Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are.


“Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears…

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:4b, 6 NIV)


In amazing brevity and precision, these two verses from Hosea presents the whole comprehensive reality of mankind’s deepest spiritual problem.

First a little context.

The people of Israel had entered into a covenant relationship with God following his bringing them out of slavery in Egypt and God has established them in the promised land.

Unfortunately they backslide.

They start to mix worship of the pagan deities of the surrounding nations in with their worship of Yahweh.

Yahweh does not accept this and so decides he will show them the powerlessness of these other gods and allows the nation to experience one disaster after another.

Finally the penny drops and the priests call the people to offer sacrifices to Yahweh.

But this merely exposes the root of their misunderstanding.

Yahweh doesn’t want their sacrifices. He wants their obedience.

This is the core of not only Israel’s but mankind’s deepest spiritual problem. All pagan religion, indeed all magic, has a mercantile basis.

People try to manipulate the gods into doing what they want by giving them stuff.

But the Bible tells us that,

Yahweh doesn’t want our stuff.

Indeed as C.S. Lewis powerfully made the point in his “Sixpence none the richer story”[1] – we have nothing to give God apart from that which he has first given us. God is never any better off for having been given back his own stuff!

The root spiritual problem we, as human beings, have is this,

We want to be saved without being changed.

But this is not how Yahweh works.


 ‘An acknowledgement of God’ means an acknowledge with heart and life of the lordship of the God of the Exodus and covenant[2].

Indeed, the whole history of Israel is the sphere of the struggle and dialogue between man and God. This is expressed in some of the possible meanings of the name Israel e.g. “God strives” or “Struggles with God”.

As Mays reminds us,

“Yahweh is the exclusive Lord of Israel and alone has the right to fix the conditions of their existence. One does not turn to a suzerain for help while ignoring his desire.”[3]

Israel’s problem (and ours) is the struggle to accept this in the reality of our daily lives. To give God his rightful place.

I was brought up in the Evangelical tradition and we liked to express spiritual truth in memorable aphorisms. One we used to quote regularly was,

“If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, he isn’t Lord at all”

There is a key moment of revelation in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” when the character of Aslan, the Jesus figure, is described,

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?

Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” …

“He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

In fact the human error is this folly of this search for a tame god.

We want a small, trivial god, that we can easily manipulate and turn to our ends. We are prepared to give God our stuff, but not ourselves. We can do once a week worship, or daily prayer, or even 10% of our income, but to give ourselves wholly to God, for him to control and  guide and use as he will. No way.

All of which is understandable. It’s just not possible. Well not if we want to be saved.

The God who is revealed in the Bible works differently.

The God who called out and set apart Israel to live in relationship with him did not intend to relate to his people in the same meaningless, mercantile, worship exchange of paganism.

“In his election of Israel Yahweh had not meant to found one more religion of ritual by which men might manage the divine; he intended to become absolute Lord of all life”[4]

When God called Israel it was to something far bigger than being their genie in a bottle; their “Get out of jail free” card in case of problems.

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.

Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6a NIV)


It is in this context that we must understand Hosea’s critique of the people of Israel’s “love”. Their supposed “love” or “devotion” to God was wavering, changeable, inconstant. Whereas,

‘Devotion’ means the attitude and acts which loyally maintain and implement a given relationship[5]


The “acknowledgement of God” implies,

“A knowing which becomes a state of being.”[6]

Israel’s failure was in approaching Yahweh,

“… as though he was some Canaanite deity to whom the quality if their lives is irrelevant, as though there were no covenant and no revelation in the past of what it means ‘to be my people’”[7]

In fact this is the key failure which will be resumed a few verses further on,

“but they do not realise that I remember all their evil deeds.

Their sins engulf them; they are always before me.” (Hosea 7:2 NIV)

The real issue, the crucial issue, never enters their minds – that it is the evil in their lives that God hates.

