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Scripture

Did Jesus really hate religion?

By | Christianity | 2 Comments

I want to address what many believe is the most diabolical, despicable, hateful word we can possibly use in 21st Century Christianity:

Religion.

Seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Anyway, to do that, I’m trying something a little different. Since my thoughts on this were a little more in-depth (or in preacher-speak, I “ran long”), I wanted to present it in a way that might be a little more digestible. And I’m hoping that this format will be helpful.

Please let me know your thoughts – is this a useful tool or should I stay low-tech and just write it all down?

Anyway, I pray you find this useful and in accordance with God’s will!

Should I be growing less certain of the truth?

By | Christianity | No Comments

One of the things you hear people say over and over is: “The more I know, the less I know.” And it certainly feels true. The more I get out of my comfort zone and am confronted by new situations, the more I realize that maybe I don’t know everything. Maybe the things I assumed – or the things that were true in one situation – turn out to be either outright wrong or at best simplistic.

I believe that intellectual humility is a good trait to have. Historically, even in the scientific field, so many human beings have been absolutely convinced they were right up until the point where they found out they were wrong. And the Bible echoes this idea – just because I think it’s right, doesn’t make it so.

  • “For I testify of them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge,” Rom. 10:2
  • “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it,” Jer. 17:9
  • “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it end is the way to death,” Prov. 16:25
  • “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” Gal 1:13-16

So there’s no question that as we learn more, we evolve in our understanding. That goes for our scholastic knowledge, our understanding of society, and even our theology. I should never stop examining and evaluating my understanding of scripture – “testing the spirits”, in essence.

The problem comes when we start to doubt the things that ought to be unshakable. The Bible talks about that, too!

  • “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” Eph 4:13-15
  • “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self- control, and self- control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” II Pet. 1:5-8
  • “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful,” Heb 10:22-23 22

Clearly, God expects that as we grow in Christ, as we grow in our understanding, our faith should be increasing. We should be more certain than when we first believed. And yet more and more, we hear scripture can’t be truly understood. The idea of being certain of doctrinal issues is seen as dogmatism and arrogance.

If our faith in God is growing, then our faith in His word ought to be growing as well. Do I truly believe that the mystery of God’s will for man has been “once for all revealed”? (Jude 3) That it contains “all things pertaining to life and godliness?” (II Pet. 1:3) That it will equip me for every good work? And do I trust God that He has left me a revelation which I can understand and apply to my life? (II Tim. 3:15-16)

I wonder if sometimes the problem is that the more we learn, the less content we are with what we know. Paul warned TImothy that there was a difference between being an apt teacher of the word and being one who is not content with what God chooses to reveal in the word:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,”( 2 Timothy 2:15-16)

Maybe the secret of a full assurance of faith is placing it in something that’s worthy of faith, not in the ideas that result when we’re not satisfied with the word of God. The more we’re willing to simply accept the scriptures as they are, the less likely we are to move into areas where we were never meant to know everything.

The gospel message is a simple one – even though there are some theological points that are difficult to understand and take additional study and prayer. (II Pet. 3:16) While the framework of worship may have changed from the Patriarchal era to the Law of Moses and on to the Christian dispensation, God’s will for man hasn’t really changed:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

What do you mean, the 10 Commandments don’t apply to me???

By | Christianity | 4 Comments

Any time I want people to look at me like I’ve grown a third eye, I bring this topic up. I’m kidding… sort of. I bring it up because I believe it’s very important to understand and has a significant impact in how we study the Bible.

According to scripture, the 10 Commandments do not apply to you. And if you aren’t Jewish, they never did.

Typically, the first response to this statement is: “How can you say that? So you think it’s OK to murder people?” But in reality, this shouldn’t be an odd concept to us. If I told you that I wasn’t bound by Mexican law, would you gasp in shock and claim that I think I can do anything I want? Of course you wouldn’t – because you’d understand the concept that laws apply only to the people to whom they are given. Each nation has its own set of laws, and as it happens, a lot of them are similar, and in many cases they overlap. I don’t have to obey Mexico’s laws concerning theft – because U.S. law forbids it, and that’s the law that I’m required to obey.

But some say, “This is different. This is the 10 Commandments! Delivered from on high, written by the finger of God.” The problem is, it’s not different. And the scriptures never state that it’s different. There are two things we need to consider:

First, the 10 Commandments are not a separate law from the Law of Moses. That doesn’t mean that the 10 weren’t ever singled out or referenced specifically. (See Deuteronomy 5, for example.) But does that mean that the Israelites received two distinct laws? No – these 10 served as almost an “executive summary” of the rest of the law. If an Israelite truly honored and kept those 10 commandments, he would necessarily keep everything else that God would later reveal. It’s not unlike Jesus picking the “greatest commandment” – he was simply arguing that “on these hang all the laws and the prophets.”

