A THEOLOGY OF TWO TREES

[For those put off by the word theology, may we remind ourselves at the outset that the word simply refers to ‘the knowledge of God.’ We are in fact all ‘theologians,’ some good, some mediocre, some bad. What can be more wonderful  than coming to a better mental and relational ‘knowledge of God,’ under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? (Rom. 12:1-2). Why did Jesus so regularly answer questions with another question if he didn’t want people to think, and why did he so often resort to puzzling parables? I still regularly bump into Christians who are adamant that to ‘think’ about your faith is ‘unspiritual’ and ‘carnal.’ Small wonder the Church is often so confused and impotent]  

 

It was Frank Viola, author and radical church restorationist, who first pointed me to an insight from one of my favourite theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). It’s an insight that has transformed my thinking and living over the past few years, as well as that of many of my friends in the organic church movement. 

Bonhoeffer pointed out in his Ethics that ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ is the root of all religious and ethical systems. Christ, however, came to give us a new life rather than a new ethic or religion (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Jn. 5:11-12).

Viola summarises and applies Bonhoeffer’s principle well. As ‘Church’ we are the recipients of God’s uncreated life. As such we are not called to live by a ‘Christian’ religion or code of ethics, but by God’s life. That life is a divine life, the ‘life to the full’ Christ talked about in Jn. 10:10. By contrast, to eat from ‘the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ (Gen. 2:8ff) is to govern one’s life by ‘right and wrong,’ to behave by a standard of ‘good and evil.’ ‘Knowing good does not necessarily mean doing good, as we can all testify! Good is a life-form, and only God is good (Mt. 19:16-17) – at the attempt to be good, man invariably fails (Rom. 3:12). 

According to the Scriptures, goodness is not only a life-form but a Person, God himself. Therefore when believers merely seek to ‘be good’ they are eating from the wrong tree, and they succumb to their fallen nature (see in this regard Paul’s struggle as reflected in Rom. 7, where he endeavours to overcome his fallen bias by his own energy). Eating from the wrong tree leads to shame and condemnation (as seen in Adam and Eve, Gen. 3:7-8). 

Such failure was never God’s intention for us – he wanted us to share his life, to live in union with himself and express his goodness in the earth. That is what ‘the Tree of Life’ offered. And God has made this possible for all humankind by giving his Son to die for us on the life-restoring tree of Calvary, where he reconciles sinners to himself and places us ‘in Christ’ by grace through faith. 

You see, when faced with the situations and choices of every-day life, our mind begins to furiously ask ‘Is this right or is it wrong? Is this good or is it evil?’ In doing so we are eating from the wrong tree. When we strive to be ‘good Christians,’ we make the same mistake. This is not NT Christianity but in fact ‘old covenant living’ and it is very human and Israel-like. 

As the Church soon celebrates Easter (Passover) around the world we are reminded of another way, the way of ‘the one new covenant’ introduced by Christ and his indwelling life (Jer. 31, 2 Cor. 2, 3). This is living from ‘the Tree of Life!’ Jesus himself lived on earth by a life not his own (see Jn. 5, etc), and so do we (do read Jn. 15:1-17 in this new light). The divine life that indwells us gives us supernatural instincts, desires and energy to embody the new life of Christ in all we are and do, and in all our relationships (see Col. 3). 

The Church at large needs to awaken to her INDWELLING LORD, and so do you and I. Then only will we be empowered to build God’s house and fulfil his grand purpose for the universe in Christ! Col. 1:27, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory!’

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11 thoughts on “A THEOLOGY OF TWO TREES

  1. With regard to ‘A Theology of Two Trees,’ last night I discovered this gem in Michael Cassidy’s study on Jn. 17 (‘The Prayer Jesus Prayed For’) on the issue of TRUTH: Truth in the first instance is not a system, proposition, set of ethics, golden rule, sermon, not even the Sermon on the Mount, not a religion but a Person. Michael then recalls the great missionary statesman, E. Stanley Jones, relating at a mission to Nairobi (Kenya) in 1969, his encounter with Mahatma Gandhi whom he had got to know quite well during his many mission years in India. Gandhi had related to him how much he admired the principles in the Sermon on the Mount. To this E. Stanley Jones replied, ‘But oh, Mahatma, Mahatma, you have missed the Person!’ For what finally matters is not the Sermon on the Mount but the Person who preached it. Not the golden rule, but the Person who gave it. Not the morals and ethics but the Person who taught them. In Christian understanding, truth is personal in Jesus before it is propositional about Him or about anything else.

    Thought I’d share that with you. Enjoy!!

  2. Hi Erroll,

    Thanks, I like this message a lot. My concern only is that some people misunderstand and mistakenly separate God from His word, the Bible. Here are my thoughts on this:

    When neither Jesus nor the word of God are seen as they really are, then neither can be received. We are all born with an infected sinful nature as a result of Adam eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This sinful nature keeps us from seeking God. Essentially, we are born restricted, so that even the best of men are blind and deaf to God and His word.

    So, for someone not saved, like Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus and the word of God are at best only an incredible man and an excellent message. However, neither assessment is true, but simply reveal the blindness of man. You see, to those who believe (or who are being saved), Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Sermon on the Mount, and in fact all of God’s word, is seen as it is, alive and active and part of salvation.

    As Christians we can easily begin to view or hear God’s word from our old infected mindset that has a propensity to try to extract life from the knowledge of good and evil. However, this causes us only frustration. Instead, we should walk in the Spirit in Whom we now live and be led by Him to receive and obey God’s word, the nourishing fruit of The Tree of Life.

    Rob

    • Appreciate your comment Rob. After many years I have learned that ‘biblical balance’ (not compromise!) is so important in the body of Christ. Exactly so in the matter of the Living Word and the written word. They indeed complement one another. As Jesus reminded us in Jn. 17:17, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’

      Blessings in your family-life and ministry in Worcester, where my family and I spent many refreshing holidays in times past!

  3. The most potent truth and reality! My, my, my! This here is rich food for all our souls, and I thank you for writing: “we are not called to live by a ‘Christian’ religion or code of ethics, but by God’s life.” That certainly changes things – every thing.

  4. Thanks for pointing me to this post Erroll – a great outline of the ultimate reality of walking with Jesus. It is so easy for us to default to rightness in behaviour because of what we perceive to be the difficulty in changing character that comes with union with Christ. The church has lost Jesus because it has lost the truth of His word.

    • Indeed. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      And the wonderful thing is that this feeding off the tree of life viz. Jesus, does not then lead to libertinism. I love Jer. 31 and Heb. 8’s references to God, through his new covenant, putting his law in our minds and writing it on our hearts! Coming back to Bonhoeffer, what a tender conscience he had concerning Germany’s apostate state church and the evils of Naziism.

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