Category Archives: Freedom

No Grace without Jesus

There’s a new move away from the church these days. If that’s all it was, I wouldn’t be concerned. The church needs to get its act together in so many ways. We went from stuck in the past to stuck in the market. But I think that will happen over time. I think the church will return to the place and the message it should have.

What concerns me about this move away from church is that it is also a move away from Scripture and away from the Lord. The people who have made this move act like they are having a lot of fun, with new moral standards and new goals, but many of them are empty and hurting. And many of them are angry. The anger I read against the church on Facebook these days is sobering.

But anger indicates that something is unresolved. The pain that led to the separation is still there, still hurting. The confusion and feelings of betrayal and injustice continue to churn within the heart. The unresolved emotions look for cause and explanation and see the answer in the church.

What is particularly sad to me is that much of this is coming out of the grace community. Some have found freedom, but little else. They threw away their formulas and standards, left behind the condemnation and shame, and went out to enjoy life their way. And, I confess, that was all that was offered to some. They were shown the futility of striving to measure up, then set free to try to make sense of life on their own.

It is natural to chafe against the structures of religion. The rules and the expectations are binding and shaming. Who wouldn’t want out of that system? So, when the Scripture is made clear that no one ever accomplishes their own salvation and no one can earn God’s love, the human heart rejoices. Many people attend church every week only to hear how bad they are and how they should work harder. Then, when they work harder, the goals are shifted and they find that they are still lacking. When they hear the message of grace, their hearts are lifted up. They jump at the acceptance and forgiveness and freedom that is offered.

But the grace message isn’t about freedom. It isn’t even about acceptance. The message of grace is about Jesus. Freedom and rest and acceptance and peace and joy—all are found in Him. But the center of the message, the real heart of our proclamation, is Jesus. And I am afraid that Jesus is sometimes left out.

Without Jesus there will be no freedom. There might be lack of control, lack of guidance, lack of wisdom—but no real freedom. It’s like the little kid who runs away from home. Hiding under the tree, he is free of his parents’ rules, free to do whatever he wants. But without money or wisdom or the means to get what he needs, what kind of freedom will he enjoy? Instead, he becomes prey for whoever or whatever offers to meet his needs. Freedom apart from Jesus only opens people to a new bondage.

I used to have a little framed note directly across from my desk and I had to look at it all the time. It reflected the words of some people who came to Philip in John 12. They said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” I wanted to remind myself that the people of my church didn’t need me nor did they need lessons on how to work harder. They came with longing in their hearts and only one message could truly satisfy. Whether they understood their needs or not, they needed Jesus.

Church without Jesus is a waste of time.

The Scripture without Jesus is a burden.

The message of grace without Jesus is a lie.

Freedom without Jesus is just different bondage.

Listen: if the message of grace that you have heard has not brought you into a deeper and right relationship with Jesus, a personal relationship where you are learning to walk with Him day by day, then you have not heard the true message of grace. You are not meant to be alone, left to wander in your own wisdom until the predators find you. You were set free from the bondage of legalism and performance so that you can walk hand in hand with a Friend who loves you and will guide you. The only right grace message is the message of Jesus.

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Willful Sin

Legalism depends on loopholes. Without loopholes, no one could stand the fear and oppression of the law. The Jewish teachers of Jesus’ time were masters of loopholes and Jesus challenged them on it. Because they compromised the law with their additions and loopholes, Jesus said that they didn’t keep the law at all. This in spite of the fact that they claimed to uphold the law in all things.

I have recently been in a somewhat challenging conversation where the person claims that he/she never sins “willingly.” That’s an interesting statement. In my mind, there is no other way to sin.

Oh, I know that it is possible to transgress the law accidentally. The Old Testament has some teaching about this and provisions for it. But for a Christian to claim that he never sins willingly seems very strange.

Frankly, this smells dishonest. You and I sin and we sin willingly. That means that we choose to sin. No one makes us do it. There is no evil force within us controlling our actions. Sin continues to have its appeal to our flesh and we continue to choose it. As we learn to walk according to the Spirit, we don’t need to sin and we will sin less. Yet, when we do sin, we do it because we choose to do it.

Those who have to live with people who think they never sin willingly must struggle. He is angry and lashes out in his anger, but he is not responsible because he really didn’t want to do it. She mistreats others, but you shouldn’t get upset because she doesn’t choose to do those things. Maybe it was the devil or maybe a sin nature or maybe some schizophrenic facet of themselves, but they can’t be held accountable because they did these terrible things under duress.

