Friday, May 15, 2009

May vs. Shall

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17 NRSV

As a United Methodist pastor, I had to take a course in seminary about our rules and regulations book (this is not the Bible I am referring to but our Book of Discipline). Sadly, I don't remember a whole lot about the class. But one thing did stick with me. That was the difference between the words may and shall.

If something in the Discipline says "may" this is a permission giving statement. You can do it or not as the Spirit leads.

However, if the Discipline says "shall" there is no room for error. This is something you must do in order to remain part of the UMC.

I find it interesting that this verse says that all who believe in him may not perish. May not perish. This doesn't say shall. I even checked with my Greek/English Inter Linear New Testament.

So, if you believe in Jesus, there is a very good possibility that you will have eternal life. But God doesn't give this as a guarantee. This is not cheap grace nor once-saved-always-saved. There is more to this belief stuff than just saying yes. And, God knows, we humans are often prone to error. Believing is good and a great start. We hope in God's promise of eternal life. But we also realize our dependence upon God. It is not just about our acquiescence. In the end it will all come down to God's judgment.

God, you don't make things simple, do you? Just when we think we have it all figured out and our way is made, you let us know that it will still be up to you. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

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