We cannot encounter God in any meaningful way, in his majesty, his glory and his power and merely ‘bumble on’ as before.  Any time that something of God’s true wonder and holiness and glory begin to dawn on our consciousness, change will inevitably happen. Something that is made clear in the New Testament,

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV)

Indeed, to stay unchanged is to deny the reality of our encounter with God. To have met with God in a saving encounter always leads to transformation.

If we are in relationship with God it is always on HIS terms. God doesn’t invite us “to try our best”, or “to have a go” at living in a way that pleases him. He COMMANDS us to live holy lives.

Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.(Leviticus 19:2 NIV)

Much of the debate about Christian sexual ethics in the light of changing contemporary mores seems to me to be rooted in such a desire to avoid this radical call to holiness and the complete re-orientation of our lives. We want to be saved, but not to be changed. God please save me but leave me as I am.

However transformation into holiness, a re-orientation of our life in line with God’s standards, values, desires are the essential elements of a saving encounter with the awesome God of the Bible,

“Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” …

“He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”






[1] Lewis C.S. Mere Christianity – Book III-Christian Behaviour – Chapter 11-Faith, Glasgow: Fount, 1952, p124

[2] Mays, James Luther The Old Testament Library – Hosea, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969, p95

[3] ibid., p98

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid., p103


The three divine revelations everyone needs


“When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

about sin, because people do not believe in me;

about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;

and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (John 16:8-11 NIV)


Jesus is here telling his disciples what the Holy Spirit is going to do in the hearts of human beings to enable them to be saved. This is presented as a re-playing of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilot, to whom the Jewish leaders had presented Jesus demanding his death. However, in a surprising twist it is revealed that it was not Jesus who was on trial – but the world itself.


Three things are presented – three divine insights – which are essential if anyone is going to come to salvation.

All three of them concern Jesus and the understanding we have of him.


“about sin, because people do not believe in me”

The first divine revelation is concerning the identity of Jesus. The world refused to believe in Jesus. His own people the Jews rejected him. The Roman empire – the great pagan world power of the time – crucified him. This is the world’s basic sin – it has refused to recognize that Jesus was God. No salvation is even possible until people realize that Jesus is God, that Jesus is their only hope.


“about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer”

The second divine revelation concerns the character of Jesus – was he a criminal, an imposter, a fraud? Is he now in hell being punished for his sins, or is he in heaven at the right hand of God the Father?

The Jews portrayed Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard. They condemned him for being willing to eat in the company of the insalubrious. They pointed to the fact that his disciples were not drawn from the great and the good, but from the common stock of fisherman, tax collectors, even terrorists. The Romans suspected him of being an insurrectionist, a threat to the Roman military conquest of the Jews. Thus the world in its entirety – Jew and Gentile – judged Jesus guilty. But in actuality he was the only really innocent and just man that ever lived.


“about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned”

The third revelation concerns the outcome of Jesus’ trial. Jesus was pronounced guilty, but in actual fact in doing this the world pronounced judgement on itself; in its rejection of Jesus.

Pontius Pilot famously washed his hands before the Jews in order to express his innocence of the blood of Jesus – he claimed he was merely doing what the Jewish leaders wanted. The Jewish crowd were whipped up by their leaders to cry out that they accepted that Jesus’ blood be on their heads.

In this false and erroneous judgement of Jesus the World system condemns itself not only as blind but as guilty, they knew Jesus was innocent, still they condemned him. In condemning an innocent man they condemn themselves.


The only salvation that the Christian faith knows to be possible is based on an understanding of the reality about Jesus, a reality that we can only grasp by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in us. It is only he who can help us understand that Jesus was God himself, incarnate amongst us, the innocent who chose to die to save the guilty.


These revelations also apply to ourselves.

We have to see that we have also refused to believe in Jesus, that he is God himself, and so we stand guilty before God.

We too have refused to accept his innocence and that he told us the truth about ourselves and about God.