As long as I am being catty, I also notice that they rarely give others the same loophole. Their sin is only involuntary but they rail against others whose sin is always a choice. Mr. Churchleader accidently lusts after a young lady at church who purposely wears provocative clothes. She is culpable, but he is not. Nice.

But not honest. Why not just admit that sin is a choice? If it were not a choice, would God hold us accountable?

Here’s the rub: those who admit to sinning on purpose have to deal with Hebrews 10:26,

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins

Ouch! Whatever that means, it can’t be good. So, if I admit that I choose sin, then I no longer have access to the price Jesus paid for my sins. Some of these poor folks believe that. They can lose their salvation simply by a bad choice. (And I get challenged when I suggest that legalists live in fear!)

Obviously, this is a difficult verse. But every difficult verse of Scripture has a context. I have said many times that we must always proceed from what we know into what we don’t know. We know that God loves us. We know that we are broken creatures without Him, incapable of living right. We know that we need a Savior. We know that the Savior has done all that we need for life and godliness.

This verse has a context. Just a few verses before, we read this:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14
Notice the past tense. He “has perfected” us by the one offering on the cross. Notice the passive voice. We “are being sanctified.” This is something He has done for us and is doing in us. The Lord does all of this in us and for us.

I just read where someone said that the law was given for sanctification. The writer agrees that we are justified by grace, but believes that we are sanctified by the law. So we are given salvation as a gift, but we have to work to be sanctified. The only problem with that is that there is no salvation without sanctification. To be sanctified means to be set apart by and for the Lord. Who could be saved without belonging to the Lord?

This passage from Hebrews that is so often quoted to keep believers under the law does not refer to individual sins we do as we walk through a difficult life. It refers to those who have been part of the fellowship and have rejected Christ. Hebrews mentions this several times. There were those who were part of the church, part of the fellowship and informed about the truth, who were still not in Christ. They walked away, for whatever reasons, and left behind their only hope. Because there is no other offering for sin, those who walk away from Jesus lose what they thought they had.

But that isn’t about you and me. We hate sin and its consequences. We wish our transformation was faster. Yet, there are times when we choose to do that which used to feel good and still offers the false hope of satisfaction or pleasure.

Those who belong to Jesus are under grace—even when we sin. And we do sin willingly. The choice before us, every moment, is to walk according to the flesh or walk according to the Spirit. One way is full of trouble, the other is full of joy. But the Christian who walks according to the flesh can and will see the limitations of the flesh, the futility of doing things the way he/she did before coming to Jesus, and will be drawn to the Spirit. There is growth and progress, but there is not rejection.

The bottom line: I choose the sin I commit and I am deeply grateful for a Savior whose love is greater than my wandering heart. I am not proud of my choice, nor do I flaunt it. I simply admit the truth. And the whole truth is that I completely depend on Jesus. Apart from Him, there is no hope.

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship, Theology and mystery

It’s all ours!

Imagine inheriting a beautiful estate, fully furnished, in the location of your dreams. The house is massive, full of rooms and treasures. There are outbuildings and what seems to be unending land with fields, trees, water, and paths. It’s all yours.

The caretaker welcomes you to your new home and offers to show you around. He wisely shows you just the places you will need and then leaves you to discover the wonders of the rest on your own. At any time, you can call on him for help or information; but he understands the special pleasure you will have in discovering these things on your own.

Something like that happens when we first enter into the knowledge of grace. We are told the basics, but there will be a lifetime of discovering the wonders and privileges of our relationship with Jesus.

This is the kind of experience I have had as I have learned about grace. I read the Scriptures and pray and more is opened almost every day. I read and listen to people who understand and am in awe of the new treasures I find. Some of the things I could see faintly, but when I looked closely I found them even more wonderful than I had thought. Some of the things I could almost expect as I reasoned through what I already knew, but some were amazing surprises.

You and I are loved by the Lord God Almighty. He has done all that is necessary for us to be with Him forever. He has provided, through our relationship with Him, everything we need for life and godliness. Jesus is our Friend. He is with us and He will never let us go. The rest of our lives will be spent learning more and more about what all of that means. As we learn, we will see more truth and feel more freedom and peace with every new day.

Perhaps it is true that we will never fully understand the grace of God in this world, but we are on our way. We listen and watch and more is revealed all the time. And we don’t have to distort the Scriptures or make up new doctrines or ideas. Instead, we will discover the beauty of the things that were plain all the time, except that we were not able to see them. We didn’t realize they were ours.

