by the blood of Jesus, not by whether we forgive a trespasser (of course, we put ourselves in bondage by holding onto unforgiveness). This would be one case in point in how the right lens clarifies what He’s saying. Otherwise, we end up with a legalistic, performance mixture instead of the New Covenant gospel.

      So, under the New Covenant, we don’t follow the Ten Commandments, they follow us. In other words, He puts the very heart and intent of the Law in our hearts. We obey by the Spirit, not the letter. The Law always brought death, the Spirit brings life. This is said all through the New Testament in various ways. It’s actually a higher standard–it’s Christ! We’re dead and our life is Christ’s life–His perfection, His performance, His righteousness and His behavior. We have rested from our works and live in Him.

      Again, thanks for your comments. Blessings.

      • jeffrossman says:

        “We don’t follow the Ten Commandments, they follow us.” Great stuff! I, of course, agree that our salvation is not based on good works, but our salvation must produce good works or else it is not biblical salvation. Your statement puts this in the proper order. The harmonization of Paul and James regarding the necessity of works for salvation is that James assumes the presence of faith, and Paul does not.

        Our salvation is based on faith, but I think obedience and good works are an important evaluation of whether we really believe. Faith always inspires action. Faith that fails to move us is dead faith.

        • jeffrossman says:

          My ‘interpretive lens’ lately has revolves around the idea: “a tree is known by its fruit.” This, in my mind beautifully marries the ideas of identity-based righteousness (vs. performance-based), and yet maintains the necessity of works as the RESULT of that nature, and as a legitimate evaluation as to the true nature of the ‘tree.’

        • Mel Wild says:

          I agree with you in principle. But the rub comes in the practice. And it becomes a potential slippery slope into performance Christianity and judgmentalism if we’re not careful to keep salvation and “works” separated. One way this shows up is that many get saved by grace and are basically told to walk by performance. This is “another gospel,” according to Paul (Gal.1:6-9). It’s a rather subjective trap because it gets us to wonder “how saved” are we? (Or we get to judge others based on this sliding scale.) We begin to question people’s salvation based on our doctrinal interpretations, which potentially makes us judgmental instead of spiritually discerning.

          Here’s a correlation to what I’m saying. When we have commentaries in our Bibles (“study Bibles”), the tendency will be to confuse the two as “Scripture” (why I don’t have commentary in my Bible). So many Christians study the Bible and actually develop more of a relationship with the commentary than the Holy Spirit and letting Him teach them in the context of relationship. I’m not against commentaries, I have many on my bookshelf. I just don’t ever have them in my Bible for that reason. It’s can become a confusing mixture.

          So why do I use this analogy? Because the same holds true for our view of salvation. Yes, there should be works, but our definition of works becomes subjective. We must remember that Jesus defined works as “believing on Him” (John 6:29). Period. It’s not based on behavior but out of this relationship in Christ. I know you agree with that part.

          But how do we make it subjective? Well, for instance, Fundamentalists might make it about what we’re NOT supposed to be doing anymore–I don’t drink, smoke, hang out with sinners–it’s all about behavior modification, etc. (“If you were a REAL Christian you would stop doing all that stuff!”) For others, “fruit” will be feeding the poor, social justice, making the world a better place, serving God, etc. But ALL of these things can be done very well by atheists! Sometimes, they’re better at it than Christians. These can all be works without any faith in God at all. In fact, many Christians are really unbelieving believers. I wrote about that in another post. Because they are doing things out of duty rather than identity, being led by the Spirit. God may not have wanted them to do those things at all, but they were told they were supposed to be doing them if they were a “real Christian.”

          So, it’s easy to misjudge people’s hearts by this soteriological maxim–especially, if they don’t think or act like us. Another factor–there’s a difference between deception and immaturity and being a unregenerated sinner. You can be born again, yet still believe a lot of lies that affect your walk with God. It may take years to show any fruitfulness.

          So, what I’m saying is that the only sure standard for works is believing God from the heart (John 6:29; Rom.10:9-10). It shows up as love and devotion for God, then to others. All our works must come from this place in Christ. This is where Paul and James are saying the same thing. We are saved by grace through faith alone, and at that very moment, we are given a new nature, we are complete in Him (Col.2:10), apart from any works we may ever do or deception about ourselves (Eph.2:8). And if we are discipled properly, we will bear the fruit you are talking about. But, as you say, it is fruit and not the basis of our salvation itself. As long as we keep these two separate we can be clear about our relationship with God and avoid misjudging others.

  5. gahihgi says:

    Your comment about “yesterday’s revelation” is interesting because many things we’re learning contradict a lot of revelation that’s been preached (it’s like some things die hard but you can still see some change). It’s as if its become dogma. But one of the things that stand out to me is that our holiness is his holiness. Before I felt like there was my holiness and then his holiness (yesterday’s revelation) and hopefully I would eventually do pretty good but that never happened (which is impossible since I never had none to start with). But it makes a world of difference and takes a heavy burden off my shoulder when my holiness becomes his holiness, when like Abraham it’s about Him and not about the mistakes I make. Personally that’s one of the best things about the new covenant and about seeing things from God’s perspective through Jesus.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, we have to always be careful not to be dogmatic, even with this new wind of the Spirit blowing over the Church. The Kingdom is always advancing; we must advance with it. The Word of God never changes but our understanding should and must. We must remember that we only see in part and know in part. Yesterday’s revelation (and today’s) are only partial revelations. We see this process in both the Old Testament and New. God was constantly upgrading His people as they had the mental grid to understand. But Jesus changed everything. Now we have the Spirit. There’s a lot more I could say about that, but space doesn’t permit. The point is, God is pouring out a fresh understanding of His grace and who we are in this hour. There are many books, songs, blogs, ministries…all talking about this current reformation. It truly is an exciting time to be alive in the body of Christ!
      Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. Blessings.

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  9. Ron says:

    Mel, came across this post via Google search

    Stopped reading at this comment:
    “– A covenant is not in force until there is a death (Heb.9:16-17), so the New Covenant (Testament) did not start in Matthew chapter one but with Matthew 27:50-51.”

    How is it that God was gracious to Adam? Did he not make a covenant with Adam as attested to by the skins he provided? (There was a death…was it an antitype?)
    Abrahamic covenant: still in effect? see Galatians 3 and 4.
    Who (better, What) died?

    Something also to consider from Matthew 26:28: here, before chapter 27, Jesus said, This is the new covenant in my blood. But, he hadn’t died yet…making your statement false? Or, at least open to clarifying (I think it’s false, but you have the benefit of doubt)…Peace

    • Mel Wild says:

      Hi Ron. I’m glad you found me on google! Thanks for your question. This certainly brings up some seemingly paradoxical aspects of Scripture. We could also argue that all of Jesus’ teachings were about the New Covenant, what it looks like to follow Him, which was quite unanticipated and revolutionary to those He taught at the time. Jesus, in proclaiming the New Covenant on the night He was to be betrayed, was making what is called in theology as a proleptic statement, which simply means that you’re making a representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished. It’s very similar to a prophetic statement, only it’s made as if already accomplished. So, while Jesus makes this proleptic statement before His death, it does not negate the truth of Hebrews 9:16-17 (or Romans 7:3-4, for that matter), that this covenant is not “put into effect” until the testator dies. Hope that makes sense! Blessings.

      • Ron says:

        Subjectively I think you are correct. Proleptically, Jesus was looking ahead (as were Abraham and all who saw Jesus’ work ahead of time in faith.
        The interpretive lens should also consider the Objective, methinks. The Atonement was always in God’s mind.
        Thanks for taking the time to answer! Blessings to you, as well.

        • Mel Wild says:

          “The interpretive lens should also consider the Objective, methinks. The Atonement was always in God’s mind.”

          Methinks that, too!
          You’re welcome and thanks again for your gracious comments. Much appreciated.

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