The 10 commandments and the rest of the law were delivered at the same time, from the same God, through the same messenger to the same people. Notice what God says to Moses in Deuteronomy 5 after the 10 commandments are read:

“Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’ You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess (Deut. 5:30-33 ESVST)”

In other words, the 10 Commandments were not the “whole commandment.” But Exodus says something else that’s revealing:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 34:27-28 27 ESVST)

What are “these words”? They are the 10 Commandments, which are part of the covenant with Israel. Specifically, it was an agreement whereby God would give Israel possession of the land of Canaan, and Israel would in turn honor God and forsake idols. (v. 11-26) Based on the rest of the book, that covenant also included the instructions for the tabernacle and other ritual observances. We also know that the “Book of the Covenant” was in reference to all that God had told Moses – not just the 10 Commandments. (Ex. 24:3-4) In fact, the phrase “covenant” seems to be used interchangeably with the tablets (the 10 Commandments) and other elements of the Law of Moses.

Was this covenant between God and any other nation that chose to adopt it? No – it was specifically for a single nation. (Ex. 6:6-7, 19:5-6, 31:17, Deut. 5:2-3, Deut. 7:6-8) And it was a covenant that was violated when an Israelite disobeyed one of the 10 Commandments or any of the more specific laws written in the Book of the Covenant, which we know as the first five books in the Bible. This is why Christians do not observe the Sabbath – because the Sabbath was a day designated as a symbol of the covenant between God and Israel. (Ex. 31:13-17) We can’t select nine commandments and apply them to all people, but have one which does not. It’s one law – and if you violate one commandment, you violate the entire law. (James 2:10, Gal. 5:3)  There are no examples in scripture (that I know of, anyway!) of anyone being bound by the 10 Commandments and not the remainder of the Law of Moses as well. ( See II Kings 17:36-37)

I am very happy to say that as a Christian, I know that I am freed from the law. (Col. 2:14-17, Eph. 2:15, Rom. 7:4) As Paul warned the Christians in Galatia and Rome, we shouldn’t be looking for ways to go back! If I want to understand the requirements of my covenant with God, I can go to the teachings of the inspired apostles, and also to the words of the “author and finisher of our faith,” Jesus Christ.

Why we can’t be “red-letter Christians”

By | Christianity | No Comments

I’ve personally used the term “red-letter Christian” for a while. I actually didn’t know there was an official “movement” by that name – one that was formed by people who were concerned about the politicization of Christianity and its seeming alliance with right-wing political groups. Their claim is they want to transcend politics and unite people in what they perceive to be Jesus’ true calling – one involved with social justice and environmental stewardship (among other things).

That’s really not how I’ve used that phrase in the past. It’s probably worth talking about the concept of Jesus as a revolutionary political figure (which he wasn’t). I find it interesting that a group determined to transcend politics seems to embrace politics and government as the solution and tool by which we do God’s will – the irony being that if I do in fact focus on the “red letters” in my Bible (the ones spoken by Jesus), I don’t actually see Jesus talking about anything concerning what a government should do about social issues. I see a lot of things about what an individual ought to be doing – and none of them involve appointing a government to go do my work for me.

“If Jesus didn’t say it…”

But that’s for another article. What I’m talking about is a more general application – the idea that the “red letters” are somehow more significant, more important than the rest of the scripture. I think this is a crucial concept to understand if we’re going to study the Bible and come to a full understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

The theory is simple: If Jesus didn’t say anything about it (or in some cases, if he didn’t say much about it), it must not be that important. Therefore, it should at least be de-emphasized, and in some cases even ignored.

The problems with this concept are numerous, but the main one is that Jesus himself seems to have had no intention that people should take that approach. Quite the opposite!

Many writers, but one Spirit

Where did Jesus’ words originate? Not with Jesus – believe it or not. Jesus himself was the first to assert that! As he said in John 7:16, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” In the next chapter, he adds, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”

If that sounds similar to something an apostle or a prophet would say, that’s because it is! Peter discussed this in talking about his own role as a witness to Jesus’ teachings and miracles:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place … For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pe 1:19-21)

Peter was guided and instructed by the same source as was Jesus. The same is true for Paul, and the rest of the other apostles. And there’s a reason for that: because it was the role Jesus chose for them. When Jesus sent out the 12, he told them to “teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:20)

The Gospels and the epistles serve the same purpose

Jesus told Peter that “upon this rock, I will build my church” – but Jesus didn’t talk about the church or even make an attempt to establish it while he was on the earth. Instead, he equipped the apostles to go out and preach the Gospel after he had ascended. They did that, bringing Jew and Gentile into one body in Christ, which was “built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Eph. 2:20) So wouldn’t that mean that Jesus built the church through the teaching of the apostles? They were Christ’s instruments, and should be regarded as such.

That’s what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were when they wrote the Gospel accounts, and it’s what Peter, James and Paul were when they wrote and spoke to Christians around the known world. The epistles came from that same spirit that created the “red letters”, and should never be seen in opposition to them or as a secondary element next to them. They are part of the exact same story, through the same Spirit, with the same goal: be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

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