The old song says, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before!” I am beginning to understand.

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Our Legalism

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

Let’s be honest. We do it too.  While challenging others we have a tendency to
overlook legalism in ourselves. I was complaining one day about a family
who seemed to have many excuses for not attending church. My wife
challenged me by asking if church attendance was one of the “standards” I
wanted to keep and use in my ministry. Ouch! The truth was that I was
teaching people to seek the leading of Jesus and then follow Him. Could
Jesus allow this family to miss church occasionally? Of course! But I
didn’t like it and I judged them for it. I was still applying law the way I
wanted to apply it – just like any other legalist teacher.

So let God deal with your own judgmentalism and legalism. In fact, ask Him
to challenge you. You can’t expect the people around you to enjoy the
acceptance of Jesus if you are a source of condemnation. I don’t say this
lightly and I know it isn’t easy.

 

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Are you open to Manipulation?

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

From time to time I read Seth Godin’s blog.  He has some great insights about marketing and people.  The most recent blog entry is an interesting item on what makes some people more open to being manipulated.  Read the blog for yourself, but here are some of the things I found interesting in his list.  His blog is not intended to be Christian in any way, but these things are more than worth our consideration.   I will insert my comments, particularly in relation to the religious/performance manipulation I have seen.

  •  Believing something because you heard someone say it on a news show on cable TV.   (Or an unreasoning acceptance of the authority of the guy up front.)
  • Repeating a mantra heard from a figurehead or leader of a tribe without considering whether it’s true.   (Again, an unquestioning attitude toward perceived authority.  So many of these teachers have no evidence for the assertions they make, but their followers accept every word as truth.)
  • Trying to find a short cut to lose weight, make money or achieve some other long-term goal.  (“Seven easy steps to being more spiritual than others.”  “Five ways to make God love you.”  “How to raise your kids the right way.”)
  • Ignoring the scientific method and embracing unexamined traditional methods instead.  (The key word here is “unexamined.”  There is an obsession among many homeschoolers or conservatives for the “old ways.”  Some of the old ways are gone for a reason!)
  • Focusing on (and believing) easily gamed bestseller lists or crowds.  (If the teacher can fill the bleachers, he must be true, right?”)
  • Inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.  (This is the big one.  The desire to control the fears and uncertainties of life opens many people to the manipulation of leaders.)
  • Allowing the clothes of the messenger (a uniform, a suit and tie, a hat) to influence your perception of the information he delivers (add gender, fame, age and race to this too).  (What, judge someone by what he wears?  You’re kidding!)
  • Reliance on repetition and frequency to decide what’s true.  (If you hear it often enough—say, that Cabbage Patch dolls have demons—it must be true, right?)

There are other characteristics that open people to manipulation at Seth’s Blog.  What do you think?

 

Thanks to:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/

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Performance Spirituality

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

“Performance Spirituality” is the idea that spirituality is obtained and maintained by the performance of good works and the avoidance of sin. From time to time you will hear people refer to the kind of activity a “real Christian” will avoid. No real Christian, for example, could get a divorce. No real Christian could look at porn. No real Christian could steal, or skip church to go to a football game, or smoke. A real Christian will love going to church. A real Christian will tithe and be kind and memorize Bible verses.

You get the idea. There’s a book out there with the title, Lists to Live By. I don’t know that the book is about this, and I don’t mean to bad-mouth the book, but the title certainly serves the idea of performance spirituality. All you have to do to be spiritual is to do the right things and avoid the wrong things. Live by the lists.  Just like the Pharisees.

But we teach that spirituality is found only in a relationship with Jesus, not in a certain kind or amount of performance. Believers are made spiritual, reborn to new and spiritual life, when Jesus enters into them and gives them His life. We are spiritual because He is spiritual – and for no other reason. Those who were dead in their sins are made alive as Jesus is alive in them.

In that way, we understand that no person is more spiritual than another. All are spiritual only because of Jesus. The ramifications of this are important. If you are going through life comparing yourself with others and finding them to be more or less spiritual than you, perhaps you are operating under a wrong assumption. Instead, look to Jesus alone. He leads the others and He leads you. Trust Him.

 

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Relationship, Uncategorized

Was it all wrong?

Okay, now we have left the legalist church/organization/teacher.  Now what?  Where do we stand?  Do we throw out everything we learned?  How do we sort out all of this?  Does it all just need to go?

