How do we know for sure that we are following Jesus’ teaching, following in His footsteps as we journey towards our life lived wholly in God? There is definitely a time and place for a pastor’s or a denomination’s teachings at the beginning of our life in Him, but Jesus warns us so often in the Gospels about seeing and hearing that we ought to stop and really think about whether we are truly following Him or whether we are just following the church’s teachings.
From the first we are learning from our denomination’s teachings and that is fine. But if we don’t move into Christ’s mind and hear and see what He wants us to hear and see, are we disciples of Christ or just of our church? Remember, the church is in the world, too, and influenced by it every bit as much as we are. So, if our denomination thinks it has the “right!” interpretation and no one else has, that is an opinion framed by someone’s ego which certainly appeals to our own need to be right, to be better than everyone else.
But is that God’s point of view? Did He not create us each with an unique way of being and thinking and wouldn’t it be natural that those who think alike would be drawn to the same church or denomination? But does that mean that any one church has the right interpretation or is it just the interpretation that works for the people who are drawn there? In other churches or denominations we find other, probably legitimate view points, too, which have also drawn like-minded people to it.
Jesus so often said as he proclaimed the parables, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” I think that He is talking about much more than understanding the parable, the words He is using. He is talking about a depth of understanding that takes in the words and ponders them and sees how they apply to one’s life and then incorporates any wisdom gained into their lives. That involves sitting in God’s presence and hearing what He is offering us, what He is inviting us to. Jesus is talking about much more than a memorization of His teachings, to where it becomes not just knowledge acquired, but a knowing, an understanding, a wisdom that becomes a permanent part of our lives. It’s about much more than understanding the Bible with our minds; we have to include our hearts and souls, too. It’s about living those truths in our lives.
In some passages Jesus explains what his command to see and to hear means. In his explanation of the Parable of the Sower, the farmer sows the word. At the first level of understanding, Satan grabs it from them as they hear it. At the second level, there is no root on which to attach the word, so it is quickly forgotten. At the 3rd level, the “worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” distract one from the teachings. And lastly, there are those who “hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Produce a crop? What does that mean? In the Gospel of John Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” We show ourselves to be His disciples by the fruit we produce on our branch of the vine.
Jesus knows what we are like, what we need, what He needs to call us to. He says in another passage that “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued, “with the measure you use, it will be measure to you—and even more.” And again: “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, but fail to see, and ears, but fail to hear?”
Jesus in John goes even farther: “I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him…Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!…Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
If we belong to the devil, to our own egos, to our own culture—if these are the things that rule our lives, we will not be able to hear God’s word through Jesus. If we belong to the world, we will not be able to get the depth of His teaching. As long as we see through our own personal/world-based lens, we will only get part of the truth, the most obvious part of the teaching. But we will never be sinking it into the depths of our being where it can change who we are.
We can fool ourselves that we’re the only ones who hear and obey His word, while all we are doing is memorizing it and knowing the “right interpretation,” that is, our denomination’s interpretation; we are not owning the teaching in our own lives by studying it with Jesus to see how He wants it applied to our lives right now.
How can we receive the teachings as they were meant for us to see and hear? How are we to take in the truth, the whole truth about Jesus and let it transform our lives? How can we be faithful to His teachings in our lives, in every detail of our lives—in our work and at our workplace? In our families and how we interact? In our leisure and play time?
What do I hear in the deepest part of myself about living the life in Christ? What am I really being true to? The culture? The world? Or to Christ? Or do I have one foot in the world and one in Christ? And how does that work out for me? Halfheartedly at best, but probably more grounded in the world than in God. That’s easier for us, for it is deeply engrained in our psyche exactly how an American is supposed to act and to be and to feel. We are mostly unaware of its influence on us.
It is not for us to judge other people’s beliefs or to condemn them as wrong and us as right. Again this is egoic talk, not kingdom talk. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” by the same measure. Instead, we might consider the differences in interpretations and what they tell us about the passage. Can we learn from other parts of the body of Christ? Are we truly open to what Christ is saying to us? Can we grow into our faith continuously and not feel that we have arrived and there is nothing more for us to do.
If we are surrendered to the Lord, if we are willing to go where He leads us, If we are true to what He asks of us, we are no longer in a judging or condemning frame of mind. We are free of the human/cultural restraints and take on only Christ’s burdens and listen for what He says to us. Then we can hear and see as He has taught.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I following the church’s teachings or Christ himself? Can I still my mind enough to hear Christ’s word to me? How deep do the teachings flow into my life? Do they change the way I think? The way I relate to other people, even the people I’m not drawn to? Am I a servant of the Lord? Or of my ego?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who live His teachings in the depth of our souls. May we live in the fruit of the Spirit: May we be peace, joy, love, patience goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control to all that we meet.
Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. 8.2.19’s is entitled “God speaks to us.”
 Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, 14:36
 Mark 4:14-20, see also Luke 8:12-15
 John 15:1-8
 Mark 4:24
 Mark 8:17
 John 8: 43-47
 Matthew 7:1-2
 Matthew 11:30