We too have rejected him and by so doing pronounce our own guilt.


It is only when that miraculous insight is graced to us by the Holy Spirit that salvation becomes possible.

When was Ahatsistari saved?


In the period 1610 to 1791 the Jesuit missionaries in Canada sent an annual report of their activity to their leadership in Europe. In the volume for 1642/3 they recount the following story about Ahatsistari, perhaps the greatest Huron war chief.

“The man of greatest importance among those whom we have solemnly Baptized in this House, has been one Ahatsistcari (Ahatsistari) of the village of St. Joseph. His courage and his Yearly exploits against the Enemies cause him to be looked upon as the chief Warrior in the Country.

It is not yet a year since, having encountered three hundred Iroquois, he put them all to flight, and made some of them prisoners, although on his side there were but fifty, of whom he was the Chief. And during the previous Summer, while crossing a great lake which separates the Hurons from their Enemies, having perceived a number of large Canoes filled with Iroquois who were coming to attack him, his companions thought of nothing but flight, but he said : ” No, no, my Comrades. Let us attack them ourselves.”

As they approached each other, he jumped, alone and quite naked, into a large Canoe full of Foes, split open the head of the first one that he met, threw two others into the water, into which he himself leaped, upsetting at the same time the Canoe and all who were in it. Then swimming with one hand, he killed and massacred with the other all who came near him.

So unexpected a sight filled the other Canoes of the Enemy with fear; and, they, finding themselves vanquished by their own conquest, even before they had fought, took to flight from fear of such Courage. But he, having regained his own Canoe, pursued those who remained in the water, and brought them back in triumph to his Country.

In a word, this Man’s life is but a series of combats, and from his childhood his thoughts have been only of war ; and it was through this that God made him a Christian.

He never manifested any aversion to our Faith, and asked us for Baptism more than three years ago ; but, as he could not make up his mind to abandon some Superstitious practices that are customary among the Infidels, we could not grant it to him.

At last, the Fathers who have had charge of the Mission of saint Joseph gave him the final instructions last Winter, and, as they were satisfied with him, he came at Easter to plead his own case. ” I have Faith in the depth of my heart,” he said, ” and my actions have sufficiently shown it throughout the Winter. In two days I shall leave for the war ; if I am killed in battle, tell me, where will my Soul go if you refuse me Baptism?

If you saw into my heart as clearly as the Great Master of our lives, I would already be numbered among the Christians ; and the fear of the flames of Hell would not accompany me, now that I am about to face Death. I cannot Baptize myself; all that I can do is to declare sincerely the desire that I have for it. After that, if my Soul be burned in Hell, you will be the cause of it.

But, whatever you may do, I will always pray to God, because I know him ; and perhaps he will have mercy on me, for you say that he is better than you.”

“But,” said one of our Fathers, ” what made you first think of believing?”

“Even before you came to this Country,” he replied, ” I had escaped from a great many perils in which my Companions perished. I saw very well that it was not I who extricated myself from these dangers. I had this thought, that some more powerful Spirit, who was unknown to me, gave me favorable aid” (although the Hurons attribute to dreams the source of all their good fortune) ; ” I was convinced that all that was only nonsense, but I knew no more about it.

When I heard of the Greatness of God, whom you preach, and of what Jesus Christ had done when he was on Earth, I recognized him as the being who had preserved me, and I resolved to honor him all my life. When I went to war, I recommended myself to him night and morning. It is to him that all my victories are due ; he it is in whom I believe : and I ask you for Baptism, so that he may have pity on me after my death.”

Was it possible to refuse such a Man ? We Baptized him publicly, with some others, on Holy Saturday, and gave him the name of Eustache.

When he had performed his Devotions on Easter Sunday, he started for the War with some of our best Christians, who had remained solely for the purpose of celebrating that holy Day, although the Troops whom they were to join had already departed. But, before separating, finding that a considerable number of persons were assembled there belonging to various Nations, they wished of their own accord to hold a Council.