I have been getting a lot of these questions lately.  Doug Phillips and Vision Forum are gone.  Bill Gothard has resigned and the future of IBLP is in question.  Churches and ministries and teachers that had all the answers suddenly don’t even have answers for themselves.  At the same time, the message of God’s love and grace are being shouted from the housetops and people are hearing that it isn’t about their performance after all.

But we were immersed in the performance doctrines.  We learned them throughout our lives.  We judged others and ourselves by them.  We grieved when we couldn’t measure up and wondered about those who didn’t even seem to try.  We worked so hard to do well and sacrificed to go to the conferences, seminars and the right churches.  If we can’t trust the ones who spoke to us in the name of the Lord, who can we trust?

Besides, it all came out of the Bible, didn’t it?  We understand that it didn’t seem to work for the teachers, but shouldn’t it still work for us?  Or is it all bad?

Was it all wrong?  No.  But it was all touched by the error.  It’s a little like baking cookies and putting in soy sauce instead of vanilla.  The rest of the recipe is just right, but the mistake affects the whole batch.  The strange taste can be found in every bite.  The only way to move forward is to put together a new batch.

Yet, when you begin to bake the new batch of cookies, you find that most of the ingredients and proportions are just the same as before.  The sugar was fine.  The flour was good.  The amount of butter, salt, and baking powder was just right.  So much was right.  If you can remember what the error was, you should be able to avoid it in the future.

Obviously, baking cookies does not compare with building a way of thinking about life and relationships and spirituality.  But the error of legalism is usually confined to a few toxic teachings that affect the applications and effectiveness of the perspective.  In fact, a simple wrong substitute might have caused the whole problem.

Many of us were brought up in an atmosphere of fear and shame.  Sometimes it came from our parents.  Sometimes it came from school or the community.  Sometimes it was just the lie in our own hearts.  We learned that condemnation was normal and deserved, even if we didn’t like it and tried to reject it.  We learned little about real love, because whatever love we experienced was bound up by conditions and expectations.

What little we learn of the fundamental lie and the evil one who promotes it is that it stems from fear and pride, an unwillingness to rest in the provision and love of God.  If I were to risk simplifying the lie, I would suggest: “I can and I should do it myself.”  That lie has been cultivated into our humanity for all of history and is an integral part of our world.  It should not surprise us when we see it everywhere, nor when we learn that we have been affected by it.  Our parents lived in it as did their parents.  The world’s thinking and most of the thinking of the church has been affected by it.  The lie is everywhere.  From Eve to the Antichrist, the lie has permeated our world.

So it also should not surprise us that we would naturally gravitate toward teachers and churches where the lie was just under the surface.  We hate the lie.  We hate feeling insecure and inadequate.  Yet, those feelings are so familiar.  It is difficult for us to accept teaching and influence that doesn’t have something of those feelings for us.  But we don’t want it on the surface, at least not at first.  We want to hear about love and acceptance, but we subconsciously look for performance and shame.

But that was the lie.  Now we have discovered the truth!  The lie was substituted for love.  Shame and performance are not part of the good news.  God loves us and sent His Son to be our hope.  He has provided all that we need “for life and godliness.”  What the Father has done for us in Jesus is enough.  We are not condemned and no longer need to live in fear, shame, and inadequacy.  Jesus is our hope, our righteousness, our life.  The truth has set us free.

And now what?  Now we go back to the building blocks of our faith and learn again.  This time we will be watching more carefully.  This time we know that the soy sauce smells and tastes different from the vanilla.  We know that the lie will damage everything, so we will avoid it by prayer and wisdom.  We will see that the Lord has invited us into a relationship because He loves us and He will give us all that we need for that relationship to be a lasting reality in our lives.  We will remember His love for us and how it defines everything of our faith and lives.

Yes, it will be tempting to stay away from the faith altogether.  My heart grieves for those who have tasted the recipe that included the lie.  Now that they have spit out the vile thing they don’t want to taste anything that looks like it.  We understand and sympathize.  We have some of the same feelings.  We will be much more sensitive to the taste in the future.

Much like we would if we were baking the new batch of cookies, we will remind ourselves of the former error.  We will be telling ourselves to avoid the lie.  We will speak words of affirmation and truth along the way.  We will tell ourselves and others about the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, the freedom of our relationship with Jesus, and the assurance of His faithfulness.

And if we smell the lie again, even in something we have accepted, we will search for it and get rid of it.  We will denounce it over and over until it no longer affects our thinking.  Then we will rest in the knowledge that the Lord has been with us and has guided us into the truth we need to experience His love and the joy of our salvation.

All that needs to go is the lie.

I would love to read your comments!

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship