menu

The Overlooked Bondage of Our Common Sense

In my experience, we often read scripture as if we already know what it has to teach us. (The same could be said for prayer and continuing revelation: we often pray as if we know what God will or at least should say in response; we often hear the prophets as if they were merely saying the same old thing.) We may not understand this or that passage from the Hebrew Bible or some phrase in one of the New Testament letters may leave us scratching our heads. But we tend to assume that we know what the scriptures say and then proceed to look for what we already know.

When we read that way, however, we forget that the gospel is fundamentally a call to repentance rather than a body of content. Of course there can be no call, no proclamation that has no content, but the focus of scripture is on the call to repentance more than it is on content. The call to repentance is always more than a call to give up some particular sin or set of sins, though it may also be that. Fundamentally the call to repentance is a call to live a new life, to be born again by turning away from the kingdoms of this world to the Kingdom that is at hand. Whenever we first heard that call, it yet remains something that we are called to. We do not achieve it and then not have to continue to respond to it.

Thus, when we read, if we do not hear a call to repentance, the call to be otherwise than we are, to be something more, then perhaps we are not reading properly. We may be in danger of the bondage to the philosophies of men.

That is not a message of despair, a message that there is no hope for us. Paul reminds us that we are all sinners. None of us is yet like our Father. All are equally in need of being something more than we are—and we can be moving toward that through repentance and life by the Holy Ghost. That opportunity, the recognition that we should be more than we presently are, is a cause for rejoicing because it is also a recognition that by answering the gospel's call we can be and will be if we are attentive to our covenants and the Spirit that makes them possible.

The gospel will crack the cisterns of common sense if we will allow it to, and when it does we can drink of the continuously fresh water of the Spirit rather than the stale water of our cisterns.

7/27/2014 4:00:00 AM
James Faulconer
About James Faulconer
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.