Here, in a few words, are the resolutions that they took : ‘ Let us hereafter be but one body and one mind, since we all serve the same Master. Whenever any one of us passes by a Village wherein a Christian dwells, let him not lodge elsewhere. Whenever any one is afflicted, let him seek consolation among the others.

Let us not reveal one another’s faults to the Infidels; but let it be recognized, through the friendship that we shall have for one another, that the Name of Christian is a tie more binding than Nature’s bonds.

” Let us inform our Relatives who are not of the same Faith as we, even if they be our fathers and our children, that we do not wish our bones to be mingled together after our death, since our Souls will be eternally separated, and our affection will not continue beyond this life.””[1]

This is a great story isn’t it !?

But it raises an important theological question; When was Ahatsistari saved?; When did he become a Christian?

Was his encounter with the unknown “Great Spirit” – who he later recognised as Jesus – a saving encounter? Or was he only saved when he responded in obedience to the Church’s instruction, when he brought his life into line with the Christian faith and was baptised?

Karl Rahner the Jesuit theologian famously developed the concept of the “Anonymous Christian” to try and deal with this type of issue. Rahner envisaged that people might have made a saving response to some element of divine revelation in their lives, whilst yet being totally ignorant of the message of Christ and the teaching of Christianity.

I like Rahner’s idea but I am unhappy with his terminology. It seems to imply too much in terms of the Christian identity of those so saved. Or at least suggests that somehow their Christianity is  equivalent to that who have been blessed with fuller revelation.

As such, I would prefer to use the nomenclature “Glimpse Christian”.

A “Glimpse Christian” is someone who has been blessed, or graced, with a tiny glimpse of divine revelation, but a glimpse sufficient to evoke in them a belief in God and a desire to live in relationship with him – a response of faith.

This preserves the possibility that God in his grace may give a glimpse of revelation that can be sufficient to save, whilst preserving the idea that such Christians will necessarily have a faith that is inchoate, adumbrate, basic. This terminology would permit us to preserve the fact of their genuine salvation whilst not making any assumption as to the quality of their edification – the holiness and Christlikeness of their lives.

Given that Glimpse Christians are by nature largely lacking in the revelatory content which would enable the edification of their lives. Such people we can certainly hope might be saved but we must fear that their lives, morals, ethics and mores will fall far short of what God wants for humankind.

The latter part of Ahatsistari’s story shows that he did respond to the fuller revelation that the missionaries brought him.

Not long after his baptism in August 1642 he and the party he was leading were captured by an enemy tribe and were brutally tortured. Ahatsistari has both his thumbs cut off and wooden splinters forced into the wounds up to his elbows. Finally after seven days of unimaginable tortures their captors decided to kill the Hurons in the group, of which Ahatsitari was the greatest. Father Isaac Jouges, the only priest in the group who survived, tells what happened.

“The fortitude of this man (Ahatsistari) was marvelous; and — whereas the others, while in the fire, are wont to have the sentiment and use the words of him who said, exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor (May an avenger rise from my bones!) — he, with Christian spirit, entreated the Hurons present, that the thought of his death should never prejudice the peace with the Hiroquois.”[2]

I am firmly convinced that Ahatsistari was right when he told the missionaries;
“If you saw into my heart as clearly as the Great Master of our lives, I would already be numbered among the Christians”
Our God is amazing. His grace has a wideness of reach that we cannot even comprehend. Glory to his name!

[1] Thwaites R.G. (ed.) The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents – Travels and Explorations Of The Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610-1791, Vol. XXIII 1642-1643, CLEVELAND: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1818, p25ff accessible online at

[2] Thwaites R.G. (ed.) The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents – Travels and Explorations Of The Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610-1791, Vol. XXXIX 1653, CLEVELAND: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1818, p199 accessible online at